It's harder to make a pixelated paper cube head than you might think. For inspiration, the winners of Ad Age's fourth annual cover contest -- Bangkok-based young creatives Katrina Encanto and EJ Galang from Lowe and Partners in Thailand -- asked themselves the question "Who is the creative of 2013 and of the future?"
Their winning entry "Portrait of a Creative in the Digital Age," envisioned an explosive creature constructed from brightly-colored paper cubes with a deliberately random, ambiguous face that can be interpreted as evolving (they deliberately left a lot to the imagination).
"We were inspired by people who prevail because of their openmindedness about change," Ms. Encanto said. "We tried to create a face that looks like it's evolving. It's a bit open to interpretation. Everyone has their own take on it."
"With the internet and all that came with it, creativity has really become so much more open, experimental, uncertain and participatory," she said. "And we realized it may be unnerving, or refreshing, depending on one's mind-set."
Their prize, in addition to seeing their cover design on Ad Age's June 10 Creativity Issue, is a trip to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
After buying lots of colorful paper, the pair painstakingly folded 400 little cubes in eight colors and then superimposed the head they constructed onto Mr. Galang's body using Photoshop. ("It's not like we had a budget for this," he said.)
"We thought about which execution would be best," Ms. Encanto said. "Vector? Illustration? 3D? We decided to try doing a head made out of paper cubes that would represent pixels, not only because an organic feel could make it more striking, but it could be interpreted as a kind of transition, between media we have become masters of to media we are all learning about at the same time."
There was a lot of trial and error. They researched online how to make paper cubes, and thought it looked easy. It wasn't. A lantern fold they read about was a failure, and a modular cube with six folds was an epic fail. They finally mastered cube folding.
"We were folding in the evening, in the morning, in meetings and at lunch," Ms. Encanto said. Others pitched in to help fold cubes and offer feedback, in a true collaborative effort.
With 400 cubes assembled and after much trial and error before shooting, they used an old toy box as a skeleton for the head, and an old iPhone box to form the neck. To create a sense of depth, they built layers and had some cubes jut out to give the illusion that the cubes were moving or "evolving."
Ad Age editors who judged the cover contest puzzled over the possible symbolism of the gray shirt, but Mr. Galang said he wore that neutral hue to avoid distraction so the bright colors in the head would pop more.
Ms. Encanto and Mr. Galang, both natives of the Philippines, met during their first jobs as art director and copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi Manila. When Mr. Galang heard that Lowe & Partners was hiring a team to be regional associate creative directors for Southeast Asia, he said he reached out to his old friend Ms. Encanto, who was working in Italy as an innovation specialist at Barilla after getting a masters degree in design in Milan. The duo joined Lowe in March 2012, and work on Unilever brands including Wall's ice cream, Rexona personal care and Treseme hair products across the region.
This is the third year the pair have entered the contest, and with EJ nearing the 30-or-under age limit for young creatives to be eligible, it was their last shot to see their design on the cover of Ad Age. This will be their first trip to Cannes, and the team also has work entered at the festival, with ads for Unilever's Knorr and Sunlight brands competing for poster and press Lions.
With more than 300 entries this year for the cover contest, Ad Age also chose 12 finalists from 8 countries. Finalists are from Canada, Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.