Our Spotlight Awards judge in Travel, Documentary & Landscape and AI Image Developing & Creating categories, Felix Freese tells us about some of the recent projects, including the new UNICEF campaign featuring AI-generated images.
Production Paradise: Thank you for joining our awards as a judge for the categories Travel, Landscape & Documentary and also for AI Image Creating and Developing. What are your expectations from the event?
Felix Freese: We live in an age of image overload. It’s getting difficult to stand out. Production Paradise is a trustful filter for high quality. I am grateful to be part of this filtering process.
Production Paradise: In your opinion, what makes an image award-worthy?
Felix Freese: There are beautiful pictures. And there are pictures that have a certain kind of sublimity. They have a timelessness that resists against trends. That is what predestines a photo for an award.
Production Paradise: Can you tell us a little bit about your career? How did you end up at UNICEF Schweiz und Liechtenstein?
Felix Freese: Photography brought me into advertising. I have financed my magister in German, history, and art history as a photo assistant, mostly in the studio of Andreas Burz. My agency stations were as copywriter and creative director at BBDO, McCann, FCB, Publicis, Saatchi&Saatchi and TBWA. My last project in advertising was one of the most creatively awarded campaigns in Switzerland: Big Mac 50 years for McDonald’s. After that, I entered the fundraising world through Spinas Civil Voices, an agency specialized in fundraising for NPOs. Then, five years ago, I received an offer to build up an in-house creative agency at UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Since then, we as a team have proven that strong creative concepts have a measurable impact on fundraising. The evidence was awarded with our Ukraine emergency aid campaign “Never give up” as the most successful fundraising campaign in Switzerland. Today we can deliver much faster than any agency and we can try a lot of new things like in our AI campaign for the Swiss Economic Forum.
Production Paradise: Could you tell us what has been your favourite project to work on and why?
Felix Freese: Every new project that pushes me into new spheres is my favourite piece of work. Last year it was certainly the projection of a large peace dove on the Swiss mountain “Great Mythen”. The project was done by a very small team with a very small budget. But all the heart and soul. It was permanently at risk of failure. Imagine Swiss bureaucracy at its best. The weather was changing. On the night of the shooting, we almost lost our 4×4 and had to pull it out of the snow with our last ounce of strength. But mother nature rewarded us with a starry sky, and we were able to deliver our peace message “Peace. For every child.” on March 9, 2022, projected on one of the most important mountains in Switzerland.
Production Paradise: What do you enjoy the most about working in your field?
Felix Freese: The exciting thing is the two tasks I have at UNICEF. As Head of Brand and Communication, I protect and transform the brand at the same time. Creativity becomes a measurable instrument when you combine it with fundraising. I see the effectiveness directly. Of course, making the world a little bit better is another motivation. But most important, it allows me to stay curious.
One of your recent works, the MAKE.FUTURE.HAPPEN. billboard campaign by UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, envisions a future that provides a better quality of life for children, allowing them to grow up healthy, safe and have access to education. How was the process of selecting 12 artists that worked with AI on this billboard campaign? And from your role as the Senior Brand & Communications Manager at UNICEF, how do you think photographers and other creatives can help convey UNICEF’s message?
Felix Freese: The campaign formed a platform where AI artists could present their vision of a better future for children. I developed and coordinated this concept. But without the external help of our AI expert Grit Wolany, this project would never have been realized. She contacted the AI artists for us. We were innovative with the decision to use AI. We have illustrations as well as photorealistic shots. The main difficulty was to choose the motives that were suitable for us from the large amount of content. In the end, 22 different posters were printed. Here was another challenge, because the Midjourney files were only 1-2 Mb in size. Printed, you could hardly see this. The skin tones in particular looked incredibly vibrant. Our learning was: what counts is the momentum. Being faster than others, at a manageable cost, creates more awareness. The UNICEF brand is perceived as innovative. The different motives triggered many positive but also negative comments. Importantly, it has been talked about. Even the Swiss press presented the campaign.
Production Paradise: Many people are afraid of AI and see risks in using it and the development that AI is currently taking. What do you think about AI? Do you also see risks?
Felix Freese: AI in its current form is a tool. Currently, we find it exciting because it gives us new opportunities to live out creativity. These tools simplify processes and make us faster. Like any editing tool, they also carry responsibility in their use. Transparency is important here. That’s why in our AI campaign we put an AI label on the posters and wrote down who created them and with what help. But as with any trend, we will quickly get fed up. We will learn to distinguish AI-generated images from photographed images. The most important thing is, as humans we should always try to show the human side in the photos. We should always do that better than any machine.
Production Paradise: How do you think AI will influence your work in the future?
Felix Freese: UNICEF’s world takes place in the real world. When we use photos in fundraising or communications, we know the name of the people in the picture, their age, and the situation they are in. UNICEF photos are copyrighted. They are authentic. They are not even allowed to be mirrored. AI can construct these stories, perhaps deceptively real. But what would be the point behind that? So, we know that in visual design we will use AI only selectively. For visions, for example, as was done in the campaign for the Swiss Economic Forum. AI will therefore not change much.