What’s Behind Zachary Scott’s Viral Old Babies Shoot?

Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m a begrudging social media user. It’s a time suck and I often question the value of the amount of effort it takes to keep the beast well fed, especially when we are not a “consumer facing” brand. But a couple of times since social media came into being, I’ve been associated with a project that has “gone viral”, and admittedly, it’s pretty damn cool. The most recent example is Zachary Scott’s “Old Babies” series, shot for a New York Times Magazine feature entitled, “What if Age is Just a Mindset?” We knew going in that the images were just the sort of odd, cute, strange, unexpected thing that people love to share on the internet, so we weren’t surprised at the flood of requests from syndication companies that followed the publish date, all of whom wanted to shop the series around the world for a piece of the action. We said no. The talent weren’t released and wouldn’t agree to it. 

But while the iron is still warm, I thought it’d be nice to share some of the backstory details about the project, with some of the un-retouched bits that were used in the making of the final art. The backstory comes directly from Zack, who wrote responses to a journalist’s questions. Read on for that part of the story…..

How did this project come about?

Photo Editor Joanna Milter Reached out to me to concept a “reverse aging” / “fountain of youth” story for an upcoming issue. She briefed me on the article and the general theme of the story. I did not have the article in hand but I went to work on thematic concepts related to our general discussion.

How was the idea conceived?

The idea that was approved was one of two finalists. The magazine’s editors narrowed it down from about 10 concepts and actually planned to shoot both “Old Babies” and “Youthful”, which was a stylized simple concept that illustrated older people acting youthful or exuberant in various ways. In the end, the budget parameters forced us to pick one, and we went with “Old Babies” (which is what I call it) name probably needs some work :)

I loved the concept from a challenge and visual standpoint. WHAT we were communicating wasn’t as clear to me and that struggle might have been the biggest challenge. In fact, I still don’t know what exactly the images communicate. Are they old babies, childlike elderly, or is this about the inner child? Now looking back… If I had to pick one, I’d say it’s about inner youth as mindset. something we feel rather than ARE. What I find fascinating is the variety of interpretations and reactions (both positive and negative) to the work. Everyone sees something different. It might be the closest thing to “ART” that I have done.

The characters themselves were actually 100% inspired by the kids casted for the project. We had a list of possible old “characters”, but the casting process helped us visualize the roles as they connected to actual children. We also had many discussions about how we age the characters…and ultimately decided on youthful childlike skin, with wardrobe and hair details that communicate advanced age. The Ben Button direction wasn’t going to work. We needed the kids to be cute and draw the viewers in.

How did you find the subjects? Who are these kids? What was it like working with them?

The kids were casted by Doug Mangskau at Eastside studios in Los Angeles , their parents were briefed on the project and new we’d be transforming them. The kids were great to work with and gave us everything we could have asked for. Very patient with the wigs and makeup…and we got through all 6 in one day.

Our original hope was to get 4 final images out of the 6 kids, but everyone was so great that we ended up completing a final image for each child.

Could you walk me through the process of creating these images?
-Concept/ pull scrap and visual references. everything from pictures of elderly people to kids dressed up for Halloween.
-Cast, decide final characters and create wardrobe special effects specs for my team.
-Special effects made wigs for all the kids, My wardrobe stylist team pulled clothes for each a character role, Props and set designers sourced the materials for backgrounds + chairs etc.
-Shoot day, Shot kids against a blue screen / sitting on chairs with as much “costume” as they would endure. Some of the wigs had to be shot on mannequins (and in post production composited onto the kids heads). Shot background materials, props chairs separately.
- Comping, after the shoot I comped (in photoshop) the wigs onto each kid and went through an editing process with the magazine to determine the select for each child with a simple nondescript background.

The final stage was the post production process. Electric Art and Amy Dresser double teamed the project - they took my hi res comps and transformed them into beautiful seamless imagery. Every detail counts and these retouchers are truly artists that elevated the project to the next level. I couldn’t be happier with the painterly look we all came up with.

This project was made possible with the help of special effects team Bruce Fuller and Amiee Macabeo, Stylist Gillian McLeod, Set Designer Patrick Muller, Producer Megan Sluiter, and Associate Producer Eniko Perhacs.


Four years ago, we invested several thousand dollars developing a customized version of one of the first portfolio apps for the iPad. Two years later we found one with more functionality and equal aesthetics for $12.99. So it goes with all things these days, including websites. Welcome to sharpeonline.com version 5.0. It’s amazing (and telling) to think of the amount of time and $ we invested in the first four generations of our website, compared to the cost effective and simple launch of this one. Most of the massive changes technology has brought to our business have not worked in our favor. This is one case that has.

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