Sketch artist Gil Zamora channels his criminal sketch background into drawing women as they describe themselves. (Photo courtesy Dove)

Forensic sketch artist reveals how the viral Dove beauty ad campaign got made

Forensic sketch artist Gil Zamora draws somewhere around 350 sketches a year. But his latest project was unlike any sketch he’s ever had to do before.

Zamora, an FBI trained forensic artist, teamed up with Dove’s latest ad campaign where he was tasked with creating “Real Beauty Sketches” based on how women described themselves. The campaign was designed to show how women see themselves compared to how others viewed them. Zamora created composite sketches of  seven women Dove recruited based on their descriptions of their own facial features.

In the video, women describe their features by using phrases like “my mom told me I had a big jaw” and “I kind of have a fat, rounder face.” Zamora then also drew the same woman based on someone else’s description of her and hung the pictures side-by-side to show them that, as the campaign’s tagline says, “You are more beautiful than you think.” The ad has gone viral and received over 19 million views on YouTube.

Zamora calls participating in the Dove campaign a powerful and challenging experience. He says he was approached by Dove to participate in the campaign and help create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.

“What comes across in the video is the emotion and the raw feelings that were coming forward as these women saw what was going on sketch by sketch,” he says. “Some of the women paused and teared up and said, ‘yeah I do think I am more beautiful than I say I am’ and others just answered right away.”

But the real challenge for Zamora was doing the sketches differently from what he was used to back at the San Jose Police Department, where he was a sketch artist for over a decade. Back at the Police Department, he talked to eyewitnesses about crimes and recreating visuals of suspects. He used a compositor technique based off of the teachings of his mentor, former sketch artists Thomas Macris. Zamora says that while his technique still applied, he wasn’t able to work with the woman he was receiving instructions from on the image.

Forensic sketch artist reveals how the viral Dove beauty ad campaign got made sketch people NBC Latino News

Photo Courtesy by Dove (Photo Courtesy by Dove )

“I changed the methodology I was using to interview people. The FBI uses reference images to help develop a sketch. What I did was I decided I should start interviewing these people without images,” he explains. “But I normally collaborate with the eyewitness and show them the sketch and talk back and forth. Here they told me, Gil, we don’t want you to see them and them to see you.”

But for Zamora, the overall goal of the sketches was the same. He’s always had a strong personal conviction for service before he went into the police force.

“My father was a hard laboring Mexican-American. He came over from Mexico and worked his butt off as a laborer. He had that inner loyalty to service and community,”  he recalls. “I thought one day I would be police chief, but I was always sketching.”

Zamora may have just been asked to be the the sketch artist, but he soon found himself in an unexpected position: narrating the video. He says his role as a narrator was unexpected as he went into the experiment with the mindset of drawing sketches — business as usual. By the end of the first day, however, he found himself talking to the women more, spending a little more time on camera, and taking on a bigger role with revealing the portrait to the women.

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“I thought I was just going to be doing what I do as a forensic artist and that’s interviewing people,” he says. “It felt natural that I was able to interact with the women and talk about what was going on. I found that we made a connection talking about their issues.”

Not only were the women touched by the experience, Zamora was as well. While participating in the project, there were a few special women he couldn’t stop thinking of: his daughters and his wife. Zamora says that hes shown his daughters, all of whom are in their late teens and early twenties, the video three times.

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“It was all very reminiscent of what I hear with these beautiful gals that I am involved with. When my daughters were growing up, I tried to feed them a lot of confidence and help with pitfalls. But I cant be there every minute. All you can do as a parent is reinforce that idea that you are wonderful and you can do anything.”

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches ad has far surpassed Zamora’s expectations. But despite the video’s tremendous popularity, it has not been immune from criticism. Many people have said that the video does not embody a diverse enough sampling of women. One of the most popular critiques was written by Jazz Brice, who argues that the video features too many traditionally pretty white women.  Others are skeptical of Dove’s relationship with its parent company Unilever, which also produces Axe and Slim-Fast. 

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Still, Zamora has received no shortage of support for his role in the ad, saying he has received emails and texts from strangers including women, fathers, brothers, who were all touched by the campaign.

“I think Dove did a great job showing women in different areas of their lives, ages, ethnicities,” he says. “What is happening is that people can see themselves in there. That’s why people are reposting it. I think it has a really great message. “

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