It’s Surreal Thing: Dream Destination Challenge Winner

Xiang Mucha Zhao (@lycocorax) loves buildings that tilt, crumble, and defy gravity. He also loves the surrealist paintings of Dalí, Magritte, and Max Ernst. A resident of Qingdao, China (formerly Tsingtao—where the beer comes from), he studied motion graphics in Canada, but has since discovered design to be his true obsession.

Congrats on your winning design for our “Dream Destinations” challenge! Does your design—’The Entrance’—represent a dream you had?

Thanks my friend! Actually it is not a dream. ‘The Entrance’  was first inspired by a Music video from U2 called Windows In The Sky.

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U2 “Windows In The Sky”

Why did you call your design ‘The Entrance’?

I just quit my regular job, which was boring and time consuming. I was looking for something that was exciting enough to push me into next level in life. This title represents a good wish of mine: to jump out from the old days and start my new career, turn a brand new next page, and hope that more amazing things happen in the future, since I am now a full-time freelancer.

entrance model
“The Entrance”

Apart from the fantasy world, where is your Dream Destination?

Umm, my real dream destinations are a little bit unusual. Once I read a blog about taking photos in some wasted lands in East Europe, including war ruins, olympic stadiums, USSR space science center, and nuclear sites.

We’ve seen some amazing pictures from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and from Chernobyl.

Those shots are amazingly surreal and impressive, I love how time changed those human creations, really wish that I could be there sometime in life.

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From Rebecca Licthfield’s ‘Soviet Ghosts’

Can you give us a brief bio? 

My name is Xiang Zhao, and my ‘official’ English name is Mucha. I graduated from Vancoucer Film School in 2009. After that I came back to my country and worked as a animation script writer / pre-production designer / post editor in a company until couple months ago.

I used to have a bunch of free time after work, so I decided to start designing as a hobby. That was the beginning of my Threadless career.

“Head Shot”

After some submissions and good feedback, I found that I was on the correct road, and this road can go very far! I’ve become obessed since then. It feels so good when you know your direction clearly and what you need is just to run faster.

I also learned a lot and get to know more platforms from other Threadless artists. Now I’m on tumblr, twitter, society6, DBH, and instagram, willing to make new friends :P

How did you learn to draw?

Well that’s a different story. I didn’t learn drawing specifically—what I learned at school was motion graphic design. I would call myself a designer instead of a painter.

I’m a big fan of Adobe Illustrator. In the very beginning, I would just grab a picture and practice pen tools on it. After a while I found that I needed some basic hand drawing knowledge. So I bought Bridgman’s Drawing From Life and started practicing drawing by hand. Now I draw on anything I can find. If I’m not satisfied with it, I can still fix it with software!

Do you design with ink and paper, with a tablet, or on a computer?

On paper and my iMac. I’d rather start with a paper sketch and then photo sketch them to computer. I like the process of a freehand drawing becoming digital, not a digital drawing becoming even more digital. Maybe I will change my method later, but Not today :P

“You’ve Got New Mail”

Your designs feature a lot of animals. Especially birds. How do animals help you express your ideas?

Personally I’m an animal lover, I love all furball-like animals, and I found that animals were an easy starting-point for drawing, especially at my early stages. Now I’ve gotten more ambitions, trying to create big scenes such as ‘Inflatable Attacks’ and ‘The Entrance’.

Have you ever put a real octopus through a paper shredder?

Haha man I will never, and there is no animal hurt during the making of my designs, I promise.

“Shred Shred Shred”

When you approached this particular challenge, what were you thinking about?

I think this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I’m always trying to make some big surrealism project—I’m a big fan of surrealist stuff—but I’m always short on time. With both free time and a this challenge, I thought, why don’t I give a shot?

How did you land on the final concept?

The first concept I was done years ago, called ‘Somewhere Way Up’. The core concept plays with different angles of buildings to bring audiences to a impossible perspective. The inspiration comes from both the U2 video and the film poster of Inception.


entrace first draftHowever, due to my own limitations, the first version, which I did in 2013, didn’t come out very satisfying—the color and background looked too plain to me, and the overall mood was very down. But I thought is was a good concept. entrance second draftSo this time I spent a lot of time nailing down a color palette and  reworking most of parts including lighting, characters, and composition until I felt pretty confident about the final result. It wasn’t until this year that I was able to get it right by re-working the composition itself as well as the colors.

Any shout-outs?

Of course firstly my family members, including my parents and my wife and my little baby girl who was just born last year. They always believe in what I’m doing even if they don’t really understand.

Secondly, our Threadless community. Thanks everyone who’s voted for me, no matter if it’s a 5 or 1. Those comments, encouragements and criticisms pushed me to go further. Thanks for this interview!

Buy ‘The Entrance’ Here

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Alan Spindle

Guest writer/editor/blogger at Threadless.