The CGI Production Process

The following information briefly explains all the different phases of a typical CGI production. What it involves, how long it might take, how it’s done and what certain processes actually look like. You can find all the answers to those questions and more condensed and simplified into only a couple of short sentences below. 

Last Page Update: 24.09.17

Modelling

The type of modelling being referred to here has nothing do with the fashion industry or the catwalk. Instead, it refers to the process of creating a virtual representation (3D model or computer graphic) of either a concept or physical product using advanced computer software. 3D Models can be either be built from scratch using a variety of reference materials or created from existing CAD models.

CGI - Modelling Process
CGI - Modelling Process
CGI - Modelling Process

Modelling FAQ

Can the quality of a 3D model be amended at a later time?

In many cases this should be possible, but it might also require changes to textures (colours, materials) and illumination to achieve the new objective.

How detailed does a model need to be for close up imagery?

For this purpose you will require high quality/poly models.

How long will it take to create a model of my product or concept?

This will vary depending on the following factors:

  • The level of required detail / if the model is high or low poly.
  • The quality and quantity of supplied reference materials.
  • The number of individual components being modelled.
What does high/low poly mean?

This refers to the “quality” of the model and the number of polygons used to create it.

  • High Poly = High quality models that are suitable for closeup shots and realistic renders.
  • Low Poly = Generally, low quality models that might not not be suitable for closeups and realistic imagery. In some cases, it may be possible to significantly improve the perceived appearance of low poly models by using high quality texturing solutions.

 

Texturing

Ok, so by the time we arrive at this phase we’ll have created a great looking model (3D graphic remember?) of your amazing product. It’s now time to add some colour and surface detail by assigning a material to it. In a nutshell, that’s what the term “texturing” refers to here.

CGI - Texturing Process
CGI - Texturing Process
CGI - Texturing Process

Texturing FAQ

What type of materials can be used?

There are many different types of material that can be used, but they can be broken down into two distinct categories:

  • Photorealistic/Physically Accurate: This type of material will be created based on measured,  real-world material properties that require high quality illumination and rendering. This will typically require and be applied to high quality/poly models.
  • Non-Photorealistic (NPR): NPR materials include an almost unlimited variety of different artistic styles that range from simple cartoon to complex technical outlines and sketch. Typically, this type of material will be more suited to low detail/poly models that will be used as simple, but effective graphical representations of your product.
How long does the texturing process take?

This will depend on the following factors:

  • How complex the properties of the required material are and if it needs to be photorealistic or non-photorealistic.
  • If the material requires additional surface detail such as scratches, decals, imagery, dirt, rust. This type of detail will typically be digitally painted by hand and will require additional time to produce, illuminate and render.
  • If a suitable material already exists or has to be created from scratch. Photorealistic materials typically need to use measured data (specular, reflection, diffuse, refraction values) to ensure that they respond accordingly to illumination. If an existing virtual material isn’t available then it might be necessary to do a little research and testing before one can be created.

Illumination

It’s now time to frame the shot and bring your fantastic product out of the shadows. The ultimate goal here is to show your product in the best possible light so that your audience can clearly see what it looks like and what it’s made from.

CGI – Illumination Process
CGI - Illumination Process
CGI - Illumination Process

Illumination FAQ

What type of lights are used to illuminate a CG product or scene?

There are many different types of lights that can be used to illuminate a 3D scene. Here are some of the most common.

  • Image-Based Lighting (IBL) & High Dynamic Range Imagery (HDRI).
  • Illuminating Engineering Society Files.
  • Studio Illumination: Virtual representations of real-world studio lights including: Area lights, spotlights and a wide range of reflectors.
  • Sunlight: a virtual representation of sunlight with settings that include: date, time of day, intensity, shadow type, longitude and latitude. 

 

Rendering

By this stage we’ll have a full 3D scene that includes textured models, illumination and cameras. We now need a way of exporting all this data to a format that can be used outside of the software package where it currently exists and this is where rendering comes in. Technically, rendering can be thought of as the process of creating the final image or animation by converting all the data from the 3D scene into a useable 2D format.

How long does rendering take?

This is the golden question as rendering is one of the most in-depth and complex phases of any CGI production pipeline. As with the other phases of the project, rendering time can be influenced by a great many different factors that vary from project to project as listed below.

  • How many computer processors (CPUs) or graphics cards (GPUs) are available to render the scene. More cores = faster renders. Luckily, we have our own in-house renderfarm for this purpose.
  • Quantity of models being rendered (A single product will require far less rendering time than an entire scene consisting of trees, buildings, cars etc.)
  • Complexity of the materials that have been applied to models.
  • If the project involves rendering imagery, animation or both. Animations typically consist of thousands of separate images (many animations last for 30 seconds or more and each second of content includes 24-30 separate images) that are combined to form the final animation in a similar manner to that of a “flipbook”. Because it’s necessary to render each and every frame of an animation it’s important to find a good balance between render quality and the time taken to complete it. Rendering software will provide an estimated time for completion once a render has begun, but this can and does change depending on the content being rendered.
  • Resolution & number of frames per second.