From Fashion Photography to Starting a Virtual Model Agency

From Fashion Photography to Starting a Virtual Model Agency

So, I went ahead and launched a virtual model agency. Let me tell you about Gen VI don’t think I need to mention how COVID-19 has affected the photography industry, it has been well discussed and keenly felt by the majority of us here. 

During the first few weeks when it hit the shores of Singapore and the jobs started drying up, I spent a huge majority of my time sleeping in, playing computer games, and probably eating way too much. It was a hard time, okay? I convinced myself that all was fine, I might as well take the time to rest up. However, it was not very long before I started getting incredibly restless and in need of a new creative outlet. So I decided to take up knitting again because it’s clearly a useful hobby to have in hot and humid Singapore. I made my cat a bed and my living room table some socks and then basically ran out of things to do. I then tried to relearn ukulele again, but it did not last very long to the relief of my husband. Eventually, I went all the way back to my roots from a decade ago where I had learnt some 3D in school.

When I think back, I do remember my time of learning 3D then quite fondly. It was an incredibly huge subject with so much to learn. The problem, however, was that with a subject as big as 3D, it needed an amount of time and attention that would not fit well into the school’s curriculum. Immediately right after school was also the time I picked up photography and let’s just say I was able to achieve instant gratification instead of the hours-long wait for renders.

So back to the present, with some basic decade-old knowledge and way too much free time, I figured I might as well give 3D a shot again and decided that I was going to create myself a realistic virtual model. Since I can’t photograph one, I might as well create one! I talked to a friend who is currently working in the 3D space and he viewed my goal of realistic humans is basically the holy grail of 3D. Shoot for the moon or something right?

Well, turns out the moon is terribly far and incredibly frustrating to shoot for. To describe my journey of picking up 3D again and ultimately creating Gen V, it’s like walking into a wall multiple times until you either get a concussion or the wall gives. I mean, it’s also been a lot of fun but I’ve watched more YouTube tutorials than I ever expected to in my lifetime (Hint: Watching them at 1.75x speed with caption turned on can save you hours in total).

(The famous rite of passage Blender donut, made from following Blender Guru's donut tutorial)

I’ve picked up 5 different software so far to create my models (Daz, Blender, Marvelous Designer, Mari, ZBrush), which I know sounds impressive but what’s even more impressive is the pain it’s cost my wallet. Creating these models require quite a lot of planning beforehand. Before I begin on each model, I usually have an idea of how I want her to look in my head. I will then go ahead and collect as many images as possible of real people that have the features I’m looking for to keep as references. Like planning a photoshoot, having references and a mood board is incredibly important so you have an idea of the direction you’re going for. References are also critical in 3D when trying to achieve realism.

The decade long experience of being a photographer has been hugely beneficial in this Gen V journey. I knew the days where I stared at their pores blown up 300% during my retouching hours would come in handy one day! This helped me recognize better whether I was going in the right direction when trying to handle skin textures in 3D. Lighting and composition also came to me much much quicker, which seems to be a consistent issue that plagues most beginner 3D artists. Having the photographic knowledge to pick the right camera focal length, light choice and most flattering angle definitely help to bring renders to the next level.

(Collaborated with makeup artist Andrea Claire for these looks)

I currently have 3 models in my roster at Gen V and I plan to create more in the future spanning over more skin colors, genders, age, size, etc. There’s also just so much potential on what I can do with them such as animation or even VR. I’m very excited to see where this can go. Creating this virtual agency does come with its concerns. I’m not blind to the fact that this could potentially negatively affect the jobs of others. However, I am also of the firm believer that technology will always advance and the future is coming whether we want it or not. We all need to find ways to adapt accordingly.

The main software that I have used for my models in Blender and it’s free! I highly recommend everybody to give it a go.

You can see more on the Gen V website, Instagram, and Twitter.

Shavonne Wong's picture

Shavonne Wong is an award-winning fashion/ celebrity/ advertising photographer based in Singapore.

She has worked with Vogue Global Network, Glamour South Africa, Female Malaysia, Cosmopolitan HK, Lancôme, Sephora and is a returning guest photographer for Asia's Next Top Model. She is also an X-Photographer for Fujifilm.

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Seriously impressive work Shavonne Wong!

Thank you Brian! Appreciate it!

