Responses by Pum Lefebure, chief creative officer, Design Army.
Background: Adventures in A-EYE—created with AI technology—is Design Army’s new, wildly inventive social campaign for the spring 2023 season of Georgetown Optician, a Washington, DC–based optician with a more-than-40-year family legacy at the forefront of ocular science and fashionable frames. The super-fresh, experimental campaign takes a sci-fi movie bent—a fictional planet rife with extraterrestrial eyeball life including the all-seeing main character Eyelien. In a first for us, Adventures in A-EYE was made with AI—from talent to wardrobe, locations and landscapes—while the very real eyewear was added in post-production to create an optician campaign like you’ve never seen.
Design thinking: Georgetown Optician came to Design Army with a new store opening and a crazy short deadline to launch. Yet, when there’s a limitation either in timeframe or budget, it allows for creativity. It opened us to new ideas: How else could we create a super-imaginative, powerful campaign? That’s how we initially conceived the AI-meets-A-EYE concept—because it’s fast—enabling us to create a campaign in just one month versus previous campaigns, which could take more than six months for scouting, direction, shooting, editing, color-grading and music, among other things.
More than being driven by deadlines, we loved the idea of taking Georgetown Optician’s quirky, whimsical brand and adding a futuristic twist. Since the brand combines fashion and science—medical eye opticians and stylish frames—the sci-fi concept made perfect sense for the brand.
Adventures in A-EYE draws inspiration by the endless quest to see something wholly new—the mind and the eyes must travel! With that vision, we invented a bizarro story about travelers visiting a planet to no man’s land. The Eyeliens are creatures on the planet. But to live on this land rife with harsh environmental conditions, you must wear glasses to protect the eye. And, of course, all the characters have cheeky eye-related names.
The AI concept also enables us to change up the campaign seasonally, keeping the year fresh and still retain the storyline. Taking a cue from space odyssey films and novels, each episode—like “Return of the Dry Eye”—features over-the-top thrills and chills, entertains, and educates, complete with eye-popping 3-D titles.
Visual influences: We wanted to bring a sense of romance to the story—traveling into the future that feels like the past. With that in mind, we were inspired to mix the past and present to create a surrealist, retrofuturistic mashup where you can’t quite place the era. The visuals and typography take inspiration from 1950s classic movie posters, the early days of Web 1.0 and even the 1990s. We added in 1960s sci-fi sound design and future-forward hues—2024’s pastel-fuchsia color trend to make this world comes to life. The result is a totally weird, neon-cool, futuristic vibe.
Favorite details: I love that this is a new beginning of creative possibilities! And I’m proud that—in working with AI—we never lost our sense of creativity and craft, like the imaginative take on AI and A-EYE that’s totally silly yet unforgettable. The project itself is a journey for Design Army. As a team that’s been shooting real-life campaigns for more than fifteen years, we wanted to see if we could take our audience on an imaginary trip to a new far-off land—without our whole team visiting “Pink Mars.” We wanted to see if these images can be as captivating and memorable as our work from previous campaigns.
New lessons: We took a risk in partnering with a non-human. And while it doesn’t take much time for AI to spit out an image—it takes time to do it right and nail the execution. It’s refreshing when you try something new and totally naive to an alternative process. It forces you to think differently. Being curious and uncomfortable pushed us to take more risks. Risk can lead to innovation.
I love working with AI because of the speed. Once you get the formula down, it’s like magic—it can surprise and inspire with new ideas you didn’t expect. But it’s still in its super early stages. Great work never lacks emotion. AI alone can feel soulless and stiff—it needs the human touch to give it feeling. An eyeball on its own can be quite creepy. Our team worked hard to make it lovable—walking around, sleeping, eating veggies: all things that make eyes healthier—and bring the visuals to life through sound design, animation, typography, copy and photo manipulation, among other aspects.
While I love the speed, I hate AI’s stubbornness. At Design Army, our art direction is super tight. But working with AI, you must be willing to get lost in the journey to get the desired result—to really know how to create the prompts, be super specific, articulate your exact vision to get the response you want. We experimented endlessly until it learned the art direction we liked.
People either love or hate AI. Haters say you’re not creating anything—you’re just punching in the words, that there’s no creativity. I disagree. The secret to AI success is really understanding how to prompt with a laser-focused vision and approach it as a collaboration versus a one-and-done solution.
Moving forward, AI is going to be the must-have new design tool. With its super-fast speed generating ideas, people who work with AI will have a creative advantage. That said, I don’t think AI will ever replace real humans—it’s just another tool to create and execute innovative campaigns.