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Behind-the-scenes interview: Designer Max Zimmermann about the new TASSEN Mugs

The new coffee mugs continue our signature attention to detail and high-quality porcelain. But what exactly are the creative steps involved in making a finished product from 100% hard porcelain? In this interview, we offer a glimpse behind the scenes of the TASSEN design studio. We sat next to FIFTYEIGHT 3D co-founder and designer Max Zimmermann – and this is what he had to say.

Hi Max, thanks for talking to us about Mugs! What’s the creative process behind a new TASSEN product? Do you usually start with a sketch? 

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When it came to making the new mugs, at first I had a couple of different approaches in mind. Because in the first step, it was all about defining the basic shapes of the mugs and seeing about the implications for getting them into actual production, which has a lot of requirements.


The first version, for instance, was not conically shaped like the finished product, but featured straight lines, like you would imagine a “boring” office coffee mug.

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And then you reached out to our manufacturing partners for feedback on how feasible and realistic these ideas were from a production angle?


Exactly, then I got some pretty devastating feedback regarding the feasibility. So I had to hit “Empty Trash” and let go of my initial approach entirely! Then I did a bunch of research and took a new stab at it. And then one day, the characters popped into my head and I could see the mugs before my mind’s eye. Then I had to figure out what kind of emotional state the mugs will be in.

Do you then experiment with different emotions expressed by the same character?

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Yes, I created an entire sheet with individually numbered facial expressions, which you can see in the photograph. In the image accompanying this story, you can get an idea of all the alternative choices we came up with.


Then the feedback from the production side was much more positive and we knew that making the new mugs was actually possible.

On that note, I have to say that without the professionals and artists over on the production side of things, we wouldn’t know what we’re doing. Backed by their experience and know-how, it’s so much easier finding the way to an actual finished product.

And with the mugs, I also knew that I wanted to make characters that are a bit more “forward” than our previous TASSEN. That’s how we ended up with a super funny “grumpy” facial expression that’s now part of the first production run.

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And with the mugs, I also knew that I wanted to make characters that are a bit more “forward” than our previous TASSEN. That’s how we ended up with a super funny “grumpy” facial expression that’s now part of the first production run.


There really hasn’t been a “grumpy” TASSEN product like that, except perhaps for the "sulking" bowls, which were still kind of cute. What was the reasoning behind going in that direction

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With the grumpy design we wanted to make a departure from the whole paradigm that everything we make somehow had to be “cute, sweet, and nice”. In the end, it’s much more interesting to offer diversity and differentiation.


And once you had narrowed down the final sketches, did you go into 3D-modelling as a three-dimensional computer model?

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Exactly, that’s when we started modeling the little guys in 3D. And not only in the basic pose that leads to the so-called "rigging", which is the basic technical model. But also right away in different shapes and facial expressions.


In the next step, our Senior Animator Walter Volbers created a new animation rig into which my shapes were implemented. This entire process of fine-tuning the three-dimensional shapes in Blackbox took about two weeks.


Then my FIFTYEIGHT 3D partner Timm Osterhold went and experimented with the mugs some more and created some pretty nice 3D-poses.


And how did you end up with the 3D-shape with the wide open mouth?

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I created an AAAAHHHRG! pose in the 3D program, which I found super funny. Like I mentioned earlier, that was one of about 30 total shapes of which the character’s technical set-up is composed.


Then I took the shape and printed it on our in-house 3D-printer, just to see what it would look like in real life. But that was more of a creative departure, a side-product of the whole mugs production, if you will.


But naturally, that’s a pretty extreme facial expression, which will be hard to combine with the other shapes. At the same time, it’s characteristic of the expressive nature we’re going for in the new mugs line.

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Overall, the aesthetics of the mugs are rather unique. How did you create the look that is a bit of a departure from previous bowls and cups?

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Like I said, we were trying to create a counterpoint to our previous TASSEN products. Something like a new species within the same universe. Their common features are in the curvature of the porcelain, as well as the material itself. The new line enables us to tell new jokes and stories with our mugs, and we can expand our humor and storytelling capabilities by bringing them onboard.

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