"No-one has realised" that most homeware
catalogue images are renderings


News: the images in most kitchen, bathroom and bedroom catalogues are computer-generated but "no-one has realised", according to a leading CGI artist (+ slideshow).

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

"Many furniture manufactures are using this medium to put together their catalogues and such," said Richard Benson, creative director at digital imagery studio Pikcells. "The technology can now make these wonderfully realistic images as good as photography, and in some cases better."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

He added: "Most kitchen, bedroom and bathroom companies now use CGI to create their marketing material and no one has realised."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Last summer flat-pack furniture giant Ikea announced it was starting to use digital images in its catalogues and online galleries, predicting that up to a quarter of all its images would eschew traditional photography by this year.

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

But Benson said that things have moved faster than even Ikea predicted. "It's not just Ikea," he said. "We design a lot of the [digitally created] spaces ourselves for some of the world's biggest homeware brands."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Benson said the rapid advances in digital image-making were leading to the mass closure of photography studios that specialised in interior and product shoots for brands. "It's quite a big deal as lots of photography studios have been uprooted," he said. "Over the past five years, there's been a few studios that have really come to the end of their time doing room sets and have seen CGI coming through and packed up shop and called it a day really."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Other photography studios have embraced CGI and turned themselves into digital studios. He added: "We've been brought in to produce what the photographer was doing anyway. The end if the same but the means is different."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

He explained that rendered images offer clients greater speed and flexibility than photographs, plus lower costs. "With photography, you're always going to be restricted by what you can build and what materials you can use and what furniture you can get a hold of, whereas with CGI there are massive 3D libraries now where you can buy really high quality digital models and textures and drop them straight into your images."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Computer renderings also allow sets to be re-used and adapted easily, Benson said. "In photography, people build massive sets and then they just throw it all in the bin afterwards, whereas we can reuse the sets over and over again. They're just stored in the computers so we can pull them out and make quick changes and reissue images."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Car brands have been using computer-generated imagery for advertisements for years, he added: "A lot of the adverts you see on TV [involve] CGI cars," he said.

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Magazines try to avoid publishing CGI images, Benson said, but they often published them unknowingly. "We've had loads of our stuff in magazines," he said, including a recent interior that Pikcells developed from scratch for wood and laminate brand Kronospan. "A kitchen from the Fresh project was featured in Grand Designs in the future kitchen section and I don't think they knew it was CGI."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Leading architectural visualiser Peter Guthrie spoke to us last month about how architectural renderings are now "indistinguishable from photos," and Benson says that producing renderings for catalogues requires even higher photo-realistic qualities. "In the work we produce, the images have to be really photo-real as they are sitting alongside existing photos in many catalogues," he explained. "Architecural visualisation doesn't generally have this issue. The expectation is lower as most people realise it's CG, because what they are looking at is not built yet."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

An example of this is a Swiss studio that created a computer model of an unbuilt Zurich theatre designed by Jørn Utzon in 1964, to show that the building "could be built now".

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Today, most furniture brands use CGI instead of photography for the room sets in their catalogues, Benson said. "I would say 80 percent of the furniture manufacturers out there are using CGI for kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, etcetera. It's sort of happened in the last five or six years. It came at the right time, when the software was good enough and when the hardware was affordable enough to process the power needed to render these images."

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Ikea led the way with digital images of its kitchens, which are relatively easy to generate, given that they feature hard, flat surfaces with predictable reflections. However, Ikea has still not mastered the art of creating realistic bedroom images, Benson said, due to the complexity of computer-modelling bedlinen and soft furnishings.

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

Even that is changing, with software and processing power now able to create convincing fabrics. "Soft furnishings and fabrics [are] becoming extremely realistic to the point where we've started to use CG bedding and cushions and things," Benson said.

Pikcells CGI renderings for catalogue images kitchen

The only items that studios like Pikcells still struggle to render are flora and fauna. "To create flowers for each image would take a long time as opposed to going down to the florist and photographing stuff. As soon as the software is ready to use in that department, I don't think there would be anything else that you would be missing."

  • very italian

    Mr. No-one is a really cleaver guy.

    • daveb867

      Mr No-one? They give you the guys name in the second paragraph?

      • very very italian

        That was a joke -_-

  • Damien

    I think that EVERYONE knows that pictures in furniture catalogues are renderings. Please stop thinking people are stupid!

    • kate

      Agree Damo.

    • Kel

      It never occurred to me. There’s an inherent trust in the buyer-seller relationship, and that trust can extend to the photography in their catalogues because we want to believe that we aren’t being lied to. I think by “stupid” you mean “naive”.

    • Matt

      I doubt it. I think the “No one” is referring to the general public. If you stopped people in the street and asked them they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

      • 1234

        I agree, and I think that the context is important too. I have definitely noticed many images in catalogues which appear to be renders, but I’m sure that when I’ve been flicking through I’ve missed many more. However, I’m likely to scrutinise and identify renders which I find in a journal or on a site like Dezeen, although I could still be convinced by some. If you told me no.7 on the slideshow was a photo I would probably believe you.

