How Do Advertisers Make Cars Look Like That?

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on December 11, 2020

We’ve all spent who knows how many cumulative hours salivating over glossy ads of up and coming models, restored classics, and aspirational luxury cars that taunt us to up our sophistication game just a notch. Or sometimes more than a notch. Sometimes those glossies have us drooling over lives we know we’ll probably never have.

How do these images have so much power? Turns out, there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. We spoke to the designers at Gloss, who take photos of cars and turn them into the sleek, saliva-triggering mythologies we see in magazines. They say the trick is probably not what you’d expect: computer-generated images (CGI), the kind of post-production work usually used in Hollywood, but now on cars.

Using Movie Tricks to Make Fenders Shine

When you think of CGI post-production, your mind’s eye might picture something over the top or hyper-animated. But we’re not talking about a sasquatch helicopter-jumping into a volcano here. For Gloss, post-production is all about details and finesse. The less you see, the better.

“The best design is invisible,” says Gloss founder and lead designer Holger Kurt Ward. “You know it’s good CGI when it doesn’t look like CGI. It just looks like a great photo. Your car looks smart and polished. It pops. The environment is exciting or powerful or serene, whatever you want to convey. The viewer wants to be drawn into the image, and every visual element contributes to a unified story.”

That story might be: a Porsche 911 Carrera makes the perfect accessory for a day out on MacDougal Street in Manhattan; a spotless, glistening Renault Alaskan is the perfect machine to haul your muddy 4 wheelers up into the alpine heights for a day of family adventure; or Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis fits neatly in front of your Scandanavian-designed, modern minimal, high desert home while you sip a hot drink with Special Someone.

“These stories strike us in an instant,” Ward says. “But they take weeks to develop.”

Ward opened up shop two decades ago, originally in Germany. But for the past 15 years, he’s been working Stateside, out of offices in New York and Los Angeles, where he says he finds some of the best photographers in the world to work with.

Gloss also has a management arm called Gloss Reps, representing the work of renowned photographers. Gloss Reps started prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, and has been particularly meaningful for artists navigating a post-pandemic media landscape. 

“It all starts with great photographers,” Ward acknowledges, giving credit where credit is due. “We’re lucky to have created really strong relationships with the best agencies and clients in the US.”

There are some exceptions, he notes. Gloss has done work for Lexus that’s 100 percent CGI, a growing segment of their business representing about 20% of their current projects. Excelling in CGI is particularly meaningful, since post-COVID photo-shoots must be done with as few human interactions as possible.

Giving People a Peek Behind the Screen

The process behind the scenes, Ward says, is seamless if you have the right talent and the right creative force. “We create a workflow that is seamless for the client,” he says. “Meanwhile, we have a small army of people tweaking images and obsessing over every detail.”

“It starts with a big creative vision, and gets incrementally more technical until, at the end of the process, you’re spending hours on the art of moving pixels to hone in on exactly the right color reproduction. Each project follows this life cycle of starting with a strong creative concept, and then maturing into more technical work until it’s all finalized. The end result is an emotionally evocative final product that draws aspiration out of its viewers.

Ward says they’ve created a new process for giving clients the control they need during a global pandemic. They were one of the first teams to explore ‘remote viewing’ where the client and photographer sit in different locations and collaborate on production. This has allowed the creative process to expand beyond the physical limitations of geography and has been delivering new levels of creativity that were previously untapped. 

“The needs of the client always come first,” Ward says. “We’ve spent years perfecting the art of taking the client’s vision and applying the distinctive ‘gloss’ to create memorable campaigns and we continue to push those innovations forward in response to new needs.” 

Despite the technical nature of the work, Ward says his emphasis remains on the creative aspect. When he and his team started, they wanted to bring the art back into an industry that they describe as increasingly technical. Scrolling through their work, it’s easy to see the love of cars that unites us.

By Jordan French Jordan French has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jordan French is the Founder and Executive Editor of Grit Daily Group, encompassing Financial Tech Times, Smartech Daily, Transit Tomorrow, BlockTelegraph, Meditech Today, High Net Worth magazine, Luxury Miami magazine, CEO Official magazine, Luxury LA magazine, and flagship outlet, Grit Daily. The champion of live journalism, Grit Daily's team hails from ABC, CBS, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox, PopSugar, SF Chronicle, VentureBeat, Verge, Vice, and Vox. An award-winning journalist, he was on the editorial staff at and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur with one sale. Formerly an engineer and intellectual-property attorney, his third company, BeeHex, rose to fame for its "3D printed pizza for astronauts" and is now a military contractor. A prolific investor, he's invested in 50+ early stage startups with 10+ exits through 2023.

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