- Cameron-James Wilson, 32, began what would become The Diigitals in a garden shed in 2017.
- He created Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel, who has 215,000 followers on Instagram.
- He spoke to freelance journalist Claire Turrell for Insider.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The models at my agency have shot campaigns and editorials for Balmain, Louboutin, Ferragamo, and Vogue and have thousands of Instagram followers. Shudu is known for her statuesque physique, Brenn her curves, and Koffi his six-pack.
But these supermodels are not real. I own the world’s first all-digital model agency.
The Diigitals started as a hobby. I was working as a fashion photographer in London. I would shoot a fashion story, it would appear in a magazine, and then it would be thrown into a bin a week later. I wanted to do something artistic, but with more longevity.
I moved home to Weymouth in Dorset in the west of England in 2017 and I started looking at the digital world. I had always been interested in fantasy fiction artwork and CGI.
I set up a studio in my mother’s shed, downloaded some digital programmes and started learning 3D modelling with the help of YouTube videos. A lot of the characters available were fantasy figures or pin-ups and I wondered if I could give one my own fashion spin.
I knew how to light real models in a photoshoot, but after that it was just trial and error. My first character was a Caucasian woman, and I spent hours learning how to make her look more realistic. Then I created a character who had more of a Middle Eastern influence and finally I created Shudu.
I posted a few images on Facebook to see what my friends thought. One friend immediately shared the shot of Shudu and then Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty brand reposted it. My life changed overnight.
In February 2018, Harper’s BAZAAR US ran a news story about Shudu, then four months later WWD wanted to include her in one of its fashion spreads. It was crazy.
Until that point Shudu was a piece of artwork as far as I was concerned, and now suddenly she was turning into a fully-fledged model. The WWD team wanted to include Shudu in a desert shoot. It was the world’s first 3D editorial.
The team cast and styled her, as they would do with any other model, but they sent her clothes to a New York photography agency who digitized them. The images were then forwarded to me, and I worked on them in my shed.
I was still learning at that point and I wasn’t sure if I could deliver what they had asked for, but it worked. If we would have wanted to do this in real life we would have had to fly to the desert. From the sustainability angle it was powerful.
Shudu was now part of the real world and I needed to make her fit. As she started out as a piece of artwork, her proportions were inspired by fashion illustrations, now she has real world measurements.
The models started to gain traction. My friend and I talked about launching an agency. We rendered models throughout the night and within 24 hours we had the company name, a website, and seven models.
I moved out of the shed after 18 months and now have a state-of-the-art studio. My days are still kind of bizarre. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, enquiries went through the roof as brands searched for alternative ways to create fashion shoots. I might wake in the middle of the day and work till 5 a.m..
I often work on Los Angeles time as we now have a digital team in the US, who work on our B2B side. As the fashion world is trying to be more sustainable, they are choosing to showcase their collections on virtual avatars, rather than pack trunks of samples and send them around the globe.
There were avatars available before, but the brands have asked us to create bespoke models for them. I act as the creative director,as well as overseeing the editorial and advertising campaigns for Shudu and our six other supermodels who are working every week.
When I’m not chatting to the US team or giving talks via Zoom, I am busy creating digital artwork. At the moment, we are currently working on different catwalk animations and yesterday I spent the day working on Shudu’s make-up.
While our model rates are comparable to the rates of real-life models, each shoot has a different fee as we are also involved with production. It also depends how digitally advanced the brand is to what we have to do for them. It can take between two to three weeks to create an editorial story so these are extra fees that need to be factored in.
Our models have also now turned into personalities. Some have their own Instagram accounts, and Shudu has her own voice. Critics rightly pointed out that a white guy couldn’t be behind a Black woman, so we did a shout-out on social media for a woman who could become the voice of Shudu. Writer Ama Badu creates Shudu’s Instagram posts and is her voice in interviews. Ama also acts as advisor for Shudu’s character.
The Diigitals also works with real models. Not every company can supply us with digital images of their clothes, so we’ve partnered with models and we turn them into Shudu.
They do the pose and we drop her in over the top of them. We also digitize the models as themselves for other projects.
The virtual modelling space has changed dramatically. It has now reached the point of being established and brands are looking to invest in this in the long term. We are about to launch a virtual clothing collection, which we will showcase on a virtual catwalk and sell to fans of avatars.
I can see a lot of fashion brands using gamification and you’ll see more branded clothing appearing through games like Fortnite. Thanks to the sustainability, brands are already embracing the virtual modelling world. I think it’s going to grow exponentially.