With 210 million copies printed each year, in 32 languages, the Ikea catalogue is the most widely published book, beating the Bible in its reach. There is a pretty good chance then that you will have held one in your hands, and flicked through its various room displays on the hunt for inspiration for your own home interiors. What might come as a surprise though, is that the majority of these images are not photographs but computer-generated images.
Ikea has been experimenting with the use of 3D in its catalogues since 2006 but it is only in more recent years that it has dominated its marketing (in 2014, it was reported that 75% of its images were created in CG). The reasons for this are practical: using CG allows Ikea to create multiple versions of one room, shaped for the varying requirements of different markets, without having to reshoot the set each time.
“There is often a traditional photograph as a base,” Ikea’s manager of communications Johan Wickmark told CR in 2015. “This means we would build some of the products, shoot them and then adapt them using CGI technology. An example would be our kitchen images as we would adapt them using 3D rendering to use country specific appliances.”
The use of 3D by brands has proved controversial in the past. It was first widely used in car advertising, where it allowed marketers to create ads for new vehicles before they had even left the production line. Photographers would shoot the backgrounds of the ads for real, but then the CGI vehicle would be added to the frame. This led to increasing demands on photographers to add 3D skills to their repertoire, and even a nervousness that 3D would begin to spell the death of the traditional studio photographer as we know it.
There was also concern that CG lacked the depth and quality of photographs, with those in the wider industry expressing concerns over its “dead hand”. Back in 2009, in an interview for an article in CR on the subject, BBH Head of Art Mark Reddy was categorical. “Nothing can beat the eye of a photographer and the veracity of an image that has been created in reality,” he said.
But industry opinion of 3D has moved on considerably since then. As Ikea’s use shows, the medium has developed to the point where it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between a real object and a CG one, making it a practical and effective tool for marketers.
“The use of CGI in ads has definitely increased over the years,” agrees Glen McLeod, Senior Creative Producer at Grey London. “The quality has improved to a point where sometimes it is hard to tell what is CGI and what is shot in camera. I also think there has been a demystifying of the technology and process, which means creatives and producers now understand the creative possibilities it opens up and how it can be used as a problem-solving tool.
“I think that some people from a photography background saw CGI as ‘cheating’ and believed that as realistic a result couldn’t be achieved,” McLeod continues. “But a lot of the time photography is retouched to such an extreme level that it is no longer in a real world realm anyway. So I think that even the purists have seen that CGI can help to enhance the end output – and shouldn’t be seen as a threat but another tool to add to the palette.”
CG and 3D also of course allows the possibility for creatives and artists to begin to build imaginative worlds, instead of being bound by simply reproducing the world as we see it. Plus, the introduction of new tools like Adobe Stock where you can download a wide range of royalty-free 3D assets looks set to open its use up to wider audiences. This is reflected in ambitious projects such as the recently launched HP Mars Home Planet, which is inviting engineers, artists, designers and architects to submit ideas of what life on Mars might look like, which will later be turned into a virtual reality experience using CG.
On a more everyday level, marketers are also turning to digital artists to add flair to ad campaigns and packaging and show off the creative potential of 3D. This has increasingly been the experience of artist Ingrid Tsy, who has worked with brands including Lexus and Adobe. “I’ve been asked to do a lot of concept artwork,” she says, “more abstract, whimsical and expressive ones, instead of photo-realistic.”
The continuing rise of VR will also inevitably lead to a growing need for a wide variety of 3D imagery, both reflecting the real world and that of our imaginations. “I think people like the idea of escaping from reality and also trying to see inside a 3D world,” continues Tsy. “The best thing about 3D is that there’s so many camera angles, you can just test out different lightings and see the model from different angles.”
“The advantages are that CGI gives us access to scenes that would be impossible to stage in real life,” agrees McLeod. “Also, rather than having a limited time to shoot in a location, and being stuck with the shots you captured on the day, once a 3D model is made you can go back and reposition the camera or lighting any time you want.
“The increased popularity of VR inevitably means that CGI is going to used more as a tool,” he continues, “to either stitch together real world assets or create whole news ones to visit.”
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