The answer to this is not simple - and if you had asked me a month ago, I would definitely give you a very marketing-oriented answer focusing on why they are genius rather than how they are made. Therefore, on a rainy day during the week where a lot of Danes go on autumn break, I left our marketing department and teamed up with our stylist and 3D graphic artist, Chase, to learn exactly how our stills team makes CGI stills. This was a very enlightening experience for me and I hope this blog post will give you an idea of the process used for our still production, albeit in a simplified manner.
Step 1: Creating the Location & Product
In the first step of making a CGI still, we involve our architects, technical designers and constructional engineers.
First, the constructional engineers make a CAD file, drawing the architecture used in the scene. We have several in-house constructional engineers. This process happens in close collaboration with the 3D artist, adding visible lightsources to the scene such as windows, doors, etc. This will have a substantial impact on the final quality of the render. At this point, the scene is basically made of various grey surfaces.
If we are visualising a product for a client, this step is also where this process starts to ensure that the product looks completely true to reality and all technical details are similar to the physical product.
Step 2: Camera Setup
In the next step, the building is passed on to the 3D graphic artist, who works in a different program called 3ds Max.
The 3D graphic artist puts ‘cameras’ in the scene. The cameras determine the angle from which the final image will be taken. The cameras in the program have the same settings as a real camera and can therefore focus, defocus, etc. as if it was a real photographer taking a picture of a virtual scene. Very cool!
Step 3: Textures & Materials
Next, we have to decide on the main materials and lighting. Some of the materials considered for this image were the bricks on the exterior of the house, the floors, and the countertop. Additionally, you can choose between different light settings. You can work with both natural and artificial lighting – you can move the lamps inside the room but you can also move the sun to get perfect lighting. If there are visible windows, the 3D artist may have to create trees, a nice green lawn, or a seaside view depending on the location requested by the client.
Bonus! In this step, you can consider adding some wear and tear to make it look more real. Consider adding some imperfections to the floor, colour variations on the walls etc. – these effects will make the image look less pixel-perfect and more realistic.
Step 4: Decoration
After this, the time has come to consider the interior – what furniture, decorations etc. do you want for this scene. You can choose between different materials for the items used in the scene. For example, the tap used for this scene was originally grey.
Step 5: Change of Mind?
Now, after you see the scene with all of your ideas combined, you may have a change of mind. Maybe the initial idea did not look as you thought it would. One of the benefits of CGI is that we can go back to any step of the process and change it. So if you, for instance, want to alter the lighting or change some of the interior, we can go back to step four and change it until it looks just perfect.
Step 6: Render Output
Next, it’s time for some rendering. For those of you not familiar with CGI, this is basically like putting a cake in the oven – you wait a bit and then it comes out completely different and almost finished.
Just like the most fancy ovens require some time to finish your cake, our stills need some time to render although we have state-of-the-art render farms. When they are done rendering, they come out like this:
Step 7: Photoshop Magic
After the still has rendered, it's time to add some Photoshop-sparkle. In the final image, you can see that the lights are on, the texture of the wall is more prevalent and, in general, the room is a bit more lit up and ‘alive’.
While this short text is only a brief introduction to the work that is done by my colleagues, I hope it will give you a better insight into the process of making a CGI still. I sure learned a lot and it is truly fascinating how you can go backwards in the process and change minor details that will make a difference in the final image. And that's how you get the images you have always dreamed of!