The science of the scoop

The word “food-styling”, both among insiders and in the collective imagination, is connected to the activity of enhancing aesthetics and appealing qualities of food. That was exactly what I thought, when I decided to start on this path. So, we take real food, create recipes, and arrange the mise en place. Our job can no doubt consist of this, but only in the editorial field.

When we step into the world of advertisement, especially at a high level, our tasks go beyond creativity; the job becomes extremely technical and experience, more often than not, makes all the difference.

The more so with ice-cream and chocolate, a niche in which my team (Ottavia Sardo and our mock-up artist Max) and I (Luisa Chiddo) have been specializing for years. For this type of product traditional rules are not applicable. With the exception of live action sets with very wide shots, when shooting ice-cream or chocolate, artificial or fake mock-ups are indispensable.

A mock-up is basically a copy of the original product, in various materials, that depend on the requested texture, shooting angle and action. They can be edible, in materials that the actors will be eventually able to bite and eat, or, if the screenplay does not include any biting or eating, they can be made of resin.

In the latest years the main trend is to create a perfect product, that is at the same time imperfect, in order to keep that difficult balance between reality and fiction.

But why do we use artificial products instead of real ice-cream or snacks? There are several reasons.

First of all, to avoid melting and to obtain a homogeneous result, not wasting time while shooting, since a melting ice-cream requires continuous retouching. This allows for reduced production costs and eliminates food waste. Secondly, real products do not have or keep the shape, proportions and colours of the original design. Lastly, when we talk about tabletop, we can create prototypes of different sizes, often far larger than the original product, which allow macro shooting at enhanced speed.

Although technology is a great help, the carrying out of this work is still quite manual and it includes various challenges during the execution. To begin with, even though we now have machines that shoot and print in 3D, hand-made modeling is still unparalleled, because of little, but non-negotiable details, that make a difference.

Behind the scenes

For instance, a 3D-printed cone will never compare to the beauty of a hand-chiseled, airbrush-coloured one. The “chiaroscuros” and the slight imperfections, if duly created, will result in an outstanding (verbatim) job.

Besides it is not uncommon that the ice-cream is only an idea, at the moment of the shooting. The company has, so to say, “designed” the flavours and colours, but still not clearly determined the final result. In this case, the little modifications that will have to take place are carried out by our mock-up artist, rigorously by hand and in accordance with us, the director or photographer, the agency, the client, and the personnel responsible for QC.

Often, in similar events, we can end up with an idea that is far from the original one, exactly because the prototype and its realization create the necessary awareness of the most practical and down-to-earth aspects of the final product. This means that our work, although indirectly, has an influence that reaches beyond the mere advertising, to the final product itself.

We do use 3D printers, but only for the simplest prototypes, with well-defined size and shape. In these instances, the difference is all in the materials that will be key in obtaining a result comparable to the real thing.

Talking about materials. People often ask us what we use. The answer is always the same: it depends. In this field, in my opinion, the real skill is exactly that; knowing the various materials and their textures and having the experience to propose the right ones according to the requests of the client.

Food Stylist: Luisa Chiddo in team with Ottavia Sardo, Photographer: Mauro Turatti, Photographer Assistant: Paolo Formenti, Post production: Loris Macchi

We continuously test and explore new possibilities. Not only. A lot of creativity and manual skills are required. Once on set we were shooting for Wall’s iconic Cornetto, and we decided that we needed to enlarge a whipped-cream crest. We hand-made ourselves a small nozzle for the sac a poche using the plastic cap of a detergent.

Presently this is a niche, very few people deal with these products, and even fewer do it well. But the future remains unforeseeable. With the introduction of AI, new possibilities are coming along, and I think that unfortunately many of the creative and handmade parts of the job will be lost.

Apart from copyright-related issues, AI will be beneficial, in that it will make the procedures more time and cost-effective. The real challenge, though, will still be that magical and harmonic imperfection that, for the time being, only a human hand can really create.

Magnum Test Gif and pictures:
Food Stylist: Luisa Chiddo @luisachiddofoodstylist in team with Ottavia Sardo @ottaviasardo_foodstylist and Max @max.effects.sfx  
Photographer: Mauro Turatti @mauroturatti 
Photographer Assistant and post production: Paolo Formenti @paoloformenti

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