The centerpiece of Mathew Borrett’s Hypnogogic City peers into a hazy and shifted existence of Toronto’s city hall. From our view, we see a hybrid destruction of Toronto’s city hall both by man and by nature. Each building seems to hold its own function and host its own colony. Everything else is grown over with trees or flooded with water.


Although there are no people visible, the elements included in the scene suggest that life goes on. Tiny worlds densely pack into every inch of Hypnogogic city, and the amount of work, effort, and imagination that has gone into it kind of makes your brain hurt. Mathew Borrett succeeds in making Toronto new again. It is inviting to look at because the city remains familiar, but its transformation makes it foreign and excitingly unexplored. Visit his show, and you will see people standing with their noses an inch from his images taking in the multitudes of intricate detail. 

The process of bringing Hypnogogic City to life was overwhelming, says Borrett. Scene management and balancing micro details versus macro composition were constant challenges. Mathew would spend many hours zoomed into a building sculpting a detail only to realize that his efforts only made a few millimeters of difference in the final composition.

Mathew uses Isotropix’s Clarisse to develop layout, materials, and lighting. This software came with a learning curve as it was relatively new him. Clarisse is a powerful software that is comparatively new to the scene, and its standout feature is its ability to handle a huge amount of assets. Mathew was able to smoothly navigate and interact with his scenes which had over 350 billion polygons. “I once tried pumping as much geo into a scene as I could. Got up to 20 or 30 trillion, at which point the point clouds exceeded my 64 gigs of ram. That’s some crazy voodoo!” he said. 



Mathew’s methodology involved a lot of building on top of building, revisiting and reshaping. Matt describes the development of his images as an organic growth. Fitting. Borrett built nearly all the assets in Modo, a fast and powerful polygonal modeling software, and then added them to his final composition in Clarisse. Erosion and other decay were sculpted in 3D-Coat, and fabric assets were created in Marvelous Designer.

He was able to acquire most of the city assets as SketchUp files. Mathew admits that getting his hands on these pieces gave him a false sense of the workload ahead of him. Most structures were too simple to use, forcing him to rebuild a lot from scratch. To accomplish this, Borrett says he amassed hundreds of reference photos, turning his project into a detailed independent study of Toronto’s City Hall.

Towards the end of his project, he hit a major snag; he could find no online render farms that supported Clarisse. The fan was nearly hit, but Borrett lucked out finding a refurbished, 16-core workstation that he could use to render out slices of his final images quickly enough to meet the deadline. No doubt a lot of love, hard work, anxiety, and bleary eyes went into this.



There are no overt political or environmental message hidden within his dream-like version of Toronto. Borrett says it’s up to the viewer to decide whether this Toronto is dystopian or utopian. Real life Toronto deals with constant transit issues, an out of control housing market, and many other obstacles that are making it unlivable for many Torontonians (myself included). There is an undeniable appeal to setting up shop on a distant rooftop in Hypnogogic City. 



If you’re in Toronto, make sure you check out his show at The Red Head Gallery at 401 Richmond Street West. Prints are available for sale as well. 


Lauren is an industrial designer, 3D generalist, and stuff-makerer based in Canada. She is the founder of LearnSpace T.O. which offers classes and workshops for industrial designers in Toronto. If her father were writing this bio, he would prefer she went by her native name, Three Feathers, and would describe her job as 'something to do with computers.'