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Hey! Ronald here. I’m a CGI director and I’m here to share with you, the marketing professional, about the limitations of CGI, when, and when not to use CGI. The intricacies of CGI often lead to unexpected challenges. On Razer’s Nommo V2’s CGI launch video, we preempted difficulties with realistic human portrayal. Therefore, we recommended a semi-human cyborg representation as a creative solution. This shift addressed the Uncanny Valley concerns, and stayed within budget, illustrating the importance of flexibility and realistic expectations in CGI projects. My work here is to set realistic expectations of CGI in advertising, between CGI service providers and clients, like yourself.

Simple vs Complex Materials

Some materials and surfaces are easier to mimic in CGI than others. This is why realistic CGI representations of hard surfaces like wood, plastics, metals, and even glass are more common and effective than softer or more complex materials like skin, wet clay, foam, fur, or powder. Clients should be mindful of these differences in complexity. However, don’t shy away from representing these using CGI because when your competition doesn’t, and you do, it makes your brand stand out. We welcome these challenges to help our clients distinguish themselves, but it’s crucial to communicate expectations and potential difficulties upfront.

Humans: Navigating the Uncanny Valley

Creating CGI human characters comes with significant challenges, particularly the unsettling effects of the Uncanny Valley. Take the Hegen ARC bottle project, for example. Initially, there was a request to create CGI babies. It makes literal and logical sense—babies holding the product. But, remembering the less-than-perfect renderings of infants in early animations like “Toy Story,” together with the client, we decided against it. Instead, we used soft cushion foam balls to represent a baby’s grip on their bottles—a concept that was not only safer but also visually effective. The video was well-received by our client and their customers.

For the Razer Nommo V2 launch video, we featured a CGI character to navigate through various audio experiences. Razer’s commendable adventurous spirit in incorporating human elements was truly appreciated. To address the challenges, we recommended a semi-human, cyborg character. Furthermore, by avoiding close-ups, which would’ve required detailed emoting, we instead focused on the “cool” aspect of the experience. We successfully delivered a product that met the client’s needs while staying within budget—saving on both talent fees and production costs. The project was a success. At the same time, it underscored the limitations of using CGI to convey human emotions.

Movement: The Complexity of Dynamic Simulation

Dynamic simulations are particularly challenging in CGI, often requiring numerous revisions to get right. A memorable example was a project for a clay-based make-up foundation. The task was to create an energetic burst of clay which had to be done through simulation. Wet clay? Dry clay? Fine powdery clay? It went through around 50 iterations due to the client’s indecision on the desired consistency of clay. This project taught us valuable lessons about project management and client communication. It emphasized the importance of setting clear expectations at the beginning and being prepared to explore multiple avenues to satisfy client demands.

As a client, it’s important to understand that fluid (liquid and gas) simulations are typically more challenging to perfect. Be mindful of the associated costs and trust your CGI partner when they recommend reserving these complex simulations for the hero shot. Use other shots to build tension, leading up to the hero simulation shot. In this case, less truly is more.

Conclusion

Reflecting on numerous projects over the years, the key takeaway for CGI professionals is to critically assess whether high-fidelity simulations are the best method to convey a client’s message. Often, simpler or more abstract approaches can achieve similar, if not better, results at a fraction of the cost. For CGI industry professionals, these insights are invaluable for planning and executing successful CGI projects.

And if you’re the client, now you know how to approach your CGI needs with realistic expectations, communicate effectively with your team, and make informed decisions that maximize both the impact and feasibility of your CGI projects.

Ronald Fong

Author Ronald Fong

A CGI animation director and educator who blends storytelling prowess with visual finesse, shaping his expertise in the creative realm. From technically-driven 3D animator to founder of Masonry Studios, he navigates challenges, shares insights, and empowers the next generation of creatives through tutorials, talks, and business wisdom.

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