CGI for Marketing and Advertising – It’s Not Just for Spaceships and Dinosaurs Anymore

In 1972, advances in and increased access to computer processing spawned the first experiments in what would come to be known as computer graphic imagery (CGI). That year, the future founder of Pixar, Ed Catmull, created the first known 3D CGI film. Simultaneously Hollywood writer/director Michael Crichton’s engineers pioneered the first use of CGI in a commercial film when they created the original West World using technology pioneered by the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Back then, Crichton’s team took eight hours to computer render just ten seconds of grainy pixelated footage, something that would take seconds today.

Over time, computers and programs for creating CGI effects have grown more sophisticated and the images they produce infinitely more dazzling. With CGI driving creative in video games, film and music videos, it was only a matter of time before brands began to use it in commercials as well. As CGI approaches its 50th anniversary, high-end CGI has produced some of the most memorable and entertaining video commercials, like Kia’s popular Soul Hamster ads.

Today, dropping technology costs and faster production methods mean that for many, video and CGI production is no longer reserved just for Super Bowl ads. In a time where video consumption in the U.S. has skyrocketed thanks to COVID-19, that cheaper production cost may be worth considering. In today’s Plain Talk article, we’ll talk about why you may want to consider CGI and whether it’s a viable option for your B2C or B2B content production needs.

CGI Plush Reindeer flying plane

The Practical Stuff

In years past, brands often opted to create live-action video for their production needs for a number of reasons that are less practical today. So why might you choose CGI today?

  • Safety and Convenience – When thinking about making a video today, one of your first considerations is going to be logistics. Shooting locations, masks, bubbles, travel, talent and crew safety, permits, craft services and so on have all become extra challenging for production companies.
  • The Multiverse? – CGI creates an alternate universe where your talent can interact from the safety of a remote sound booth. In this universe, you control the weather, time of day, lighting, temperature, how crowded a street or building is, the hair color of your talent, virtually everything.
  • Creative Flexibility – The other obvious practical rationale for CGI is that in that universe you create, you can support virtually any concept. Need your actors to be in the future? No problem. Need them to fly? Melt on a hot day? Age on the spot? You get the point. On a related note, CGI offers you the opportunity to get virtually any shot of your subject. Shot angles previously impossible are now easy. For example, Red Bull used CGI for their famous Stratos space skydiving stunt for this reason.

CGI Image of Honey Drink

Beyond Video

But let’s say that making a 30-second video spot isn’t your objective. What other things does CGI do well that can also help you grow your business?

  • Product Visualization – Product and packaging imagery reap multiple benefits from being created digitally. Photo-realistic images can be created for future products that still only exist as engineering CAD data or a dream. Packaging variants and colorways can be explored cheaply and quickly, and idealized hyper-clean surfaces and materials so often desired for beauty shots are baked into the 3D process.
  • Time Travel – Well, not exactly, but when you create product shots as CGI, it gives a business the ability to freeze a “photo” shoot in time. So if you create a great brand ad but over time, your product packaging changes, you can update your old ad with new product seamlessly. Marketers armed with CG imagery will also no longer face the messy challenge of presenting product lineups where each item is from a different perspective or opposing light source.
  • Illustrating the Technical – When your business has a complex product or process that customers may need help understanding, digital imagery – especially animation – can be incredibly useful. CGI lets the viewer look into products in ways that would be difficult or impossible to do with photography. It can also be used to visualize the invisible, the tiny or the abstract. Animation can reveal the relationships between parts, products or ideas that would otherwise be obfuscated. For example, if you need to demonstrate a 2,000-pound truck engine or some other bulky technology from every possible angle, CGI is an ideal and affordable option.
  • No-Travel Location Shots – PriceWeber has trekked all over to help clients get video and photography of their people and products in unique locations. When possible, we are increasingly recommending CGI to replace these shots. 3D CGI shouldn’t be seen only as an alternative for photography, as the two disciplines complement and augment one another. By pairing 3D models built from CAD data and photography (stock or purpose shot), large industrial or transportation products can be rendered in locations or environments where shipping to the site would be cost and time prohibitive. Further, these 3D/photography blends reduce or eliminate the costs associated with the crew, equipment and transportation needed to support a location shoot, as well as provide a safe, socially distant solution to obtaining imagery in the age of COVID

CGI Image of International LoneStar Truck pulling tanker train on Arctic Highway

Managing Costs

While all of the above are great reasons to consider CGI, we understand that budget and value have to be part of your considerations. There are, after all, situations where traditional photography or video make the best solutions, and surprisingly to many, CGI is often the cheaper alternative. So how do you keep costs in check?

  • Options – We think one of the best ways to manage costs is to first not back yourself into a corner and suggest that you consider concepts of variable complexity. If your concept turns out to be outside of your available budgets, go with plan B.
  • Detailed Estimates – When considering production options like CGI, make sure you are considering apples-to-apples production costs vs traditional options. When making your cost comparison, consider crew and equipment costs but also travel, shoot insurance, food or per diem costs, and don’t forget to include opportunity costs like weather delays or sick talent.
  • Don’t Scrimp – Whether doing a traditional or CG production, consider what other “bells and whistles” you can get with your production. If you are shooting video, can you also squeeze in social media content to the shoot? Product imagery, etc.? Often the difference in affordability and good budget management are the add-ons you can include for an efficient production.
  • Avoid the BS – I’m pretty sure there will be some production companies and agencies that will hate that we are making this suggestion, but in absolute candor, some production people are full of baloney. The biggest risk to your budget is getting sucked into paying for the latest, greatest, sexy, new technology or toy. Production companies will often upsell clients on the need for a new form of camera, editing software, light or sound kit that offers extremely limited or even no additional production value but substantial cost. For example, some production companies may want you to do your post production (editing) in a program called Davinci Resolve 16. This program is amazing, even revolutionary, but in reality, many of the functions it offers are not required for typical commercial video, and a Davinci editor can cost up to four times as much as an experienced editor working on more common programs like Final Cut Pro or Avid Media Composer. When making decisions on production costs, ask questions and don’t be afraid to google equipment and programs to ensure you are getting the right quality and cost for your needs.

CGI of Cummins Holset Turbo Cutaway

Ready?

Now that you are armed with useful information to embark on a production project, you may find that you need a partner. If you have any questions or just need ideas for how to make your project deliver on your business goals, we’d love to be that partner. Please give us a call at (502) 499-4205 or contact us here.

PriceWeber has seasoned 3D/2D digital artists with deep experience telling powerful stories for our clients through advertising, design and other visual communications. Our holistic approach to our clients’ needs allows seamless collaboration to bring their messages to life. Please check out our CGI sampler reel here.

CGI - Virtual Location - Western Star in Outback

About the Author

JC Thorpe brings 30 years of visual communications experience to the PriceWeber roster of creative talent. JC has played a key role in the development and execution of national print and broadcast advertising, channel marketing and branding for consumer, industrial and agricultural clients. JC leads our 2D and 3D illustration and animation capabilities.