Magazine Article


Chris Collins Works His Digital Magic

Mice flying paper airplanes. A bassett hound holding a stick of dynamite. A single frog flying through the air with goggles.

No, these images dont signal the end of the world as we know it. Theyre just some of the illusions Chris Collins has brought to life, working his digital magic.

His quirky, innovative style, which marries modelmaking and digital retouching with a bit of humor, has won him a steady following, that include corporations such as Canon, Oneida, Miller Brewing Co., Midori, Computer Associates, Georges Duboeuf, Crown Royal, and Fuji. His ability to pull off the seemingly impossible in such an effortless fashion has also won the loyalty of many ad agencies, which supply him with the bulk of his work.

When asked what makes him tick, Collins recalls the day he saw a slide show by photographer Al Francekevich. He knew then, at age 25, photography was for him. He was working as Francekevichs second assistant when he landed a job with Pete Turner, whom he describes as "a photo visionary whose style was very graphic with bold colors, often coupled with outrageous concepts." Inspired by Turner, he opened his own studio in 1978 in New York City, where he began carving his own niche.

Creating New Realities
A tour around that niche is rather enlightening. Starting with a comp or sketch, Collins carefully brings a clients vision to light. Take the Georges Duboeuf campaign (p. 32, top). It involved capturing several images of the Australian companys wine bottles next to corkscrews that were posed to look like people. One shows two "corkscrew people" bowing down to the bottle. "We first took these corkscrews and 'chopped them up into little pieces," he recalls with a smile, "and put them back together to look like people. Then, in Photoshop CS, our in-house retoucher, Dan Smith, animated them by bending hands, arms, and necks."

The ad he executed for Midori (left)—which depicts a martini getting a charge from the Midori liquor via jumper cables—was devised by Wayne Schombs, the art director on the shoot. "Wayne devised this concept of having electrified drinks getting a charge from Midori. So all of the shots, including this one, had this theme," says Collins.

For the Miller Mountain shot for Miller Brewing Co. (right), Collins used a stock shot of a mountain and combined it with a model. "The stock shot went up to the first set of clouds," says Collins. "Then we had Prop Art make a model for the top of the mountain to match the bottom. It was built to accept a six-pack, which we iced and snowed using Trengove Studios ice effects. Then we retouched the two images together."

Planning is critical, notes Collins, who always sets up lighting the day before a shoot to head off any last-minute problems. "Then on shoot day we tweak the lighting and comp the pieces together to ensure lighting, scale, and composition work well. We usually shoot film in the late afternoon and review the following morning. Once we have approval on the film from the art director, we send it out for hi-res scanning."

Years of experience have taught Collins the virtue of having a back-up plan. He points to one Christmas-themed shoot for Crown Royal as a case in point.

"They wanted a poinsettia leaning against the bottle. So we called all the growers around the country, and only one had 10 respectable plants. When the plants arrived, they were horrible, and we had no time to get more," Collins remembers. "Luckily we had a selection of silk poinsettias on hand. The client looked at them and liked elements of three different ones, which we pieced together to form a perfect plant for the shot."

Film is usually scanned on an Imacon Flextight at about 100MB RGB, then Smith does the recomposing, color correction, retouching, and whatever the image and project requires. Collins calibrates his monitors with the ColorVision SpyderPRO and OptiCAL software; and uses soft proof for SWOP CMYK Working Space. "At the end of the day, we email the retouched image to the art director and client for review." Collins website,, also serves as a proofing site for clients. "Once approval is secured, a disk is burned, and all final images are archived, on- and off-site, each with a special catalog number."

Spotlight on Lighting
While some of Collins most successful photographs have been the result of piecing together different film elements, he does shoot digitally whenever clients want it, renting the necessary equipment. He owns one digital camera, a Nikon D70, which he uses solely for castings.

"I believe its more about lighting than whether its captured digitally or on film," he says. Collins photographs for Oneida (above, right) show off his flair for leveraging lighting for the right look.

"The spooning was done in two parts," relates Collins. "We shot the spoons first, and then matched the angle with the people, and put them in the same relative position, matching the lighting and lens."

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