Gun Reform Organization Change The Ref Debuts ‘3D Activist’ in New Campaign

Featuring a 3D sculpture modeled after shooting victim Joaquin Oliver

Gun reform organization Change The Ref is raising awareness about 3D-printed guns with 3D printing technology of its own—a 3D-printed sculpture the group is calling “the first 3D activist” in a campaign created in collaboration with the agency Alma.

The sculpture is modeled after Joaquin Oliver, Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting victim and son of Change The Ref founders Manuel and Patricia Oliver.

Entitled “Guac is Back,” the campaign is centered around a 3D sculpture of Joaquin holding a bouquet of flowers, in tribute to the Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend he was holding when he died. The statue of Joaquin is wearing a pin which, when scanned with a smartphone, directs viewers to a website collecting signatures for a petition demanding action against 3D-printed guns and encourages visitors to register to vote.

An emotional video features Manuel Oliver explaining that his family fled gun violence in Venezuela to settle in the U.S. and that Joaquin himself was an activist.

Alma first approached Change The Ref with a proposal around two months ago. Oliver explained that the organization is “good at reading people” and was able to determine that the agency “was totally on board with our fight.”

“They thought that a cool way to fight the crazy initiative of printing guns on a 3D printer from home is by actually printing something good out of a 3D printer, and nothing better than Guac himself,” Oliver said, adding that he was on board with the campaign “immediately” and is excited to “present this amazing piece of art and activism in the center of the world, Times Square.”

Alma executive creative director, content lu la Lueta explained that the agency decided it wanted to do something around the issue of 3D-printed guns after realizing how easy it was to download plans for them.

Alma senior art director Jonathan Garcia explained that the process of creating the statue included scanning Joaquin’s clothes and accessories, as well as video footage and images, to arrive at a 3D image that felt true to life and captured his personality.

“The statue, it is Guac,” he said. “You get to know him through all this content. It’s kind of like you owe it to him to do good work.”

The agency utilized 3D artists, photographers and directors during the creation of the campaign and worked with Brooklyn 3D-printing company Voodoo Manufacturing.

“This whole process, from the beginning, has been really beautiful, seeing people getting together for this cause,” Garcia said. “It goes beyond the work. When people stop working and start crafting, it’s a lot that you put on the table.”

“Seeing this come to life is pretty amazing,” Lueta said, adding, “It makes you feel very alive. It’s a very powerful feeling, We’re doing something that is way beyond advertising.”

While many have reached out to Change The Ref to help but “don’t know how,” Alma knew “exactly how to help us,” he said, adding, “Because it was a crazy idea, we loved it.”

The 3D-printed statue will be in Times Square today, Oct. 25, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., before joining a series of other gun reform protests and events around the country in the coming weeks.

The campaign follows Change The Ref’s  “The Last Lockdown,” which featured a statue created in collaboration with a group of Texas creatives and the Giffords Organization. “Guac is Back” also follows April’s “Posts Into Letters,” created with Area 23, which transformed social media posts into handwritten letters to members of Congress, using Joaquin’s handwriting.

Change The Ref’s latest effort has some similarities to “The Last Lockdown,” but also important differences. While “The Last Lockdown” statue was also created in part via 3D printing, its primary focus was on the realities students face from lockdown drills. And while that statue was recreated for different events around the country, Alma and Change The Ref only printed one version of “The First 3D Activist.”

Another key difference is the emotions displayed by the subjects of the different sculptures. While the girl in “The Last Lockdown” is fearful and tormented, Joaquin “is not afraid, he’s very powerful,” Oliver explained.

“Me and Patricia wanted it this way. He’s confronting people,” he said, adding that the sculpture is clearly a 3D-printed object, unlike the bronze-finished “The Last Lockdown” statue cowering under a real desk.

“It really shows the process of the 3D printing behind it, which is very important when you want to fight … 3D-printed guns,” he said.

“The First 3D Activist,” of course, also has an emotional aspect that makes it harder for Manuel and Patricia and “different than anything else.”

“It’s not an easy thing to do, to just go ahead and print your dead son on a 3D printer,” Manuel Oliver told Adweek.

“This time we are giving Joaquin a presence,” he explained. “He is the actual leader of this campaign.”

“This is Joaquin. Joaquin is the one that’s going to be giving the message,” Patricia added. “That’s beyond creativity, that’s beyond everything. That’s unique.”

Oliver explained that the location of the “Guac is Back” unveiling had both strategic and personal significance for Change The Ref, himself and his wife.

He called New York “probably the most important city do this,” since it tends to be a place “where things happen for the first time” and explained they chose Times Square because it is “probably the most visited place in the city.”

“I know that me and Joaquin loved New York,” he added, and visited the city many times. “This is just another time that we’re going to be here: him in spirit and me actually talking for him.”

Oliver personally chose New York after Alma initially suggested that the campaign launch in Parkland, Fla. The timing of the effort was arguably even more important.

“We needed to do this before the election,” Oliver said, citing the Florida gubernatorial race and the senate race in Texas as particularly important to the resurgent gun reform movement. “It’s an untraditional way of fighting [for gun reform],” he added. “You won’t see me or Patricia waiting in line on Capitol Hill to talk to a legislator and try to convince him to change his mind.”

He said that he’s “totally convinced” that the outcome of the elections will show that the country is demanding changes around issues related to gun violence, comparing the trajectory of support for the NRA to that of the tobacco industry.

Following the unveiling of “The First 3D Printed Activist,” the campaign will continue through a social media component centered around the “#GuacIsBack” hashtag.

Change The Ref has a series of other events planned in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections, including an online campaign the group plans to launch tomorrow or Saturday, a billboard reveal in Boston on Nov. 1 and a wall installation in Washington, D.C.

“In a way this is us giving our son a chance to keep on fighting,” Oliver said. “We are still parents and we found this way to impact people and make them think twice before they approve anything related to gun violence. We will do this forever.”

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.