With the Web3 boom in full effect, it is extremely difficult for an NFT project to stand out amongst the hundreds of projects created every day. However, an upcoming project called SneakerHeads has been making waves and has many waiting in anticipation for the mint date.

As the name suggests, SneakerHeads is a collection of NFTs with artwork of heads that are designed to capture the look and feel of sneakers. The collection is comprised of 5,000 SneakerHeads with over 40 different 3D silhouettes in the mix. SneakerHeads is praised for its level of detail; the textures on the heads are made to look astonishingly similar to that of the leather and rubber seen on actual sneakers.

The artist behind SneakerHeads is Ali Dawood, a Los Angeles-based creative with a passion for sneakers and hip-hop culture. Dawood studied architecture in school and was drawn to the 3D art aspect of his courses, going on to enhancing his 3D art skills at the Gnomon School of VFX, Games & Animation. You can learn more about Dawood by reading our Q&A with him below.

The art is not the only thing setting SneakerHeads apart from other NFT projects. The Sneakerheads team promises exclusive benefits for those who “stock” their SneakerHeads NFT, a mechanism inspired by how sneaker collectors are faced with the decision of rocking or stocking when purchasing a new pair. The longer a SneakerHead is stocked, the more benefits the holder will accumulate. Rewards include airdrops, physical and digital collaborations, merch drops, exclusive event access, and more.

The SneakerHeads mint will take place this Saturday, June 18th at 2pm ET, open only to those who got their ETH address added to the whitelist. You can learn more on the SneakerHeads website at sneakerheads.xyz. Check out some of the previews, as well as our Q&A with Ali Dawood, below.

You’ve said before that breakdancing was what got you into hip-hop and sneakers. What got you into b-boying?

I was introduced to b-boying when I was 16 years old. I went on a trip to London and met a B-boy, whose fresh, badass dancing style was like nothing I had ever seen. It blew my mind and kicked off a deep dive into street culture. 

One of the first things I did was that I started following B-Boy Born. Born understood street culture inside and out, especially breakdancing. He helped me to love the rawness of it, and showed me how he communicated authentic 80’s culture through his movement and style. But he also made it clear to me just how much work is involved in the study of the art form – a mindset I carried into 3D art years later.

Something you have in common with Virgil Abloh is your background in architecture. How do you think that architecture background influences your work?

Architecture involves many different skills – drawing, sculpting, acting, writing, mathematics, knowledge of space and environment – so it forms the best base to expand into many different forms of art.

An architect needs to be able to create their work from both the inside as well as the outside. Architects use materials, colors, light and dimension to perfect their art. Besides how a building will look artistically, many different angles need to be considered: such as a building’s utility; how it will reflect culture; and how people are going to live comfortably inside it. So it requires an extremely high degree of planning.

This makes architecture one of the hardest of all the art forms to master, but once you understand it, you gain a wealth of knowledge and a unique artistic foundation. Da Vinci, for example, was an architect as well as an artist, and it shows in the quality of his work.

Hand-drawn Sneakerheads sketch by Ali Dawood

Going through your Instagram, you can see the natural progression from your early face designs to the final Sneakerheads concept. What was going through your head when you made that first Kanye Wave Runner piece?

The progression was definitely natural. When I was stuck in lockdowns during the pandemic, I challenged myself to create a sketch everyday – with a focus on human heads. 

As I drew sketches, I wanted to change the rules and try something different. I decided to create people’s heads in a way that represented their craft. At that time, I was listening a lot to Kanye, and feeling the character and art in his music influence me. This experience gave me the idea to do a Kanye style head but in the shape of a shoe. The concept suddenly made so much sense to me, it was the natural meeting point for my passions for street culture, design, and art – and the Sneakerhead design captured this and fused it all together. 

The first Sneakerheads were actually my graduation project. I never thought anything would come of them, as they weren’t the norm for the industry, but they were what I loved, so this didn’t bother me. Once I posted them on Instagram, however, the industry began to notice, and I was amazed with people’s excitement. 

I was working on my designs at night, while I found a team that could help me launch Sneakerheads. Now Sneakerheads is a community of people crazy about the designs, and the street culture character expressed in each one of them. People connect with that.

Kanye Wave Runner fan art by Ali Dawood (January 2021) [Note: not included in NFT collection]
I saw that you actually did some work for YEEZY. Can you talk about what exactly that entailed and what that experience was like?

Kanye had a vision for a futuristic architectural project. I was a 3D artist and part of the team helping to visualize the project. This was an amazing opportunity because I was able to see how Kanye operated.

The main thing that struck me was that Kanye came prepared with a deep study of architecture and thought about everything from an architectural perspective. He picked great references from architectural work, culture, and art.

Even though he wasn’t an architect, he was able to draw from diverse references to create something unique and fresh for the community. As someone who, at that point, was early in my career, Kanye inspired me to dream big, do the right preparation, and create something new that has the potential to be very big.

The initial plan for SneakerHeads was to have a supply of 10,000. When that was cut down to 5,000, was that a relief for you? Did this cut your work by half essentially?

The reverse – it was actually more work, but the right kind of work. Looking at the SneakerHead project, we knew we wanted to make something special, something that made an impact in the Web3 space. One of the ways we did this was by lowering supply and devoting more energy to producing unrivaled quality for each of our 40 unique silhouettes.

To give you more of an idea of how far we went with this, we did a study to understand what makes a sneaker a sneaker. What are the key features that make a design pop? A big part of the answer to that, we discovered, is the execution of tiny details. When we realized this, we set ourselves a super hard-to-reach goal: achieve microscopic attention to detail in every design. 

In the 3D world, we speak about primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of detail. We wanted to achieve a crazy level of detail, including in the tertiary level, bringing that signature street texture and quality that sneaker collectors have come to expect in real shoes.

Although this was extremely difficult, I believe we have achieved this. We’ve heard from our community that our SneakerHeads look real, and I believe that’s a result of our attention to detail.

Ten Gold Special SneakerHeads are included in the 5,000 supply

How does it feel to see people making SneakerHeads fan art?

It’s a super dope feeling, one I’ve never felt before. Seeing that my art has the power to inspire so many people makes me very proud. It takes me back to my childhood, when I used to create fan art of things that I used to love. The SneakerHeads fan art reminds me of that energy. 

It also helped me a lot! Some of the fan art, especially their combination of designs and colors inspired me for SneakerHeads. And that’s the way it should be. SneakerHeads for me is all about the community interacting. An example of this would be when we only had a few live models and I was working on the female SneakerHeads. There were fan art creations that had modified the first male SneakerHead models into female SneakerHeads in ingenious ways. These propelled the direction of the female silhouettes that I was working on and helped shape the future of the SneakerHead collection. 

So inspiration really goes two ways in this project, and that’s awesome!

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