STOCK IMAGES: MOSAIC AD FAD

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There's a relatively new style of commercial popping up a lot lately, based on former MIT Media Lab student Rob Silvers' photomosaics. The technique would be almost unthinkable without the help of stock imagery. Because it requires thousands of distinct images to make up a single picture mosaic, stock agencies are important partners in this new ad fad. Some examples of the technique can be seen in Silvers' 1996 commercial for MasterCard; a recent Taster's Choice mosaic created by R/GA in New York; and a Time Warner spot designed by Click 3x in New York.

This photomosaic style grew out of Silvers' success in making an astonishingly accurate likeness of a single image composed of hundreds or thousands of different images. The mosaic is made from a grid where the myriad images are placed according to their color and shadings, so as to fool the eye into seeing the larger image, rather than its constituent elements. The mosaic's perceptual mechanics are similar to how dots in a halftone screen of a photograph appear to the naked eye -- as a continuous image.

With the help of a computer program that Silvers developed at MIT, he first composed several magazine covers, including a 1996 Life cover of Marilyn Monroe, generated from hundreds of Life covers. Most recently, in a reprise, Silvers constructed the January 1999 Playboy cover of a classic Marilyn Monroe centerfold comprised of hundreds of Playboy covers of yesteryear. He works on mosaics full-time through his company Runaway Technology in Boston, which holds a patent on the "look and feel" of the technique, he says.

The use of this photomosaic imagery was first adapted to TV commercials in 1996, when Silvers went to work for MasterCard and Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG. Silvers worked with the San Francisco-based visual-effects company Xaos to fly in 5,000 different credit cards, creating a mosaic likeness of the dollar's engraving of George Washington.

Last year, he worked on the B-52s music video "Debby," which uses thousands of motion video clips to form a mosaic of people dancing that zooms out to reveal that the first mosaic is just part of a larger composite of planet Earth.

When Taster's Choice and McCann-Erickson/Los Angeles hired R/GA to do a Silvers-like job last year, RG/A creative director John Dire explains that they wrote proprietary software to assemble thousands of photos and stock film footage to create a mosaic of a cup of coffee and the Taster's Choice jar on a kitchen counter.

Flame artist Mike Saz at Click 3x in New York decided to trust his own aesthetic vision rather than a computer's, and so spent hours and hours combing through imagery to create a photomosaic commercial for Time Warner Cable, via Grey Entertainment in New York. He picked 1,800 individual still and motion images to create the mosaic, and handpainted more than 200 of them to create a convincing effect. The assignment called for the creation of a digital spokesperson, a feat Saz accomplished by transforming a woman's face into a photomosaic of image-elements to evoke a sense of great diversity.

"Their idea was for a pullback that would show multiple TV screens showing off the great variety of programming their system offers, and as it pulls back with motion pictures on the receding screens, it becomes a surprise to see that this grid of TV images ends up creating the face of a woman. Just as she says the word 'digital,' the mosaic dissolves into the original film of the spokesmodel," Saz explains. "Getting her to speak so that the mosaic actually moves is what

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