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A BACARDI CAMPAIGN that hit outdoor boards and magazine pages last month epitomizes the possibilities of stock photography in the computer age: a mother lode of visual fragments that can be digitally combined with assigned photography to stretch the boundaries of photo-illustration.

Created by the New York office of Lintas, the ads articulate the "Just add Bacardi" theme with a roundup of international icons, supplied by stock sources, that reveal the tropical truth within when doused with rum. Under a boozy swirl, the Arc de Triomphe is splashed with a surfer-studded wave; centered in a skyward panorama of Manhattan skyscrapers, supplied by Photonica, New York, is a puddle of rum in which a swimmer glides through a coral-filled seascape.

The use of stock reduced production time by almost three weeks and trimmed costs by a third, explains Lintas creative director John Short. It also helped the creatives to quickly visualize the rather abstract ideas in computer comps, making it an easier sell, explains art director Suzanne Nolan, who worked with assistant art director Karen Cho and creative director/writer Glenn Kaplan. Compared with last year's executions, which played with similar-shaped images, like lemon wedges that become yellow surf boards, this year's ideas pushed the fantasy further, necessitating tight comps in their client presentation, Nolan says. "We chose stock because these images existed and they were beautiful," she says. "We thought enhancing them would be a cost-effective and creative way to go."

Piecing together various photographic components turned out to be the trickiest part of the campaign. (Roughs were made on the Mac via Adobe Photoshop, then executed on the Quantel Graphic Paintbox at New York's Applied Graphic Technologies.) For instance, once the creatives settled on a stock seascape by underwater photographer Alex Kirkbride, they decided the image needed more of a focus, so they commissioned Kirkbride to shoot a swimmer in a Manhattan pool, simulating the natural light of the Florida Keys. For added realism, he shot air bubbles and tropical fish that were matted into the image.

Creating this sun-streaked shot was a difficult enough feat, says Kirkbride, explaining that it only happens on rare calm days in the Caribbean, but "to get that day and to get all the elements into it" would have been expensive as well. "It's more like post-photography or photo-illustration."

The technique also enhanced the fantastic quality of the campaign says Nolan, pointing out the supersaturated colors, and lighting, not to mention the wild juxtaposition of imagery: pyramids, supplied by Tony Stone Images, turn into beach huts, the top of the Eiffel Tower becomes a palm tree and astronaut Buzz Aldrin, borrowed from a NASA stock shot, is caught from the waist down wearing colorful swim trunks and flippers on a beach. "We wanted that tropical zip code to be surprising each time," says Short. At the same time, he adds, "we try to retain the quality and artfulness of each photographer's style."

The increasing number of ads that combine stock and assignment photos signifies a change in the way stock imagery is perceived; Tony Stone of Tony Stone Images, London, notes a boost in sales of photographic components, and not just for backgrounds. "Stock is produced to the same standard as assignment now. Before, a lot of our good photographers used pseudonyms; now that their pictures are in better company they're using their real names." TSI has also seen a trend where "ad agencies are sourcing stock catalogs for assignment photographers," Stone adds.

More computer literate creatives with access to stock collections on CD-ROMs or laserdiscs has also facilitated this trend. While every major stock house has digitized portions of their libraries in the last few years, few are willing to release high-resolution images on disc.

The Stock Market, New York, which has also seen a rise in manipulated stock images, is seeing the quality improve as well. "It takes time for people to understand the technology and to create art with it rather than gimmicks," says VP Andrei Lloyd, pointing to the wave of cheesy photographic illustrations produced in the early tinkering stages of Photoshop. "And we're seeing that it's

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