As technology continues to advance, the ways in which opinions can be expressed and ideas can be shared increasingly diversifies. Advertising is no exception - where once people, brands and products were almost exclusively promoted using still photography, motion work, CGI (computer-generated imagery) and animation are now widely used.
Although stills continue to make up most of my work, this won’t be the case forever. Change is inevitable.
For me, this means preparing and adapting - branching out into new areas to ensure that I can continue to fulfill my clients’ needs well into the future as the industry changes.
My first opportunity to do this presented itself back in 2017 with “Slaves to the Screen”
The initial concept was from a campaign brief for a potential job - promoting the release of a tech company’s new virtual reality (VR) headset.
The slaves approach originated from the masks frequently worn by slaves in historic times, which appeared eerily similar to the structure and fit of the headset.
And so was born the notion of creating “slaves to technology”.
Because the tech company hadn’t bought the idea, we essentially had to make the entire treatment for the campaign before pitching it to them.
I figured this would be a good opportunity to exercise a bit of creativity and expand my horizons, and since the campaign was based around technology, I decided to use CGI to construct the masks and then animate the final images. Basically, there ended up being three main steps in bringing the project to life: the shoot, the masks (CGI), and the animation.
The shoot involved two main facets - the cast and the headset.
As it was easier and less costly, I recruited a few friends and family to help me out as the talent.
Having said that, there was a degree of selectivity about who I cast. Because I had to be able to make them look like real slaves, things like facial structure, muscle tone, definition all had to be taken into consideration - they had to appear physically well-worked.
Next was the headset. I wanted the final prototype to be made using CGI, but in order to do that I first had to create a base on which the CGI could be built. In addition, I thought the headset would be good for getting the cast in the moment during the shoot - to make them feel like they were actually in an alternate reality.
So I got a pair of safety goggles and spray-painted them black. I then added different straps so that the hair of whoever was wearing them would sit right when the CGI was rendered onto them.
In the images, I wanted to capture two concepts. First, the feeling of being in an alternate reality. I wanted the audience to see the real world the way the “tech slaves” were through the blacked-out goggles - that is, to not see it at all. Here, reality is non-existent. The answer? A simple black background.
I thought of using artificial blue light to illuminate the shots. I didn’t want it to be blatantly obvious, more just like the background glow of a screen when all the lights are switched off.
But I didn’t just want to convey the feeling of simply being in an alternate, imagined reality. I wanted to convey the feeling of being trapped in it. Of being a “slave to technology”.
I imagined you’d be wired. Stressed. You’d be sweaty. Your hair, messy. So before shooting, I had the make up artist mess up their hair of each talent then spray them with a mixture of water and glycerol. It’s viscous and sticky so rather than running straight off the body, it beads. Just like sweat.
Once the shoot was completed and final image selects made, I was ready to move on to the next step - designing and building the actual masks.
The Masks: Design
Before the masks could be designed, let alone built with CGI, a bit of research had to be done. I wanted the makes to resemble those worn by real slaves as closely as possible. I wanted them to look authentic…inescapable. So I studied and made notes about real slave masks - what they looked like, the types of material they were made from, how they were made…all the way down to the small details: the dings, the scratches, the weathering, the rust.
Once I had a solid idea of what needed to be produced, I enlisted the help of my brother Bryn who’s a tattoo artist and therefore, by default, way better at drawing than I ever could be. He designed and drew up a few mask prototypes for me to look over.
Once I was happy with the designs, they were passed to Jason and his team at SixtyFour to work their CGI magic.
The Masks: Building & Rendering using CGI
In a nutshell, CGI basically involves using computer graphics to create images. In this case, 3D images.
It’s also what’s used to construct virtual realities, so using it wasn’t just a matter of getting out of my comfort zone, but another way to stay relevant to the nature of the brief and the needs of the client.
There are two main parts to the CGI - creating the basic graphic, and then rendering it to make it look real.
From Bryn’s drawings, Jason and his team built the basic model of the masks and then used the images from the shoot and the information and photos I had gathered of real slave masks to render them into reality. The end result was nothing short of spectacular.
What really blew my mind was the level of detail they were able to achieve.
The texture, the construction, the details of the masks. The way they fit seamlessly onto the “slaves” as though they were actually wearing them during the shoot. Every dent, every ding, every little bit of weathering and rust was captured.