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CGI #throwbackproject

The first project I ever worked on (which remains one of my favorites to this day) was a room-set animation project for a new client that TRG had just started a relationship with. The project was for an international company that makes Interior Mouldings and Doors and they had some pretty cool concepts and ideas, however, I don’t think anyone on the team knew exactly what to expect when the project launched. I certainly didn’t see it being as beautiful or fun as it turned out to be.

A few weeks earlier I was hired in spite of a technically challenging (and comedic, I might add) telephone interview, followed by a single face-to-face meeting and tour of our studio space. It was evident after the interview and initial project scope meetings that animation was vital for the studio and vital for this particular project.

I’ll peel back the curtain even more and reveal that this project was my first in the studio environment, and it had me worried. The pipeline was different than I expected, the project planning stages were something new, and, of course, the execution had to be swift, as most (come on, ALL) work goes in this type of field. After we were done, we were proud of the end results.

My Favorite TRG Project

The goal of the project was to create a series of stills and videos of a half dozen or so digital rooms (we’ll come back to that) featuring and highlighting our client’s product. In this case, the product was wood paneling, wainscoting, and trim. Ryan, the artist that took the lead on the project, has a history of photography and is a lighting expert, so the rooms were already in good hands. The team got direction from a stylist on the room’s layout and props, and then we got the green light for the product lines to be featured in each room (a few dining rooms, kitchens, living rooms, and a foyer), so we were ready to get going.

CGI work is an interesting animal. One would think the freedom is limitless, but in the end, a lot of what CG does is emulating an already beautiful world except we don’t have to wait for the right time of day for a photo, or for physics to be defied. This project had to be photo-real, beautiful, and the videos had to feature the product assembling itself in a way that would make Mary Poppins jealous.

Let me expand on the last part. I mentioned animation at the start, which makes sense because it was the reason I was working on this project. This challenge was something I hadn’t faced before; it involved literally hundreds of moving parts (animation jokes, you see). The client wanted the rooms to be presented as comfortable, pretty spaces, but felt like they needed a special "something." Eventually, that something was animating the client's products "flying" into the rooms along with some smooth camera moves that showcased how much the products improved the rooms. David (the CG Supervisor), Ryan, and I cooked up a plan to build the rooms with all the beautiful trim, wainscoting, etc. in place, then I would break down the parts into tiers of assembly, move them all out of the scene, and bring them all back hopefully in a dramatic, and elegant fashion.

The first animation tests I produced were without color, so the majesty and grandeur weren’t there yet. Doing it this way allows us to compartmentalize our tasks so that we can focus on the big things and work our way down. To my surprise, the animation tests came back positive with typical notes and changes, but we got such good feedback and cooperation from the client that we were able to execute our vision and incorporate small changes to cater to their needs, resulting in an exceptional series of pieces.

Taking on the Challenges of CG Work

Naturally, the problems we faced were, and usually are, innumerable. Sometimes crazy things happen when you work with exact operations, all while you’re working in six to ten scenes at once. These issues include objects appearing without color, items reflecting light in an unpredictable and wacky way, or enormous files sizes due to having too many highly-detailed objects in a room. We’re achieving photo-realism after all, so we can’t let our big foreground objects break down under a critical eye!

One of the hardest things to overcome in animations, and was the most heartbreaking during this project, is render consistency. A “render” is an image that a piece of software produces based on the specifications of a CG artist. In short, it’s essentially a digital photograph. The computers that calculate and produce that single image, however, take a bit longer than pushing a shutter button. If a single image or "frame" can take HOURS, then I’ll let you do the math as to how long 240, 360, or 1,500 frames can take.

As for consistency, a frame rendered on one machine, at one time, can sometimes be different from the same frame rendered on a different machine at a different time. These types of issues are typically due to user error, but there are “unknown technical issues” that can certainly play a factor. Tests are always done before rendering, but those tests have limits, so there’s a fair amount of estimation that goes into what we want to render as a test that compares to the stress and accuracy of a final render. It all hinges on how we can get them finished in the shortest amount of time without sacrificing quality, while also not costing us, or the client, an arm and a leg.

I think the results speak to our level of success. Could things be improved? ALWAYS! We want to make things perfect, and we always have the input of the client at our core. The team felt good, our client felt good, and they were able to launch a whole new product line, with videos, and interactive hi-resolution stills featured on their brand-new online catalog. If I can speak for the department, we all felt very proud of the result and could see all the well-crafted details each artist contributed.

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