A new reality

Consultancies specialising in CGI are offsetting the downturn in the property market – once the mainstay of their portfolios – by expanding into branding. This affords them greater creative freedom, while financial savings and innovative content are among the benefits for clients, says Anna Richardson

Big-budget fantasy movies or snooze-inducing architectural walk-throughs – these are the somewhat diametrically opposed domains that computer-generated imagery is traditionally associated with.

But CGI applications are becoming more varied and innovative, especially in design. Visualising spaces or products through CGI technology is often an integral part of the design process. It can help clients test ideas and concepts without the cost of committing in real life.

Partly due to the spectacular crash in the building sector, many CGI companies have been diversifying in recent years. Hooper CGI, for example, is increasingly working on branding and packaging projects, as well as setting up a new company, Model Genetics, which creates CGI characters to feature on branding, packaging, point-of-sale, advertising and video games.

Consultancy Speedshape has seen its list of clients shift dramatically over recent years. It used to be exclusively focused on the transport sector, working with clients suchas Ford and General Motors. However, the company is now increasingly receiving requests to create CGI assets for consumer goods – it has worked with Jack Daniels to create a CGI bottle for ad campaigns, as well as shaping shampoo packaging for Head & Shoulders and office chairs for Knoll.

We have seen more clients embracing CGI technology because of the added flexibility and cost-savings it offers,’ says Anthony Salinas, vice-president of production and design at Speedshape. ’Because of the transferable nature of the assets across online, print and broadcast, clients are able to get more and better content for the same budget.’

Multidisciplinary design consultancy Uniform has a CGI arm which has historically served property projects, but is making a concerted effort to go after work that is not solely architectural. ’More of the projects nowadays are tied in to some of the branding and marketing campaigns that we’re doing, from a graphic design perspective,’ says Nick Bentley. For the Fact festival, for example, as part of the new branding, Uniform created a set of short stings to reinforce the brand and get people excited. ’It’s a nice change to be a bit more creative sometimes,’ adds Bentley. ’There are potentially fewer constraints with the non-property projects.’

Creating content is increasingly part of the CGI brief, says Craig McDonald, creative director of Hooper CGI. Working with Leagas Delaney for the Timberland shoes brand, for example, Hooper CGI not only gets involved in the design process to help define what the product should look like, it also creates content for different applications such as commercials.

’Because digital is upon us, people are looking to use the assets they create in a lot of different environments,’ says McDonald. ’CGI is a good format for living online and in a brochure, because you can animate it. And it’s not as costly as doing a photoshoot, for example.’

Hooper CGI sister company Model Genetics recently collaborated with US branding consultancy Perspective Branding to rework the Chester character for Cheetos crisps, which will feature on packaging and in-store point-of-sale material.

As CGI gets more sophisticated, ’you don’t have to be a rocket scientist any more to render something beautifully’, says McDonald. In addition, CGI is more accessible, and quicker turnaround times make it more affordable.

It’s easier to create more complex visual effects that previously would have been left to film studios to produce, agrees Bentley. ’The effects we can produce in-house now are getting more advanced.’

Levels of realism have also improved over the past decade. Even architectural ’fly-throughs’ – traditionally ’very boring and dull’, says Bentley – are being reinvented. Where previously you could see technically what will be built, but without any narrative or storyline, now many are pursuing more ambitious production values. Uniform recently produced films that are in that new vein of CGI visualisation for developer Sellar to promote its Shard building, and has worked on other London projects such as Minerva’s The Walbrook property in the City.

For new development Westown, Hooper CGI employed film techniques, including green-screen backgrounds and camera-tracking to create what felt much more like a commercial. ’There is a lot of CGI noise out there and a lot of people just “having a go”,’ says McDonald. ’If you can spend time crafting a visualisation more like a TV commercial, it can have a lot more impact.’

In the future there will be more CGI animation, believes McDonald, thanks to technological advances speeding up processing times. ’Things will be quicker and there will be a real shift in timelines, which means everyone can create more content, and animations can be longer – although they shouldn’t always necessarily be,’ he says. ’It will open [CGI] up to the masses.’

With graduates increasingly equipped with CGI skills, design consultancies will start bringing more such expertise in-house, reckons McDonald, which means even quicker turnaround times for branding consultancies. Time to brace yourself for a new CGI world.

Latest articles