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October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

July 15th, 2014

Hey GQ: Do You Like Cedric the Entertainer & Elton Anderson’s Promo?

© Elton Anderson

Cedric the Entertainer © Elton Anderson

Having landed some of his first assignments on the strength of personal work, photographer Elton Anderson has been working on a personal project featuring his favorite celebrities and entertainers to attract the notice of more clients.  Anderson and actor/comedian Cedric Antonio Kyles (aka Cedric the Entertainer) share a common goal–to be featured in GQ–so they recently collaborated on a photo shoot they called “The Road to GQ” to get the magazine’s attention.

© Elton Anderson

Cedric the Entertainer © Elton Anderson

Anderson explains that he was able to approach Cedric by enlisting the help of a friend who was working on digital marketing for Cedric’s TV Land sitcom. Cedric and his team, along with stylist Apuje Kalu and Anderson, strategized ways of incorporating three things that are important to the comedian – fashion, comedy and family – into the shoot. It took place in April 2014. Box Eight Studio in Los Angeles provided a mix of outdoor and indoor locations, and Anderson’s wardrobe stylist brought in a ton of props. Anderson says they were able to shoot six looks in about four hours. “Cedric was funny (of course) but most of all he anticipated what I needed from him as a subject,” says Anderson.

© Elton Anderson

Cedric the Entertainer © Elton Anderson

Though the shoot has yet to lead to an assignment for GQ, Anderson says the results are encouraging. A few GQ editors gave Cedric some social media shout-outs, and Anderson says Cedric has had a few email exchanges with the magazine. “If anything,” Anderson says, “the images have strengthened my portfolio by leaps and bounds and allowed me to set up meetings” with other potential clients, including TV Land, BET, BONOBOS, Essence, Walmart, and Capitol Records.

© Elton Anderson

Cedric the Entertainer © Elton Anderson

Anderson, who would like to shoot more musicians for editorial and commercial clients, also recently photographed his favorite rapper, Kendrick Lamar. Anderson had only five minutes with Lamar, but says, “It’s really fun to take a celebrity and bring them into your world for a minute. I end up making really cool friends along with great imagery.”

© Elton Anderson

Cedric the Entertainer © Elton Anderson

And it’s a a good way to move your career forward. “Personal work is the fuel that keeps me growing creatively and professionally,” says Anderson, a former pharmaceutical sales rep who moved to Los Angeles to pursue photography full time in 2012. “Potential clients tend to gravitate heavily to the work I cooked up in my brain and executed versus something I got paid to do. I actually booked my first big jobs with Disney, Monster Headphones and Walmart because of my personal work so I’m motivated to shoot for myself on a more continuous basis.”

© Elton Anderson

Cedric the Entertainer © Elton Anderson

April 2nd, 2014

In Copyright Infringement Case, A Defendant Ends Up Owning Disputed Photo

Desmond Howard's iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Shot by Brian Masck. Now owned by Desmond Howard

Desmond Howard’s iconic Heisman Trophy pose. Previously ©Brian Masck. Now ©Desmond Howard.

Former football star Desmond Howard, the subject of a well-known photograph and a defendant in a copyright claim over the use of that same image, will end up owning the copyright to the image as part of a settlement with the photographer who shot it.

That photographer, Brian Masck of Linden, Michigan, is still pursuing infringement claims against Getty Images, Sports Illustrated, Nissan, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and others.

Masck confirms that he agreed yesterday to settle his infringement claim against Howard by transferring copyrights to the image over to Howard. In exchange, Masck got “a very generous royalty agreement on [Howard's] uses of the picture, including at [public] appearances by Howard,” according to his attorney, Tom Blaske.

“This allows [Howard] to use his favorite photo of himself and make money on it,” Masck told PDN. Blaske adds that Howard “has more resources to best use this historic photo” and thereby ensure that it “remain[s] part of the cultural currency.”

The photo in question shows Howard striking an iconic Heisman Trophy pose after scoring a touchdown against Ohio State University, when he was playing for the University of Michigan. Masck shot the image in 1991 as a freelancer, and licensed it to Sports Illustrated for publication.

SI allegedly never returned the original 35mm transparency to Masck; it ended up in the Allsport archive, and finally in digital format on Getty’s web site around 2005. From there, it “traveled through sports memorabilia channels” onto merchandise sold through retailers, Masck says, and it also appeared in Nissan ads published in Sports Illustrated.

Masck sued in January, 2013, claiming infringement against Howard for unauthorized use of the photo on Howard’s website. Masck claimed unauthorized use by other defendants for distributing the photo and using it in ads without permission.

