Slaves to the Screen

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 Brief

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”.

The Process

Because the tech company hadn’t bought the idea, we had to make the entire campaign before pitching it to them.

I figured this would be a good opportunity to exercise a bit of creativity , and since the campaign was based around technology, I decided to use CGI to construct the masks and then animate the final images. There ended up being three main steps in bringing the project to life: the shoot, the masks (CGI), and the animation.

The Shoot

The shoot involved two main facets - the cast and the headset.

With the talent 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 created a black stand in headset and 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 used 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 worked with a make up artist to distress the talent.


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 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, much 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 involves using computer graphics to create images. In this case, 3D images.

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.

1251 mask#2_clay.jpg
1251 mask#3_clay.jpg

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.


The Animation

Last but not least, the final step was to animate the images. The main goal I wanted to achieve with this was to show the flip between the two realities - the real world, and the virtual world. Although far from that simple, it it involved creating a transition between the original goggle-less stills of the tech slaves and the finished CGI images.

Once again, the SixtyFour team nailed it.


The End Result

Even though the campaign never came to fruition professionally, it remains one of my most worthwhile projects. I was able to add some new skills to my repertoire and gain a real appreciation for and insight into what can be achieved with both my work and images in general.