Everything Business Owners Need to Know About CGI in 2016

First off, what is CGI? Unless you've been living under a rock in an unnamed village on an island in the middle of nowhere for the past decade, you've probably heard the term CGI in passing. CGI, short for Computer-Generated Imagery refers to any visuals created with a computer as opposed to created with a camera or by hand. CGI is used by many different industries for various purposes. Gone are the days where creating photo-realistic CGI was either impossible or too expensive for small businesses to consider. As a photographer and industrial designer, I've fallen in love with CGI over the past few years and would like to share with you what CGI can help us accomplish today.

Key Terms: 

  • Rendering - A single computer-generated image. 
  • Animation - A series of computer-generated images called frames. Play the frames in sequence (around 24 frames per second) and you have CGI in motion.
  • CAD - Short for Computer-Aided Design. CAD programs are used to create 3D models. Those models are often used to create CGI.
  • Geometry - Refers to the data that 3D models are composed of.
  • Application, Program, Package - Used interchangeably throughout this article. All refer to computer software.
  • Post - Sort for post-processing and is used to add final touches to CGI. In some cases post can be used to speed up a 3D artist's process.

How Rendering Works (Simplified)

Whether the CGI is being created for film or still images, the process is quite similar and might look something like this: 

  1. Geometry is created in a 3D program by a modeler. Often, 3D modeling is very time-consuming and thus done by a professional modeler. Each 3D modeling program has its unique set of strengths, weaknesses and features. The needs of the final CGI will often dictate which 3D application is used.
  2. Geometry is imported into a rendering package. Again, each rendering package is unique in its features, strengths and weaknesses. The requirements of the final imagery will dictate what software is used.
  3. Inside the rendering program, a renderer (sometimes called 3D artist) will add materials, and adjust textures, colors, finishes and lighting to produce the desired effect. Sometimes a background is added to add further realism to the image or to provide context to the item being rendered.
  4. If no post will be used, the scene is set up for final output and the image or animation is rendered.
  5. If post is going to be used, final touches such as backgrounds, color, lighting, scratches, dust and other details will be added after the rendering has been created.

Who Uses CGI?

CGI is used in literally every single industry. Chances are, you see CGI every single day without even realizing it. This is a testament to the quality and standards of CGI today. Here are some examples of industries and where they use CGI.

  • Entertainment - Nearly every film today has CGI in it at some level, especially the stunts, special effects and sets.
  • Advertising - Ad agencies use CGI to turn a concept or idea into a visual message. Most Ad agencies blend photography and CGI to create powerful advertisements.
  • Automotive - Nearly every car commercial or advertisement you see is a rendering, not a photo.
  • Luxury - Goods such as watches, jewelery and sunglasses are often rendered out rather than photographed.
  • Architecture - Interiors such as Ikea's catalog or exterior images created by architecture firms are often rendered instead of photographed.
  • Medical - Instructions for medical procedures are often created by rendering the medical instruments.
  • Technology - Ads for mobile devices, computers and other glossy gadgets are almost always renderings and not photos.
  • Health and Beauty - Perfume bottles, shampoo containers and even medications and packaging is often rendered for print ads or commercials.

Benefits Of CGI

When creating images, we tend to have two tools to choose from; photography or CGI. Cameras have been around for over a century and are quite accessible and affordable, so many businesses are tempted to stick with photography. However, the speed at which quality CGI can be created is dropping every year and the list of benefits is large enough that most companies should take time to consider giving CGI a shot.

Cost - The larger the item, the more difficult and expensive it is to photograph. Take cars and buildings for example.

  • If travel is required to shoot on location, that adds to the expense.
  • If any photography equipment or pro photographer must be hired the bill goes up.
  • The more complex the image is, the longer it will likely take to shoot the final one.
  • Don't forget models or actors! They cost money too.
  • Props. They cost money as well.
  • Once a 3D scene has been set up, the camera can be moved and a new rendering created. After the first rendering, each additional one costs very little. 

Time - Though a shutter is released in a fraction of a second, organizing and producing a photo shoot certainly takes longer.

