What is CGI? - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (2023)

What is CGI?

Computer-Generated Imagery, abbreviated as CGI, creates still or animated visual content with computer software. CGI is also called 3D imaging or 3D Rendering. CGI usually refers to the 3D computer graphics used to create characters, scenes, and other special effects in movies, television, and games. This technology is also used in advertising, architecture, engineering, virtual reality, and even art. In traditional photography, film or a digital camera captures an image where computer-generated images are created in computer software. Three-dimensional (3D) outputs are often connected with CGI. Still, CGI can also create two-dimensional (2D) effects.

What is CGI? - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (1)

CGI is created using different methods:

  • Using algorithms can create complex fractal patterns.
  • 2D pixel-based image editors can produce vector shapes.
  • 3D graphics software can generate everything from simple primitive shapes to complex forms created from flat triangles and quadrangles.

3D software can simulate the way light reacts to a surface and creates particle effects.

The CGI trailer for Game of Thrones Winter is Coming

CGI starts to get exciting when it is layered into digital film footage using compositing. This technique is growing more familiar to people, often referred to as a “Green screen.”

The History of CGI

The history of CGI goes back to the 1950s when mechanical computers were used to create patterns onto animation cels which were then included in a feature film. The first film which used CGI was Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).

Vertigo (1958) – First computer animation ever! (HD)

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Alfred Hitchcock might have started early with some 2D trickery. Still, it wasn’t until 1972 when Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke made a computer-animated short film named “A Computer Animated Hand” that introduced 3D computer graphics to everyone. This was achieved when Edwin drew 350 triangles and polygons in ink on his hand and then digitized and carefully animated the data in a 3D animation program that Catmull wrote.

“A computer animated hand” – 1972

A few years later, CGI took another step forward with the help of Hollywood. In 1973 Westworld displayed its capability with the first 2D CGI scene showing “Gunslinger” vision – an idea of how robots could see. The movie was very successful that it inspired a sequel.

Westworld (1973) – First blend of CGI and live action in a feature film (HD)

The boundaries of CGI were pushed to the future world even further when it rendered a 3D head with the same techniques as Edwin Catmull had outlined. The surprise is that the studio executives used the original hand animation created by Edwin and incorporated it into the film. The Oscars quickly recognized this excellent work about a decade later with a Scientific & Engineering Academy Award.

1976, Futureworld – World’s first 3D animation in a movie

Soon after robot cowboys blew everyone away, Industrial Light & Magic created an iconic piece of cinema history that showed CGI’s potential. The Trench Run Briefing in Star Wars: A New Hope showed a wireframe rendering of the Death Star created to help give the Rebel Alliance some last-minute training. Directed by George Lucas, the film and its incredible imagery would ultimately become indirectly responsible for ushering in the CGI era.

Star Wars: A New Hope — Red Leader Fails the Trench Run ᴴᴰ

It took many years for computers to fully harness CGI’s power and allow directors to bring their visions to life. Finally, however, by the end of the ’70s, computer-generated imagery started rising in a few science fiction movies like The Black Hole (more wireframe goodies) and Alien (another wireframe).

Around the 1980s, Industrial Light & Magic fell into second gear. It truly changed cinema for good with the release of Tron in 1982. Due to the advanced complexity of the film, its first-time Producer and Director, Walt Disney, almost passed up on the chance. The movie didn’t break the box office records, but it did win an Academy Award fourteen years later.

CGI continued to push the boundaries of computer power in the 1980s – For example, The Last Starfighter (1984), The Abyss (1989) and more such films, jump in to try their hand at this mesmerizing mix of technology and art.

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In the 1990s, computers allowed CGI masters to start going big with their ideas and newly found techniques. During this decade, many groundbreaking films were released, like Terminator II, Judgment Day (1991), Toy Story (1995), Star Wars Special Editions, and The Matrix (1999).

ILM, Stan Winston Studios, and Phil Tippett led many of these movies, who dropped arguably the best CGI – Jurassic Park (1993). The bar was set so high, and with this, many CGI artists strongly believe Jurassic Park has the best visual effects to date. What actually changed at this point was how they used a mix of real characters, animatronics, and CGI bringing dinosaurs to life alongside the artists, which has never been successfully done before.

