How to Get Great Visual Content Without a Traditional Shoot
Working smarter with synthetic photography and 3D modeling.
It began with an IKEA chair. In 2006, the Swedish giant was looking for a more efficient way to approach product shots, ideally something that would keep them from having to shoot and reshoot photos every time they wanted to change a minor detail in their creative. IKEA asked a team of 3D modelers to create and texture a chair which was then snuck into a scene in an upcoming catalog. No one noticed the “imposter” chair in the room.
Today in IKEA catalogs, almost 75 percent of the graphics are computer generated. Their goal is to hit 100 percent virtual assets in the not-too-distant future. It’s a more efficient approach, yes, but it’s also a way IKEA can get those images into “non-still” scenarios — think augmented reality, virtual reality, and other immersive digital campaigns, for starters.
IKEA catalog creation is an easy-to-understand example, yet don’t underestimate its value and opportunity for many creatives and the companies they support. In a world where major visual projects like photo shoots, films, and commercial videos are limited by deadlines and budgets, it’s increasingly difficult for designers and marketers to deliver the perfect image or video. Thus, more companies are leaning on next-generation solutions to drive results without the headaches, hassle, and expense. Specifically, brands and marketers are looking to advances in 3D modeling and synthetic photography for help.
A new way to stage a photo shoot
Decision-makers and content creators have always been focused on making high-quality creative that doesn’t require endless time, massive resources, and overdrawn budgets. These goals aren’t new. In a typical photo shoot, for example, brands look to get “the shot,” or they’ll need to compromise with stock imagery and loads of editing. Plus, costs will rise with travel to locations, with large project teams. Shoots can require everything from highly paid models, to licensing, to photographers, to basic expenses while on-site. If the end result doesn’t pan out? Brands may be forced to reshoot or attempt to rework images away from the location of the shoot.
Yet these days, with the proliferation of 3D modeling and synthetic photography, getting great visuals can happen from offices and studios anywhere.
“Now, for example, you can just pull a stock image, put your product into a particular tourist spot, and make it look like it’s from that country,” says Zorana Gee, group product manager on Adobe’s Digital Imaging team. “You can show that product in context and where it would be sold. You don’t have to call a friend or see what kind of photographers you know in that particular country to see if they could do a photo shoot for you to get the right images.”
As opportunities to leverage 3D modeling and synthetic photography expand, creatives and content leaders are taking advantage of the benefits and cost savings that come with it. With a photorealistic approach, creatives can purchase stock images or use their own existing content to devise new scenes and composites. According to a recent Pfeiffer Report, companies can save five times the amount of time and resources when integrating 3D workflows in place of destination shoots. No surprise, the savings are impossible to ignore.
Photorealistic 3D images
Though still relatively new, 3D design solutions like Adobe Dimension are being embraced in the extended creative space. Dimension lets designers create high-quality, photorealistic 3D images. Using composite 2D and 3D assets, people can build product shots, scene visualizations, and abstract art, without the heavy lifting or steep learning curve of other 3D software.
“In traditional shoots, tons of hours were spent retouching and detailing processes — but now it’s just about finding and buying the right 3D model,” says Chris Bernay, partner and graphic designer of PuraFrutta and Duo. “It’s about getting the right image or photo for the background or situation I want, and the results look so realistic and awesome.”
By leveraging this technology, marketers and designers can simplify workflows for better, easier collaboration and increased flexibility — even as projects become more detailed and complex.
Benny Lee, global 3D design lead for Coca-Cola, agrees. On a recent Fanta Halloween campaign, the team spent one-third of their budget on “visualization” — specifically, photography and computer-generated renderings for their seasonal packaging. By integrating Adobe Dimension, the team saved $100,000 in “phase one” of their new packaging design, while empowering their design teams and increasing productivity. “Due to the low learning curve, they were able to pick this up faster than a lot of the other programs,” Benny says. “Our in-house 3D talents are able to remove this workload from their shoulders and refocus their energies on something that matters.”
The creative community, from design, to marketing, to film, is taking note, leveraging new 3D solutions such as Adobe Dimension to power major shifts in the industry. When done correctly, people can’t tell whether they are really seeing a car on the road in the Mojave Desert, or if the creators simply leveraged a 3D model and stock photography.
Ross McKegney, director of engineering for Adobe Dimension, says the new workflows opened up by 3D modeling are changing the game across the board for creators. “With the Dimension workflow and its Adobe Sensei artificial intelligence capability,” he says, “we’re able to give this ‘aha’ moment — this moment of ‘I can’t believe I actually did that, and it was so easy.’ As soon as the light goes on and users realize they can create photorealistic images with Dimension, we know they’re hooked. You can’t go back.”
More efficient workflows and faster iterations
The new approach that 3D modeling provides can help creators work more efficiently on the front end of the ideation process as well. Kristine Arth, founder and principal designer at Lobster Phone, says the tools give her the ability to work faster, iterating more ideas and testing concepts, ensuring she’s pushing the best possible outputs into the marketplace. “Synthetic photography acts as a three-dimensional storyboard,” she says. “It gives me and my clients the visualization of what a project could be like without having to spend the time and money to create a physical prototype.”
Chris agrees. “Many times clients can’t visualize what a shoot will look like until they see it,” he says. “Synthetics and modeling make my process more agile. I reduce the amount of feedback rounds, and my client is not getting confused or remaining undecided and stuck in the middle of the process.”
That said, advances in synthetic photography aren’t without their own unique challenges. To execute successful projects — and, ultimately, drive spot-on creative content — designers, marketers, and their clients need to strike a balance between synthetic and traditional photography. “The ability to snap quick photos with a high-resolution phone camera has been really helpful for quick iterations and mockups,” Kristine says. “I also utilize those photos and combine them with digital assets to create a mix of real and synthetic that bridges the gap before a commercial photo shoot is needed.”
Even if unique commercial photography is a must for a brand’s final project, Kristine sees the value in exploring synthetic options. “There are still times when the depth you get with true photography is something that can’t be created synthetically, but when both tools are used to inform each other, the results are much stronger.”
The next step in a creative workflow revolution
As content creators explore this new frontier of 3D modeling and synthetic photography, one thing is clear: the industry is in the middle of a creative workflow revolution, and the benefits are far-reaching. “Quality is approachable for everyone now,” Chris says, citing small businesses and entrepreneurs as major benefactors. “The new technologies in photography and design are enabling people to achieve great results with more approachable and friendlier rates. Everything is more doable today than 15 years ago.”
This is just the beginning. “We’re targeting both the design workflows and the marketing and delivery side, helping you present your product in the best possible way,” says Ross on the Adobe Dimension team.
The next step, then? Keep growing, scaling, and proliferating among the creative community. “I think the key is to make tech like this more and more accessible to designers,” Ross says. “Make it faster and faster so designers can get their whole job done. Get the workflows down so they can really get the most benefits out of moving to digital content.”