Computer-generated Imagery: a viable alternative to image production

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Very recent technological developments have made computer-generated imagery (CGI) a viable alternative and, sometimes superior to, traditional photo- and cinematography.

3D Pinball animation by Janne Laiho

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of computer graphics in various areas, from fine art to commercial films. Printed media, video games, computer animation and visual effects (VFX) in films, television programs, and commercials have all applied and greatly benefited from the use of CGI. In everyday parlance, people would normally speak of “3D” or “computer animation” when referring to CGI.

Traditionally, producing high-quality CGI has been a very taxing effort. It has required expensive and often complicated hardware and software – not to mention top-notch professionals to manage it all. What’s more, CGI experts are also artists. The combination of technological prowess and artistic talent is hard to come by.

During recent years, the situation has changed quite dramatically. Technological developments, particularly in the area of Graphical Processing Units (GPUs), have made CGI-related technology more accessible than ever. A computer workstation well capable of Hollywood-level CGI now costs thousands, not tens or hundreds of thousands of Euros. In the beginning of this millennium, the cost was an order of magnitude more. Also – the math behind CGI software has developed leaps and bounds recently. A 3D image nowadays is often a path-traced render: it is a result of a physical simulation of the bouncing of light rays, yielding 100% photorealistic results.

Sounds fancy  – so what?

In a commercial setting, CGI production has some quite undisputed advantages. As everything in CGI is synthetic by definition, this means – quite literally – that anything is possible. Would you like a flying whale in your commercial? How about one that speaks Icelandic? How about a library of product photos of a product that has never been made yet? No problem. The limitations are artistic talent, budget, time and to an ever lesser degree, the technology in use.

Depicting products that do not exist

One obviously fruitful application of CGI is to “photograph” products that do not exist. Oftentimes, there’s a need to build product photo libraries or to design commercials before a product is actually manufactured. Luckily Computer-aided design (CAD) and CGI speak different dialects of the same language, so to speak (pun intended). CAD designs can be fed into the CGI pipeline. With some tweaking, CAD models can be turned into workable 3D models for CGI work.

In an example case, a visual identity was built for a sports boat manufacturer, even before a single boat was manufactured. All advertising collateral was ready when the first boat emerged from the production line.

In addition to photographing products that have not yet been manufactured, another use case greatly benefiting from CGI is the modifying of existing products for IPR reasons. Sometimes, a subcontractor might want to show their client’s product parts or products, or something similar, in their own advertising. However, a problem arises, as clients own the IPR of their own products. Oftentimes they won’t allow their products to be shown in 3rd party advertising. Not to worry, CGI to the rescue! Mock-up products / parts can be made by modifying existing CAD models. Alternatively, modeling can be done from scratch.

In an example case, a company made a measuring device for the automotive industry. The device measures welding and drilling errors in car parts in the assembly line. The challenge was that the parts that are measured could not be shown due to IPR. So, mock-up parts were modeled from scratch and used in the measuring device advertising, where the mock-up parts were featured alongside the actual measuring device.

Photographing hard to photograph -objects

Another area that greatly benefits from CGI is the photographing of objects that are very hard to photograph. The difficulty can be due to their size, location, or other reasons. As an example, an oil rig has a lot of features that make it quite difficult to photograph: it is extremely large, remote, and often situated in the middle of adverse weather conditions. An underwater propeller of a container vessel can be quite challenging, too! CGI can produce results that match and very often surpass the quality of real-life photographs or video. Not to mention cost, time, money, and effort saved. Making a CGI image of an underwater propeller requires one person who knows what they’re doing, some hardware and software. Photographing the same thing in real life requires an underwater film crew, favorable weather, a ship with the said propeller, client consent, and permit work – all timed to perfection. This is at the very least.

In an example case, the benefits of a next-generation turning-blade large vessel propeller were presented as a 3D animation.

Sounds good – now what?

As CGI technology has become more and more accessible, the one bottleneck remains: talent. Even the best software or hardware are of little joy, if they are not in the hands of somebody who understands the commercial challenge, and has the artistic ability to turn that into a mind-blowing visual experience. The world is drowning in visual information, with the average person in the Western World being carpet-bombed with literally thousands of visual messages per day. To stand out, to communicate your value proposition, and to present a solution, you need a compelling message. Visuals always are a message, whether planned or not. Properly done, they are a mighty powerful one.


This blog post is written by Janne Laiho, Motion Graphics and Video Producer.

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