What is CGI? - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (2)

What is CGI? - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (3)
What is CGI? - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (4)

What is CGI? - Everything You Need to Know - NFI (5)

Images Source: The Rookies

In 1995, a movie was wholly directed with CGI for the first time, which gave birth to the most celebrated “Toy Story.” Later we have Pixar producing classic CGI movies “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” The realistic characters of these movies- Woody, Buzz, Sullivan, Mike, Nemo, Gill, Bloat circle and keep the audiences entertained throughout.

How Pixar’s Animation Has Evolved Over 24 Years, From ‘Toy Story’ To ‘Toy Story 4’ | Movies Insider

Beyond 2000, CGI accelerated at a never-before rate. The need for more computer power, more reliable software, and new ideas helped many CGI films. One such movie from the canon is the “Lord of the Rings.” Gollum became the first CGI character to interact with real actors. Filmmakers utilized motion capture technology to make Gollum realistic and lively. This suggests that a live actor played Gollum’s role, which matched the CGI Gollum to his movements.

Creating Gollum

CGI plays an integral part in all feature films nowadays. There is simply no pixel that is untouched these days by CGI. For example, in Jurassic Park again, no more than 63 visual effects shots were crafted for this film. Also, The Avengers has over 2,200 visual effects shots using CGI. Even the widely praised Guardians of the Galaxy relied on CGI for 2,750 of its shots. In other words, 90 percent of this movie feature CGI in some capacity.

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15 Avengers Endgame Scenes Before And After CGI

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Go Behind the Scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

What are CGI characteristics?

  • 2D computer-generated imagery, like text, objects, backgrounds, and environments.
  • 3D objects, figures, spaces, and environments.
  • In suitable cases, composite imagery and video that trick the eye into believing in the illusion presented.
  • In bad cases, fake figures, renderings, objects, and environments look artificial and/or stand out regarding everything else.

Applications of CGI

CGI is applied in almost every possible place as most people believe it can attain one’s attention. But some of the prime applications where CGI is playing a prominent role are:

  • Movies
  • Real Estate
  • Visual Art
  • Video Games
  • Engineering
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Television Shows & more

Key Roles and Departments Involved in CGI

The creation of CGI involves a very long process that is challenging and very technical. Teams are large and diverse, involving people ranging from hardcore coders to illustrators and non-artists. Everyone plays a crucial role in designing the best visual effects for their client. Some of the most creative and technical functions involved in the creation of CGI are:

  1. Art Department

The Art Department translates a director’s vision and a script into visuals shared with the whole team to understand the creative and technical challenges. In addition, these concept artists and illustrators design everything from storyboards to photorealistic artworks that show the finished shot.

Turning our Most Famous Videos Into Trippy CG Art!

  1. Pre-viz

Pre-visualization Artists create the first 3D representation of the final visual effects shot. After that, they usually make low-quality versions of the action sequences using artwork and basic 3D models. The Director then plans out the camera placement and other creative/technical requirements.

Pre-Visualization for Film with Jason Michael Hall

  1. Asset Department

Virtual assets are needed in visual effects to match real-world objects or build new objects that don’t exist or are too expensive to create in the real world. These are designed mainly by modeling artists, texture painters, shader developers, and riggers.

  1. Research and Development

RnD is a technical department. It builds new software and tools to accomplish tasks that are impossible to do or are too time-consuming for artists to complete over and over again manually. Therefore, the role requires a solid background in computer science and a passion for problem-solving.

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  1. Animation Team

In the film, anything that moves needs to be animated. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small property like a chair, a hero character, or a creature. An animator will probably be behind the controls if there’s a movement and has a performance.

10 Movies That Changed CGI This Decade | Movies Insider

  1. Matchmove

Matchmove is also known as motion tracking. Without it, there would be no chance to incorporate 3D data into live-action footage. However, to make digital assets appear genuine, you need a virtual camera that moves like the camera in the live-action footage. This is where matchmove artists come into action. It’s their job to use the live-action video footage and create a virtual camera for all departments to work with.

  1. FX Simulation

An FX Artist will design and create FX animation, procedural simulation, dynamic simulation, and particle and fluid systems. They are responsible for recreating the behavior of real-world elements such as fire, water, cloth, explosions, hair, and many more that most people don’t even realize. FX artist is highly technical yet creative role.

Avengers: Endgame VFX | Breakdown – FX Simulations | Weta Digital

  1. Lighting

The lighting artist is the one who applies all lighting effects to the digital scene. The artist considers the light sources of the live-action plate and uses virtual lighting to mimic the existing illumination within the environment. Here, the goal is to ensure that the VFX and live-action elements blend seamlessly, as both exist in the same domain.

