Paul Baker creates scrumptious food effects from Plasticine and paint

Paul Baker is a food modeller, but that anodyne job title little reveals the scrumptious effects he creates from Plasticine and paint. Anna Richardson is
sorely tempted to squeeze his fruit and veg

It’s tricky securing time with Paul Baker, founder of 3D Studios, especially when he’s in the throes of organising his most ambitious project to date. Baker is a model maker-cum-designer and has spent the past month creating pineapple valleys, mango ravines, carrot rivers and juice waterfalls for a new commercial for Polish fruit and vegetable company Hortex.

Its series of juice ads involved Baker in two weeks of preparation, followed by a two-week shoot of 14-hour days. It took two days alone to prepare a spookily realistic bunch of fake bananas. ‘It was the most intense job I’ve ever done, there were so many elements to think about,’ he says.

It’s not often that Baker is challenged to such an extent. He has been in the business for more than 25 years and has built a vast client list, including many blue-chip companies. His work ranges from Cornetto for Unilever to the fresh-fish/rotten-fish ad campaign for Birds Eye.

Baker studied graphic design at East Ham College in London. ‘As so many designers, I was always good at art,’ he says. ‘But I always wanted to be a commercial artist. I get paid to create, I don’t create for the sake of it.’ Early into his degree, Baker realised that it was 3D work he was interested in and turned every subsequent course project into a model-making exercise. On graduating in 1982, he gave himself one year to make it on his own. Six months later, he was making a living. Baker explains his success with a shrug, ‘I just got good at it.’ His name quickly travelled around the multinational Unilever corridors via word of mouth, with work coming in from Thailand, Brazil and Pakistan, among other places.

Today, 3D Studios is still a one-man band, although Baker has a trusted team of freelances and suppliers, including cabinet-makers, food dressers, woodworkers, engineers and illustrators, and he works on up to ten jobs at a time. Baker is self-taught, and his forte was always his sculpting skills. ‘That gave me an advantage,’ he explains. ‘I could think three-dimensionally. All model makers have a skill that they bring to the table, from manufacturing to metal-working. Mine is sculpture and that is the basis of most of my work.’

But it’s not just his sculptural flair that makes Baker successful. With projects on the scale of the Hortex commercials, his organisational skills and eye for detail are just as important. ‘You have to be organised and always think ahead,’ says Baker. ‘And the nature of the advertising industry means that deadlines are always tight.’

Baker’s studio is a giant treasure trove of his past and present work. His tools and materials are stacked haphazardly alongside recent food models, such as a giant bulb of garlic, that bunch of bananas, various carrots, cherries and blackcurrants, a D&AD Award-winning English Football Hooligan set for the World Cup 1998 and boxes containing ‘£1000 worth of engineering’.

With a speciality in food, Baker often uses a combination of real and fake to create a realistic effect. His models, sculpted in Plasticine or clay and then cast in resin, are uncanny. These are no joke-shop props – you want to squeeze the plump mangoes and peel the perfectly ripe banana. ‘You have to put imperfections in,’ Baker explains. ‘That’s what makes them feel real.’ But it is the way Baker puts them to use that’s most impressive. The tableaux he paints, the miniature sets he conjures, are most fascinating for their well-observed detail – a skill he also employs on a large scale in shop windows for Selfridges and others.

Baker enjoys art directing and is keen to start a production company, producing short documentaries, rather than table-top commercials. But 3D Studios will remain a one-man band, with the ability to expand and retract in response to the economic climate. ‘If I wanted to be a millionaire, I would have taken risks,’ says Baker. ‘But I make a good living. That’s enough. I’m happy.’

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