CryptoPunks Are Alive
The Land of Hypnos Featured Artist #02
What would CryptoPunks look like if they existed in real life?
CryptoPunks Are Alive have explored this idea and...brought them to life!
The team consists of a photographer, makeup artists, hair stylists, models, and a community manager that bring CryptoPunks to life.
Interview With CPAA
-How did you come up with the idea for the project?
Honestly, I'm just really interested in art. I love reading about it, going to museums in new places and learning about the context surrounding the greatest works of art: the timeframe, the paints and the ways they were created, what kind of events and jokes were referenced in seemingly boring paintings, what certain symbols meant in the context of the artist's life and more. So, suddenly I saw that some pixel art was selling for 19 million dollars at Sotheby's, and I was shocked, frankly. Like, "Modern art, is this a joke?". My initial reaction was quickly overtaken by curiosity, and I decided to dig deeper into the topic. I learned WHAT those pictures were and WHY they were so important. At that point I directed my attention to NFTs - the most swiftly developing market I've ever witnessed. Day after day I was seeing how more and more artists were changing the direction of their work: CryptoPunks meant so much to those artists that they would start creating in new styles and exploring new concepts. The market was flooded with the creations of pretty untalented, but crafty people, but there were also incredibly gifted artists making their living in this newformed community. I never thought that I'd become a part of it. It seemed like such a far-fetched idea. I thought, "It would be really funny if we could surprise those punks," and daydreamed about how much fun we could have during photoshoots and how interesting and cool those portraits would look.
I got together with some friends, hired a few professional models and rented a studio. Our actual "team" consisted of two makeup artists, and we only managed to take 6 pictures during the first photoshoot.
I had a task: to recreate the pixelated reference; it had plenty of room for interpretation, so being too accurate seemed counterproductive. The toughest task was to choose the right lighting. It had to be 3D, but not too 3D - the original punks were quite flat. It had to be simple enough not to shift the accent from the characters themselves to the "artistry" of the pictures, but not too simple - the photos had to turn out looking professionally made and interesting to look at.
At first, we were using a blue backdrop because I thought that editing the background from blue to blue would be simple, however, that wasn't the case.
So I learned to work with a chromakey. I had to look up every possible plugin for using a greenscreen easily... and I had to turn down every single one of them. They simply weren't good enough. In the end, I created my own method of editing pictures so we could easily separate the greenscreen even from smoke and the thinnest of hair.
In short, how did I come up with this project? I was fascinated with how much impact those simple pixel art drawings had on the world of art; I thought that it would be funny to breathe life into them and imagine what the punks who shook the world order would look like if they were real people. Maybe, just maybe, this way I could feel like I was a part of this global, yet unnoticeable for most, movement.
-For how long have you been doing photography?
I have a degree in filmmaking, and I started photography while in uni, so... I've been doing it for about 11 years, I guess. It just so happened that I really needed money after finishing my education, but finding a job as a film director proved to be an incredibly difficult feat to achieve. I started working as a photographer for documents at a photobooth, however, I only stayed there for a couple of weeks. I couldn't work under a crooked and arrogant employer. His gig closed down after a short while, but I promise I had nothing to do with it.
After that I got hired as an editor for Mosfilm (translator's note: Mosfilm is a very well-known movie-making company in Russia). One problem, though: I had a lot of friends working there, so I would constantly run off the set to drink whiskey and hang out with girls. In the end, I was fired not long after getting the job, which was absolutely understandable: I wouldn't keep an employee like myself either. Although I was pretty good at my job, so a few of their clients followed me in my departure and we still work together to this day. I just had hot blood and no brains at the time, that's all :)
Following those events, wedding photoshoots, freelance work and clients became more and more interesting; I started working at museums, stopped the wedding shoots, went on work trips in Italy, worked for the Ministry of Defense, Skolkovo (tn: a huge electronics company in Russia), started and finished tons of personal creative projects and understood that nothing makes me happier than making my own art and the ability to do so independently. God, I *dreamt* of the day when I'd be able to make a living by creating something of my own without making content for someone else's Instagram or taking pictures for museums' brochures...