But Howard counter-sued Masck for unauthorized commercial use of Howard’s name and likeness on a website called TheTrophyPose.com. Masck used that site to sell products featuring the image, including framed prints and life-size, cut-out stand up. He splashed Howard’s name all over the site, confusing visitors into thinking Desmond Howard was behind the site and its products, according to Howard’s counter-claim.

Masck says he’s prohibited by the settlement agreement with Howard from disclosing the financial details. But he says Howard, a TV football commentator who uses photos for publicity and marking, wanted to buy all rights to Masck’s photo several years ago. “At the right price and right terms I was ready to entertain that,” Masck says.

They couldn’t reach an agreement, however.

“What spurred the lawsuit was, after I had sent Howard a print [during their early negotiations] as an example of what the picture could look like, and he took that picture and put it up on his web site,” Masck explains. “That picture had some tells in it. I digitally altered it so I could track it.”

With a trial date approaching, they resumed negotiations and finally reached an agreement.

Meanwhile, Masck is trying to negotiate settlements with Nissan, Sports Illustrated and the other defendants before the case goes to trial. They tried unsuccessfully to have Masck’s claims thrown out on the grounds that he hasn’t done enough over the years to assert his copyrights to the image.

(Editor’s note: This story has been altered from its original version, which included two quotes from Brian Masck that he has asked PDN to remove.)

March 26th, 2014

How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?

Now that another model has come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against photographer Terry Richardson, his clients face a difficult question: What ethical obligations, if any, do they have to take a stand?

Over the past several years, reports have periodically flared up that Richardson has manipulated some models to engage with him in unwanted sexual contact during photo shoots at his studio. The models have described the incidents as casting couch situations that occurred when they were students or aspiring models, not established models working on set for ad campaigns or editorial shoots.

The allegations surfaced again in recent weeks after former model Charlotte Waters published a graphic account of a shoot with Richardson that spiraled out of her control. “I was completely a sex puppet,” she recounted anonymously in a post on a Reddit thread. The post has since been removed, but after her story was widely circulated, Waters identified herself as the author.

She has spoken to New York City police, according to Styleite.com, but she reportedly never said “no” to Richardson’s advances, and she isn’t pressing any charges.

In the hot seat of bad publicity once again, Richardson issued an angry denial to all the allegations in a letter to the Huffington Post, calling them “hate filled, libelous tales.” In the letter, he painted himself as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

Richardson says in the letter, “I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work.” Overlooking the disparity in power between himself and the models, he adds, “I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do.” (more…)

January 22nd, 2014

Grammys to Honor Rock Photographer Jim Marshall

Legendary rock and roll photographer Jim Marshall, who shot iconic images of Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many other musicians, will be honored posthumously this weekend at a special Grammy Awards ceremony.

Marshall, who died in 2010 at the age of 74, will be given a Trustees Award at the Recording Academy’s Special Merit Awards ceremony on January 25. The academy’s 56th annual Grammy Awards ceremony, honoring musicians for the best recordings of the past year, will take place on January 26.

In addition to honoring Marshall, the Recording Academy will give lifetime achievement awards at the January 25 ceremony to the Beatles, the Isley Brothers, Kris Kristofersson and Kraftwerk.

Mashall began his career in the 1950s photographing musicians and beat poets in his native San Francisco. In the early 1960s he began shooting for record labels in New York, but soon returned to California to photograph musicians at clubs, festivals, and stadium concerts as a freelance photographer.

“He brooked no denial as he waded right in with his little Leica clicking quietly and constantly. His eye was amazing as he caught the essence of each scene before him,” folk musician and photographer Henry Diltz wrote in a tribute to Marshall last week on the Grammy Awards web site.

Marshall’s most recognizable photographs include Jimi Hendrix setting fire to one of his guitars at the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967); Janis Joplin reclining backstage at a Winterland Ballroom concert with a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand (1968); and Johnny Cash giving the finger to Marshall’s camera at San Quentin State Prison (1969).

Related:
Rock and Roll Photographer Jim Marshall Has Died, Age 74
End Frame: Pamela Littky on Jim Marshall (requires PDN subscription)
Jim Marshall’s Estate Sues Fashion Designer for Copyright Infringement
Jim Marshall’s Estate Sues “Mr. Brainwash” and Google for Copyright Infringement

November 20th, 2013

PDN Video: Bil Zelman on Shooting Portraits of Difficult Celebrity Subjects

Photographer Bil Zelman: How to Shoot Portraits of Challenging Celebrities from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Celebrities can be skittish and uncooperative in front of a camera, so photographer Bil Zelman sometimes uses psychology to elicit a particular reaction for a compelling portrait. In this video, he describes how he calmed author Isabel Allende, who was self-conscious in front of the camera, and how he got himself out of trouble on a shoot with film director Werner Herzog. “He was just staring at me,” Zelman says. “It was a blank stare. I was getting nothing.”

