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Picture Perfect

Computer-Generated Image Photography (CGI) creates photographic images from CAD data.

Imagine a photograph of a car featuring a product or accessory that doesn’t yet exist, not even as a prototype. Now take it one step further and add motion, or have the product morph into another style. For some companies this could be a true, money saving blessing. There wouldn’t be a need to wait for product samples, or to produce expensive prototypes. The capability of producing product photography without actual product is available today.


CGI Photography, or Computer Generated Image Photography, is the result of combining CAD files with high-end film and animation software. The CAD (Computer Assisted Drawing) file is the key to the development of virtually every product designed and manufactured. Many of today’s products are first designed on a CAD system in one of virtually hundreds of CAD programs available to engineers.


Most CAD drawing programs feature three-dimensional rendering capabilities. In addition, there are stand-alone 3D programs that are designed to create three-dimensional images from files produced in CAD programs. These 3D rendering programs produce images that “resemble” the product and are usually sufficient for display and presentation purposes. To produce an image of a quality that was necessary for marketing and advertising purposes usually required building prototypes or building short run productions.


CGI photography allows promotional images to be created directly from computer math data.

Recently, a few companies have begun producing photographic quality CGI images from CAD files that are so realistic most people cannot differentiate them from a photograph of the actual product. The software used for CGI Photography is the same software that is used in the film and animation industry. Using programs such as Maya, Lightwave and Rhino, designers and photographers utilize tools such as lighting and reflections to create photo realistic images.


The process first involves converting the CAD image into a format that can be recognized by the photographic software, while keeping the design properties intact. Once converted a delicate process is performed by applying finishes and textures that resemble the actual product. Once complete, the complicated process of lighting is applied. This is where the image takes shape and differentiates from 3D modeling programs. When complete, the image is exported to Adobe Photoshop where it can be saved in a variety of formats that are acceptable to desktop publishing programs.


In many aspects CGI Photography is superior to conventional photography. For example, if a product is offered in a variety of finishes, or there are minor modifications to products, it is more economical to chose CGI Photography over conventional photography in these instances.


The ability to create exploded views and to create multiple views is another advantage of CGI Photography. In the past, this process was either unattainable or involved expensive step photography. With CGI Photography, it’s easily accomplished by rotating the product. The lighting, reflections and elements of the product are kept intact and rotate with the image.


The ability to apply CGI product images directly on photographs of vehicles is also a time and money saving technique. With CGI, you can “install” a sunroof on a vehicle without the need for installation. Now add animation to illustrate the sunroof operating – all done without actual product.


In another example, a truck accessory manufacturer has designed a product for a new vehicle. The conventional procedure was to build a prototype and obtain a vehicle through a dealership or through other OEM contacts and photograph the product on the vehicle. CGI Photography allows you to apply the CGI image directly on to the image of the vehicle, rotating and sizing it to fit perfectly – not only eliminating the need for a product prototype but also the need to have an actual donor vehicle.


Another advantage of CGI Photography is that the images are not resolution sensitive. This means that the images can be enlarged to trade show booth size graphics without image degradation.


One company that has begun offering CGI Photography is TRG Studios. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, TRG Studios began with conventional photography, then expanded into digital photography and now has begun to offer CGI Photography.


“Our entry into CGI Photography really started with a directive from our clients,” said Martin Reuben, president of TRG Studios. “Our clients were forced to either wait for actual product to arrive or build expensive prototypes. With CGI Photography, our clients are able to produce product images for vehicles without actual product. We can then apply the image to a photograph of a vehicle – or an image of the vehicle supplied by OE, if the vehicle doesn’t exist.”


Reuben goes on to say, “The secret to our CGI Photography is that the images produced are created by photographers. They are trained on lighting, surfaces, and reflections – all elements that are crucial to a good photograph. They’re just using computers instead of cameras.”


The ability to open and covert CAD files without losing valuable information is crucial to CGI Photography. There are numerous CAD programs in use today that are capable of saving and converting drawings in a variety of formats. Each is unique and presents its own challenges in exporting to a new program. One of newest programs is CATIA V5. This is an engineering program that has been implemented by several automotive manufacturers’, including DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Toyota and Honda. Automotive aftermarket manufacturers are expected to adapt to CATIA V5 in hopes of supplying product to the automotive manufacturers.


CGI Photography will never replace conventional photography. When the shot requires a set, or an outside location, or involve people, conventional photography will still prevail. But if it’s a product, and a product designed on a CAD system, CGI Photography, often times, will be the better format.


Whether the product is chrome, plastic, rubber – virtually any material, if it is developed on a CAD system, CGI Photography offers a variety of options that conventional photography just can’t offer, especially after the shoot is complete. The color, the surface, the viewing angle…can all be changed easily with CGI Photography. Best of all, photographs can be produced, and the image can be used in packaging, press releases, and booth graphics, before the product has been manufactured.


Reuben has every reason to be excited over this technology.


“We’ve produced a variety of images that compares a conventional product photograph to the same product produced as CGI Photography,” Reuben states, “Most people choose the wrong image – and these are people within the industry.”




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Mon. July 15th, 2024

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