As the 2008 US Presidential election entered its final phase, Christophe Hugo set to work making caricatures of its leading candidates-- just as he had last year, with the top Presidential candidates from his home country of France. (When Sarkozy was victorious, Hugo took his avatar for a deranged celebratory spin on a military chopper.) A kind of editorial cartoonist who customizes Second Life avatars to create his caricatures, Hugo's work has been featured on Le Monde's website (as with this disturbing avatar of Britney Spears.) He believes his talent at creating what he calls "caricavatars" stems from his mild autism, which makes it difficult for him to recognize and remember faces. “My guess is that my brain compensates that by naturally and automatically ‘caricaturing’ the faces of the people I meet,” he told me once. So creating a Hillary Clinton avatar was easy enough, as you can see here.
Building Barack Obama, however, was a challenge.
"On a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 means 'piece of cake, it took me fifteen minutes to create the caricavatar' and 10 means 'it took me one month, working on it one hour everyday"," he says, "Obama is a 7." The caricaturist's task is to comically exaggerate a person's features, but this particular election cycle was uniquely challenging.
"Overall, this is not a nice election for facial caricaturists," as he puts it. "To summarize the rat race in an un-PCed way, we will have either a black man or a woman running against an elderly person. This leaves open even more racial and sexist media traps than during the French elections of 2007 (with both female candidate Segolene Royal and second-generation immigrant Sarkozy running for top office.)" Pen-and-ink cartoonists have it hard enough to avoid stereotypes, but Hugo creates (and then becomes) his caricatures in three dimensions.
"The thing is that I am still, like all of us, 'learning' Obama's face," he tells me. "It is not like the face of Hillary Clinton, who has been in the political landscape for quite some time (even though changing over the years - she drives me crazy with all her different hairdos!)" With Obama in particular, Second Life's avatar customization tools imposed a challenge. "[H]e has prominent beautiful white teeth, and Second Life-created teeth are rather tiny," Hugo explains. "So I had to give him a denture [attachment]." (Curiously, he got Obama's denture, he says, by copying and pasting it from his John McCain cariacture.) He also had to get around the limitations of Second Life's default hair adjustment sliders. "Obama also is one of those guys who will never lose their hair: no hair recession whatsoever, and side hair getting so close to his eyebrows that I had to create a hair-textured object to complete his hairdo."
Christophe Hugo's Barack Obama wears a superhero's cape and an angel's halo, and if you are lucky, you will find him in the White House that Hugo has built for him on his island-- direct teleport at this link-- a Commander in Chief-in-waiting in avatar form.
The current version of avatar Obama, he suggests, is subject to change.
"The thing also is that Obama's look is changing by the day," Hugo explains. "[W]hen we hear that he is increasingly looking 'presidential', it is not just a figure of speech: nobody can go through this type of challenge without changing physically."
Photos courtesy Hugo.