In April of 2017 an enigmatic and flawless muse, named Shudu, appeared on Instagram capturing the attention of the audience. This mysterious model is nothing less than an avatar you have created. Please tell us the story behind this brainchild.
I was on what was supposed to be a year off from photography, that ended up being three. Despite having some success as a fashion photographer for 10 years I hated it. I took some time off to try to find new inspiration, with the hopes of eventually moving to some exciting new city (I live in a small sea-side town in the UK), and after a lot of trial and error I came across 3D in late 2016. I had always been fascinated by 3D imagery but always felt that it was for people a lot smarter and more talented than me! Luckily I found programs that worked to my strengths and covered for my weaknesses, one such being Daz3D. Everything I had learned in photography was once again relevant when creating 3D fashion imagery and when it came to creating Shudu, it was just about as much the lighting, the styling and art direction as it was putting together her character. If any one of those elements had been off, those images wouldn’t have worked. The very first images I created with Shudu (with the gold backdrop) went viral, and unexpectedly I had stumbled onto something quite new to the fashion world.
At the beginning you were hesitant into revealing the true identity of Shudu. What made you break the anonymity?
At the start I had something to prove to myself. I needed to prove that I could create such realistic images of Shudu people would think she was real. As soon as I had proved that, there was no need to remain mysterious. I much prefer clarity when it comes to what I do, I really hope that way I could inspire someone else to create something I may never have thought of. I was approached by Harper’s Bazaar for an interview (one of my favourite fashion magazines) and it felt like the best possible time to be honest and open, and reveal to the world just how far technology has come.
This AI figure represents the beginning of a new era in fashion modeling. What aspects of the traditional industry do you expect it to change?
I’m hoping that at the very core fashion design changes. The current system is extremely wasteful and inefficient in respect to both time and materials. Using programs like Clo3D designers can down on their lead times and waste material, and that’s something I would truly love to see embraced. Only after this change, at the foundation of fashion design, will we see the true potential of 3D avatars. Currently I’m being held back because I’m having to reverse engineer garments for the avatars to wear, which you can imagine takes a lot of time! I think it will lead to more accessible fashion experiences, through the use of VR/AR shopping. Models themselves could be scanned and captured as 3D and then have their careers lengthened not only by decades, but centuries. Imagine being able to model at 3 different shoots at the same time.
Now that Shudu has a life of her own and she empowers diversity in the fashion world do you feel any responsibility?
Of course and I’ve been made very aware of that responsibility. I think I owe it to so many of her followers to make sure every decision I make is in the best interest of not the fashion world but the modelling world. I have some really exciting new concepts that will hopefully show how 3D avatars can be an asset for models too. I’ve had lots of people from all backgrounds reach out to me and open up about their experiences in life and the fashion industry and I would like to think that someway my art could make a difference.
The Diigitals is the world’s first all digital modeling agency which breaks the boundaries between reality and the digital. What inspired you to start this project?
I guess through gaming I’ve always enjoyed escaping to a fantasy world, somewhere only your imagination will hold you back. I thought it was about time that world and the real one came together, blurred lines and fantasy stepped into reality. For years I’d been retouching images to make them less real and it came to a point where you may as well just come from the opposite direction.
Working with a CGI model means you have infinite creative opportunities. This will turn to be appealing and less risky for companies and brands. Should consumers feel comfortable with it?
I think responsible use of CGI models is making it very clear. In my eyes it’s no different than retouching, technology exists today that means we can simulate garments true to life on digital models, so what is the difference? Since being on fashion campaign shoots I’ve seen the ‘tricks’ brands use to make their garments look appealing, it may as well just be a rendering. CGI is heavily used in every other commercial industry, fashion is the last one to catch on.
This will open the doors also to a new kind of advertising. How far technology can go into revolutionising commercials?
I see a future where every brand will have at least one digital model, this is a great way for companies to create an identity and a long term narrative without the worry of said spokesperson being booked for a competitor brand. Of course they will still have traditional models, but this is just another tool that helps strengthen brand identities and advertise products in a new and exciting way.
Will the creators of virtual supermodels dictate the standards of beauty?
More and more brands have adopted an inclusive identity. Something which I hope will continue in the 3D world. I can’t say for sure where other people may take this, but from my experience, you need to make 3D models as human as possible for them to be relatable. You can’t push beauty standards to a point where consumers no longer can related to the people in the advertisement.
Send a message to you from the future.
It’s kind of a sensitive subject for me, the future. My mum has cancer and the only message I can hope to receive from future me is that everything is OK… Everything I’m doing is really because I want her to know I’m doing well and taking care of myself.
Ask us a question.
Imagine a future where we live in a VR world and your appearance could change as quickly as your emotion, and traversing a 3D world no longer requires a human form, how would you choose to look?
All images, courtesy of artist: Cameron-James Wilson