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How this artist went from selfies to the face of New York billboards

Key Points
  • Mike Mellia, who was working in advertising, created a selfie a day to test out new special effects.
  • His images and art are now on New York billboards.

Mike Mellia has a bit of an obsession with self-portraits. What started out in college and then moved to Instagram now has him gracing billboards in New York.

"I was doing a selfie a day to keep the doctor away, " Melia, 37, told CNBC.

Since last month, Mellia has been showcased in ads for Brooks Brothers on digital billboards in New York, and he's working with Intel to create virtual reality selfies. It's pretty much his dream job.

Double espresso

A post shared by Mike Mellia (@mikemelliastudio) on

Mellia began taking funny self-portraits as a freshman at Columbia University, where he ran for class president by promoting photos of himself in humorous scenarios. He lost his first election, but decided to go bigger as a sophomore. He was victorious the next three years.

Several years later, Mellia was creating digital advertising campaigns for fashion brands. He began taking daily self-portraits as a way to test out new digital special effects.

Mellia became an expert in video compositing. He would act as a model and place a moving image inside a static picture. It's the same technique used to make Superman fly, Mellia explained.

He put his work on Instagram.

I always say you can never have too many vases

A post shared by Mike Mellia (@mikemelliastudio) on

As Mellia's selfie a day project began taking off, companies like Gap, Hearst and W Magazine started hiring Mellia to create ads inspired by the selfie series but but not to star in them himself.

It was an expensive endeavor. Mellia estimates that he spent more than $200,000 on equipment, including high-quality video cameras and lenses worth $90,000. He's had to purchase lighting gear and professional software, and also hire multiple assistants and an agent to help him book work.

"The scale of these productions has to meet broadcast TV standards," Melia said. "Even though it's a selfie of me filming myself, which is very unusual in the advertising world."

In July, Mellia made the unorthodox decision to delete his existing Instagram page and its 100,000 followers to start fresh on work that he hoped to be more shocking and creative and extremely slick.

Mellia said he was inspired by an art film called "Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger," in which Warhol sits in silence for four minutes eating a burger. "It made me want to start over again, putting myself in the position where I really had to make great work," Mellia said.

Deals with Brooks Brothers and Intel are the start of what Mellia believes will be a new direction in his career as he goes from filming models to himself, hopefully pivoting the ad industry.

"For so many years, fashion has gone through these different trends," Mellia said. "Now it's kind of the next trend, moving towards the artists and artistic people who have an extreme point of view."