Mila Lolli is a designer, architect, and artist whose immersive worlds captivated the attention of the metaverse soon after she entered the space, in late-2020—with no plans to leave it, anytime soon
Words: John Bezold
Having moved from small-town Italy to London—after graduating from university with a degree in computer engineering—Mila Lolli quickly realized the potential that the city offered in terms of its creative community. Though her path to becoming, arguably, the most influential NFT-community leader in the UK—as of late summer 2022—wasn't so straightforward. After first gaining her footing as a user experience and product designer in web2 in the city, she quickly came to realize that her inner artist was longing to create, in a more self-guided manner. That is, as opposed to creating products built for the benefit of others, as a more traditional digitally-native, web2 designer. This, coupled with her independent spirit and genuine love of community; soon led her to minting her creations as Ethereum NFTs—and thereafter, founding Britain’s largest web3 organization: NFTUK.
Could you speak about your background? What is it you enjoy about working in the UK?
Originally, I am from Italy and at the moment I live in London. I have always been quite passionate about design and aesthetics and always thought that design was a fun and cool way to expand upon that. Since I was young, I’ve taught myself computer programs—such as Adobe and all those others like it. I chose after graduation to become more artistic, and then about 12 years ago, I decided to move to London. So before I became an artist I was more of a product designer. I had an interview with a fashion company based on some work that I had entered into a design contest with Hugo Boss, which led to my first job. I was really excited and felt a bit like Cinderella; the girl from a small town in Italy who moved to London and her dreams come true. It was a big opportunity for me. I flew to London and started working as a junior designer and had a lot to learn, but also, the whole world was ahead of me. Those were some of the best years of my life. I wouldn’t say that the work I was doing at that time was about art; there’s a difference between art and design. I have always had an artistic flair. And the work that I was doing was junior design work, and I really wanted to change that.
For the past few years, living in London; obviously, my life is here and is now rooted here. Even though I wasn’t creating art, per se, in the work that I was doing when I arrived, I still enjoyed it and gained confidence from it, especially being in London—a whole new world. I became very independent and became a freelancer and worked for Google and then Virgin Media and just creating all kinds of product and UI/UX design deliverables; that’s more or less the direction I headed toward after being in the UK for several years. And the reason I arrived in the NFT space was by pure accident, but also curiosity. In terms of tech, I’m in love with innovation and I wanted to apply that to movement, and to media experimentation.
'I gained my confidence in London, and more specifically in web2 design.'
How did you find your way to designing in the metaverse? More importantly, why have you stayed on your current web3 path?
I first found the Discord for Foundation, which was one of my first landing points in the NFT world. I’ve met many friends there and have watched a lot of them become really successful. I’ve also learned from the failure of others and what went well and what didn’t. I’ve gained so much and there are many things I wouldn’t do again. There's no learning without failing.
I’ve mostly been focused on immersive interactive worlds, within what’s possible in terms of the available technology for the metaverse. And because of that, I chose to focus my work on one-to-one pieces instead of very big collections, for instance, or anything related to PFPs. I did have small collections with just a few pieces, and they were successful, but overall, it was a successful journey for me. And most of my work sold out rather quickly, which was great.
Since you started, what’s changed in the space and how has it developed and transformed?
In my own observation and experience, it has gone through several noticeable phases. At first, it was like kids in a candy store. It was a sort of honeymoon phase and there were many artists trying to understand how this works. And then it became a bit quieter, a sort of FOMO phase where it all went so fast and actual time didn’t match reality anymore. You would drop a project and so did someone else, and their friend, too. So that was sort of its own period. But the main constant was the eagerness of it all. And of course, there are many people who are able to make a living out of it, so that’s one element too. That’s so different from web2. In web3, anyone can just rock up and create a collection—really of anything, in any medium. And if handled the right way, they could really be very successful in doing that. For sure…
'3D NFTs have so much more soul and are much more unique in a sense than many other mediums artists work in. And creating a narrative is always important when creating any drop. People like to hear more about these things; a true backstory. A genuine narrative that people can connect with.'
After the FOMO phase, there was a time where there was also a lot of—let's say high tension feelings because drops were promising huge hype; lots of waiting lists; huge amounts of grinding—you know, all that. It doesn’t happen so much anymore. Which is nice. Which has to do with the way projects are delivered. Which is also nice. A lot of this has to do with the space being more mature, and there, being... more education on the part of those, within it.
2022 has been so symbolic for education and awareness within the space; what not to do with NFTs. Hardware wallets. Security. All that.
In web2 you go to work, you maybe have drinks, you go home, and you do it all over again the next day. That's not community. For me, one of the most fundamental aspects of web3 is the eagerness on the part of the people in it to be inhabiting the space. That’s community.