In addition to shooting portraits, Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In previous videos, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from the non-professional talent he uses on most of his shoots.

Related:
PDN Video: Portrait Master Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits
PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads that Look Real (Not Staged)
PDN Video: Bil Zelman’s Tips for Directing Kids on Advertising Shoots
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots

October 28th, 2013

PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects (Even If You Are Shy and Bumbling)

Portrait photographer Gregory Heisler says people constantly ask him, “How do you get people to pose?” In our latest clip from our video interview with Heisler, he explains the importance of putting yourself in the shoes of your subjects, and figuring out how to interact with them in ways that suit your own personality. He also explains how he learned to relate to subjects despite his early handicap as “the shyest kid ever.”

Heisler recently released 50 Portraits, his first book, which is a retrospective of his career, as well as a tutorial in the art and craft of portraiture. An excerpt of the book appears in this month’s issue of PDN.

Portrait Master Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Subjects from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Related:
Gregory Heisler Shares the Techniques That Go Into His Portraiture
PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on His New Book and Best Portraits
PDN Video Pick: Gregory Heisler’s Tips on Lighting Portraits
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits

October 23rd, 2013

PDN Video Pick: Gregory Heisler’s Tips on Lighting Portraits

Photographer Gregory Heisler’s new book, 50 Portraits, is a tutorial in the art and craft of portraiture, as well as a retrospective of Heisler’s career. An excerpt of the book appears in this month’s issue of PDN, and Heisler sat down for a video interview about his techniques, his approach to subjects, and his thoughts on working with clients. In this clip, he talks about the pitfalls of lighting subjects using formulaic lighting set-ups, and explains how he customizes the lighting for every shoot to create a mood that the subject or situation calls for.

Heisler will hold a seminar called The Evocative Portrait at Photo Plus Expo this Friday, October 25, from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m.

Lighting Tips from Portrait Master Gregory Heisler from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Related:
Gregory Heisler Shares the Techniques That Go Into His Portraiture
PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on His New Book and Best Portraits
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits

October 22nd, 2013

PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on His New Book and Best Portraits

Master portrait photographer Gregory Heisler has just released a book that is both a retrospective of his work, and a guidebook on the art and craft of portraiture. Heisler says it is the kind of book he always wanted to buy as an up-and-coming photographer. “What I wanted to know about was sort of the creative process, what went into each picture. Not how you took it, particularly, but why you made the decisions you made.”

In an excerpt of the book published this month in PDN, Heisler describes how he photographed Hugh Grant, Muhammed Ali and other subjects. He also sat down for a video interview to talk about his work and career. In this clip, he explains how he thought through an assignment to photograph former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for the TIME Person of the Year cover in 2001. Later this week, we will post clips of Heisler discussing his lighting technique, how to connect with subjects, and how clients choose photographers.

Heisler will hold a seminar called The Evocative Portrait at Photo Plus Expo this Friday, October 25, from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m.

Creative Tips from Portrait Photographer Gregory Heisler from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Related:Gregory Heisler Shares the Techniques That Go Into His Portraiture

October 9th, 2013

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue a Key to Walter Iooss’s Access to Top Athletes

iooss coverWhen you’re trying to get access to top professional athletes, there’s no calling card like a steady gig shooting swimsuit models for Sports Illustrated.

Walter Iooss Jr, whom we interviewed in our October issue about his close professional relationship with basketball legend Michael Jordan, has been photographing sports and athletes for 50 years, and photographing the models for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue for about 40 years.

“You have to ingratiate yourself [with athletes],” Iooss told us. “I’ve done it for so long, so my reputation helps me. They [star athletes] already think you can do something, so you’re not wasting their time.

Then he adds, “The swimsuit issue is obviously a big help with all these horny athletes. They love that. It’s remarkable how I could walk into a clubhouse and photograph anyone, as long as I give them a phone number of someone (in the SI Swimsuit issue).”

Not that he ever does that. “I’m not going to give it to them. They have their people contact the [model's] people.”

But he shakes his head with wonder. “They think I can pimp for them. Some days I feel like a 69-year-old pimp. It’s disgraceful that they need me to find a woman.”

See more about Iooss and his work with Michael Jordan at PDNOnline.