About a year ago, I took new portraits of my production company's crew for our company biographies. One of my video camera operators, Mike Nelson, decided to Photoshop the portrait of one of my producers Shawn Lucas. It started with dropping his face into one comedic situation, and well, it just started spiraling out of control after that. Now, the dozens of photos are trending on the front page of Reddit. Learn how the retouched series came to be and see all of the images below.
Strangely this is not the first time one of my portraits has gone viral, but this is certainly one of the most unexpected ways for it to go out there. I witnessed on Facebook as Nelson would create different photoshopped masterpieces of Lucas in varying scenarios ranging from Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" to Queen Elizabeth. Sure, we all had a good laugh and marveled at not only the quality of the edits, but how fitting Lucas looked in each situation. This week the photo series would hit the front page of Reddit and would be viewed by tens of thousands of people per day.
According to Mike Nelson:
I’ve always gotten a kick out of doing face swaps for friends of mine ever since I learned Photoshop 18 years ago. Shawn had posted a new profile picture taken by Doug and Shawn’s friends were commenting left and right on it. One of his friends decided to do a face swap onto the painting “American Gothic” and when I saw that it lit a spark in me and I had to make one. So, using Shawn’s new photo, I cut out his face and merged it into Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It remains one of my favorites just due to the fact that I was able to bring the cracked paint texture into Shawn’s face using the clone tool.
The reaction to the Mona Lisa face swap (now known as the “Mona Lucas”) was overwhelmingly positive with Shawn’s friends posting requests for me to Photoshop his face onto other famous people. The great thing about Shawn’s photo (and this is credit to Doug) is that the lighting matches up really nicely with a lot of other famous photographs, making it infinitely easier to merge Shawn’s face with the subject. Every time I posted a new face swap to Shawn’s timeline, people loved it. I think the reactions are really what I love most about doing face swaps.
So, what started as a joke snowballed into more than 30 photoshops over the course of the past year. My favorite of the bunch is the "Black Swan" movie poster which also took the most time. Shawn’s portrait is monochrome so I had to colorize the portrait as well as merge it as seamlessly with Natalie Portman’s makeup. It took a lot of work to make it look right. The finishing touch was done when I figured out the font used on the movie poster and removed Natalie Portman’s name and replaced it with Shawn’s.
As a freelancer, I have a lot of free time when I’m between gigs and that means I spend a lot of time searching for ways to be creative. Photoshop has always been an outlet of creativity for me and these face swaps have really put my Photoshop skills to the test and I’m glad that, at the same time, it has brought humor and amusement into the lives of so many other people.
So I went to my producer and the face of this viral photo series, Shawn "MCSL" Lucas, to share his thoughts on the whole situation:
OK, so through my travels, adventures, musical escapades as an emcee, and filmmaking endeavors, I have amassed a bit of a social media presence online following (especially on Facebook). The portrait Doug took of me was actually the first profile picture I had used that was not a performance shot or promotional piece in quite some time, and I was pretty proud of how it turned out.
A female friend had mentioned that it was "a regular Mona Lisa," and voila, Mike Nelson was quick to create the first photoshopped image of my face into the most well know painting ever made. I immediately used it as my new profile photo of course, and the peanut gallery that is the internet sung its praises. A few more were made for fun, then it started to become a thing.
People started making requests, picking favorites, sharing the images, and marveling at how strangely my mug seemed to fit onto a myriad of iconic portraits. I am still beaming over how much attention the collection received on the Reddit forums, and am humbled, honored, and impressed. I hope the trend continues. Maybe one day we will have our own gallery show with whiskey drinks and girls in thick rimmed glasses admiring my facial adaptability... Until then, I guess I'll just be internet famous.
As for my feelings on it? Who am I to complain about free publicity for my production company and its crew! I was really impressed with Mike's post-production despite it being his main profession. He much prefers to AC or operate large, professional high-end cinema camera systems. He has run our RED Scarlets and Epics as well as the Phantom HD super slow-motion camera systems whenever I have rented one.
For those that are curious, I shot this portrait with my Phase One IQ140 with my favorite portrait lens, the Schneider 75-150 Leaf Shutter. Each subject was placed against a white wall in my apartment and I used a single Profoto D1 1000 strobe with a large octabox with a fabric grid to narrow the light source. I wanted the portraits to look a bit dramatic. I then added the monochromatic vintage effects in post-production.
Here's a link to the original Reddit post.