From Hollywood to Brentwood, we’re all using CGI – but why? The use of computers to enhance images has been happening for many decades and in many industries. One of the largest early adopters was the movie industry and, although there were various attempts at using computer-generated imagery, one of the first recognised uses of ‘true’ CGI came in 1991 with James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where we saw the first realistic human movements in a CGI character. In movies, the reasons for using CGI can range from making realistic VFX (visual effects) to simple cost saving, as it means not having to blow up real buildings!
Automotive is another industry where CGI is widely used and to great effect. For example, Ford Motor Company moved from photographing cars to creating them in CGI over ten years ago. But why? What are the reasons for using CGI rather than photographing real cars?
When Burrows started its CGI studio 20 years ago, the driving factor was that clients wanted pictures of cars earlier. It was as simple as that. Over time, as content has become increasingly important, the demand for early assets has grown. And with the cost of building early prototypes rising, the use of CGI has continued to increase.
By using CGI, cars no longer have to be taken on location for a photographic shoot. This can mean considerable logistics savings – it’s not cheap to transport cars across the world for a shoot. Add to that, the crew required to clean and maintain the cars, insurance and storage charges, and the costs can go up and up. On the other hand, for a CGI shoot, a much smaller team is required and a donor car, similar in size to the car you are launching, can be used instead.
In addition, the use of CGI avoids the risk of embargoed cars being photographed whilst on a shoot. Pick up any car magazine and you will still find spy photography taken while cars are being tested. At least if you’re not taking a car onto a location, you can’t get papped!
Ok, so that covers the quantitative reasons, but there are also qualitative reasons.
By using CGI, you can put your product anywhere you can get a camera crew. Many years ago we created a CGI movie for Land Rover which involved a small team being flown by helicopter to a remote ice floe where they stayed in tents for three days. Logistically, it would have been near impossible to take a two-ton SUV onto that location.
There are also times when CGI overcomes the limitations of photography and light. In traditional photoshoots, reflection boards are used to bounce light and shade. Often these can get in the way of a camera; in CGI there is not a physical board or even a physical camera, so the issue goes away.
In a recent conversation with a watch company, we discussed the problems they encounter while photographing watches due to the highly reflective glass on the watch face. Again, with CGI this issue does not exist.
By using CGI, you can take a ‘virtual’ camera anywhere. In the past we have created fly-thru films inside PCs and watches, and have even created a complete Madison Avenue boutique that hadn’t yet been built. We often say that when using CGI, the only limit is your imagination.
One of the most ironic projects we have created in CGI was a product film for Nikon cameras. Great that, using CGI instead of cameras to film a camera! Again, we could create effects and tell stories in a way that traditional routes just cannot do.
There are also more practical reasons why CGI is becoming so commonplace. Using CGI makes updating a product or creating a new version of the product so much easier. In a recent pitch to Vertu phones we created a CGI film showing the different colour combinations available for their phones. Easy in CGI, but much more difficult and expensive using traditional film and retouching.
When it comes to tools that help the consumer to personalise their purchase, CGI is the only affordable solution. Obviously car configurators are the most common form of this. CGI allowed us to create over 140,000 configurable assets for a recent Ford Global launch. It also allowed us to build a livery selector for Piper aircraft and is helping us create an industry-first in the house buying market (sorry this is still under embargo, so you’ll have to wait for the case study to appear on our site).
More recently, with the growth of virtual and augmented reality solutions, CGI content is even more critical. Imagine creating a VR experience of a submarine without CGI, or an airflow experience within an F1 wind tunnel. Both projects were only achievable through a world-class CGI studio able to create world-class assets.
Now, every yin has a yang and there are ‘use cases’ where photography is better, but these are becoming fewer and further between. Yes, if your product is available, is not embargoed and you only want some simple images, go ahead and photograph it. We still do. But what’s most important is that you consider all the points above before you commission the asset creation.
If you want an expert’s advice, give us a call.
Chief Operating Officer