And that’s so interesting too, what you’re saying about community—because being based in London, which is already so diverse; yet everyone—I mean I hope, for them—is able to communicate in English, the world’s lingua franca right now. So, the sheer range of people in the NFT space in the UK must just be interesting, from the point of view of everyone’s background. To that extent—can you talk about NFTUK? What are its central aims, and what are some aspects of it you’re most proud of?
So many web3 companies are being acquired by British web2 companies—which does help, here in the UK, because a lot of the people that are coming into web3, are coming from web2 tech. They are experienced people and they are, for instance, not just fresh out of university. I'm really proud of NFTUK. It's literally open to anyone. Nearly all of our events are free. It started very spontaneously, during 2020, when everyone was longing for more connection. And it's just kept growing, ever since.
Your work is an interesting mix of neon worlds, desert landscapes, and forested environments that contain almost mystical looks, creatures, ancient statues, and anthropomorphic figures. How do you describe it?
When I design a world it’s never too real. They’re obviously surreal. But I like the kind of, avatar-like elements to them. There’s always an element of surprise. You never walk into an actual forest and see human-sized mushrooms and bright glowing lights. A lot of people in the NFT space like to replicate the real-world inside the metaverse. But I want to push the boundaries between what’s real and what’s not. Like, who says a house has to actually have four walls? No one. Gravity and other things constrain the real world. But the Creature House works very well in the metaverse because there is no gravity, in the way I’ve designed it.
Nature, and specifically forests canopies, oversized vegetation, and the darkness of night are all prominently featured in your past works. Can you explain your approach to designing in relation to scale? Do you design from the perspective of a human? When viewing your work I often felt like a shrunken version of Alice, from Lewis Carroll’s nineteenth-century work of fiction, Alice in Wonderland.
Is that book an influence of yours? And to connect back to that: how do you approach scale?
My architecture isn’t just structural: it’s more so the light, the nature; the way that shadows fall onto surfaces… Most of my work is set during the evening, so there is a sort of built-in quality in terms of relaxation and meditation. I don’t focus on one aspect of architecture.
When it comes to scale... I never create work from the point of view of a character; to use your own example, Alice. It’s more about storytelling and using the camera to convey a story. The visuals that come from the works I make are meant to be a third-person observation that tells the narrative to the viewer. It’s never from a first-person point of view. It’s about seeing all the elements; the animals, the moving trees, the lighting; the flowers—all that.
That’s good to know, because this is your first interoperable work that allows the user, and eventual owner, to immerse themselves into the space from the first-person perspective.
Exactly. I could never dictate someone’s first-person experience. I leave that to the user, for instance, of the Creature House. I just create the environment for users to expand the feelings that are evoked from the work, within themself. It’s about what happens, and how.
I understand your Creature House is derived from a prior collection, Creature of the Night. Could you talk about that collection, and how you came to create the Creature House from it? Why continue working within its creative framework? Why keep working within this series?
Last year I was listening to Kiss. The American rock band, with all the makeup. Their album Creature of the Night was the inspiration. I have a VR set, and I was wearing it and listening to that album of theirs while trying to immerse myself in my own created worlds. So I eventually realized that while using a VR headset—that I was able to paint in VR, as part of my process.
'In web3, anyone can just rock up and create a new collection—really, of anything, in any medium. And if handled correctly, they could really be quite successful with their project, in many ways.'
That’s really cool…
Right? While listening to that music I associated it with their make-up, I realized that I could sort of begin creating my own masks in AR, using VR, using this painting method that I have developed with the VR headset. And I realized I could make them sound responsive. And then I started making my own sounds for them to respond to, and eventually, my own music.
Each mask has its own specific feel and resembles different animals, and they’re all set at night so that the colors are really pronounced. Then I decided to create miniature creatures in 3D using VR—and see what happened with them. There are a few in the Creature House.
If you know the festival Tomorrowland; they get so creative in the physical world each year at that event—and I wanted to create some sort of stage or structure that was similar to a stage at a festival like that. I wanted it to be abstract though still playable. So the Creature House is indeed inspired by the Creatures of the Night work, and it’s the second phase of it.
'Despite that most people I meet in the NFT community are quite similar, we are all striving to do better and be better. And I like that, and being part of that, about this space.'
I've always wanted to do something beyond video work. I mean—videos are cool but there's also not so much you can do with them. It's just a video. You can't walk around inside of it, like with the Creature House. Unless it's projected on a wall, there's not much more that can be done with it. I'm so curious how the Creature House will be used. And I never really know what people are going to do with my work, or why they buy it. One collector bought one of my worlds—a fully playable world with glowing mushrooms and trees and all that. But they used it predominately for meditation for their DAO. I just thought people would roam around it and build things. So it's always fun to know and see how people use my metaverse work.
It seems really comparable to a festival atmosphere—creatures on stilts running around and lots of stages and many different people in the space, who together, create a very distinct atmosphere.
Exactly—could you begin to imagine, how fantastic it would be, if there was an actual festival like Tomorrowland happening inside of the Creature House. Wouldn’t that be fun?