Commentary

For Cars, CGI Is For Real

One cannot imagine an automobile ad without beauty shots, action shots, or driving shots of cars cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, or the desert, or urban streets at night with satisfied men and women behind the wheel. And if the cars are moving through surreal landscapes, or doing impossible feats, or moving through a shifting, transmogrifying terra un-firma, all the better, even if you know it’s all by virtue of CGI. 

In movies CGI has pretty much replaced good writing and an actual storyline, but in advertising CGI often is the story. You only have 30 seconds to grab a consumer's attention, or what attention span people actually have these days. 

But CGI is becoming reality in other, ways, too. Realistic depictions of the vehicles in realistic settings are often not the photographs you think they are. This happening for a few reasons. First, the quality of the CGI is at a point where you can't really notice the difference anymore between real and surreal. Or unreal. Second, CGI no longer requires computer geeks in some back office, probably converted from the server room, or a coat closet. It can be done by the creatives themselves because you can do high-end CGI now with a Photoshop-type interface. Third, it takes way less time than a traditional ad shoot, and costs less. 

As Mercedes-Benz internal lead internal art director Armando Diaz told me, a physical ad production means a big set truck with equipment, cars, and drivers, “And you have risk of needing the right weather, and it gets even more expensive.” On CGI, you can have every conceivable setting in a database from different angles. So, as mentioned, it’s relatively inexpensive. 

Diaz and Roberto Hegeler, CEO of CGI stock photography house Maground, which does both virtual and real settings and something called CGI HDR (high dynamic range) domes — one of the terms that zoomed over my head like so many CGI star fighters — sold me on CGI, though I think can still tell when a car is real and when it’s margarine. An apologia, though: I am sure in a day or two some of you will have populated the comment section below with reposts around “ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby.”   

But, as Diaz pointed out, sometimes that “real thing” just isn't handy, especially if the campaign you need it for is for a vehicle that isn’t even here yet, officially. "Sometimes they just aren't available. And using beauty images composed of CGI makes for a better process. And we are able to create specific locations. Having access to thousands of images we create the locations and create mood for that."

Diaz says the benefit of the easy interface is that you now have creatives working on it who understand it. “Not some computer guy deeply into a program that needs two days to make changes." He says that having access to thousands of images on a relatively fluid user-friendly platform makes anything possible, and allows meshing of real and virtual, which is meat and potatoes work for companies like Maground, of which Mercedes-Benz is a client. 

"A friend of mine does shooting for BMW, and afterward both (CGI images and photos) go to same pipeline," says Diaz. Which means you can alter the real car, change its environment and futz with reflections, shadows, even how much mud is on the wheel faring (critical for off-road pitches) and, of course the background. 

Maground’s Hegeler said that like most stock photo companies, his has a huge archive of real photographic setting images garnered from a global network of photographers. "What we like to do is enhance detail, things like color, shadows. We get as close as possible to real.” Maground is working with a lot of automakers and brands from  other categories. And the demand is what drove them to set up a shop in the U.S. Now can we get a shot of that E-Class sedan orbiting Klaatu while battling the insect-like Blortz, please?

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