The fascinating world of wave pool renderings with James Biling

Wave pool digital artist James Biling is either a renaissance man or just totally, completely overcaffeinated (most likely a big mix of both.) We’re fairly certain he wore out his phone screen hitting the send button during the making of this piece. He fired off concept-design art, photos of original paintings, schematics of totally new wave technology and even one spoof of a current and very popular wave tech – all of it captioned with cheery, enthusiastic quips and a general distrust of Gmail, “Hey again, did you guys get me last email?”

It’s this unbridled energy that explains James’ production rate of paintings, photography, new pool techs and concept art. For today we’ll focus on some of the most famous wave pool mock-ups the world has seen including designs for Webber and Surf Lakes. We’ll get to James’ other stuff, like wedding photography, another time.

The photo above was created 3 months before any drone photos were taken, I had no insider knowledge or direction from Surf Lakes either – I used approx 30 different images/layers to create this vertical aerial shot. 

What are some of the challenges in designing mock-ups for wave pools?
The main challenge is to have a good enough stock library of images on hand or to be able to go and shoot specific images for a certain project that will match-in with everything else. All of my images are created using real photos from my own stock library (and when needed some stock images via Adobe Stock online library).

Always considering, light, composition, perspective, colors and quality/resolution from which you may have to then cut-out/mask into the larger composite artwork.

Creating and blending water surfaces and waves in different photos from different places can be a pain-staking process, but after some trial and error, I usually can create the desired result. Another major element when trying to create a fully photo-realistic look is scale. Trying to make sure that the potential wave size and swell directions all work with the overall theme and technical drawings are key!

“The road to where I am now is quite a random and very unplanned – let’s say “organic” – set of events that have all-in-all helped me to focus in on this area of photography/digital art.”

On one of my artworks for Webber’s V walls, he had the foresight to tell me to add noticeable curves along the beach shoreline where the sandbanks will in time build up and improve the overall sand structure along the entire beach. It was an easy enough edit to amend, but luckily the genius of Greg Webber had the ability to know this small detail in advance which might prove to be a vital part of making the V wall system a reality.

Also when creating my work for Greg it was imperative that my photo composite matched accurately the science and fluid mechanics behind the design principle which Greg is obviously very passionate about as well.

A background in surf photography and grom-like frothiness help ease the hours spent manipulating pixels. Webber Reef design.

Share with us something that most people don’t know about doing wave pool mock-ups.
Ummmm, for me, I actually really enjoy creating them! I see it as another form of painting – but instead of actual oils on a canvas, I am punishing pixels and distorting the Matrix to allow others to more clearly see what the pool designer wants to market. With my background in surf photography and my sheer grom-like excitement when I see perfect waves, the whole process is very soothing for me and I could spend hours at a time tweaking and editing an image. 

This is such a niche thing I am doing that I don’t know if people know this is actually a “thing” haha. There are a lot of amazing illustrators and graphic artists out there but I am yet to have seen anybody use the techniques I employ to create my style.

How did you connect with wave pool makers like Surf Lakes and Webber?
In the case of Surf Lakes, I found the main marketing contact via the website but also sent some messages via Instagram as well in order to hopefully set up an informal “hello.” I then enquired via email to the team in general if they had any need for more photography/imagery of the site or mock-ups/artistic impressions. But I was informed that they had already engaged with a creative team and weren’t looking for any more contributors. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to create something that would no doubt look much like the real thing!

As for Webber Reefs, I found his email on his website and introduced myself along with a few of my artworks/edits and surf photography. He was impressed and commissioned me to create a lifelike composite of his new concept Webber Reefs and V-walls.

webber reefs

We heard you are designing your own wave pool system. What’s that look like? Tell us how it works!
Yes, that’s correct! Haha – in fact I share my office with my good friend Ben Player who is equally as motivated and excited by the whole “wave pool arms race” and we often throw ideas back and forth of how waves could be generated and reefs could be improved etc.

I have got about five potential concepts in mind! Some of which are unique to anything on the current market, and some are adaptations of the current systems but with some creative ways of better utilizing the wave energy and or layout of the reefs.

For the record, I have a clear understanding of the physics behind ocean waves and I even went to university in Plymouth UK for 1 year to study Ocean Science. However, I decided to pursue traveling and surf trips to Indonesia. For as much as I loved the real science and theory behind everything, the university lifestyle and learning environment just weren’t for me! After my travels, I ended up in Australia on an exchange visa working as a beach lifeguard on the Northern Beaches of Sydney for 8 years and going back and forth to the UK each summer for more lifeguarding in Cornwall. This means I have spent many, many hours/days of my life mind-surfing waves while on duty. Perhaps this has fed my brain with endless images of how perfect waves should look!?

I have sketches and drawings/computer mock-ups made of my ideas and am considering creating a scale model using my son’s LEGOs on one of the systems! I don’t want to reveal too much just yet, however! I know you understand. But if there are many serious people out there interested to know more.