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Nov 27

Do You Need 3D? Headshots spun the CCP way…

Getting in a spin over 3D headshots and wondering who benefits most from the revolutions?

Giving it some: CCP 360 states its case

Giving it some: CCP 360 states its case

Last week, Casting Call Pro made a big, slightly breathless, announcement to its members – perhaps you got the email – about a “radical” new development. One it is trailing in various ad banners and emails as a “revolution,” both “the future of online casting“, and that will also “change the future of online casting“.

Momentous stuff, eh?! Well, the product in question is ‘Headshot 360’ a 3D headshot, so let’s forgive a little enthusiasm in the sales pitch – more on the sales bit below – because that is genuinely pretty cool.

An actual 3D headshot! Proper, bona fide, living-in-the-future cool! “Look Hubbards, the back of my head! Say, when is the next Bourne Casting?!”

 

Casting Software Stagnation Set Aside

Joking aside, as a former actor, current photographer and a longtime (often frustrated)  observer on the casting tech area, it’s very good to see one of the main casting software providers exploring new possibilities.

Given that Spotlight STILL doesn’t work properly on an iPad or tablet (come on guys, it’s 2015, where do all those subs go and why can’t I zoom in on a photo?), any advance at all should be encouraged, especially one that is aimed at helping actors give a more accurate self-preview to employers and casting professionals.

Quite whether all the photographers who pay to advertise to CCP’s members on its websites would agree with CCP’s announcement in the advertising copy that,  “headshots are… one dimensional” is questionable.

For a start, to be precise they are two-dimensional (do check your copy,  CCP marketers!), and secondly, most professional portraitists would argue that a well-lit portrait contains subtlety, nuance, and a sense of facial topography through careful use of light and shade.

3D in 2D, if you will.

That aside, the ability in a 360 Shot to scroll around 360 degrees of an actor’s visage in the horizontal, including the full-gamut of profiles and straight on looks, is a new tool and can’t fail to be of some use in the casting process, so you can see why CCP is keen to offer it to members.

A Totally New Dimension?

But is this tech as groundbreaking as trailled? Well, check one out here, but perhaps not.

The 3D headshot CCP is promoting uses a technology that has been around for a while in product and retail websales (something like this). You’ve probably whizzed around a flatscreen TV on Amazon or John Lewis to work out whether you’d like to buy it, and those images are shot much as a 3D headshot would be.

[important]You sit on a turntable, evenly lit, and spin around while a camera takes a series of still images which a clever bit of software then stitches together into an ‘animated’ file, that – Hey Presto! – can be spun around by cursor scrolling or with the tip of a finger on a tablet smartphone. It’s you, from all angles.[/important]

Given that the language of advertising /product photography has been bleeding over into headshots for some years now (think, the arrival of colour, changing headshot orientation), it’s not surprising that CCP has co-opted 3D into the casting process.

PRE-CCP 3D

But if this isn’t exactly new tech, why hasn’t  anyone else tried to create 3D-feeling headshots before?

The answer is, many photographers have tried, whether through cinemagraphs (in which there is movement, perhaps of hair or eyes – in one part of a still image), animated gifs, in which a few seconds of overall movement (perhaps the lifting of the head, or the opening of eyes) repeat, or with a short section of film, either looped as a gif, or playing as a video file, give a sense of the performer.

I’ve personally tried gifs and cinemagraphs, and only a few weeks back, Adam Hills at Mug Photography (whom I know has tried all approaches) and I were experimenting with the living picture technology of his Lytro camera, to see if it could produce actor-friendly results.

Sadly not, though the idea was there.

But then, that has been the story of most such efforts: offered by photographers as an exciting new prospect, but falling by the wayside pretty quickly.

Why Still Here?

Partly that’s been to do with casting software functionality; sites like CCP and Spotlight often haven’t been able to host the files on actor profiles, so there’s been little take up from actors and probably some stigma about having a non-standard image online. The fact CCP is changing things up, might create more opportunity for moving stills to flourish – IF they open the field to all (see below).

