- Shudu Gram is an Instagram model, and people can’t tell whether or not she’s real – including myself.
- She’s not, it turns out: Shudu is a CGI fabrication created by photographer Cameron-James Wilson, who tells Business Insider that it’s a “massive compliment” that people like me were taken in.
- Not everybody seems to care.
When I first saw an image of Shudu Gram, the striking model you see above with a growing Instagram following of more than 100,000 users, I was certain that she was a real person. Turns out, I was wrong: She’s computer-generated, and the work of photographer Cameron-James Wilson.
Here’s how I was first taken in by Shudu Gram.
In an image posted late last summer, Shudu captioned a photo of herself with an apparent ode to the clothing brand SOULSKY, writing, “I can’t describe how grateful I am to @soulskybrand for sending me this beautiful t-shirt. I hope the picture does it justice ❤”
I wasn’t alone in thinking she was a real person. A trail of Shudu’s followers commented on the picture, with one Instagram user asking, “Why aren’t you a supermodel already?!”
“Seriously Victoria secret needs you,” another user wrote. “I hope you make it big you are stunningly beautiful”
But then the thread’s sentiment shifted slightly: “Are you real? No way,” one person wrote.
“Hmm sumn [sic] about this doesn’t seem natural hmm,” said another. More and more Instagram users commenting on the picture seemed confused. Is Shudu Gram a real model? They wondered. Is she CGI? Is she an animated character? Is she a robot?
The confused commenters were onto something: It turns out that Shudu Gram isn’t a real person after all. She’s a CGI character created using 3D modelling. In an interview with Business Insider, her creator Wilson described her as an “art piece” and the “world’s first digital supermodel.”
Wilson wasn’t always so open about Shudu Gram’s existence. When Wilson first posted images of Shudu to Instagram, he was hesitant to point out that she wasn’t real, hoping instead to first gauge reactions to his artwork.
“I wanted to see if people thought she was real or not,” Wilson told Business Insider. “For anyone who is getting involved in 3D or digital art, for people to not be able to tell whether or not your work is real is a massive compliment.”
Wilson said that a single image of Shudu usually takes around three days to create, and that he fashioned her after his favourite Barbie doll, the Princess of South Africa.
For the most part, reception to Shudu Gram has been largely, but not universally, positive. A recent piece in the New Yorker criticised Wilson and the Shudu Gram project – specifically, the politics of Wilson, a white man, winning so much attention for a virtual black supermodel when real black women are underrepresented in the fashion industry.
Not everyone sees it that way. One Instagram user who goes by the handle chynanguyen commented on one of Shudu’s images: “Maybe this page is giving a message to the closed minded model agencies who’s only looking for white women…”
Wilson said that he welcomes criticism of his work, and that Shudu is an exploration of beauty.
“I have many different ideals of beauty, but it’s difficult to show them all because of time constraints,” Wilson said. “In the future, I want to explore many different versions of beauty.”
Shudu Gram isn’t the only virtual model garnering online interest. In recent months, the CGI-inflected model has emerged as just one among a crop of virtual celebrities with hundreds of thousands of online followers wielding social influence by proxy. Just last month, the freckled, digitised Instagram star Lil Miquela’s profile was “hacked” by yet another virtual taste-maker, Berumudaisbae, in what turned out to be a choreographed marketing stunt.
Wilson says that he has plans to create more CGI characters who will live out their lives virtually on Instagram. Currently, the artist is drawing up ideas for several more characters, one of whom he describes as “the world’s first alien supermodel.” With the collaboration of an African comic book artist, Wilson said that he hopes to create a graphic novel filled with CGI characters like Shudu with a plot that will play out on Instagram.
“Fashion is boring and stuck in the past,” said Wilson. “3D models bring a bit of fun back into it. I want to create a story and world that’s a graphic novel, where rather than super heroes, you have supermodels.”
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