Early last year, Ben & Jerry's faced the kind of challenge most businesses dream of: home delivery of their ice cream was booming, in part because so many people were getting their meals delivered at home. To let more people know that they could get a pint of Ben & Jerry's delivered with their food, though, they needed lots and lots of images - pairing their many different flavors with popular delivery meals like pizza, curry, and hamburgers.
The solution: 3D virtual photography. Using 3D creation tools, they produced a huge number of visual assets in just a few weeks, pairing traditionally shot images of a pizza party, for instance, with 3D renderings of their ice cream. The approach made it quick and easy to swap Cherry Garcia in for Americone Dream in that pizza party image or change the American branding of a flavor for the Brazilian packaging. The images of the ice cream all looked perfectly mouthwatering, with just the right mix of ice cream and mix-ins, like cookie dough and chocolate, visible - something that can take a food stylist a long time to manage on a traditional set.
And best of all, "Anybody who looked at them wouldn't be able to tell that they weren't just shot using traditional photography," says Gail Cummings, Ben & Jerry's Global Digital Design Lead.
Business's embrace of 3D creation isn't new. Companies like Ikea and Amazon have been using 3D to create product images for years. And the vast majority of car commercials are rendered in 3D software, not shot. But forces like the pandemic and the insatiable appetite for new content has driven more companies to discover 3D creation. They've learned that this new form of creativity has many benefits that transcend our current situation and will make 3D increasingly important long after the pandemic is over. Among the advantages:
Speed and Cost: Cummings says Ben & Jerry's 3D images cost a fraction of what they would have if they'd been shot in person and her team was able to pull together a huge number of visual assets in weeks, not the months it would have taken otherwise. The reason is obvious: There's just no way to put together a photo crew, dress a set, and shoot multiple angles for the same price and as quickly as rendering an image through software.
Scalability and Localization: With 3D imagery, you can mix and match products and backgrounds to produce hundreds of different images in just a few hours. And you can swap in a background that connects with consumers in Japan or South Africa in a matter of minutes.
Sustainability: The carbon footprint of getting a crew of talented people together in multiple locations for photoshoots can be significant. Rendering those same images in 3D is far more ecologically friendly.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of 3D imagery is that it sells. TotalRetail.com reports that 3D configurator technology is proven to drive at least a 10 percent increase in sales over traditional methods.
For Dallas realtor James Sharp, the difference was even more striking. When Sharp started featuring 3D virtual tours of properties he represented, the technology drove a flood of new transactions that tripled his typical sales. The 3D tours were so successful that Sharp even decided to use one to sell his own house. He got multiple offers and sold to a buyer who had never seen his house in person.
Many companies are using 3D technology to produce assets they'll use in 2D in catalogs or websites. But the use of true 3D presentation, like virtual reality, augmented reality, and virtual try-on experiences, is growing as well. Lowe's, for instance, uses VR goggles to let customers mix virtual paint and apply plaster to virtual walls. The hardware company finds that user recall from those experiences is 36 percent higher than from watching a YouTube video. Macy's introduced virtual try-on last year and saw their return rate decrease to less than 2 percent.
The advantages of 3D don't only apply to creating marketing images, though. More and more companies are using 3D tools to speed design of their products themselves. Fashion brands, for instance, from heavyweights like Calvin Klein, Lands' End, and Tommy Hilfiger to luxury brand Pink, have all integrated 3D to both shrink costs and get products into stores more quickly.
"From the standpoint of a brand, 3D technology is fundamentally disruptive," says Sacha Djorkaeff, Pink Shirtmaker's head of client experience. "It shakes the current design and production processes to their core, presenting dramatic cost and time efficiencies, trimming down the process of visualizing a product from weeks or months to a matter of hours."
Okay, so there are great arguments for adopting 3D creation. But on the other side of the ledger is an understandable trepidation about jumping into a new and seemingly complex technology. There's a lot of good news here, though. The hardware used to capture 3D images is becoming more mainstream and affordable. 3D software is affordable and increasingly easy-to-use, thanks to artificial intelligence that takes care of much of the technical complexity.
How do you get started in 3D? Here are a couple best practices:
Hire an expert: While 3D may be new to many in retail and other businesses, it's been used in industries like gaming for years. Hiring someone with 3D design experience (as opposed to contracting with an outside agency) will help you assemble the tools and develop the processes that will help you succeed long-term in 3D design.
Commit to 3D: We're at an inflection point that's not unlike the dawn of the web at the turn of the century. The companies who succeeded then recognized that the web was their future and committed their business to that future. Succeeding with 3D requires that same kind of commitment. You can start small, but keep building for a long-term transition.
Whether you're mostly interested in creating engaging product images for your website or want to streamline your product design process, 3D creation can save you money, time and headaches. Now is the time to get started.