In the dynamic realm where visual art and music intersect, Funi stands out as a creative pioneer.

From self-taught beginnings designing album covers for local bands, Funi’s journey has evolved into a groundbreaking career that blends illustration, animation, and virtual reality. With a love for sci-fi themes and a knack for pushing tech boundaries, Funi crafts immersive, multi-sensory experiences that capture the awe of the cosmos.

In this exclusive interview, Funi opens up about his artistic evolution, the inspirations fueling his work, and the collaborative projects that define his career. We explore the influence of sci-fi literature, the game-changing potential of VR and AR, and the creative spirit behind the enigmatic ‘Soda Island’. From close ties with innovative electronic music producers like Mr. Bill to his ongoing mixed reality explorations, Funi’s story is a testament to the endless possibilities of digital art.

Join us as we dive into the mind of an artist who transforms cosmic wonder into new realms of imagination.

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You have been working on many art projects, from illustrating LP covers to animating VR. How did you develop your artistic skills? Was it through self-teaching or formal training?

Mostly self-teaching. I’ve always loved visual arts, and I’ve always been into music. Many years ago, I made an album cover for a local band, and I was so happy for my crappy art to have a purpose, I kept doing it obsessively. It’s been honestly crazy to turn this into a real job and all the opportunities that came with it. The only way to develop a skill is by practicing regularly, and I’ve always loved doing that. VR came at a point when I was looking to ‘do more’ and feeling stagnant, it was such a breath of fresh virtual air to change the approach moving into 3D.

Mr. Bill – Mechanomorphic (Monstercat) | Artwork cover by Funi

Many of your works rely heavily on cosmic themes. How have these connected through your work? Any literature, video games, or card games influences to be found?

Absolutely. I love Sci-fi and I regularly incorporate elements and themes of it into my work 😀 Let’s be honest, what’s more interesting and awe-inspiring than the endless unknown cosmos we are spinning in? I am a Sagan devotee and currently slowly going through a bunch of Arthur Clarke books. Outer Wilds is also a massive influence despite it being very recent, I think about it almost daily.

You seem to have shifted from figurative illustration to a more symbolic and organic graphical style in mid-2010. What drove this shift?

I’m not sure! I like doing both. It’s something I didn’t decide to do consciously, but I can totally see that’s the case. Also, since I started working in VR, my approach to illustration has changed even more due to the specific way of how Quill works (a VR painting software). I enjoy using different styles for different projects, but it’s true that most of my art is painted in a stylized manner, without blending colors. Sometimes, though, this is done at such a small scale that when looking at the entire picture it is barely noticeable. It really depends on the specific thing I’m working on. 

I do like figurative and more realistic illustrations as well, and I’m waiting for the right time to go back to painting on canvas.

NeverAlone (Lowly) [ Artwork by Funi
NeverAlone (Lowly) | Artwork by Funi

You participated in creating Soda Island. A cryptic saga filled with mythological inspiration meant to be watched in VR. Can you tell us how this came about? How did the project happen?

Soda Island was born around 2015 as a SoundCloud collective: a group of young producers mailed me asking me to help them develop this project, and when I heard the music they were making, I was so incredibly inspired to create a world in which their music was existing.

I started developing so many random ideas, biology, architecture, rituals, strange biomes, etc. Then many years later, after funding Studio Syro we were approached by Meta who were willing to fund a Quill animated short, and we decided to go back to all that pre-existing Soda Island material, develop it further, and create a more linear, narrative audiovisual experience with it. It started with a very simple episode because we didn’t really know what we were doing, and we were effectively pioneering a new medium and a new art form. Then it became increasingly more and more complex and ambitious. I’m super proud of it and incredibly grateful for the opportunity we were given.

Has Meta been key to supporting the Soda Island saga? Did you have full editorial control?

Meta was extremely supportive. They wanted one 5-minute animated short initially and ended up producing almost 2 hours of animation. They never interfered during production, and they were always excited to see what we were doing. I want to thank Goro Fujita and Ryan Thomas for being the best producers and most passionate supporters of our work. VR animation is still extremely new and uncharted and we all took a big leap of faith that hopefully paid off! 

How was Syro Studio born? Out of the QuillVR community?

One day Mr.Bill announces to me, ‘I made a tune with Deadmau5’. I grew up with the Mau5 music and was shocked, so I begged Bill to convince him and his management to let me make a music video for it! 

I was just starting to learn Quill, but I knew it was perfect for it. When I got the OK, I realized It was a crazy task to undertake by myself, so I started looking for other Quill artists. One thing led to another and after 6 months there were 8 of us, all super excited to work together and see what else was possible with Quill. We made another music video, then some visuals for a music tour and then we started working on Soda Island <3

Did you collaborate with the Studio Syro team to define archetypal protagonists, or did they emerge organically during the creative process?

Most of the Soda Island writing, visual development, character design, and environment design is done by myself. Obviously, we had countless meetings sharing ideas and revisiting stuff (even up until the day of release), and at the very beginning we didn’t know what we could, in fact, do. How complex a story could be, how to direct for VR, it was all new and unexplored. With each episode, we became more confident in our ability to problem-solve, which gave me the confidence to write more complex and nuanced stories. I hope it’s not too cryptic to the average viewer. 

