As a fashion insider, your social media feed is probably teeming with 3D creations from designers and digital fashion agencies. These flashy images burst off the screen and stop your scrolling mid-swipe. The poses have attitude and the backdrop is surreal, flawlessly highlighting the 3D looks.
Beyond this social eye candy, we are also seeing more and more commercial brands present their collections via digital runway shows.
For fashion brands or individual designers, it’s tempting to say “We need to market this way, too”. What you may not know is how much work it takes to bring those campaigns to life; that is the side of the story we want to tell.
In this article, STITCH will share our learnings for how to elevate simple 3D outfits into effective digital key looks. That way, whether you’re part of a brand or you create independently, you’ll know what it takes to produce key looks for your digital collections.
It’s all in the details: Outfits vs. Key looks
Creating a 3D outfit is an important basis for collection building, but it’s just one step. Transforming the outfit into an impactful key look requires a serious upgrade in tools and effort. Let’s make sure we understand the difference between the two concepts before learning how to transition from outfit to key look.
In the digital world, an outfit starts as individual 3D garments. These may be built by different designers at different times but must be brought together and dressed on a basic avatar. A single individual can do this relatively quickly without advanced skills in styling, 3D modeling, or rendering.
Outfits are great for internal storytelling but lack the “wow factor” of a key look. By contrast, a key look conveys emotion, environment, and a heightened version of reality. It is your marketing-approved content fit to be shown off either internally or externally to customers.
The 3D outfit is just one detail alongside light, scene, and color. Whereas making an outfit can be viewed as an activity, a key look is a project with multiple activities. Each of these often requires its own skilled professional to achieve the desired result.
The STITCH Approach
Who are these professionals, and how many should be involved? That depends on the scale of the project. For a high-profile marketing campaign, brands may employ dozens of specialists working for several months to display a collection in an engaging digital format. On the leaner end, our projects at STITCH require no less than three highly skilled individuals.
Among them is a Character Artist who develops avatars with the right surface texture, measurements, and poses needed to convey the attitude or personality of a look. Their work may include scanning actual models or customizing existing avatars. They also add 3D-modelled footwear to complete the look.
The avatars are then dressed and styled by a Designer who creates each virtual garment separately in a 3D apparel design software. They make sure the garments have the correct fabric and trims, then combine them in a single file. The finishing touch is to meticulously layer each garment in the look so that it drapes properly.
A 3D Visualization Artist takes the look to the next level. They place the dressed and styled avatars in a 3D environment, light the scene, and apply UV maps (UV mapping is a technique used to "wrap" a 2D image texture onto a 3D model). Often this requires rounds of testing and correction. Once those elements are in place, high-quality images can be rendered.
According to Yazan Malkosh, Founder & CEO of swatchbook, it is this post-production work that many brands underestimate. “When you see an amazing post on Instagram it could be someone’s work for the last couple of weeks or the work of a team of amazing artists.”
He adds, “there should be a distinction between designers and technical 3D artists. One is about problem-solving the design and the other is about problem-solving the digital production.” Whatever your role in a key look project is, there’s one thing everyone needs. Time.
What it means for you
The time it takes to dial in a look is a potential barrier for most commercial brands. In our experience, you need to step outside the seasonal development calendar to get the best outcome.
You’ll likely go through multiple iterations to get the simulation, styling, and rendering details of each look just right. This is simply not feasible if you’re also trying to hit deliverables on the physical product your campaign represents.
Let’s not forget scalability, though. Yazan notes here, “brands have hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of SKUs and they want to get the same quality 3-5 people might have spent weeks to get right” for a social media campaign. Keep in mind how many styles and complete looks you want to show across categories (read: with multiple avatars), as that increases the production work by an order of magnitude.
This isn’t to discourage taking on a large-scale project, as we’ve seen incredible results when a brand does invest in fully digital collections. It’s merely a word of caution to be mindful of what a designer or a small team can accomplish. If the investment is there and quality digital assets are available, then we’re all for it.
Give it a go
So, we’ve touched on the differences between outfits and key looks, shared STITCH’s team setup, and considered what it all means for your brand. We hope this has given you a behind-the-scenes look at how those dazzling images in the media came to be and we look forward to seeing what you create.
STITCH is a Software as a Service startup that helps fashion's product creators scale 3D collection development across their organizations. It steers fashion into the digital era with a creative blend of software, industry expertise, and education. Founded in 2018 and based in Amsterdam, the team was born in PVH’s Digital Ventures incubator and will go to market in late 2021.