17 June 2024, 03:57
By Furniture News Jul 12, 2021

Time to embrace CGI, says Neil Buckley-Jensen

From time and money savings to unparalleled flexibility, there are many reasons to embrace CGI marketing – yet some still cannot appreciate how doing so could benefit their business, says Chilli Pepper Designs’ Neil Buckley-Jensen, offering his candid take on what the new approach means to him as a furniture manufacturer …

When did you first encounter CGI in the furniture industry, and how did you go on to use it in your own business?

When we started out in the furniture world around 10 years ago with Little Tree Furniture, we used a PR company to help build our brand. Our problem was that we had no real imagery for our products for marketing purposes. Our PR company suggested we look into CGI, and that’s what we did. 

It was actually quite poor quality back then, and unbelievably expensive, so we abandoned that idea and started to do the traditional photoshoot, which was incredibly time-consuming and quite an expense. I personally never looked forward to the hassle of setting the shoots up and the time they took to co-ordinate – all that lifting and shifting furniture is hard work, and I’ve always had better things to be doing with my time (which could be far more productive for our business). 

Ten years on, Indesign Furniture (our parent company) had no chance of getting any photography done at all during the first lockdown because of social distancing, etc, and I recalled the CGI conversation with our PR company and thought we should revisit the idea. The technology had clearly moved on since 10 years ago, but, depending which CGI companies you contact, the price can still be quite high, and quality not so good. 

We tried some companies in China, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the US and UK, and each company we tried always had an issue – whether it would be cost, time spent making the models and roomset, us having to be overly involved, or the CGI artists just not understanding our brand. 

So, I set our own sister company up, called Chilli Pepper Designs, because I knew what I wanted from CGI and it seemed no other company could deliver it. Since setting it up, we have never looked back, and we have better imagery than ever at a fraction of the cost and time it took to set up traditional photoshoots.

What did setting up that service entail?

I knew I had a lot to learn in terms of the technical side of developing images. I had to understand the software requirements, what’s possible, and of course I needed to find CGI artists who could deliver what we required. There are many levels of expertise required to be able to generate amazing CGI visualisations. 

I started by taking a punt and buying the best PC and software we could get, then took on a CGI artist, and the two of us worked out what we were trying to do and how we had to do it – from designing a scene to actually making it. 

Working day and night, we cracked it, so I bought another PC and took on another CGI artist, then the same again, then interior designers, admin support and more and more modellers. In less than a year our Chilli Pepper Designs office has moved three times to larger spaces to accommodate more and more staff. I’m proud to say that from starting with a need to fulfil our own images, we’re now supplying CGI images to some of the largest furniture brands in the world. 

Who were your first clients, and what did those projects look like?

Chilli Pepper Designs’ first client was in fact myself! At Indesign Furniture we had so many newly designed products coming through for our distributors in New Zealand, the US and Canada, and no way of getting photography. In essence, I was my own customer for the first four months – in which, as a new start-up company, we really learned what a furniture company needs in terms of CGI.  

We understood what we needed as a client, and how we wanted it presented. Wearing my other hat (Chilli Pepper Designs) we learned the processes we needed to undertake to achieve our image requirements – including scoping a project, planning a layout, relaying concepts, how to best build models, etc. It was like our own little apprenticeship, and a safe place to test and learn. 

CGI by Chilli Pepper Designs

We got really good very, very quickly. Our team grew from a couple of us to now having nine people in our CGI team. The images we made were supplied to our wholesalers, and with those they were able to sell product from containers before the goods had even landed in their country, by using the images as marketing materials. Very quickly, I recognised CGI as a very powerful tool to promote and sell furniture. 

Is there anything you miss about traditional photography?

No! The traditional photoshoots were always costly, took too much time planning, preparing, organising, location scouting, organising a small army of people to be involved, stylists, accessorising, logistics, photographers, etc, etc. I do not miss them at all.

Chilli Pepper Designs may be a furniture-focused service, but are you at all inspired by how other sectors employ CGI?

Yes, film, and Toy Story by way of example – it’s completely revolutionised the way we watch film. Also, architectural visualisations depicting grand scheme projects, which give you the ability to tour buildings that don’t even exist yet!

What five reasons do you most commonly hear for why people won’t embrace CGI marketing – and how do you refute them?

1. “CGI is too costly”

We used to do photoshoots, and what would end up costing around £6000-8000 now costs a fraction of the price owith CGI, and takes no time at all in comparison.

2. “CGI looks fake” 

Ask us to forward our CGI portfolio. Pictures can’t lie!

3. “Traditional photoshoots are more authentic” 

We make scenes based on whatever you want the CGI scene to be like. We even let you choose the camera angles!

4. “Traditional photoshoots are more tactile, and a nicer process to go through” 

Not true. They can be a time burden and add more stress to already-busy schedules when it comes to sourcing a location, organising a team to get to the location, the logistics involved in getting the product to the location, photographers’ occasional limit on shots, cropping and editing photos, getting cut-outs done, etc. 

With CGI, all that pain goes away.  We can create imagery before the product is even made, and you don’t even need to leave your office to get scenes that suit your taste, style, look and brand. Based on your requirements, we can create everything for you, and you can start promoting with hyper-realistic imagery before a container even ships. It’s a far easier, nicer, calmer, less stressful, less expensive and more efficient way to get your product and lifestyle shots done. 

5. “CGI scenes can’t include accessories and furniture – it’s impossible to create full, real scenes” 

We can actually model and create any piece of furniture, and we create clients’ accessories, lighting, rugs … literally anything. We then place all of the brand’s items into the room that they commission us to create.  

Many CGI companies will not make 100% of the furniture and artifacts that go into a scene. We will, and do, because with our roots in the furniture world we understand the need for an image to sell all of a retailer’s/brand’s goods from one image. You are creating a lifestyle, and we know you want the customer to buy all of your items. 

How simple is the onboarding process at Chilli Pepper Designs?

It’s really simple. Most clients are sceptical about CGI because they don’t understand it. I spend most of my time talking clients through the process, how it works, what to expect, and making sure they can supply what we need to get started. We will often trial a project for them to gain their confidence, and to show them how simple the CGI process can be. The client is usually blown away at what they receive.

At the same time, the client then sees how little they need to do, can compare the associated time and money savings through using CGI. Seriously, the CGI furniture and interior scenes we create are so good, there really is no reason not to try it. 

If you’ve never tried CGI for furniture visualisations – be it product or lifestyle – then, seriously, do. Having a business in the furniture world and another in the CGI world, the two work in synergy for me. 

I really have no doubt you’ll end up asking yourself why you didn’t do it sooner. The CGI world has moved on, and for furniture needs, I think we are leading the pack. Give me a call – if you try it, I bet you’ll never go back!

This article was published in the July 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine (see related).

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