Nicki Field talks about the benefits and uses of combining photography and illustration.
Something that has always been in the middle of the complicated yin and yang that’s photography and illustration is mixed media. It can be a wonderful creative approach, when done with a purposeful strong interaction between the two mediums. It can also strongly enhance visual styling and give an additional storytelling layer to any campaign or brand story, getting a selling point or message across in an emotionally engaging way that an audience will be able to relate to and remember. It can not only be an excellent creative solve but right now it could offer you valuable production solutions as well.
There are so many things that we love about this approach. Quintessentially, the most famous example of mixed media in the public forum is probably always going to be ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’. And remember that memorability we mentioned up top? Jessica Rabbit. A human cartoon paired with live action.
Firmly back in the commercial realm, one of our all time faves is a large format piece by James Dawe commissioned by Stefan Beckman Studios for Adidas’s new London flagship store. Featured on the Originals floor as a light-box, Adidas opened up their archive to James to use existing imagery; photographs, shoe details and 3d modelling. There is nothing within the composition that isn’t there with purpose and fully meaningful to the heritage of Adidas Originals. Using brand-owned imagery in this way is such a powerful way of hero-ing such rich heritage and giving it a contemporary re-mix with a definitive new form.
This approach can also give a workaround creative solution to help solve key production challenges. Working on a project for Glenfiddich, James was asked to create different ‘worlds’ based on the key characteristics of four different whisky varieties. As this campaign was targeted to the United Arab Emirates, one of the main challenges was not being able to directly advertise alcohol, or mention the name of the brand. James’ task was to represent Whisky – without an overt reference to it. The outcome represented the product and flavour notes in the most creative and unpredictable way.
Working with mixed media can also give a production solution in another way, it can yet make a strong creative piece out of less-than-ideal quality imagery or if the right shot or formats just aren’t available. Layering techniques can bring abstraction and add depth of meaning or make a piece of content adaptable to a myriad of formats across an integrated campaign. Bringing multiple assets together can help mirror the world we’re in right now ( 🤞not Black Mirror) but reflecting ‘internet art’, commercials with user generated content or even Snapchat filters.
The right illustration style can add playfulness and emotiveness to a photograph, whether that be bespoke or stock imagery. Alva Skog was interested in exploring this recently, perfectly pairing and placing figures of oversize proportions within the skyline of New York, playing further into Alva’s unique sense of perspective. We adore it. The photography roots it in reality, whilst the illustration elevates it outside of that.
Our EP Sue Loughlin believes that mixing photography and illustration, ‘can add further emotion or visual clues to an image or film that may not be either visible or strong enough, it finishes off the communication. It can go so far to change the existing meaning of the photo or live action content.’
I mean, you can make a pizza slice hang out with Snoop Dogg ( real ), through adding basically any imaginary details into photography or live action, embracing the full scope to tell whatever story you want through an additional visual device.
Illustrator, photographer and art director, Justin Poulter, explains that he loves this approach; ‘Illustration and photography have their technical limitations respectively. But if done right, the combination of the two can make powerful and truly unique work that overcomes these.’
Following social distancing, shoots are only just getting back up and running and in a very reduced / limited way. So playing with bringing characters into a still life could be a great creative direction but also a production problem solver. Or vice versa – by being able to embed a photographed person into an imaginary world.
What we also find exciting about this route is that most creative briefs out there, let’s say 70%, will always lean towards photography for stills, or live action – with probably 80%, for motion. For a client who isn’t yet versed in the process or benefits of illustration or animation, a mixed media approach can be a first foray into this, especially for those who haven’t done it before and it can act as a stepping stone into embracing illustration and animation as a technique.
If done with consideration, it can certainly set a bedrock of a brand style or look and feel.
If if the style is the hero for an approach due to purely creative reasons, it can give a distinct look and feel to a campaign – as per BBH’s recent Absolut Original Campaign, that Kelly Anna took part in, there it allowed elements to interact with the product and it was a great example of layering a story in a real life setting.
So for the creators themselves, it is fun and playful and gives variety in visual style to a piece – Nice Shit’s ‘Permission to Move’ mixes approaches within the work, a different stylistic approach for each segment. Not Real’s ‘Grace’ mixes live action, strong design skills along with high end beautiful CGI, allowing the studio to explore how their independent but complementary skills can combine in an excellent final piece.
One question we do get asked is, ‘What about the rights?’. We know that this is something we are watertight on, when it comes to the grey areas of copyright, we are agents, project managers and producers, so we dance these dances all the time. Anything from a stock library we will ensure have the appropriate rights in place, we will work and check with our clients on any supplied imagery that this is the case, we understand not only about copyright and licensing but model releases etc – all of this. We’ve got you.
Mixing up media is a great journey for all involved, if done well. Let us help you try it.