It's a common challenge in retail. The need for content, product images and packaging keeps moving earlier and earlier in the marketing process — often well in advance of samples or physical products being available. And the pandemic's supply chain disruption hasn't helped. If product is sitting in a backlogged shipping container, it simply can't be photographed.
The solution for H-E-B? Computer-generated imagery (CGI), the same visual technology used to bring the Avengers to life on the big screen. It’s increasingly being used in photo production for faster, scalable asset creation. For marketers, it means more opportunities to inspire consumers.
Is it a photo or CGI?
Quad Studios had been shooting product photography for H-E-B for years. When O’Donoghue shared her bottleneck problem with Devin Fisher, senior director of Quad Studios, he suggested using CGI instead of production sets.
"CGI allows us to recreate products and packaging digitally so we can meet our client’s content and production needs when they need it," Fisher said. "Now we have visual representations of H-E-B's products for their website before they roll out on the shelves."
An added bonus: The client can reuse the digital assets, available in 3D, for video, print or online.
CGI appears so natural it can be indistinguishable from photography. That furniture arranged in a sun-washed room — is it real or CGI? Or those newly released products promoted on a grocery website. Photos or images built on a computer screen?
"It's impressive how far CGI has come and how quickly it happened," said Brandon Bullis, director of Quad's CGI studio in Charlotte, N.C., one of four Quad U.S. studios. "Great CGI artists can create something and put a photo of the exact same thing next to it. Chances are you couldn’t tell the difference."
Building a CGI image begins with a reference photograph, Bullis explained. There's geometry and precision involved in creating the 3D image. The final asset stands on its own or complements existing images seamlessly.
"To accurately model something, we need to see what it looks like," he said. In some cases, it starts with CAD files, technical line drawings or instruction manuals for reference. Other times, it’s more simple."We've built models, believe it or not, off of a photo taken by someone on the manufacturing line who snaps a couple of pictures on their phone. With rough measurements we can build it out from there."