What is CGI? All about CGI technology in simple words

Cgi technology 3D Rendering


Living in a time of super-technology, it is impossible not to be interested in computer graphics. Or not to hear about it. Thanks to the film industry, CGI has become very popular. However, CGI technology is also used in other areas of life and for different purposes: entertainment, commercial, marketing, and production. But still, for most people, the concept remains rather vague and leaves a lot of questions. So let’s puzzle it out: what does CGI mean, and how does it work?

What is CGI?

CGI definition

CGI stands for computer-generated imagery. Simply put, CGI is images that were made using computer graphics. They can be still and animated, 2D and 3D. CGI is also called 3D rendering or 3D imaging. Today, CGI is associated primarily with cinema and special effects. However, it is also used in architecture, advertising, virtual reality, and engineering. Computer-generated image is created in computer 3D modeling software, unlike traditional photography. 3D models of buildings, people, cars, monsters, or even explosions are then put into a live-action scenario. 

Computer-generated imagery is so popular in the film industry that, in addition to fiction, it is also often used in historical dramas. For example, artists add details from that period. Besides, CGI rendering creates landscapes, characters, and various actions. Sometimes, the movie may contain 90% of CGI. This technology is also useful in creating 3D walkthrough and flythrough animation.

When was CGI first used?

The first movie which used CGI was Vertigo (1958) by Alfred Hitchcock. The film shows a series of spirals that appear and dissolve and cause a nauseating feeling of dizziness. Design by Saul Bass and CGI by John Whitney. He combined the spinning of the M5 filmmaker used during World War II with a pendulum that held a paint tank with a handle attached. Thus, the spiral patterns were created.

The history of CGI goes back to 1961 and Ivan Sutherland. The scientist made the Sketchpad system, where users could create drawings directly on the monitor screen, using the light pen.

For the first time in a Full-Length Film, computer-generated effects were used in Westworld, which was released in 1973. In the second half of the 1970s, films appeared using elements of 3D computer graphics, including “The World of the Future”, “Star Wars” and “Alien”.

How does it work?

Computer-generated images are done in a variety of ways. For example, using algorithms to generate fractals can create complex visual patterns. Other techniques include drawing in a 2D pixelated image editor and creating shapes for images, just like in a vector image editor.

CG imagery can also be generated from 3D graphics using ray tracing or bitmap 3D graphics. Complex visual effects can be created by compositing – combining computer-generated images into the film in layers. This technique is often used in conjunction with a green screen to position actors against a simulated background.

Where is CGI used?

Patio behind exterior process
Patio behind exterior

Architecture and real estate

In real estate CGI is used in many areas, from early planning to final sales. It has already become a whole industry. Many real estate companies are now turning to specialists in this field to create impressive images of future buildings for buyers. Also, CGI technology can be useful for ensuring the consistency of street landscapes.

Architects use computer-generated images to help clients understand designs and gain approval. CGI in architecture allows a potential investor or buyer to understand every detail of the property, all aspects of the project, from the general layout to individual units.

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Computer-generated effects are most commonly used in films, commercials, television programs, and even in print media. Visual effects made with this technology often have higher quality and are more controllable than other, more physical processes. For example, hiring extras for crowd scenes or creating thumbnails for effect shots. In addition, 3D CGI allows you to create images that cannot be realized with other technologies. It could also allow an artist to create content without the use of actors, props, or expensive sets.

Video games

Video game creators most frequently use real-time computer graphics (rarely called CGI). However, video games can also include intros and pre-processed cutscenes that are made using computer-generated effects.

Advertising and marketing

As elsewhere, CGI in advertising is used for two purposes: to make the picture beautiful and to show everything that is needed in the best possible way. For this, entire scripts are created, reminiscent of short action films or historical dramas. With the help of 3D CGI, explosions, falling buildings, and even advertising objects themselves are drawn. In fact, all the beautiful pictures around us are created using computer-generated images. Where can we use this if not in advertising? Outdoor advertising, videos on TV,  promo pages, printing, and everything else is not complete without computer graphics.

Product CGI

Designers and developers also use CGI for product presentation, from early planning to marketing. You can make the product attractive, add the right lighting and shadows, and tweak the composition. This method will help in the best way to present your project to customers and investors even before its development. This kind of visualization is most often seen in advertisements for cars and alcohol.

Learn about our Product rendering services.

Landscapes visuals

Nowadays, computer-generated imagery is even used to create or edit beautiful landscapes and environments. They are regularly indistinguishable from real photographs. Depending on the tasks facing the designer, such an image can be done in 2D editors (something like Photoshop, sometimes it is enough) or in 3D (3ds Max). But in advertising graphics, 3D CGI is frequently indispensable, since the images must be clear, vivid, memorable, and with many details.

Wine rendering imagine

What is CGI animation?

Computer animation is a type of 3D animation created using computer graphics (“CGI graphics”). As a derivative of computer graphics, animation inherits the same methods of creating images. Today it has been widely used both in the field of entertainment and in the production, scientific and business spheres. CGI animation can be used in computer games, and multimedia applications (like encyclopedias), as well as for “animating” individual design elements, for example, web pages and advertisements (animated banners).

