One of Alexis Christodoulou’s art works staging the MINI Concept Aceman.

How to transform a MINI into a work of art.

Digital artist and designer Alexis Christodoulou is internationally renowned for his imaginative virtual landscapes. He set the stage for the MINI Concept Aceman in four different worlds for us.
A summer’s morning in Amsterdam in mid-July. Digital artist Alexis Christodoulou’s studio is in an old red brick building directly overlooking a canal. There are bikes leaning up against the wall, and a large, heavy wooden door dominates the entrance. There’s no conspicuous sign indicating that an artist and designer in global demand creates virtual worlds for well-known brands here. Instead, there’s just a doorbell with a nondescript label. Wooden steps lead up to the studio. A calm and friendly guy dressed all in black and wearing a purple baseball cap, Christodoulou waits for us in the hallway and greets us with a hearty laugh. His name might have you assuming that he comes from Greece, but no – the 40-year-old was born in South Africa and only moved from Cape Town to Amsterdam a year and a half ago, since many of his clients are based here in Europe. Christodoulou has spent the past few months working on setting the stage for the MINI Concept Aceman in various digital environments. These environments are now ready. And he can count a car among his portfolio of works for the first time. Up to now, Christodoulou had predominantly worked with smaller products from brands such as Kenzo, Bang & Olufsen or Grohe.
Alexis Christodoulou shows one of his art works on his computer. 
Alexis Christodoulou shows some digital art works he did for the MINI Concept Aceman. In one of the four worlds, a simple environment is transformed into a sea of flowers.

What stood out in the collaboration with MINI and how did you find the experience of setting the stage for the MINI Concept Aceman?

ALEXIS CHRISTODOULOU: MINI gave me a great deal of creative freedom in the design process. There was no concrete brief; they didn’t want to limit my creativity. That was great for me, because it meant I could try out a lot of things.  

Such as? 

AC: Digital art isn’t just about setting the stage for a product, it’s also about explaining spaces and worlds, designing them. And the bigger the product, the easier that is. It’s better for scaling. I have created urban worlds with a strong focus on architecture, but also worlds in which nature takes over the MINI. Rendering the car posed a bit of a challenge, though, because the MINI Concept Aceman is characterised in part by its experimental shapes and materials. I spent a long time working on the roof rack simulation, for example

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Portrait of the digital artist Alexis Christodoulou and Alexis Christodoulou with his assistant in his studio. 
The artist’s hand drawing a sketch. 
His artist’s studio, overlooking a canal. Much of his work here happens on the computer, but it often starts with a handmade sketch.
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What was so difficult?

Finding 3D technology that makes it seem as real as possible – the colour, the shape, the material –wasn’t easy. Another point was the door animations. The MINI Concept Aceman has really complex hinges, it turns out! I had to design the car in its different perspectives in such a way that the doors also opened as they would in real life. So essentially, I tried to understand the MINI with all its features in its entirety. I really had a lot of fun getting to grips with the finer details.

At the end of Christodoulou’s creation process, we were left with four different digital environments. Three of them interpret the MINI Concept Aceman’s Experience Modes – Personal Mode, Pop-up Mode and Vivid Mode. The fourth piece takes on Colour Burst – a burst of colour that initially spreads across the floor of the car upon opening the door, before continuing across the interior via projections and the circular OLED display. 


What happens in the various environments and what do the animations look like?

I worked with flowers for my interpretation of Colour Burst. That was an obvious choice for me as flowers are very colourful. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been integrating natural elements into my work more and more often. I thought that while the world came to a standstill due to the lockdowns, nature reclaimed the city. The Colour Burst animation begins in a clean space; then the doors of the MINI open and flowers sprout out. They then gradually take up more and more space. The colours I used for the work naturally blend with the colours of the MINI Concept Aceman – such as the characteristic green.

And how did you work with the Experience Modes?

The different modes ensure that something is always happening in the car’s interior. And the environments I’ve designed are always in motion, too. I tried to create a harmonious relationship between interior and exterior. For Vivid Mode, the result is a simple environment that gradually transforms into a wonderful, colourful space where the car is taken to new heights. So I really drew on the movement, the game that characterises this mode. 

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Alexis Christodoulou leans against a wall. 
Many of Christodoulou’s clients are based in Europe. That’s the reason why he moved from Cape Town to Amsterdam a year and a half ago.
MINI gave me a great deal of creative freedom in the design process. There was no concrete brief; they didn’t want to limit my creativity. 
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And you can recognise the characteristic wheel of fortune in your work for Pop-up Mode. 

Exactly. After all, the driver can select a particular experience using the interior display in this mode. A wheel of fortune spins to decide the destination. I thought it would definitely look charming if the environment simply spun around the MINI and transitioned in my interpretation. This movement means the scenery transitions from day to night and back again. I worked with contrasts here: one world features muted colours, the other is trendy and plays with neon light. 

Now the third mode, Personal Mode, is missing...

That was the biggest challenge for me, because the driver can choose a family photo for the display and thus personalise the ambience for the driver. Content matching the picture is then projected across the dashboard and doors, combined with light and sound. That’s why I wanted to leave my own personal touch on this piece. So I tried to use some architectural ideas and animation technologies that I recently got to grips with for the presentation of this MINI. My very own Personal Mode, so to speak. 

Christodoulou cuts a relaxed figure as he leans back in his chair. The work he has done for MINI is his last job before taking a break for the summer. After a family holiday in Italy, he will get back to work: his studio is growing, and he plans to hire more staff. At the beginning, Christodoulou would never have thought that he would have so much success with digital art or that his hobby would become his job.
Alexis Christodoulou walks across a bridge that lead’s over one of Amsterdam’s canals.
In South Africa, Christodoulou was dependent on his car to get from A to B. Since he is living in Amsterdam, he often rides his bike or walks.

You’re actually a copywriter and have worked for renowned agencies. How did doing something so different come about?

Computer games have always fascinated me – the digital worlds and the effects. Back in the day, I often played games like King’s Quest and watched TV shows that explained how these games were made. It always seemed super complicated and elaborate. At some point, my friend showed me a digital table that he had sketched with a really easy program. There were even some tutorials on YouTube already; I watched them and did some initial sketches, but didn’t render anything. All pretty straightforward. I taught myself everything over the years. 

Your breakthrough is actually thanks to Instagram, right? 

That’s right. At some point, I started posting my work there. Initially, Instagram was just a sketchbook for me, to collect ideas. And a channel to connect and chat to other digital artists. Eventually I was uploading a rendering every other day, then one day I was approached by a large company wanting to book me for paid orders. I opened my account a good eight years ago now and was in the right place at the right time as a result. 

Alexis, thank you for your time and for talking to us!

Portrait of the digital artist Alexis Christodoulou.

About Alexis Christodoulou

Alexis Christodoulou, born in South Africa in 1982, started getting involved with digital art around 15 years ago. Back then, he was still working in Cape Town as a copywriter for an international agency. In 2008, he quit his job, built on his artistic abilities and with his father, cultivated wine on the side – until companies started approaching him with paid orders some time later. Since 2021, he has been living in Amsterdam with his family – bicycle central, per se. If Christodoulou had to swap his bike for a car, it would be the fully electric MINI Cooper SE.