And now I'm here. It seems as if the universe heard me. However, and I can't stress this enough, my path was difficult, long and thorny, but it allowed me to acquire so much experience and new skills that I wouldn't be here without it.
-What does Duchamp's Fountain mean to you?
I think I've already mentioned this before. Dadaism was a movement that had a goal of destroying traditional values in art and replacing them with the principles of "new art". Marcel Duchamp and his Bicycle Wheel, later - Fountain (which is a urinal with the word "Fountain" written on it) clearly shows what he thinks about his own artistic skills. It's a bold experiment that made a significant impact on the development of modern art.
What are CryptoPunks if not the new Fountain? Duchamp wanted to show that the meaning of art was not in the technical skills of the artist, but in their ideas. CryptoPunks are a great example of just that.
-How did the first photoshoots go?
I already mentioned a few things about the first photoshoot, however, there were so many interesting and challenging moments that one interview just can't cover them all :)
Take our alien as an example. Yes, he looks just like your normal blue guy, nothing complicated; behind the scenes, though, we had to pick and test various... uhm... kinds of bald scalps from different brands, but in the end we found a girl who made scalps from silicone all on her own - her creations suited our needs the best.
We drove around Moscow and tested many different kinds of blue paint, making sure its texture and durability was just right. We had to paint the model in blue head to toe for our daughter collection since we needed him to bathe in milk to recreate the photograph by Annie Leibovitz, so the paint had to be safe for the skin and incredibly durable to survive the whole milk bath experience. Ah, and don't forget the blue male thong.
When creating the zombie, we were inspired by the idea that he lay in a nice comfy place before his return to the living world, and when he did eventually emerge, his body got covered in moss, little stones, and his face was... smothered in sand. We literally did just that. We covered the model's face in sand and clay.
We didn't want the zombie to be frightening and angry. We wanted to keep the balance between cartoony and realistic. Our zombie's a kind one.
We also had naked photoshoots, we ate pizza and drank beer together, so in the end we got to know each other very closely (get your mind out of the gutter) and spent a good time together.
-How hard is it to constantly work with new models?
We managed to find a couple of models that we kept on working with. We're comfortable with them, and they, in return, are comfortable with us.
And then there's models that we just don't click with, our energies don't go well together and nothing works out quite as well. Photos with those models either never see the light of day or we post one of them and never invite the model for another photoshoot.
That being said, we're always happy when someone cool joins our team.
-How long did the creation of the apes take?
Literally several months. At first, we thought about HOW we were going to pull that off. I found a real chimpanzee, contacted his... uhm, agent and found out that taking the monkey for a photoshoot would cost us $1000/hour, plus we needed to provide some special conditions: transportation, cages, making sure that the studio owner would be fine with us having a photoshoot with a dangerous animal (despite its looks, it is, in fact, pretty dangerous); and all without a guarantee that the photos would turn out looking nice and cute, not knowing whether the accessories would suit the monkey or not, whether it's patient enough to sit on a chair with its head tilted at the right angle for a few hours... so we threw that idea in the bin. Instead, we looked for prosthetics specialists.
Several months of searching and calling, interviewing, discussing all the details, making sure our schedules matched, drawing, making the mold, sewing the fur... it all led up to the photoshoot. It took us 5 hours to apply all the makeup and prosthetics, and in the end we were extremely happy with the result! It turned out incredible! The ape looked even better in life than he did in the final photos, just look at our backstage videos! Look at them!!
So, yeah. It took us a lot of time, but it was all worth it and I'm very happy with the result.
And, again - the hardest thing to do was NOT to make an actual ape and NOT a scary mask of a monkeyman, but to get something that looked quite appealing and neutral. To get the balance between the natural and the theatrical right.
-When did the project officially launch?
I think you can count the launch date from the day of the first ever photoshoot, which happened on the 15th of May, 2021. Our first drop, however, happened after a month and a half of preparations, on the 30th of June, 2021, at exactly 7:37am.