Chapter 1 - Introduction
The importance of having great product imagery
In today’s world, it’s all about visuals. With the popularity of Pinterest and Instagram, and the digital world in general, people have grown to expect high-quality imagery as the norm.
A great product image can make a product look amazing, but if it doesn’t have the right lighting, composition or style, then it will fall flat.
If your product images don’t stand out from the crowd, they won’t attract potential customers and drive sales. Great product imagery helps you:
- Convince customers they need to buy your product.
- Make your products more appealing by showing them in all their glory.
- Increase sales, engagement and conversion rates – all of which help you increase your profit margins.
Your customers want to see a realistic representation of of what they are buying, and the best way to do this is by creating an image that shows off the features of your product and how it will look in their home.
It’s important to have great product imagery or you risk losing out to the competition and being left behind. The fireplace industry in general has suffered from a lack of investment in product marketing when compared to the money spent by other industries such as the Kitchen and Bathroom industries.
They have been ahead of the curve in recognising the importance of product imagery and the use of photo-realistic CGI, and they have reaped the benefits.
Many different factors go into the success of your business, but I do believe that great product imagery is one of the most important.
In this guide, we’ll show you how CGI can help you create high-quality images that will sell your products like no other medium can.
If you would rather go directly to a single chapter to find the information you need then the below table of contents will help you do just that.
Table of Contents
What is CGI?
CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery and refers to the process of creating an image on a computer. If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show with special effects, chances are you’ve seen some CGI in action.
The most obvious examples are things like explosions and fire, but if you look closely you can find them everywhere — from the way a character’s hair moves to the way their clothes drape over their body.
CGI is essentially a digital process that allows filmmakers, product makers, retailers and advertisers to create images that are impossible, impractical or more costly to capture with regular photography.
The technology used to create CGI imagery has progressed significantly in recent years — now, it’s possible to create almost any kind of effect imaginable using software like Maya or 3D Studio Max.
But even with all this power at our fingertips, many people aren’t aware of what is possible, think it’s too expensive, or simply don’t know where to start.
This guide should help with these three things and a lot more.
The benefits of using CGI vs. traditional photography
There are several benefits associated with using CGI in your fireplace imagery instead of camera photography, but it boils down to being able to produce more unique images in less time, with less hassle and fewer resources. Here I’ve listed the main benefits in more detail:
You can create any type of fireplace you want, in any style, material or setting and there are no restrictions on location, size of room, decor or time of day. Photography means you’re always restricted to the studio setting, studio lighting and props that they have. With CGI you can create them from scratch or choose from a limitless selection of existing objects, materials and decor.
Ability to update
With CGI you can change the models and rooms as often as you like, when you like. You can’t update a photograph.
Get the right look
Sometimes with camera photography and fireplaces, it’s hard to get the right lighting to make the product look its best. Some materials just don’t photograph well, and this can be frustrating as you know that if a customer looks at that image in a brochure or online then they’re not getting a true representation of how it looks.
CGI takes this frustration away by creating a model/image that looks exactly how you think it should.
Create new designs or models that you can’t photograph
If you use CGI imagery you don’t even need to physically have a product. You can provide drawings and the material(s) you want it to be created with and the CGI artist will create it from scratch. This can be handy if you have a product that comes in various finishes but you only have one finish in the showroom or warehouse. It can also be handy for coming up with new designs, testing them on consumers and then depending on feedback, deciding whether they are worth manufacturing.
Not only do CGI artists/studios cost far less than photographers, you also save money, time and hassle in transport and setup costs. As CGI services are carried out digitally and remotely, there’s no need for your fireplace to leave the showroom or warehouse. You simply need to take a few photos on your iPhone and job done.
