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How to create content when you don’t have the usual tools available

Amongst the many changes the coronavirus pandemic has forced on the creative industry, there’s one lesson that brands and agencies alike should heed from now on – the importance of having a tried-and-tested contingency plan in place to mitigate against any future disruptive events. Of course, you can’t always be ready for the unknown or unexpected. But the wheels need to keep turning, especially when the usual tools are suddenly unavailable. 

When lockdown started a few months ago, the shoot production industry ground to a near-total halt. After all, how do you continue operations heavily dependent on human interaction when the rule of thumb is to keep two metres apart? 

With live-action shoots out of the equation, a lot of businesses have had the foresight to turn to creative alternatives such as CGI to produce their content for campaigns that were at risk of cancellation or indefinite suspension. Brands could still promote their products without losing momentum, either by translating the original concept to CGI or tailoring the key messages to better suit it.

Whilst some have been skeptical, and not fully convinced whether computers can emulate cameras, the truth is that CGI is a proven and powerful production tool that is yet to be utilised to its full potential by many sectors in the industry. 

CGI production should not be pigeonholed as just a quick fix to live-action shooting. But, in the right hands, it does provide the same quality of photographic integrity as a camera does. The software matches real camera settings and how lenses and materials behave and react to light – it is a powerful blend of art and science. 

There is still a misconception amongst some creators who regard CGI as only being suitable for high-volume product shots for e-commerce. The irony is that the techniques and technology used by most CGI studios are just the same as those routinely employed for the film industry, yet they are questioned when applied to marketing content. 

Ultimately, deciding between creating with a camera or a crafting with a computer comes down to preference and preconception. Whilst it’s fair to say that, on balance, most creators would probably rather get out of the office and go on location, it is no longer fair to say that the reason why is because CGI is creatively limiting, too slow, too expensive or not ‘real’ enough.

If one thing, CGI has expanded creative thinking and concepts previously resigned to the imagination, just as digital retouching did back in the early 90’s, whilst being indistinguishable to photography and more versatile. The ideas that can be realised are endless, from  fantastical creatures, like the Asics jellyfish sports shoe, to evocative, authentic automotive imagery like the Ferrari 488 Spyder, or the whimsical and nostalgic Marie Boutteçon ‘70’s inspired watch collection.

Any form of advertising photography, on the other hand, is constrained by and dependent on the physical environment, in terms of location, weather, light, studio size, and other factors. Whether that’s for a product, a location or a set. That’s not a bad thing, but it does have it’s limitations. 

Some might also argue that CGI is lengthy and costly in comparison to photo shoots. That’s because they typically compare on a one-to-one cost basis, and don’t consider a holistic approach to production that factors in the long-term value of building and reusing brand-specific CGI assets across the lifecycle of multiple product launches, as luxury appliance brand Gaggenau have done with their brand imagery. Brands and agencies have access to ‘always-on, always-ready’ assets that can be revamped for new campaigns, as opposed to creating everything from scratch. Available to multiple platforms and/or markets, from print to digital, interactive and experiential, with the right planning, CGI is more cost effective than arranging multiple live-shoots in the long run.  

Last but not least, although we can’t be sure if the pandemic is indeed ‘payback’ from Mother Nature, now might be the time for the creative industry to take a more environmentally responsible approach to production. 

CGI production is kinder to the Earth by virtue of being more carbon-efficient than traditional advertising photography, because as a process it relies on computers, software and hardware alone. There is no need to travel anywhere other than into your imagination. Incredible imagery and animations can be created with very small teams and because it is much easier to update and adapt imagery to suit regional market tastes, it further reduces the carbon footprint of production without significant additional costs.

If we also consider the creation of physical prototypes for marketing campaigns, these have to be shipped out for multiple stills and/or video shoots, sometimes across continents, to satisfy the needs of different marketing departments. Add on top the transportation of crew and equipment, catering and accommodation, as well as crew vehicle emissions and the waste that usually follow a photoshoot.

In summary, CGI reduces costs to budgets and to the planet, whilst enabling the creation of beautiful, photorealistic campaign assets that can be produced remotely and shared out to the world. With the ‘new normal’ likely to remain for the foreseeable future, it’s an opportunity for the creative industry to fully grasp the valuable lessons learnt during this unprecedented – and, let’s hope, once in a lifetime event. 

Although some creators have leveraged CGI to help fill the gap when a seemingly endless number of projects were compromised, the creative industry should embrace this flexible and powerful method of production as a long-term investment, as opposed to a short-lived measure. It not only helps getting the job done amidst unique circumstances, it can be the perfect solution to any.


Chris Christodoulou, CEO at Saddington Baynes
Chris joined Sadddington Baynes in 1994 as the company’s first digital retoucher. Since then he’s been the driving force behind this award-winning London-based creative production studio. Over the last 22 years, Chris as CEO has lead the continued growth and evolution of the business with true entrepreneurial vision.

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