CGI Room Sets - When things get complicated


The computer generated image or CGI has had a staggering effect on the production of image content in recent years. At Blotto Studio we can create the seemingly impossible when it comes to making a kitchen or bathroom set come to life (see CGI above), but in order to do this well we must know the limitations of our craft.

To manage the quality of a CGI room set it helps to start with a good knowledge of real room set photography or, as is in my case, to be married to someone who does this for a living. A photographer will tell you its all about light and composition, a stylist will tell you its all about the props, the colours and the choice of photographer. For a CGI room set these truths still apply. We can control the lighting, the weather, the time of day and our prop library is only limited by our sense of imagination (and our taste of course!) so why are we even doubting the CGI technique, if we can control every aspect of light and we don't have to build, rent, paint, travel or even hammer a nail into a wall, surely its a no-brainer to opt for a CGI room set to show your products in situ. Indeed it is but its also not always the cheapest option, so here's when things get complicated (a.k.a. 'really expensive').

People and Pets - CGI people don't look real, and the more 'real' they try to look the more uncanny they look. Cats and dogs are slightly more forgiving but they are still very expensive to make, mostly because of their fur. I once worked on a team that created CGI polar bears, it was a hard task but in the end we won the Oscar for best Visual FX so not a bad result in the end. The best solution to having people in your shot is to photograph real people and then photoshop them in. No cost saving there then.

Close Ups - CGI isn't real, its just an illusion. A very sophisticated one at that but never-the-less under close scrutiny it is all made from flat polygons. Like an artist choosing between a fine sable brush and a paint roller in a tray, we the CG artist have to choose our tools for each task and ask ourselves 'how much detail does this need' in order to create a convincing proxy of its real life counterpart, too much detail and we spend years creating each thread of a fabric weave, to little and it just looks fake.

You can't always zoom in on a CGI and expect it to look as real, unless you've planned ahead for this (a.k.a. built it into your budget)

Fabrics - Our speciality, its a bit like fur in so far as it isn't flat and reacts very differently to light than you'd expect. It consists of millions of fibres and is mind-numbingly complicated to simulate. Furthermore many fabrics are patterned and this requires us to deal with large samples to scan and analyse before they can be applied and rendered. To put this into perspective, the most difficult element to make in the bathroom set above was the hand towel. Don't be surprised when cheap CGI contains no soft furnishings.

Thats a brief round up of a few scenarios where things can get complicated in CGI. As many of our clients have found, their budgets can be dependent of a vast range of unexpected variables that didn't apply in the real world, but of course there are some obvious savings too - no material costs, no removal costs and you can change your mind on the paint colours long after the shoot has finished. The good news is, as far as my wife's livelihood is concerned, at Blotto we still need stylists and (ex) photographers.

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