The benefits of CGI over photoshopped stock images
In an effort to cut costs, some people have used a mixture of camera photography and software called Photoshop to create lifestyle images of their fireplaces. The process involves taking photos of products and then purchasing stock images of living rooms. Then using photoshop to overlay the product into the room. Having seen the results of using this solution for years, I would say the results are problematic at best, and horrible at worst. Here are the main three issues with using Photoshop for this purpose:
Photoshopped images look ‘photoshopped’ as the lighting, reflections and general environment of the fireplace/model don’t match the room it has been placed into. This creates an image that looks unrealistic. A CGI model and room are built to belong – for example, flames are reflected on the coffee table, and the natural light from the window reflects on the fireplace. These nuanced distinctions are the difference between fooling the eye into believing that something is real and knowing that it is fake
Uniqueness and flexibility
With the Photoshop method, you are buying stock imagery. This means you are buying something everyone in your industry has access to. I’ve seen the same room used multiple times by different companies. It might save a few quid but you lose out on distinctiveness which might be the very thing that makes a lot of people buy from you and not from your competitors.
The drawbacks of using CGI Fireplace Imagery
Using a reasonable new technology like CGI can be daunting. That’s exactly why we’ve created this guide. It feels like there’s a lot to consider and if you are used to using photography it can be hard to make that change even if you understand the advantages. But hopefully, by the time you’ve read this guide, you’ll see it’s not that difficult to get started once you know what to do.
So on that note let’s dive into the next section where I explain what’s involved in creating a great CGI image.
A good designer vs. a great one: What’s involved in creating a fantastic CGI Fireplace image?
The basic components:
3D Modelling is a process which involves creating three-dimensional (3D) models using computer software. This could be a fireplace, an element within the fire such as the logs or the fireplace surround. The term can be used to describe both artistic and technical applications where three dimensions are being represented, typically via polygonal meshes or wireframe models like the image shown here.
A texture map
These are the colours and patterns applied to the 3D model to give it life and make it look like real stone, wood, or whatever you need. Often these are very complex involving multiple layers on top of one another to simulate the real object. This task can often separate a master craftsman from a lesser CGI artist.
How is the object or model lit? Are you simulating daylight or nighttime? Is there spotlighting or just one ceiling light? Decisions like these will impact how the object or model interacts with light and ultimately how it looks.
Rendering is the next step in the process. It involves simulating how light would realistically bounce off objects and surfaces to create realistic images. Rendering is essentially a combination of three parts: geometry, lighting, and materials. Geometry refers to the shape of the object being rendered; lighting describes how light affects an object; and materials define how an object behaves under different lighting conditions (for example, how much it reflects light). For example, if we made Semi-Rijo limestone reflect the same amount of light as black Quartz then this would be unrealistic.
Again, this is another crucial area to get right. How light and materials interact will ultimately dictate whether an image looks real or fake. So having an understanding of textures used in the Fireplace industry would be a big bonus. This is especially true for modelling flame effects and stone materials.
Typically post-processing refers to the adding of effects or textures to enhance the image further. For fireplace CGI this could be a touch-up to a flame picture or removing unwanted fossils from stone.
What does the process look like from the client's perspective?
There are essentially three main phases when it comes to CGI design work: Concept, Drafting and Completion. In the following paragraphs, I outline how this process looks from the client’s perspective.
You chat through what you are looking to achieve. The person or company will often then give you a design brief showing what they will produce for you. This creates clarity in the process and stops any misunderstandings from happening further down the line.
Once a project has been agreed in principle it’s time for you to provide good reference materials of your product(s) such as photos of your fireplace, and any specific detailing (e.g. fuel bed, veining on stone etc), as well as the dimensions of your products. If you are looking to create lifestyle images then you can also give them room/lifestyle example images that can be used as inspiration for the design.
A timeline and cost will typically be agreed upon at this stage.
You can read our New Project Checklist for more information on what you need to supply the designer.
Once an idea has been formulated and agreed upon, and all reference materials supplied, the designers get to work and create the first draft of your model (and potentially its new lifestyle setting). They then send you the first draft for feedback. Usually, this is in a lower resolution (usually Full HD 1080p) than the final image which will most likely be in 4K. Depending on the complexity of the image and the speed of the designer, this process could take anywhere between three days and two weeks. For this reason, it is always best to have an agreed timeline for each project phase.
Second Draft (If Needed)
Once they receive feedback from you on their first draft, they will refine it until they are happy with it and send you another version for review. This process may happen several times before final approval from the client (this depends on how much they want to change). Each additional version typically takes 1-2 days to produce once feedback on the previous version has been collected.
