"I'm always going over there saying, 'You have to save me, I'm not sure if this can be done,' " says Randy Hughes, a senior art director at Martin/Williams, who just visited the Palms' retouching studio-they call it d'palmz-for a series of 3M ads. And while Hughes admits he could pull off some of the retouching in-house, he relies on Brad Palm to work the big magic. The 3M ads illustrate the company's large-format printing products with visual puns: a corn silo is filled with Kandy Korn, while an attacking shark is plastered to the top of a surfboard. "It's up to him to help pull off the illusion," Hughes says. "He has all the technical knowledge and artistic flair."
In business since 1981, Brad and Maggie opened their doors as photo retouchers who drew from mutual backgrounds in fine art, photography and design. In 1990 the studio went digital and showed its commitment to the medium by hiring Mike Newman, a computer graphics expert versed in high-end photo retouching and composition.
And now, even as photo manipulation software products flood the market, the line outside the d'palmz studio never wanes, attracting creatives from agencies as far as west Wieden & Kennedy and TBWA Chiat/Day. "We aren't computer artists," Brad Palm says, explaining that he has no interest in creating original computer artwork. "We're craftspeople. We'll take somebody's idea and make it better."
And ironically, often the most awesome trompe l'oeil effects are a cinch, he says. A campaign he manipulated for the American Humane Association, which featured photos of disturbing, half-child/half-animal creatures, took about two minutes per image, he says. The harder projects are the ads that merge stock and studio photographs. Not only do the edges have to blend perfectly, Palm says, but the grain of the film has to match. "Any agency can put a tin can on a fence, but there are certain things we know from experience, such as how light will reflect off aluminum," he says. "We feel that we give an image the extra 10 percent that it needs to vault into the next level of realism."
And as d'palmz continues to match the expectations of agency creatives, it'll be harder to discern between authentic and fabricated photos. For instance, Newman recalls one difficult project that entailed creating a beautiful scene of a cow pasture from a photograph of a patch of eroded soil. He had to tend to details as minute as attaching leaves to the trees and changing the color of the creek. When the painstaking project was finished, "it turned out great," he says, but no one outside the agency could possibly appreciate the work that was poured into it.
Palm's favorite projects are the ones that require his consultation in preproduction meetings. With a series of dog salon ads for Martin/Williams, in which dogs sport fashionable coifs, Palm created Lenny, an Elvis impersonator bull terrier. "Because they're animals, they don't like hot glue that much," he deadpans, explaining how wigs were laid on the dogs' heads before they were photographed. Palm then stepped in and manipulated the photos, giving Lenny a convincing Elvis snarl.
And with d'palmz's record for winning awards-the Matisse-inspired poster for The Minnesota Institute of Arts was a Kelly finalist-it's a wonder that they aren't headed for Hollywood. "We've fought going into film," Palm says. "It looks like fun. But we're realists when it comes to business. We feel if we offered both