The next time you shop for a vehicle, flip through a furniture catalog, or look at clothing online, the images you see may not be photography, but rather a collection of pixels assembled by an artist on a computer screen.
In August, the Wall Street Journal highlighted IKEA’s efforts to shift 25 percent of catalog illustrations from traditional photography to computer-generated imagery by 2013. The savings could be staggering: IKEA will print 208 million copies of its 324-page catalog this year. In one of Europe’s largest studios, 285 employees work year-round creating and photographing the room sets that make up the book. Altogether, the costs associated with this endeavor make up two-thirds of IKEA’s entire marketing budget.
What compels a successful global brand to radically change the way it markets its products?
When it comes to product marketing, computer-generated imagery is game-changing. Yet the Journal article gave the public a rare view into this booming business that is expected to surpass $1.5 billion in sales globally by 2015. IKEA is just one in a long list of companies realizing the benefits that computer-generated imagery can bring both creatively and economically.
The auto industry was an early adopter in this new discipline. For nearly a decade, companies such as Detroit-based Midcoast Studio have provided CGI, as it is known to insiders, to major automakers. In 2005, Jay Dunstan helped the well-established photography studio expand into 3D image services after seeing a growing demand in mainstream advertising. Today, Dunstan is Midcoast’s director of digital services. “Ten years ago, about 20 percent of automotive advertising was created digitally, and 80 percent was produced via traditional photography. Now those numbers have flipped,” he says.
Midcoast employs about 30 digital artists who create photo-realistic images of kitchens, cars, motorcycles, boats, and other products. Dunstan highlights some of the creative and cost benefits of working in CGI:
• Extending the boundaries of what is real: You’re photographing a vehicle against a brick wall that isn’t long enough? No problem. Our digital artists can recreate the landscape to your liking.
• No geographic restrictions: A photo shoot of a vehicle against a mountain backdrop can prove costly. Today, we can send one photographer to any location to photograph the landscape and capture lighting for that environment, and then back in our studio digitally place a vehicle within that setting. Often the vehicle we are inserting has itself been created via CAD data.
• Weather delays are a thing of the past: If you’re unhappy with how the sky looks in your ad, we’ll swap it for one with more (or fewer) clouds. We can add rain or snow, or bring in sunlight on request.
• No need to wait for the expensive prototype: A car company can advertise a concept car without actually having to make it, which can cost millions.
While much of the studio’s business is focused on catalog and print work to help companies realize cost savings, Midcoast is exploring other applications for its 3D work. Growth areas include:
• Helping companies bring a product to market pre-manufacture. An industry publication highlighted the realism of a recent project Midcoast delivered to a prominent clothing manufacturer. The company wanted to feature a yet-to-be-made jacket in its Fall catalog. The photorealistic jacket that Midcoast produced in under a week appeared in the catalog alongside the photographed product line.
• Augmented reality: A collaborative project used photorealistic renders to create a 2013 Dodge Dart mobile app that enables consumers to use a rendered image of the Dart on their iPhone camera screen to photograph the car in their own garage, driveway, or even on their desk.
It may not be reality, but it sells.