Splash and Smash: Welcome to the Mad Hatter's NFT Party

Like many photographers, I’ve watched the NFT boom with keen interest. Now that buyers can legitimately secure ownership of digital assets, I’ve become more excited about exploring digital art beyond traditional photography.
Though you can buy NFTs for everything from tweets to NBA Top Shots, the digital assets that I find most intriguing are the ones combining top-quality photography with creative use of animation and 3D.

Keeping it surreal

As I pondered what sort of artwork I wanted to create, my imagination kept returning to a fantastical story that I (and probably you too) first encountered as a child: Alice in Wonderland.

Like many people, I’ve always detected some sinister undertones in Alice’s adventures. The Mad Hatter’s tea party in particular is a surreal and downright creepy scene, especially with Johnny Depp playing the role of the Hatter.

Crops from the final shot
Different tea splashes and engravings appear with each new loop of the animation

I decided to throw everything I had – including all of my splash photography skills, plus dozens of china teapots and cups – at my own artistic interpretation of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The plan was to make it strange, surreal, sinister, and lots of fun.

So, how did we do it?


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Mad for it

We began with a previsualisation meeting. In that meeting, I described what I had in mind and grilled my team about the logistics of making it happen.
Meeting with the team

Talking it over with the team

From sourcing teacups and teapots from charity shops to building our own gold-effect frame, the team assured me that my concept wasn’t completely ‘mad’.

They even had a solution for the problem of a green chair that I wanted to turn red. Nothing a lick of paint wouldn’t fix!

Painting the chair

Turning a green chair red

We found the perfect green damask wallpaper, but it looked a bit too pristine for my liking. The solution? Throw coffee at it and scorch it with a blowtorch, of course.
Wrecking the wallpaper
We found some nice green damask wallpaper – a little too nice, in fact!

“It’s not a [censored] tennis ball!”

Once we had all the props we needed, we were ready to start testing.

Unfortunately, the team decided to begin the testing process while I was out meeting with a client, before they had fully grasped what I was hoping to achieve.

Lighting the shot
The early tests were absolutely smashing

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Thankfully, I made it back to the studio in time to stop Georgie and the gang smashing every last teacup and teapot as they tried in vain to make them ‘bounce’.

Once we had everything planned and prepared, it was time to book in model Tristan and makeup artist Shanine, and start counting down to the big day.

Mad makeup

Transforming Tristan into the Mad Hatter

Time for tea

On the morning of the shoot, Shanine had her work cut out getting Tristan into character. But even though he had to wear an awful lot of makeup (and some crazy contact lenses to boot), at least Tristan didn’t have to worry about getting slapped in the face with jelly on this particular shoot!

First, I had to get some shots of Tristan looking suitably sinister as the Mad Hatter.

I also had to capture multiple images of the Hatter's face and eyes, getting closer and closer each time. This was to secure the necessary resolution to make the steady zoom into the eye work – a crucial part of the animation to come.

Mad hatter smile

Give us your craziest smile

Then it was time to start making a mess.

As the team began throwing tea around, I used fast flash duration to capture the liquid in mid-flight.

Lighting the shot

The tea team in action

To find out all about my lighting setup for this shoot, watch the full-length behind-the-scenes photography class.

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Cleaning up the mess

Once I had all the shots I needed, the next stage was post-production. On this occasion, because I wanted to create a piece of animated digital art, retouching in Photoshop was just the beginning.

I had to carefully cut out each individual element (cups, saucers, tea splashes, etc.) so that they could be manipulated separately as we worked on the 3D animation in Adobe After Effects.

To find out more about how Corey and I used After Effects to transform my photos into a mesmerising piece of animated digital art, look out for the full-length post-production class, coming soon.

© Karl Taylor. Watch in 4K on full screen with sound on to get the full effect
Final Mad Hatter image

© Karl Taylor

A nice cup of NFT

In my version of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, we find ourselves frozen in time, trapped in an eternal and sinister celebration with the unhinged hatter himself.

If you look closely, you'll notice that the engraved text on the picture frame changes with each new iteration. And of course the tea splashes are different each time too.

Will I succeed in my mission to mint and sell my first NFT? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, let's put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea...

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  1. Just as I suspected, flying jelly was an “entry drug” to this type of unhinged behavior!

    Look forward to the Post Production segment. Also curious how you were capturing the various frames (zooming, moving camera, etc.)

    Great work!

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