You have developed a whole sci-fi fauna of characters. Do you work in a flowing state of mind, or do you have it all under control and have a whole arch story in mind?

Nothing is under control, everything is on the table as long as it’s interesting and fits the artistic direction of the project. I spent a long time developing ideas and concepts back when Soda Island was a music collective and then revisited those ideas later. I knew that I wanted the overarching theme of the series to be about the relationship between music (represented by the island itself and all its inhabitants) and silence, a small creature who can’t find his place in this musical oasis. I wanted each chapter to be self-contained but with a thread going through all of them.  

Silence doing his night ritual | Syro Studio, Funi
Silence doing his night ritual | Studio Syro, Funi

Can we expect another episode or a second epilogue for Soda Island?

You SHOULD expect more! Every few years Soda Island ends its phase of extreme stimulation and then requires some time to nap and recover, but during this cozy time, things are always brewing in the shadows… 

You’ve seen the AR capability of Quest 3 and Apple Vision Pro. Does it inspire you?

If you had told me as a kid that one day in my lifetime we would have been able to paint in space, virtually, from the comfort of your home, I would have thought you were out of your mind – then proceeded to blow dust away from a NES cartridge to make it work properly.

For me as a visual artist, this technology is mind-blowing. Despite using an old, discontinued Oculus Rift S, I also use the Quest 3 daily and currently researching and developing a project specially for Mixed Reality. After gaining confidence with the full virtual space surrounding and immersing you in a story, It’s back to square 1 having to learn all these new things again. I haven’t had the chance to try the Vision Pro yet. Once they put Procreate VR on it, I will gladly oblige.

Are you playing in VR sometimes? Have you ever raved in VR?

Of course! Not so much nowadays, but I have tried a lot of VR games, I only play VR ping pong regularly 😅 .

I’ve been to virtual gigs in VR Chat and they’re hilarious. I wish we pushed more towards creating immersive audiovisual experiences like raves outside VR Chat. There’s so much potential to create unique and experimental ideas all while being able to share them with people from anywhere. I’m definitely hoping there is a push in that direction because it is super interesting and unique.

You have created covers for some of the most forward-thinking electronic music artists, from Koan Sound to Refraq & Vorso to Echo Map to Mr Bill. On socials, you even seem to have a very close relationship with some of them, calling Mr. Bill your best friend, for example. What is it like working with them?

It’s wonderful, super inspiring and I feel very lucky to have developed real friendships with a lot of the producers I work with. Bill was my gateway to this job, so I will always be super grateful for giving me a chance (almost 20 years ago!) and trusting me all these years. It makes me super proud to see and hear the things that he and many other friends accomplish with their brilliance. It does feel like a weird extended family of talented people scattered all over. 

With Bill, it usually goes like this: He messages me on Discord saying ‘hey I made an album’ or ‘Hey I made some tunes’ and sends me a folder packed with the craziest shit you’ve ever heard. Then I try to top that somehow visually. I truly love the process of visualizing music, and with every musician I work with it’s always new and exciting.

This past year, I also worked very closely with Droeloe for his ‘The Art Of Change’ album, and that also spawned a great friendship with Vin. We instantly clicked and I can’t wait to do other stuff with him.

Droeloe – Foolish Fish | Artwork by Funi

When creating artwork for music producers, do you typically work from a brief or have full creative control?

Depends on the producer! Some projects might be completely up to me and some others are extremely thought out and I just visualize them as close to the musician’s vision as I can. Also, everything in between. Both approaches are very cool in their own merit and it’s refreshing to go from one to the other.

Refraq & Vorso Biomes2k
Refraq & Vorso – Biomes2k | Artwork by Funi

Speaking of music, do genres influence your work? Does bass music have a special place among all of them?

Absolutely. I’m a huge music nerd, especially electronic. I love to follow the scene and see all the newcomers who grew up with laptops and DAWs come in and do whatever they want. I grew up listening to Boards of Canada, Aphex, Squarepusher, and countless other pioneers –  then eventually discovered drum & bass, trip-hop, garage, dubstep, and all that sweet sweet UK stuff which prompted me to move to London and immerse myself in the scene. The bass music scene is always evolving and it does feel like a strange cult of passionate people who are extremely supportive and lift each other up.

You also produce music. How do your songs connect with your visual artwork? Is it like creating an original soundtrack for your art?

I ”produce” music because I love doing it, but I’m barely capable, especially being surrounded by real musicians. I don’t have the confidence to try and do anything serious. I make some small pieces of sound designs or write some melodies to go with some of my VR art, but, again, It’s very simple stuff. I am way more confident when I paint than when I write music. I’m definitely more of a listener. I do however have some tracks out or tunes that I’m working on with actual producers and I definitely look forward to doing more of that!

Thank you so much for reaching out, STUDIO!

Interview conducted in May 2024 by Royer.

Thanks to Funi for the amazing chat.

Read more interviews about visual creators on our website here (Dimitri Thouzery) or here (Adam Pizurny)

Don’t forget to follow Funi on socials to discover more about his great art.