By Caryn B. Davis / Images courtesy Mark Yurkiw

3D artist Mark Yurkiw

Mark Yurkiw is about as out of the box as one can get. He loves the process of finding solutions to challenging problems and contemplating cause and effect. This way of thinking led him to study astrogeophysics in college. But it was also this same mindset that caused him to abandon science in graduate school to study fine art instead.

“I went from a very disciplined education to what seemed like a bunch of artists throwing paint at each other. It did not jive with what I thought education was about,” says Yurkiw. “But then I had the chance to work with a man who solved problems by creating sculptures for the advertising industry for use in magazine ads and TV commercials.”

Yurkiw became intrigued by how the visual medium could communicate an idea and impact the viewer. Additionally, he saw this as an opportunity to problem solve, but in a very different way. He soon formed his own Manhattan based company, The Group Y and later renamed it Think 3D.

He was highly successful and employed an international staff of twelve. They worked worldwide for museums, magazines, Fortune 500 corporations, medical firms, and with sports figures and celebrities. A short roster of his over 1000 clients included Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, Lancôme, Pepsi, Armani, Kodak, Texaco, the United Nations, the White House, and many others. They specialized in “sculptural storytelling” to explain a new product or service by creating three-dimensional marketing solutions through exhibitions, print ads, feature films, and television commercials. During the course of his lengthy career, Yurkiw conceptualized, strategized, designed, built, and executed over 2000 projects.

“When you can wrap your hands around something physical, you can wrap your mind around it too,” Yurkiw says.

Nowadays we don’t think much about working in 3D because it’s so commonplace. New technologies develop so fast, it’s impossible to keep up. There are 3D printers, cameras, scanners, software, optics, etc. And with the advent of the Internet, we no longer have to peruse reference books at the library or consult the Yellow Pages to find something obscure that we need.

Freezing Statue Of Liberty

Freezing Statue Of Liberty

But in the 1970s, the only enterprise dabbling in 3D was Hollywood, and even that was in its infancy. This was one reason Yurkiw was so sought after, aside from the fact he was very good at what he did. He earned a reputation for being the go-to guy, which still holds true today.

“When you had to make something back then, you went to the person who specialized in the material. We even invented materials and often had to talk the company into producing a new product we could use,” says Yurkiw.

One project Yurkiw did 15 years ago that is still ongoing was a coat drive for the homeless through an organization called New York Cares. They needed a striking ad  to compel people to bring their used winter coats to Grand Central Station. Yurkiw fashioned a life sized sculpture of the Statue of Liberty crouched on a curb  shivering, with snow falling around her. The campaign continues to be so successful, one million coats have been donated to date.

Another client, Vanity Fair, approached Yurkiw to do a photo spread featuring the worlds most famous living architects. The challenge was to capture their distinctive personalities and achievements in a single image. Yurkiw gleaned inspiration from a 1938 costume ball where attending architects came dressed as their buildings. Working with photographer Josef Astor, they photographed Cesar Pelli donning his Carnegie Hall Tower; IM Pei wearing a coolie hat mirroring his Louvre Pyramid; Philippe Starck decked out in his Tokyo Fish Restaurant; and Connecticut’s Philip Johnson outfitted in his building at One PPG Place in Pittsburgh.

When the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey renovated their building, they added a tower with a glass pyramid at the top, which they wanted to utilize as part of the exhibition space. They reached out to architects, lighting technicians, artists, and designers by hosting a national competition to see what they could come up with. Yurkiw won. Since the Center was right on the water, he refashioned the tower into a solar powered lighthouse illuminated by giant abstract fireflies that planes and ships entering New York Harbor at night would see.

“This was to inspire the one million children who go to that museum to do creative things with renewable energy,” says Yurkiw.

Vanity Fair images

The more education related projects Yurkiw did, the more he wanted to leave advertising behind to do work that was meaningful and not about selling something. After 911, he reevaluated his life and profession and decided to close his studio and  relocate to Connecticut. Since then, he has only taken projects that promote and  foster education and the arts, which he believes are vital to our society’s future.

“Education needs a complete about face. It’s not about teaching the standards I grew up with, but rather teaching children how to problem solve. We also need to change  how we think about the arts. The ideas that come out of art are what the world needs. It teaches us about ourselves and evolves to places traditional education doesn’t take us to,” Yurkiw says.

One of Yurkiw’s recent undertakings was for a little boy named Jacob, whom Yurkiw met through the Make-A-Wish foundation. Yurkiw fulfilled Jacob’s wish by designing him a one room school house for the 21st Century, complete with a solar powered 3D printer, a 3Doodler and an Occipital Structure Sensor; so whatever Jacob could conceive of in his imagination, he could create in the physical world. Yurkiw enlisted the help of college students because he envisions this project continuing, where the students can build these one-room structures for course credit and learn about innovation and business in real time. In turn, they can teach these skills to the younger generation, while the younger kids help them remain abreast of new technologies.

“We created what I believe is a model for this paradigm shift that the digital world is bringing to every one of us, starting in preschool. The ten year olds and the twenty year olds have left us behind. We need to see how the world has changed and help them move it all forward. If I create what is possible, then perhaps the kids will tell me what’s possible, says Yurkiw.

Since designing his One Room School House / Think3DLab, Yurkiw has been asked to take his idea to its next incarnation by creating a “Castle in the Sky” for the Maria Fareri’s Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York.

The “Castle in the Sky” is a roof top castle with a drawbridge made from colorful bricks that will give children some enjoyment during their hospital stay. An IPad connected to the Internet and a 3D printer will allow them to design and print even  from their beds. At the castle they can invent anything and everything from a remote controlled car, to robots, to a doorbell, using LEGO® and littleBits, which are electronic blocks that snap together in millions of possible combinations to power whatever has been crafted.

“With the digital revolution as our renaissance, there are no more parameters. Whatever we can imagine can be, if we put in the effort to make it happen and find the path we need to go down. Throughout history we have used our imagination to make life more comfortable, safe, interesting, and pleasurable. Our ability to imagine is what makes humans uniquely different from every other life form,” says Yurkiw.

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