Sean Busher specializes in making the conceptual literal. Using a range of digital tools, he and CGI artist Peter Godshall transform photographs into uncanny and fantastical images that somehow manage to be utterly convincing. It’s hard to look away from Sean’s surreal worlds, and even harder to forget them. We talked to him about impressing art directors, using CGI strategically, and how digital tools might shape the future of photography.
CORBIS: HOW DOES THE SHOOT AFFECT YOUR ORIGINAL CONCEPT? DO YOU USUALLY GET EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED, OR DO THE BEST IDEAS EMERGE POST-SHOOT?
SEAN: Great ideas on how to improve a concept should happen during every stage of our image-making process. The concept itself doesn’t often change, but the layers of detail and enhancements that each stage of our process can bring ends up producing something much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s scary to think that the best ideas would emerge post-shoot since we’d be locked into the hero imagery at that point, but certainly enhancements are made until the very end. The pre-production process tends to have the most impact — that’s when the background plate is formed (through photography and/or CGI), the lighting is tested, and all the non-hero aspects of the image get put in place. After shooting we hope that all that’s left is final renders, compositing, and retouching effects.
CORBIS: WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START COLLABORATING WITH A CGI ARTIST?
SEAN: My retoucher, Peter Godshall, had been working with me for a few years when we visited the Photo Expo in NYC in 2008 and saw a famous photographer giving a talk about his workflow. His process seemed amazingly similar to ours, that is, until he started talking about the miniature sets he had built to create his background plates. Though a necessary evil for his jobs, the process seemed tedious and expensive, and after later asking him “why not CGI?” we realized there was a lot of resistance he (and presumably others) felt about moving into the uncharted waters of computer-generated imagery. Since it was obvious to us that the future of imaging would rely heavily on CGI, we immediately went home and invested in a bunch of new software. Thankfully, Peter is amazingly adept at learning new things and is a great self-teacher. For the next few years, between paying gigs, we constantly worked to push our capabilities to new heights. It was a heavy investment of time, energy, and money but it’s paying off in spades. Now, we feel confident that whatever concept an art director conjures up we’ll have a way to bring it to life by our arsenal of digital imaging tools — photography, video and CGI.
CORBIS: HOW DID CGI CHANGE THE WAY YOU APPROACH YOUR WORK?
SEAN: We have a lot more options now. Every layer of an image gets asked the questions: “Will it look better to shoot it or CG it?” and “How much does it cost to shoot vs. how much cost to CG?” The answers to those questions now direct the workflow to a large extent. We see the introduction of CGI as an image-making tool as equivalent to the introduction of Photoshop 20 years ago. In another decade it’ll be hard to imagine any advertising photographer, whether they shoot fashion, cars, or people, not having CGI as a tool at their disposal. The best part about CGI is that it allows us to think outside the box. Anything is now possible.
CORBIS: YOU WORK FOR A WIDE VARIETY OF CLIENTS. ANY FAVORITE GENRES? ENHANCED BEVERAGES OR SPORTING GOODS?
SEAN: We do work with a wide variety of clients. My favorite projects involve doing something different and innovative with good people regardless of genre, product, or service. That’s because an awesome concept can be created for any brand. For instance, we just finished shooting a campaign for a company selling women’s shoes — who knew women’s shoes could be so much fun?