CGI: Five Big Trends in Graphics for Factual TV

We wondered: “What’s going on in the world of CGI?”  

 Average production budgets are shrinking, but viewers demand ever more sizzle to maintain their attention.

 At Real Screen, we caught up with Andy Davies-Coward – a friend and colleague who is creative director of 422 South which is based in Bristol UK. 

Andy has been a leading creative and company director in the UK graphics sector for 20+ years.

He kindly shared his Five Big Takeaways on how his CGI studio responds to changing commissioning practices, budgets and new technical solutions.

First, here’s a clip:

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By Andy Davies-Coward
422 South

1.Budgets Are Tight

  • Generally budgets for CGI are lower – reflecting the trends in the industry as a whole.
  • Title sequences are rarely commissioned– except for long-run series where producers are keen to cement audience loyalty.
  • Program content CGI is usually commissioned while in the post, and is often sacrificed if budget overruns have occurred earlier in the production.

2.CGI-dependent Co-development and Co-production

  • Bucking the trend for lower budgets is a relatively small number of commissions with concepts that pivot on CGI.
  • An ambitious CGI project usually requires input from a CGI studio before a proposal is submitted to a broadcaster.
  • This might take the form of advice on budgeting, but it might also include a creative and editorial contribution.
  • Co-development of this kind might evolve into a co-production arrangement, or even investment – in 422 South’s case through our parent company, the distributor Parthenon – where an international partnership might unlock funds that would otherwise be unavailable.

3. Science Is Hot!

  • Geology is a great story – but one that’s been hard to make visually exciting for TV audiences.
  • CGI has provided the answer.
  • New software like Terragen and Vue allow artists to build fantastically realistic terrain quickly and accurately – then to show it changing over time.
  • The technique opens up all kinds of program possibilities – including shows on topics that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.
  • Click here for 422‘s sample reel of terraforming.
  • Examples include 

4. Data-based Animation Packs a Punch

  • It’s a new visual language: It’s not just the whim of a CGI artist, but the real world seen through the lens of data.
  • It might sound dry, but it can pack an emotional punch.
  • Here’s a link to clips from 422.
  • Audiences have responded extremely positively to shows like Britain from Above and Germany from Above which use GPS data to fuel revealing CGI sequences. (See the BBC YouTube clip above).
  • America Revealed is next in line on PBS.
  • Expect more to follow!

5. Making Re-enactments Affordable

  • Shooting a convincing re-enactment on a tight budget is a major hurdle.
  • Drawn animation – as seen in Waltz with Bashir, is seen as too challenging for some audiences.
  • But a new approach called photo-enactment uses specially-shot still photography in multi-layered composites.
  • Done well, the result can be more stylish and less expensive than conventional re-enactment.
  • We hope to share completed examples soon with DocumentaryTelevision.com.

Click here for more on Andy Davies-Coward and 422 South

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Speaking Engagements
(Peter Hamilton)

Asian Side of the Doc
Tokyo, March 19-22
The U.S. Feature Doc Slot / Workshops

MIPDoc
Cannes, March 30
Panel: How to Get the Funds

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