Learning CGI software is not for the faint of heart –every object has attributes, every attribute has its own attributes, and many of those have their own attributes as well. The palettes. The windows. The tools. The choices! The complexity and power of this software make Photoshop, Final Cut, Premiere and After Effects seem like the simplest of apps in comparison. But, as more and more clients seek ways to create imagery that will engage a jaded audience at a price that will guarantee a decent ROI, offering CGI services can add both real and perceived value to your business.
There are several different business models that can make sense for photographers looking at incorporating CGI into the services they offer:
Outsource it all: If you find the time spent tweaking images in Photoshop and Lightroom painful, learning and using CGI software will feel like torture. Luckily, there are thousands of skilled CGI artists you can partner with. It’s smart to have a basic understanding of what’s possible and a sense of how the work you do in camera can make the CGI artist’s work easier (or harder!) but if you’re willing to relinquish some control – and a chunk of the budget – hiring out CGI work can make tremendous business sense.
Use Stock Models: You can license existing 3-D models of nearly anything you can imagine – from every day objects to fantastical science fiction gizmos and environments. Most of these models come in the 3-D equivalent of layers, allowing you to reposition, add and delete elements, change the materials they’re made of, change their size and even alter their shapes. This dramatically reduces the time you spend building the CGI components and lets you focus on lighting, composition and compositing CGI and photographed elements into the final deliverable.
Do It Yourself: While the learning curve is steep, it’s not insurmountable. Depending on your skills and interests, you can always choose to build your CGI elements from scratch. Lynda.com offers excellent tutorials on 3D imaging and, depending on the application you choose, the software developer may also provide in-depth training resources.
About a year into our expansion into CGI, we recently incorporated all three approaches into the first hybrid CGI-Photography project we’ve completed for a client. As we discovered in our early days of working with Photoshop, the trick to profitability lies in accurately assessing when it’s more expedient to do it in camera or create it in post and figuring out when it’s more cost-effective to do it yourself or hire it out.