  • Weather. If you're shooting outside, sometimes you're waiting for the clouds to clear before you can take the shot.
  • If you're traveling to shoot on location, consider the time required for the photo shoot.
  • How many people will be involved in the photo shoot and how many emails or phone calls will be needed to get everyone on the same page?
  • Building and breaking down a scene or props also take time.
  • If props need to be ordered (clothing, samples, prototypes), they take time to be delivered.
  • 3D assets and scenes can be re-used saving time in future cases. 

Physics - Sometimes physics gets in the way of an idea we have for an image. Ignore the rules of physics with CGI.

  • Let's say you want a whirlwind of water and fruit for a new beverage label. What would be impossible to make in real life becomes possible with CGI.
  • Special effects like a product being assembled from a storm of shards are within the realm of possibility with CGI.
  • Want an elephant jumping on a trampoline? No problem ; ).
  • Even simple effects like a levitating smart phone become easier to make with CGI.

Quality - Cameras can create realistically-good images, but what if we want better than real-life images?

  • No matter how good your photo studio is, you'll still need to use post to retouch your photos.
  • Materials, surfaces and colors can be easily exaggerated when rendering out CGI.
  • Noise-free or dust-free images means less time (and money) spent retouching images. 

Creativity - When equipped with a camera, we're often limited to creating what we think is 'possible'.

  • When creating CGI, creativity is boosted because we are no longer limited to what we think is feasible.
  • Equipped with 3D geometry and a rendering program, anything you imagine becomes possible. This often elevates originality and creativity.

Product Development - Why not see samples before going to production?

  • Cut down on time and cost during product development cycles by getting photo-real visuals before prototyping.
  • Need buy-in from a higher-up? Provide him or her with renderings without wasting money on expensive prototypes.
  • Maybe you need investor capital. It's easier for investors to fund a project when they can see exactly what they are backing.
  • Crowdfunding campaigns are more successful when potential backers are supplied with high-quality visuals of what they will receive. 

Stunning Examples of CGI

Company and artist credited below each image. All samples rendered using Luxion's KeyShot rendering software.

InMusic - Scott Puckett

KeyShot Rendering Audio Equipment

MillergoCG - Guillermo Abalos Ventoso

KeyShot Rendering Car

Wilson Sporting Goods

KeyShot Rendering Packaging

SRAM Bicycle Components

KeyShot Rendering Bicycle Components

Marco Di Lucca

KeyShot Rendering Character Rendering

Hydra Design Lab - Jon Hull

KeyShot Rendering Vehicle

Fossil Watches

KeyShot Rendering Wristwatch

Joshua Sternthal - Unilever

KeyShot Rendering Packaging

Dewalt - Jason Busschaert

KeyShot Rendering Saw

RogueDZN - Matt Tremblay

KeyShot Rendering Jewelry

VAX Ltd.

KeyShot Rendering Vacuum

Wahl - Joshua Howard

KeyShot Rendering Clippers

How I Can Help You

As I mentioned above, my love for CGI has grown over the past few years and I've made a conscious decision to take my career in that direction. I've not abandoned my industrial design roots or services, but I've expanded my offerings to include some CGI-related services.

  1. 3D Modeling - By now, you know a 3D model is required if you want to produce renderings of a given product or scene. With my background in industrial design, my main 3D program is SolidWorks, which is an ideal program for modeling consumer goods or anything that will be manufactured. Soon, I'll be offering modeling work done in the program MODO which opens the doors to more organic forms and in some cases more complex scenes. I can be hired to create 3D models for rendering or other purposes. 
  2. 3D Rendering - This is my bread and butter. I use KeyShot to create my renderings. Aside from being a great company with an amazing product, I use KeyShot because it's fast. It saves me time and money which saves my clients time and money. The renderings it's capable of producing are beautiful and it's fun to work in. If you need renderings for a campaign, advertising, crowd funding, print campaign or anything else, I'm your guy. 
  3.  3D Animation - Renderings are great, but sometimes bringing some motion to your visuals is the cherry on top. Whether it's to show a process or communicate instructions, animations can be incredibly useful. KeyShot allows me to create high-quality animations for my clients.
  4. Instruction - Maybe you or your team owns KeyShot but would like to learn how to get more out of the product. I'm able to teach others how to use the tools I do every day to produce amazing images.