Comparison of CGI and photography

Many technical products usually do not show the innovation and complexity from the outside. Where a photo is taken quickly, the visualization is often more complex. So why 3D visualization when a photo can be produced quickly and inexpensively?

In which cases one uses CGI or photography, we want to explain in this blog.

  • CGI vs photography
  • Macro photography
  • Animation

It is usually easier to take a photo than to create a picture with a computer using 3D data. The photo is photorealistic, there is no doubt that the photographed product does not yet exist. With fast renderings (that's what it's called calculating an image based on 3D data), you can actually see immediately that it's a computer-generated image. Companies whose products are innovative and fast moving often have the problem of credibility, namely whether the product already exists.

But there are some cases where photography reaches its limits or can be as costly as a CG production. It starts with very large machines. Have you ever tried to photograph a machine that is 8m or higher? You will need a lot of space, so a very large studio.

Visualization of a machine in a reduced, virtual hall – © SHW AG

Alternatively, they show the machine at the place of use. But is there enough space for the photographer? Can they illuminate the machine optimally? Is this really the context and background you imagine or are there all kinds of things in the picture that you don't want to see? These conditions limit classical photography very much. The photo would have to be reworked afterwards. Optimization and correction of light and reflections, removal of unwanted objects in the picture or the complete replacement of the background. Depending on how many things need to be retouched, this can be very time-consuming and expensive.

What can be difficult on a large scale is sometimes impossible to photograph on a small scale. You can fly with the virtual camera into small components, bring out the inner life and even show it in motion.

Interior of a lock cylinder (still image from an animation)  – © AssaAbloy -

Camera settings that would not be feasible with a conventional camera can be perfectly staged and processes, no matter how small, such as a clockwork or the locking cylinder shown here, can be communicated in a comprehensible way. Macro shots take on a whole new meaning because there are no limits to imagination and physics. What works well in the macro world, of course, also makes a lot of sense in the big picture. For example, you don't need elaborate camera sleds or cranes to make adjustments or film driving situations.

Another complex case of photography is the photographing of prototypes. Prototypes are never quite finished, have the wrong configuration or have to be staged in an elaborate emotional way. For a new vehicle, marketing materials have to be developed long before the sales launch. To do this, the prototype must be transported to a special location, set up and photographed. Depending on the stage of development of the prototype, the transport can be very complex and cause high costs. For example, the transport of a vehicle, camouflaged, to a location around the world, with all the associated costs, costs around 250,000 EUR. With CG technology, it is possible to photograph the location and the lighting conditions on site in order to visualize the data set of the virtual 3D vehicle on the computer with the lighting and reflection photographed on site.

Virtual 3D vehicle rendered with on-site lighting on photographed background – © Porsche AG

Nevertheless, there are still reasons to photograph products in the classical way. The customer has to weigh up how high the cost-benefit factor is for a classical photography. A simple photo without much preparation is easy to take. But does this photo do justice to the visual demands of the company? Is it worth the effort to make elaborate photo shoots where half of the photo has to be retouched in the end? In contrast to this, everything is possible with CGI and you can quickly see what the final result will look like, provided that you have thought about how the picture should look in advance.

But: Both ways have their specific advantages and disadvantages.

In which cases one or the other approach makes more sense has to be decided on a case by case basis. What it takes to present your technical products in a good and understandable way and what is important in a CG production, we want to explain in our blog Good and understandable technical visualization.

In summary, the initial effort of visualization is usually higher than in photography - if the product already exists. But if a prototype or pre-series model has to be created especially for photography, things quickly look different. If other factors such as size, complexity, animation are added, there is no way around CG image and film production.

If you are further interested in learning more about CGI and related content creation, please click on the link to our REPORT "3D Content Creation" (in german).

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