Spotlight: Turning Sex Toys Into GIF Art

By David Schonauer   Tuesday September 19, 2017

It all started with a box of dildos.

Photographer and MAP reader Jesse Untracht-Oakner  recently teamed with designer Jenna Josepher  to create a motion-art experiment called “SFW” (as in “safe for work”), featuring sex toys. "SFW" is indeed safe for work, because the toys have been recontextualized and desexualized — somewhat —  in a series of colorful and playful GIFs.

 “At first glance, it’s not so easy to decipher the various objects rotating and squishing about. However, stare just a few seconds longer and the cheekiness of it all avails itself,” noted FastCompany, where you can see the GIFs in action.

About those dildos: The idea for the series came about after the producer on the project, Alex Papadopoulos, received a box of dildos from an old high school friend who is one of the owners of the Doc Johnson sex toy company.

“She had always wanted to do some sort of project with them and finally she reached out to Jesse,” Josepher told FastCompany.

“And I instantly thought of Jenna because we had worked together on a few fashion lookbooks,” Untracht-Oakner added.

The goal from the beginning was to turn the “suggestive, triggering, and discriminatory” advertising imagery for sex toys upside down. “We not only felt a real responsibility but saw an exciting opportunity to create a new breed of visual imagery within the sex-toy marketplace that was progressive, inclusive, positive, socially conscious and approachable–to all sorts of human beings,” notes the mission statement for "SWF."

There were some creative challenges. “We debated if and how to incorporate a human form at all. Which was a little ironic considering all the toys were designed to mimic the human form,” says Untracht-Oakner, a New York City-based photographer who specializes in portraits, fashion, look books, and art installations. His work has been seen in New York magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and Rolling Stone, and in ad campaigns for Michael Kors, Cartier, and Red Bull.

The concept, says the photographer, drove aesthetic decisions. “We wanted to make sure the products looked ‘at home’ in the scenes,” he says.

Working with balloons, confetti, string, wooden spheres, ping pong-balls, styrofoam domes, transparent tubing, and other materials — including Doc Johnson products —  Josepher and Untracht-Oakner built the sets and hand-operated the moving parts. Untracht-Oakner used a Canon 5D Mark III to shoot video clips of the colorful contraptions. “We realized later that we could have shot some of the scenes as stills rather than as video,” he says. “With a couple of them, I used freeze frames and then animated the static 2D images rather than using the video assets.”

Compositing was done with Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Camera RAW, and Adobe Media Encoder software. “Through our conceptualizing and post-production meetings we determined what we needed to shoot in-camera versus what could be accomplished in post,” Untracht-Oakner adds.

All the work on this project was done during free time at nights and on weekends. “Our first meeting was in February, and we had a final product by early May,” says Untracht-Oakner. “I would guess that we spent about 60 hours for pre-production, shopping, and shooting, and another 10 hours of post for each GIF, making that a total of 110 hours from beginning to end."


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