Gizmodo and the Future of CGI: Did They Get it Right?

(Spoiler alert: they did.)

At the end of August, the popular technology blog Gizmodo posted an article titled “Why IKEA’s Mostly Computer Generated Catalog Will Soon Be the Norm,” which you can check out here. In summation, the piece cites the Swedish furniture and home décor giant as making the transition to a mostly (and soon to be all) CGI product catalog. The blog highlights the cost effectiveness and relative ease of modifying on a computer, as well as underlining how CG techniques have come a long way. Quite often people can’t even tell the difference between what is real and what is rendered, which is exactly what companies like IKEA are aiming for. Needless to say, this article caught our attention – we even posted it to our Facebook page. After reading the piece, we naturally had our own reactions regarding this growing trend.

IKEA is one of the first companies to transition on such a large scale to capitalize on the current advances in technology that have blurred the lines between traditional photography and CGI. They understand the cost effectiveness and versatility that CGI brings, and are turning pre-visualization/prototypes into useable advertising, a move that can benefit companies of any size. In the future, based off of these benefits, we believe the push to CGI will explode among small companies once they recognize that it has become common practice for large corporations.

It makes sense that companies, such as IKEA, would be moving away from traditional photography catalogs. With CG, companies have more options and can increase their efficiency. But let’s back up for a second. Consider what a traditional photography catalog entails. Before CGI was even a “thing,” companies would have to manufacture a product in all of its finishes, colors, etc., which of course takes a great amount of time. The products would then need to be shipped or delivered to a photography studio, costing that company more time and quite a lot of money. With an all-CG catalog, companies can completely eliminate the production aspect and severely limit what has to be shipped. Now manufacturers can simply send files of the images, colors, finishes, etc. 

Another benefit of using CG images for catalogs in lieu of traditional photography is better organization. Yes, companies and photography studios need to be equipped with extremely powerful computers as well as insane amounts of server storage that can handle rendering and storing a plethora of large files; however, this does make it easier for the studio to manage a large-scale inventory and catalog it accordingly. As we’ve previously mentioned, a huge benefit of CGI is that if you would like a new product lit or rendered in the exact style as a product rendered years ago, the settings are saved and easily accessible. This makes the cataloging process extremely beneficial to both the studio and clients. (For more on the benefits of saving and using previously created CGI renderings, check out our blog “Mathematic Accuracy and Consistency in CGI.”)

Despite sounding as if going all CG is the easier route, there are some drawbacks. A lot of people underestimate the time needed to prepare, create, and render CGI images. While it’s often and generally quicker than planning and executing a photo shoot, it’s certainly not instantaneous, and on average can wind up taking approximately the same time as going the traditional photography route. Furthermore, the hardware and software required to produce the best images must be up-to-date, which can affect budget since top-of-the-line software and machines that need to be constantly upgraded are expensive. Not to mention that the IT person must be incredibly vigilant in maintaining the servers as well as constantly backing up assets, both onsite as well as off, to ensure those clients’ assets remain safe. 

Now, you may be thinking to yourself that with a CG-only catalog, the end of traditional photography is nigh. We disagree. CG will never replace photography. It’s a huge advantage to have a photography department right at our disposal. It allows for us to get examples of lighting; photograph pieces, textures, and assets that we can then use in our imagery; provide valuable insight and direction into lighting, ideas, and techniques, etc.; and segues into what we do with 3D. Additionally, there are many areas where traditional photography is almost always the best option. When it comes to food, people, or really anything organic, photography is going to be your best option in terms of time, money, and final result. It’s why we have invested so heavily in both areas; when utilized correctly, they perfectly compliment each other rather than one replacing the other.

In the CGI world, it’s quite common to have a former photographer in an Art Director role that oversees how the lighting and look are achieved throughout projects. We expand on this process by utilizing an entire team of currently working photographers who give advice and feedback on all of our projects. We’ve also invested in our professional photographers by training them extensively in CGI so as to create dual (and possibly even super) Photographer/CGI Specialists who now have expertise and experience in both processes.

In short, photography has its place, as does CGI. A computer sometimes has to be cheated to imitate real life because we live in an organic world. True, we can’t expect CGI to always cut the mustard; however, it clearly serves a great purpose with its versatility and efficiency. With CG, you’re achieving the same intended goal, but with much more versatility using 3D artists. Believe us when we say that though CG is the wave of the future, traditional photography is certainly not antiquated. There is plenty of room – and need – for both. 

CGICraig CardilinoRant, Clients