  1. Matte paint

A matte painting is an image that employs digital or traditional painting techniques to represent a scene that filmmakers would not deliver in real life. This might be because the landscape doesn’t exist in the real world; it’s not financially practical to travel to a location or extend the set outside its filmed parameters.

MOVIES BEFORE AND AFTER SPECIAL EFFECTS

  1. Rotoscoping

Rotoscoping is used to build a matte or mask for an object to be extracted out of place on a background that is different, masked out so colors can be changed, or any other set of reasons. The rotoscoping artist will usually trace an object using tools to create a new alpha channel for a specific portion of an image sequence or video.

MVRK VFX Roto Reel – YouTube

  1. Compositing

Compositing is the act of layering all the elements in a shot: live-action, mattes, 3D lighting, multiple CG passes, animation, particle effects. Then, it blends them all perfectly to create the photorealistic final shot. Working during the production process, you’ll need to work closely with other VFX departments to creatively and technically solve the problems along the way.

  1. Production

There are also several roles for people who prefer managing teams, budgets, and schedules. For example, the top production role at a studio is the VFX Producer. He:

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  • Collaborates with the VFX supervisor to manage the whole process
  • Defines the resources required
  • Hires artists and crew
  • Manages budgets
  • Makes sure the project is delivered on schedule

Other typical roles include:

  • Production Manager
  • Production Coordinator

They support the Producer by liaising with artists, flagging issues, generally tracking the progress, and ensuring everything stays on track from a scheduling perspective.

Where Can CGI go Wrong?

The art of computer graphics is highly technical and requires hundreds, often thousands of highly skilled artists. The problem is that as CGI advances in movies, so do the audience. The audiences become critics and can start picking out the flaws made by the CGI team at any stage. The good news is that studios have realized that story is king, not the CGI. Computer graphics should be a tool to tell a story, and it should never be the reason for creating a film.

FAQs

What is CGI everything you need to know? ›

Computer-generated imagery, or CGI for short, is a term that describes digitally-created images in film and television. CGI is a subcategory of visual effects (VFX), imagery filmmakers create or manipulate that does not exist in the physical environment being captured on film or video.

What is CGI explained? ›

CGI (computer-generated imagery) is the creation of still or animated visual content with imaging software.

Is CGI difficult? ›

It looks seamless, but the CGI process is anything but easy. As with other parts of film, CGI has its roots in the scripting process. Images like that iconic scene have to be hashed out to the finest details—the background, movement, and even dialogue—before they get anywhere near computer images.

Which is better CGI or VFX? ›

The quality of VFX using CGI is very high, standardized and manageable compared to the physical ones. The CGI helps in the creation of images and effects that cannot be achieved using other techniques or methods. CGI is a much more effective and costs saver method when creating images and videos.

How long does CGI take? ›

Its complexity required 30 hours to render each frame, with 4,000 computers rendering one frame at a time. 30 hours per frame as opposed to 1/30 of a second per frame in any modern video game, that's a difference of about 3.24 million times of rendering time unless my math is wrong.

How do you study CGI? ›

CGI artists use technology to create visual effects and characters for film, television and video games. To get into the field you'll need a healthy dose of creativity, some artistic ability and a bachelor's degree in art, computer graphics or a related program.

Can I learn CGI? ›

You can learn CGI animation from your own home - but you may need specialist training to go pro. A bachelor's degree in computer graphics, computer science or a subject related to art, design or film is useful.

What software is used for CGI? ›

The most widely used examples are Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya, Blender, Cinema 4D, Lumion, Houdini, Maxwell. You can find more info about them in our article about the best product rendering software on the CGI production market.

What language is CGI? ›

CGI stands for Common Gateway Interface and provides an interface between the HTTP server and programs generating web content. These programs are better known as CGI scripts. They are written in a scripting language. The Network Component provides such a scripting language.

Why CGI looks worse now? ›

One of the main reasons CGI outshined techniques like stop-motion was movement. It got the physics right. Now, over 20 years later, Hollywood has lost the concept of realistic movement with CGI. Scenes from movies like Matrix Reloaded or Catwoman showcase stunts that are impossible to perform with an actual human.

How much does it cost for CGI? ›

Note: To be specific, CGI cost per minute is around $1000 – $1500, when considering $13 or more for each specific second. Let's take on some of the most asked questions on CGI cost. What's The Cost Of Using CGI In Film? Even though the cost can differ greatly, the average cost can be around $570,000 per minute.