CGI renders occur when artists create a stream of images that are integrated into animation. Combining animated and still images are performed using computer graphics. Characters created in 3D are digitally rendered on screen and then combined with a wireframe, allowing each model to be animated differently.

So, how to create CGI animation? Here are the main steps of the CGI animation process. It may look like such a scheme: 

sketches of characters > animatic > modeling > texturing, materials> rigging > animation > rendering and compositing

Avatar 2 movie

CGI vs Animation

Still do not understand what is the difference between CGI and animation? It is no wonder, since these two terms are indeed very close in meaning. So, let’s compare them. 

CGI is a broad term used generally for computer-generated images. But in the industry, people more often use CGI as an image generated by a 3D package as a common understanding. Now, comes to 3D Animation. It is a module of computer-generated imagery. That means 3D Animation is a process that is used where the CGI is meant to be used in conjunction with a motion picture (video, movies, etc). 3D animation is done by animating the controllers of a CG model in a way that looks realistic.

Generally, 3D animation may be a part of CGI that will help in adding a more realistic feel to the scene.

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CGI software

Realistic CGI images and animations require a lot of painstaking work. Creating high-quality models is impossible without the best CGI software. For this purpose, artists often use such CGI software:

  1. 3ds Max + Corona Renderer or V-Ray. You can use 3ds Max for creating stunning and attractive images of everything you need – from buildings to landscapes. With one of its engines – Corona Renderer or V-Ray, you can achieve unusual photorealism.
  2. ZBrush. It is one of the best programs for 3D modeling. ZBrush allows you to professionally design figures of people, animals, and other objects.
  3. Blender. The main benefit of this computer-generated imagery software – it is completely Free. Blender is also great for 3D modeling.
  4. Maya. Maya is used primarily by 3D designers and artists who create games, special effects, and images for cinema.
  5. Blackmagic Fusion. The program may be used for the final stage of the creation of images or videos – for post-processing, compositing, and visualization.

Learn about the Best 3D rendering software.

Face 3d imagine

3D CGI technique

In 3D editors, you can make photorealistic CGI images of any type – and it will be cheaper than ordering a photo studio and a photographer or looking for a suitable image and buying it. And sometimes you just can’t cope without 3D – especially when you need to visualize objects that exist only in the author’s imagination. Learn how to create Photorealistic 3D renders.

There are the main steps of CGI creation in a 3D editor. In general terms, the computer-generated imagery process will look something like this:

  • Modeling. We make the shape of our object. Most often, a polygonal mesh is used for this: they create and modify it until the desired shape is obtained. The object will look like a geometric shape with many faces.
  • Texturing. Create a realistic object surface using textures and materials.
  • Lightning. Adjusting the lighting for the final image. 
  • Rigging for the video. Set up the skeleton of the model: where it will move, in which direction it will swing when moving.
  • Compositing for the video. The final stage of video creation, when all layers are saved layer by layer and a finished realistic video is obtained.
Patio front
Patio front
Patio front

CGI Examples

The history of cinema is full of various examples of computer graphics from all genres of cinema. Some of these examples represent small but noticeable moments in a regular movie, while other examples are the movie itself (for example, in animated films, which we will look at in detail later). In some movies, CGI effects can be used in conjunction with other visual effects. In other cases, with CGI, more textures, characters, or objects can only be added to the environment. So, let’s find out about the top 5 real-life examples of using Computer graphics in cinema.

Star Wars (1977) 

Each of us remembers what a sensation this film caused. And all because the share of computer graphics made it something completely unusual. Space, large spaceships, lightsabers, and so on – such bright computer effects were breathtaking.

Jurassic Park (1993)

The first part of “Jurassic Park” became a real discovery in the field of computer graphics, thanks to the creatures (dinosaurs of different shapes and sizes), drawn with maximum photorealism.

The Matrix (1999)

Also, it is one of the first well-known films to be shot against a “green background”. It is hardly necessary to remember the many special features, the creation of which would be impossible without 3D CGI. For example, scenes with slow motion of time and the flight of bullets.

Titanic (1997)

A feature of this film is its realism. Trying to fully convey the history of the ship, the director and artists used computer graphics. It was mainly used to depict a sunken ship.

Avatar (2009)

According to director James Cameron, the film is 60% CG and 40% live-action. From the vibrant landscapes of the planet to the appearance of many characters, everything was drawn and virtually animated.


Computer-generated images (CGI) is a broad term that, strictly speaking, encompasses all types of computer graphics used in a variety of applications, from science and technology to the arts and medicine. Today, the term “computer graphics” is commonly associated with films, especially their fantastic, impressive computer visual effects (VFX).

Certainly, CGI occupies a special place in the modern world. Now it is almost impossible to imagine most areas of life without the use of this technology. However, for many people, this term is associated with many questions. In this article, we tried to answer the most important and common ones – what CGI stands for, where is it used, and how CGI work. We also walked you through the history of CGI creation and the use of this technique. With the help of the examples above, we also tried to convey the full power and importance of CGI in the world of cinema.

Author of Applet 3D articles. In passion about art, so writing about design, architecture, the animation is a great chance to enjoy my work. Rule of life - set little goals but achieve big results.

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