As a photographer and 3D character artist... yikes

Who needs beautiful women when you can create your own? Say goodbye to modeling agencies.

Hmm my goal isn't to replace real life models but to provide brands and clients with options. Some brands will benefit from human models and some will enjoy the flexibility and creativity of creating a virtual model for their message. The goal is more choice, not less!

I know that's not your goal. I was just making social commentary about the future.

You went from having basically no knowledge in the 3d space to creating these in a few months?! I can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something but if not that's the most impressive learning curve I've ever seen.

Check out DAZ studio. That gets you 75% of the way there.

No, don't. It's disgusting.

Hey Dominic! I had some basic 3D knowledge from when I was in school!
Also, it's amazing what can be done when you're stuck at home with nothing to do for a couple of months hahaha.

Hi Shavonne, Blender artists usually learn from one of the various online courses or tutorials by power users. Could I ask of any particular one(s) you found useful, or the artist(s) who inspired you, esp the hair workflow ? Good stuff. :)

Hey Sidney, I started with Blender Guru's donut tutorial but just kinda bounced around from there so there isn't really much main sources. As for hair, I honestly still hate working with it hah, but I started from following this tutorial:

Don't want to be overly pessimistic, but:
Becoming a 3D artist, especially when doing (believable) humans, requires at least more than 10 to 15 years of hard, day-by-day work in this industry. Choosing one software and learn it in and out.
Do you really think you will get (any or enough) clients to make a living from it with DAZ models (if that#s your goal)?
But if it's only for a hobby, then it's perfectly fine.

Indeed 3D is an incredibly broad subject and I have no doubt that I have much to learn (which is what makes it so exciting, really). Everybody has to start somewhere and I'm glad to have already begun my journey.
As for clients, I'm thankful that with my experience and contacts in the fashion photography industry, it has made it easier for me to introduce them to what I'm doing and have gotten some positive interest so I'm not as worried about this.

Shavonne you said, "We all need to find ways to adapt accordingly." Given that this trend is across the board in al the economic sectors. The historic means of adaptation is political instability and war. Photorobot cameras for product shots with AI models. I am sure creating these will become automated.

If not you someone else would have developed it. My personal target is autonomous killing machines, Robo journalism, and self-driving vehicles. Why have humans?

Humans are so 2016.

That's just impressive. Well done! An you're true - brands need to have more options in the time of VR dressing and alike.
But... Modelling take time. Rendering too - even with a powerful computer.

I have two questions. 2 Questions I asked myself a long time before (using DAZ and Cinema 4D).

You have your models. Right.
You know how to pose and enlight your model quickly. Good.


1. How long does it take to you to model wear from the brands?

Many brand do not have 3d model. For thus who have it, you need to convert an autocad format (the industry format) to work on it, creating new splines and nodes...

The time I designed wear and accessories for the ski/snowboard and mountain industry, it take to me like 4 to 6 hours to model and texturize the perfect model (an uncomplex one like a snowboard shoe or a snow jacket).

2. As fast as your computer is. How long does it take to render your file? And eventually, because it's not perfect at the first try, how many render do you launch before THE GOOD ONE?

Again, to me, I spend like 4 to 6h to generate low res render to optimize texture, light and framing. Just before rendering à 3000x2000px image in 300dpi (to print), take me 3 to 4h for just one realistic render.


To me. Using 3D is really a pleasure, as you can experiment a lot.
BUT it take longer (much more longer) to have the final image (6+6+4 = 16h in good conditions for uncomplex scene), than to organise people, shoozing, editing and deliver.


Hi Michael!

Thank you for your comment! And you are right, 3D does indeed take longer to get a result I'm happy with.... For now.
I believe the technology will keep improving, things will get fasters and easier to do. Perhaps in a couple of years, it will be much more efficient time wise but starting now means I'll have more experience by then, giving me an advantage over everybody else who decides to start only when it's easier.

So to me, the additional time I'm putting in for recreating the outfits and waiting for render is an investment for the future (:

I understand a lot!

Anyway, What I like is to add some of Unity developpement to create VR, or realtime rendering throught the browser (but it take time to learn unity first).
To me, that's another option to stills as you win the rendering time, and you have a clever and interactive option :)


Oh yes I'm very interested in finding my way into VR too! One day...!!

Creepy plastic-looking people. Uncanny valley.