What movie first used CGI? ›

The first feature film to make use of CGI was the 1973 film Westworld. Other early films that incorporated CGI include Star Wars (1977), Tron (1982), Golgo 13: The Professional (1983), The Last Starfighter (1984), Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Flight of the Navigator (1986).

What's the opposite of CGI? ›

Practical effects are visual effects used in filmmaking created by the use of three-dimensional models or figures. They are recorded by a camera rather than created by software — as opposed to computer generated imagery (CGI).

Is CGI an 3D animation? ›

3D animation, also referred to as CGI, or just CG, is made by generating images using computers. That series of images are the frames of an animated shot.

Does CGI pay well? ›

The average CGI salary ranges from approximately $35,975 per year for Customer Service/Data Entry to $143,657 per year for Management Analyst.

Why CGI is expensive? ›

The main reason why Visual Effects and CGI, in general, is so expensive is labor and time. Creating the highest quality visuals requires highly trained artists who work hundreds of hours on a single shot.

How long does it take to animate 1 minute? ›

Therefore, a 1 minute animation: 60 seconds = Between 6 to 12+ days. You should also assume that an animator will work extra days into this to allow for: Storyboarding.

Is CGI animation a good career? ›

It's a growing industry projected to hit $270 billion (USD) in 2020* and as an animator, you could be part of that growth. If you're a creative person who enjoys acting and storytelling, then this career might be the right choice for you. Animation isn't always easy, but it's incredibly rewarding.

How do I get a job with CGI? ›

How to Become a CGI Artist
  1. Complete CGI Classes & Degree. In order to find a career in this field, you'll first need to find out how to learn CGI. ...
  2. Build a Portfolio. Artists are expected to have a portfolio to show prospective employers. ...
  3. Gain Experience. Many positions require professional experience. ...
  4. Continue Education.
20 Oct 2021

Is CGI a course? ›

CGI Animation Courses and Certifications

Columbia offers a course, Animation and CGI Motion, designed to teach the fundamentals of creating lifelike animations. Students will learn to use CGI technologies to simulate realistic movements and use differential equations to predict the motions of real-world materials.

Can I do CGI on my phone? ›

Welcome to the future, where you can essentially make a movie with believable special effects right on your smartphone. Cinefy, an app that just launched on the App Store, makes this possible. You can choose from literally hundreds of CGI effects to lay over your video.

How do I create a CGI character? ›

How to create a 3D CGI character - an overview | The Making of "My Time ...

Can you do CGI at home? ›

So, Yes, you can absolutely do CGI at home. The learning curve is steep, the hardware requirements can be even steeper if you want to actually render and make stuff look pretty.

Who invented CGI? ›

Who invented CGI? The first CGI short film was “A Computer Animated Hand,” created by Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke. Before that, however, Alfred Hitchcock used a mechanical computer for a special effect for “Vertigo” in 1958. “Westworld” also gets special credit as one of the first films to use the technology.

Does CGI require coding? ›

CGI is having a very simple concept, but creating a CGI application requires real programming skills.

Is CGI still used? ›

The Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is an intersection between web servers through which the standardized data exchange between external applications and servers is possible. It belongs to the oldest existing online interface technologies and is still used regularly today.

Does CGI include coding? ›

A CGI program is any program designed to accept and return data that conforms to the CGI specification. The program could be written in any programming language, including C, Perl, Java, or Visual Basic. CGI programs are the most common way for Web servers to interact dynamically with users.

Is CGI rendered at 4K? ›

Even as much live-action footage is shot at 4K or higher, plenty of movie CGI is still rendered at 2K — which, somewhat confusingly, can be not just half as sharp as 4K but a quarter. Since a 2K effect in a 4K shot sticks out like a blurry thumb, most movies with lots of digital imagery resort to a work-around.

Why is CGI good? ›

CGI can be used as a simple enhancement, such as adding layers of fog to the skyline or adding skyscrapers to enhance a city layout. If done correctly, it can also be used to create otherworldly things and push the limits of film.

Is the She Hulk CGI? ›

The CGI in #SheHulk is so good. After Tatiana Maslany literally transformed into a hulk in real life for the role, the visual effects artists did a fantastic job making her look like a human in the show. One fan tried to reassure would-be viewers that the CGI “was improved so much from the trailers.”

How much does 5 minutes of CGI cost? ›

A show with five minutes of CGI would be looking at about $400,000.

