During the Covid-19 pandemic, companies across the globe have been forced to reflect and rethink how they operate, communicate and trade. As Europe’s lockdowns start to ease, it’s time for brands to review their approach to advertising and marketing, and consider the environmental impact of their creative campaigns.
Many companies are already taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, but one thing that is often overlooked is the impact that the production of advertising content has on the environment. Setting an example for the industry, Vogue Italia recently made a statement about sustainability when it decided not to include photo shoots in its January 2020 issue – highlighting the significant environmental cost associated with globe-trotting fashion photography.
Present-day consumers demand sustainability and want to engage with brands that live up to their environmental promises and policies. This is especially important for younger generations. As Forbes reported in February this year, 93% of Gen-Z believe brands have an obligation to take a stand on environmental issues, and 88% of consumers want brands to help them make a difference by offering more sustainable options.
So far, most of the discussion around brands reducing their footprint has focused on transportation methods, shipping and manufacturing. But companies can also make an impact by changing their approach to image creation.
At Saddington Baynes, we set out to compare the differences in environmental impact between the same number of automotive shoot productions versus CGI productions over the course of a year. When considering just the flight emissions of an average crew of ten people travelling from New York to Los Angeles to work on around 22 shoots, the result would be approximately 75 tons of CO2. In comparison, 22 CGI projects per year would generate 33 tons of CO2 emissions (a figure we have calculated by totalling the CO2 generated from using the energy of 100 computers working eight hours a day).
Based on our research, CGI is more than 50% more carbon-efficient – and that’s only when factoring in airline travel. If the creation of prototypes as well as car transport, production vehicle emissions, catering, accommodation and waste are also considered, that percentage difference is even higher.
Traditional advertising photography is constrained by the physical environment, whether it’s a product, a location or a set, with the end result dependent on lighting, weather conditions and other factors. If the product is still under development or hasn’t been manufactured yet, then one – or usually several – physical prototypes will need to be produced, often at great cost and over a long period of time.
Alongside reducing the carbon footprint linked to travel, CGI removes the need to construct and ship physical prototypes or specialist sets, both of which can have a significant impact on the cost and environmental impact of a campaign. And with CGI production making it possible to create photorealistic images using just a computer and 3D software, brands can create impressive artwork without needing to assemble a vast team of people in a far-flung location, something that has become increasingly difficult under social distancing measures.
The use of CGI presents huge opportunities for brands. Automotive companies, for example, can now choose any type of space or location in which to feature their cars, and simply drop in a 3D model of the vehicle. Location images can be gathered using a much smaller crew, who can capture multiple backgrounds and viewpoints in a day. When you add techniques like photogrammetry, this gives the flexibility to use the same environments across different platforms such as AR or VR , and offers, added control over weather conditions, angles, products and scenes.
There is also a longer-term benefit to CGI. Once brands have created still or motion assets, it is very easy to update and adapt them to suit regional market tastes, without holding a whole new shoot and incurring substantial production costs.
CGI content creation has proven itself to be a powerful tool for not only facilitating and inspiring a broader and more creative array of marketing concepts, but also for developing more efficient campaigns that can be easily customised to different channels, markets and demographics. With absolutely seamless, photorealistic CGI work, marketers can overcome the need to shoot with a physical prototype, which increases time to market, and ramps up the cost of producing a campaign. The US car brand Lincoln has been creating computer-generated images for several years now, and cosmetics brand Jo Malone has switched from photography to CGI to showcase its product ranges around the world.
Advancements in CGI have also made it possible to create campaigns featuring realistic digital humans. Over the past few years, advertisers and film companies have digitally aged and revived celebrities ranging from Audrey Hepburn to Robert De Niro using hi-res photo scanning and digital imagery. While this is still an expensive and time-consuming process, it can be useful when working with celebrities who have limited availability, allowing brands to reuse or relight their image without having them present.
CGI offers a chance for brands to go beyond what is possible in physical shoots. You can design your own locations and sets, play with light in ways, and even construct alternate realities. But to make the most of CGI, brands need to be aware of what’s possible. Companies often create concepts from a position of current knowledge, but speaking to experts before devising a campaign can lead to more exciting and innovative ideas.
Specialist studios know what CGI can offer, and can provide fresh new ways to approach a brief. CGI is a versatile production process that can adapt to any visual approach, whether it’s fully illustrative, photo-realistic – or anywhere in between. The beauty of the process is that concepts can be created and modified as quickly as pitch visuals, and both the technical and creative aspects can be explored before showing concepts to a client for the first time.
As we move towards renewable sources of energy for electricity, and computers become faster and more power-efficient, the gap between the environmental impact of digitally produced images and a traditional shoot will only become larger. So, as countries open their borders and airports welcome travellers, it’s important that brands don’t revert to old habits. Virtual conferences, meetings and shoots are the future. So it’s time brands embraced their potential.
Saddington Baynes is an award-winning integrated production studio, creating visual content for broadcast, print and digital advertising for the UK, USA & Europe; saddingtonbaynes.com