At work with: Christoph Niemann, illustrator

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The front cover of this week’s New Yorker issue features an illustration by Berlin-based artist Christoph Niemann; in a unique commission, he also designed the back cover, the two artworks each linking to an augmented reality animation accessed via the Uncovr app. We catch up with Christoph to find out how the cover, highlighting the magazine’s Innovations issue, came about.

Where are you today?
In an airplane en route to Madrid.

What can you see from the window?
Supremely pretty clouds.

Are you a morning or evening person?
Morning! Especially in the summer when it’s light early!

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Which magazine do you first remember?
Mad.

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What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
I was just reading the terrific ZEIT Magazin (with a tough but intriguing feature on violence between different groups of refugees).

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Talk us through how this week’s New Yorker cover came about – was it always going to be more than just a front cover artwork?
Francoise Mouly (cover art director) called me and told me that they needed an idea for a front and back cover that’s tied into an AR feature.

For a complex project like this you need to have an enormous amount of mutual trust with the art director. I’ve been working with Francoise for along time and was confident we could solve this. I wouldn’t have done a job like that with a first time client.

The greatest challenge was to simultaneously solve the front/ back cover problem as well as the connection to the virtual animation.

The greatest obstacle with the front back cover is that you can’t draw an idea with a proper punchline. You cannot assume that people will see the back, so the front has to deliver the story by itself. But you can’t just waste the the back cover on some pretty extension of the front either…

I was very happy with the subway door idea because it took advantage of the situation, rather than working against it. The Statue of Liberty twist happened coincidentally while I was trying to figure out the composition.

After I had made a storyboard we started working with Nexus productions. If you’re not familiar with this technology, you probably think it’s complicated to build something like this. In fact it’s INSANELY complicated, but they were wonderful collaborators — incredibly skilled and stunningly patient with my endless requests.

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Of all the New Yorker covers you’ve contributed, what’s your favourite and why?
The very first one (above): doing a New Yorker cover was always my greatest dream. The date of that issue was also the day I got married. That’s kind of unbeatable.

What are you most looking forward to this week?
Serrano ham and Rioja.

What are you least looking forward to this week?
A bunch of annoying administrative crap that I’m choosing to utterly ignore for the next 48 hours.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Doing a crossword with my wife (I don’t like crosswords, but I love my wife).

Read more about the cover here.
christophniemann.com

Portrait by Gene Glover

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