This process can severely slow down a project and cause considerable frustration to both you and the designer.
For this reason, it is very important to hire someone who understands your products and your vision so the number of changes needed is drastically reduced.
Final Images Produced
Once final approval has been given, the finalised images are produced. This can take time as the final rendering process is a resource-heavy task. Additional work to the textures, lighting, and reflections is carried out that adds to the level of realism. Then the scene rendering process takes place. This is essentially when the 3D software outputs a high-resolution version of the scene and creates an image from it. For a standard PC, the process would take around 6-8 hours to produce one 4K image.
This information is important for two reasons:
Once you have approved a draft and a final render has been produced it is too late to make changes to the image. The artist or business will want to charge for any further changes as this requires a whole lot of extra work. So be careful and make sure you are happy with the draft before approving it.
Secondly, when selecting who to hire, you should take into account their hardware capabilities. If you have many images needing to be created then having a designer who has to wait 8 hours for a completed image is going to slow your project right down. Go for a business with its server farm (shameless plug-like us). This means they have access to high compute power meaning they can turn around images much faster.
How much does it cost?
The costs involved in producing CGI fireplaces vary depending on each project. They depend on how complex your fireplace design is and how many images you need to be created. For example, does your image require a stove and a surround to be modelled? Maybe it’s a built-in fire so just one model is needing to be created. Also, do you need a whole room created to create lifestyle images or would a simple background and flooring be enough?
The cost will also depend on the quality of CGI that you are happy with. For example, at Upspark, we only create high-quality photo-realistic renders using the best CGI software. We also only employ CGI artists who are capable of the best levels of realism when replicating fireplace products. But there are also CGI artists who make good representations of rooms and models but don’t generate photo-realistic images i.e. you can tell they are CGI. The level of skill here will dictate cost to some degree.
However, CGI is a very flexible process, so you should be able to find a solution that suits your timescales and budget.
Ultimately, CGI imagery is going to be much more affordable than traditional camera photography (as I discussed earlier in the guide).
Tips for producing photo-realistic images of your products that grab the attention of your audience
1). Choose the right designer/agency.
Choosing the right design partner to produce product imagery will probably be the single biggest contributing factor to the success of a project.
When you are in the hiring process make sure to ask questions like:
- Do you produce photo-realistic results?
- Have you experience modelling realistic flame effects?
- Have you example images of any fireplaces you have previously modelled?
- Have you examples of complex stone or wood textures you have rendered?
Clients have told us that choosing the wrong design partner led to a lot of wasted time and effort, and a poor result. It’s important for the designer to understand the language and the products within the fireplace industry.
2). Make sure to give the designer enough reference images of your products so they can accurately recreate them.
- Give high resolution images, at least 1080p so typically 1920x1080p.
- Show your product from every angle that needs to be modelled.
- Show close-ups of any important details such as the finish of the product, the fuel bed of a fire etc. You can use our New Project Checklist to help you with this.
3). Choose or discuss room designs that mirror the living rooms of your target consumer, or in which they would aspire to have.
This is really important. People have to be able to visualise what your product will look like in their home. If they can’t, they won’t buy it.
Therefore, it’s so important to choose the right room-setting/lifestyle image for your product. Don’t make the mistake of agreeing to or presenting design choices that lead to a room being created that has no relationship to your target buyer.
Creating aspirational images are of course also a good idea but this should be based on some level of market research or consumer knowledge that leads you to think that this will help sell your products.
Overall, a safer bet is to create rooms that mirror the homes of your target consumers.
In 2022, your product imagery is just as important as your product. If you want to convince customers to purchase from you and not one of your competitors you need to put together an image that tells the story for you—a story about quality products and a trustworthy business. There are plenty of ways to do that, but high-quality distinctive images are a great place to start.
CGI is the only solution that offers an affordable, flexible and hassle-free way of achieving this. That’s why I began to offer it as a service in the first place. I believe CGI can help so many businesses in the fireplace industry improve their product imagery and make more sales, and without all the hassle of camera photography!
I hope you found this guide useful. If there’s anything that you feel I missed or if you have a question about anything you’ve read then feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me using the contact form on the contact page.