Models Meet Avatars

It is getting harder and harder to tell models and avatars apart.

As recently as 2009 we could take for granted that we could tell a real person from a computer-generated image. A model was a real, live person posing in front of a camera to create an image of a person. An avatar was an image of a person generated by a computer based on ideas of shapes and colors. You could tell them apart. A computer’s idea of what a person looks like wasn’t as detailed or lifelike as what you could see when you looked at a photograph of a real person. At the same time, a real person, if you looked closely, could never be as flawless and idealized as an avatar.

Obviously, it’s no longer that simple. And this has become especially obvious at the H&M online catalog, where some of the fashion photos you see are real models and some are avatar/model hybrids. A group photo could show one model and four avatars, and you can’t tell at a glance which is which, though you can sort it out if you study enough pictures from the same studio.

H&M’s explanation is that it saves work for the models if they do not have to actually put on the hundreds of items of clothing that they may be seen in in a catalog. At the same time, it wants to take some of the attention away from the models so that you will focus on the clothing.

H&M is being relatively transparent about its use of avatars, but you can be sure other fashion catalogs are doing the same thing without being so obvious about it. When you see a clothing catalog, you are still seeing real photographs of the clothing (except, often, for the color variations). But the person you see wearing the clothing may be computer-generated in varying degrees. At this point, if you know what to look for, you can still see the difference. But soon enough, in another year or two, even the experts will no longer be able to tell models from avatars.

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