Even the savviest of semioticians might have a hard time decoding the sources of inspiration informing John X. Carey’s approach to Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches,” the most watched Internet commercial of all time.
The Film alumnus drew his ideas from a diverse and unexpected set of creative touchstones, from social impact documentaries to Jane Austen, to create the commercial in which a police sketch artist draws two portraits of a series of women—one based on their descriptions of themselves and another based on a stranger’s perceptions.
I’d make a funny spec commercial and it wouldn’t get any views and then I’d make an emotional doc and it would get 100,000 views. People are craving meaning in their content.
Carey, who grew up on a Missouri farm and transferred to ArtCenter’s Film Department after studying art, literature and mythology at the University of Missouri, continues to rely on his background in liberal arts as a creative wellspring. “My whole treatment for ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ was full of images from Pride and Prejudice,” says Carey. “That whole book is about women sitting around their house dealing with emotional issues as filtered light streamed through the windows. That’s why I wanted to set this piece in that big light-filled loft.”
Carey’s first taste of national acclaim came courtesy of Voices from the Field, a Designmatters documentary he made about HIV prevention programs in Zambia. “It was an eye-opening experience,” recalls Carey. “I’d make a funny spec commercial and it wouldn’t get any views and then I’d make an emotional doc and it would get 100,000 views. People are craving meaning in their content.”