Partly it’s been to do with the growing power of video: moving stills are great, but if you want a sense of the actor in motion, video gives a much subtler understanding of movement, posture and speech, not to mention ability and charisma etc…

the-stage-headshot-survey-results-michael-wharley.

Graphic courtesy of The Stage

And that’s before considering the also-growing force of mobile videography and services like CCP’s self-tape uploader. With an iPhone in your pocket, you’re only ever 30 seconds of taping away from an employer seeing your audition almost-in-the-flesh.

But under it all has been the enduring power of the still image in casting.

The 100-year-old friend has proved remarkably resilient: as an initial impression of an actor, as a constant point of reference during the casting process, for the flexibility the modern portfolio offers actors in showing their casting range and for the ability to both give an accurate preview for casting purposes, but also to promote the actor’s best sides to employers and casting professionals. 

It has maintained its relevance even as the nature of casting processes has changed.

And that’s not just me speaking my mind, in a survey I ran for the The Stage a year last summer, we questioned all UK CDG casting directors and 100% said they thought the headshot would remain central to the casting process in the future (click for full piece).

The Portmanteau Portfolio

Of course, things could change quickly (even in this normally slowly-changing industry), and it’s clear moving images / video will likely play a still-greater part in the casting of the future. That’s certainly what we found in the same survey last year (click for full piece).

The actor of 2016, 2020 and beyond will probably continue to have a mixed portfolio of resources: stills, video, audio and perhaps 3D ‘stills’ as well.

So, objectively, it will be fascinating to explore how Casting Professionals and Employers are using 3D stills, in future research. And personally, I’m always excited by new tech;  I know I’m not the only photographer who would be dashing to offer new types of shoots if that’s what my clients need. It’s pretty cool to imagine a beautifully and dramatically-lit 3D shot!

But professionally, I can’t currently see 3D shots being much more than another option in the battle to be noticed in casting. A tool for now? Yes. The revolutionary future of casting? I’m not so sure.

Could you add one to your portfolio?  Yes, do it! Do you NEED one? I’m not so sure.

Why the Hard Sell?

Casting Call Pro

Casting Call Pro

If that’s the case, why the hard sell – and it is quite the hard sell –  of what is not the newest or most vital of  ideas? Founded by the friends and siblings of actors, CCP has always been the kind face of casting info providers, and this does seem a slight tonal change.

Well, perhaps they are thinking that 3D is news to most actors, for reasons discussed above.  From one point of view, a site that embraces new tech could enthuse them – you – about using it, keeping CCP relevant while also capitalising in an area where Spotlight lags behind, while challenging the likes of CNI UK and The Stage Castings et al to up their game.

Plus, CCP is no longer the fresh, young upstart of 2003, but a fairly mature company in 2015; staying relevant also means keeping the subs coming that are important for turnover.

But so too is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). And with a large number of actors still lacking mobile and tablet friendly video on their portfolios, encouraging uptake in use of such content could definitely be seen to have SEO benefits for CCP at least equal to the casting benefits for members.

The longer we’re interacting with an actor’s profile, the longer we’re on a page, the better the site’s stats. The richer the page’s content, the better the value in SEO terms. The more mobile- and tablet-optimized the page’s content, the better the value in SEO terms.

It all adds up across thousands and thousands and thousands of pages; highly valuable for any web-based company.

I don’t think it’s a trade off many actors would be unhappy with, if it gave them a genuinely dynamic and essential new casting tool for only £50 + VAT. As discussed, I think that’s questionable.

But  £50 + VAT is the rate Turn and Shoot Photography is charging, and (no criticism of that business), but that’s where there is a slight whiff of something untoward.

It’s the only company CCP are having provide 3D headshots, and the 3D headshot you pay for can only be used on the CCP site.

Perhaps that is for formatting reasons in the early days of the new tech, but it doesn’t sit very easily, even as a short term measure.

Overtly selling additional services to members has never been a part of the casting software provider landscape before, so let’s hope the real revolution here, the real future of online casting, isn’t about the hard sell of tools actors don’t necessarily need, locking members in to one provider and the way that provider would like to do things…

27/11/2015 MW

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