    • ddd

      Every single one of the ‘photo realistic’ renderings in this article looks like crap. I can believe anyone would ever mistake them.

  • Nerdy

    Dumb & Dumber meet Magritte.

  • Daniel Brown

    The one that really shocked me was when I found out that professional make-up artists don’t actually use a particular brand make-up on an advert for that brand make-up. They’d never use cheap high-street consumer quality kit!

  • H&M

    Who cares if you do or you don’t? It’s just a catalog. No-one should take offence if they realised the photos are not real. It’s not important.

  • ja

    These all look like renders to me!

  • mariko

    No-one? Really?! What I’ve noticed recently is how many of the designs posted on Dezeen are renderings and I find that outrageous. It’s one thing to dream an apartment in 3D and another to build something as well as you have imagined it if not better.

    It has been interesting to read your stories about advancement in 3D renderings, but please 3D is not architecture yet.

  • ronenbekerman

    Same could be said about architecture photography. Nothing is the real thing until you experience it yourself right there and then.

    A good pre-built visualisation can express the architect’s intent much better then anything else, though I do agree the final result must stand the test of real life production.

    • makeda

      Plus Photoshop has been a part of the photography industry since practically the dawn of photography. It is all an illusion unless you are there.

    • makeda

      …and remember fashion models are really not what they seem to be with all the post production photoshopping etc. Same with architecture and design.

  • Norbert

    Why should a rendering be more of a “lie” than studio photography?

  • Even at the pixel dimensions on this web page the renderings still maintain that flat, two-dimensional television cartoon appearance. They don’t yet look like photographs but they’re now remarkably close: shrink them down to the size of large postage stamps and it’s a draw between photographs and CGI.

    Devote more rendering power and smarter algorithms later this decade and larger pixel dimensions (I expect) will match photographs.

    More important than matching the optical qualities of photographs, they’re now every bit as useful to consumers seeking a quick sense of the possibilities of the merchandise. Consumers, by definition, should not care to make the distinctions I describe. Nevertheless, consumers will attach more credibility to pictures they see as camera-made rather than computer-made.

    Bravo, CGI: you’ve got a working business model which might prove sustainable, if it doesn’t race to the bottom.

  • andi

    Well well, the shelf looks freaking real. but the rest? C’mon, they’re far too perfect. I like the UFO vases though :)

  • pozz

    I got it first time, very Italian. Bad joke but understandable : )

  • inwith

    OMG he is the Snowden of the homeware catalogue industry! I have been mixing renderings and photos in my portfolio however I want for years. And at least 90% are not able to tell them apart. Especially when they are unsuspecting. Rendering just has a bad reputation among some people because they actually don’t recognise the good ones as renderings.

  • forreal?

    “More rendering power and smarter algorithms”. Yes it is definitely that what makes a good rendering…

    • Matching photographs is not the same thing as making good renderings. Was I unclear? Or are your English-language reading comprehension skills on the level of a 10-year old, forreal?

  • Vicky

    Think some of these examples have a unique quality and stick in the mind, saying that the ones I have stuck are quite conceptual so perhaps not the best examples of what you would expect flicking through your typical furniture catalog, cool none the less.

  • Vicky

    Hats off to Mr No-one and his team. There are some very memorable images in there. Some I wouldn’t expect to see in a catalogue as they look a bit out there, but great nonetheless.
    Guess this does highlight part of the potential of CGI which breaks down those barriers and makes anything possible, an exciting design tool indeed.

  • Pizzaman

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just take a picture of a kitchen?

    • Yudo

      Err… not really. That is the whole point, because it’s quicker and easier in CG.

    • Andy

      What? Spend 10k+ on designing, ordering, manufacturing, installing and then taking pictures of a brand new kitchen that won’t have any other use afterwards as opposed to having someone design and render a computer model?

      No, no it wouldn’t…

    • mikki

      Many times, it is that the kitchen is not yet built. The consumer needs to see it before it is built. In the case of the catalogues, they don’t want to have to incur time and expense of building each kitchen and product they sell when it can simply be visualised.

  • A computer, just like a camera, is a tool. You use the tool that best suits your needs and you manipulate the image to suit those needs. An “artist’s impression” never bothered anybody. You’d say “humm, that’s good” or maybe “that’s awful”. You knew it wasn’t real. Photographing an image doesn’t guarantee a “real” representation.

    The images here are great, but the shadows and reflections need some looking into. Textures…

  • Romain_M

    Maybe photographers should strive for a “lived-in” look rather than strive for absolute purity. I’d find a shift to more naturalist depictions very refreshing.

  • Concerned Citizen

    “The images in most kitchen, bathroom and bedroom catalogues are computer-generated but “no-one has realised”” Most? Really? I suppose he has not viewed all that many catalogues.

  • Jimbo

    Please could we have an online quiz “Spot the CGI” just to test all the clever clogs who claim they could tell these were all CGIs?

  • Searavoes

    Please, guys who have turned into rage about the statement – take this test and you will know who you are: http://area.autodesk.com/fakeorfoto/