Is CGI cheaper than animation? ›

CGI was a lot cheaper and quicker to do than traditional animation. This is what made them become the preferred choice of the advertisers, gaming industry, and other professionals. As through them, they were able to release their output a lot quicker than they did with traditional.

What movie spent the most money on CGI? ›

10 Of The Most Expensive Movies With CGI Effects
  • 4/10 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) - Budget: $250 Million.
  • 3/10 Spider-Man 3 (2007) - Budget: $258 Million.
  • 2/10 Superman Returns (2006) - Budget: $270 Million.
  • 1/10 The Avengers: Endgame (2019) - Budget: $356 Million.
12 Jan 2020

Was CGI used in Titanic? ›

From what is assuredly some of the most elaborate model work ever done for a movie to the extensive work in digital 3D CGI (computer generated imaging), Titanic is replete with cutting edge visual effects.

Did Star Wars use CGI? ›

The Death Star Plans

While the original trilogy primarily utilized practical effects and camera techniques to achieve the iconic space battles the saga would become known for, Lucas and ILM also incorporated some limited CGI that was some of the first-ever seen in cinema.

When did CGI become popular? ›

The 1990s was the decade in which computer animation really started to take over and become a significant part of the film and TV industry. The CGI and morphing used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was regarded as the most substantial use of CGI in a movie since Tron way back in 1982.

What software is used for CGI? ›

The most widely used examples are Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya, Blender, Cinema 4D, Lumion, Houdini, Maxwell. You can find more info about them in our article about the best product rendering software on the CGI production market.

Why is CGI important? ›

CGI allows you to showcase products or services in ways that traditional photography can't. Whether an item is impossible to photograph or you need to change certain aspects of a product, CGI can create photographic quality images that you can use to connect with your consumers.

What is the difference between animation and CGI? ›

Computer animation is the process used for digitally generating animated images. The more general term computer-generated imagery (CGI) encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to moving images.

Did Star Wars use CGI? ›

The Death Star Plans

While the original trilogy primarily utilized practical effects and camera techniques to achieve the iconic space battles the saga would become known for, Lucas and ILM also incorporated some limited CGI that was some of the first-ever seen in cinema.

Can you do CGI at home? ›

So, Yes, you can absolutely do CGI at home. The learning curve is steep, the hardware requirements can be even steeper if you want to actually render and make stuff look pretty.

How do I make a CGI model? ›

How to create a 3D CGI character - an overview | The Making of "My Time ...

Who creates CGI? ›

A CGI Artist builds 3D models of products, environments, and more. They use their ability to create photo realistic materials, lighting, and rendered images for various uses including marketing and advertisements.

How much does CGI cost? ›

Note: To be specific, CGI cost per minute is around $1000 – $1500, when considering $13 or more for each specific second. Let's take on some of the most asked questions on CGI cost. What's The Cost Of Using CGI In Film? Even though the cost can differ greatly, the average cost can be around $570,000 per minute.

What movie used CGI first? ›

The first feature film to make use of CGI was the 1973 film Westworld. Other early films that incorporated CGI include Star Wars (1977), Tron (1982), Golgo 13: The Professional (1983), The Last Starfighter (1984), Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Flight of the Navigator (1986).

Can I learn CGI? ›

You can learn CGI animation from your own home - but you may need specialist training to go pro. A bachelor's degree in computer graphics, computer science or a subject related to art, design or film is useful.

How much do CGI animators make? ›

How much does a CGI Animation make? As of Sep 28, 2022, the average annual pay for the CGI Animation jobs category in the United States is $78,631 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $37.80 an hour.

What are the 5 types of animation? ›

5 Forms of Animation
  • Traditional Animation.
  • 2D Animation.
  • 3D Animation.
  • Motion Graphics.
  • Stop Motion.

Which Star Wars movie has the most CGI? ›

Episode VII: The Force Awakens: New Hope for Visual Effects

The new approach to the Star Wars franchise makes the most of both the more traditional world of physically-based effects and modern, high-end computer-based effects.

Is Jabba the Hutt CGI? ›

He was real. You can get a sense of how much work and detail went into the original Jabba puppet, designed by makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, in this 1983 documentary on the making of Return of the Jedi.

Was Vader CGI in Revenge of the Sith? ›

A VFX artist that worked on the Star Wars prequel films, Juan-Luis Sanchez, recently revealed that a key moment from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith involves a full CGI version of Anakin Skywalker. A lot of fans are actually surprised by the reveal because no one really noticed it until it was pointed out.

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