What Is CGI? Definition, Characteristics And Applications

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is a common animation method that professionals use in film and media. If you are interested in creating 3D images or using CGI in creative projects for visual media platforms, it is important for you to understand CGI and its applications. Learning about CGI can help you understand how this animation style works and why professionals often use it for various visual platforms. In this article, we answer the question, 'What is CGI?', explain its uses, describe its characteristics and outline the steps for how to become a CGI artist.

What Is CGI?

The answer to the question, 'What is CGI? is that it is a type of computer-generated animation. This style of animation allows digital artists to render characters, creatures, landscapes and special effects which they often use in visual media, like movies, TV shows or video games. Typically, this type of animation helps creative professionals design and implement immersive visual renderings of fantasy or science fiction effects that are difficult or impossible to create using practical effects. In some cases, media developers may only use CGI to create their products, while in other cases, they combine CGI with practical effects.

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What Is CGI Used For?

Artists and visual media professionals use CGI to create special effects. Instead of using practical effects, such as building sets to represent the landscape of a fantasy world, animators can use digital software to render visually intricate scenes. They can also use CGI to create characters and special effects.

For example, an artist can use CGI to create a superhero character who they animate to fly through a fantasy landscape. Creating these visuals may be less expensive and more efficient than creating practical effects. Instead of hiring an actor, using an intricate pulley system and building a set with fantasy elements, digital artists can use their skills to render an immersive and visually compelling CGI scene.

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Characteristics Of CGI

The characteristics of CGI make it applicable in many forms of visual media. Here are some examples of common characteristics of CGI:

  • 2D computer-generated imagery: One major characteristic of CGI is its ability to render two-dimensional images. For example, CGI artists can create textures, text, backgrounds, objects and environments as two-dimensional shapes.

  • 3D computer-generated imagery: CGI artists can also use digital software to create three-dimensional images. This means rendering objects, environments, figures and spaces that portray depth within a space.

  • Composite imagery: Composite imagery refers to combining composed elements of different images and photographs. For example, a CGI artist can take the visual elements from multiple renderings and combine them into a graphic, creating the illusion of unity between these elements.

  • Realism: Another characteristic of CGI is its ability to create realistic visual objects. When executed well, CGI can look authentic, which can help audiences feel immersed in the visuals it portrays.

Applications Of CGI

CGI has applications in many fields. Although CGI artists most often work in fields related to visual media, they can also work in technical roles. For example, an engineering firm may work with CGI artists to render interactive graphics that help them design innovative machinery. Here are some common applications for CGI:

  • Films

  • Real estate

  • Art

  • Marketing

  • Engineering

  • Television

  • Video games

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Who Uses CGI?

Professionals in many industries use CGI or work alongside CGI design professionals. Here are some examples of professionals who work with CGI:

  • Creative directors

  • Producers

  • Animators

  • Marketers

  • Lighting artists

  • Sound artists

  • Production managers

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How To Become A CGI Artist?

If you are interested in working as a CGI artist, here are some steps you can take to get started:

1. Identify your career goals

The first step toward becoming a CGI artist is defining your career goals. Since CGI artists can work in many industries, knowing what type of CGI artist you want to be can help you determine your career path. For example, if you want to work in the film industry, you may supplement your education by choosing a minor in film studies. You may also pursue internships or volunteer opportunities that help you gain skills, experience and networks within your preferred industry.

When determining your career goals, reflect on your professional interests, current skills, lifestyle and resources. Research the typical career path for your preferred position, and consider whether you have the right resources to pursue your goals. It can take time to become a CGI artist, and many professionals in this field pursue higher education degrees to qualify for their positions. Develop a plan for fulfilling your credentials, gaining industry experience, creating a professional portfolio and getting started in your preferred industry. Setting short-term and long-term goals can help you on your career path.

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2. Pursue relevant education

CGI artists typically earn a bachelor's degree to qualify for their roles. Some common degrees for CGI artists include computer graphics, computer science, art, animation and film studies. It is common for CGI artists to have experience in the arts that they wish to transition into a digital application. For this reason, professionals in this role often pursue degrees in computer-aided design or related subjects to gain the technical skills required in their field. While it may be possible to become a CGI artist without a bachelor's degree, some hiring managers may prefer professionals who have a degree.

A typical bachelor's degree takes four years of full-time study to complete. You may spend more time completing your degree if you choose to study on a part-time basis. Depending on your career goals, you may choose to enrol in a school that specialises in art, animation or computer design. For example, attending an animation school may help you access resources and opportunities specifically for animation students. Make sure to research your education options carefully and choose the programme that best suits your career goals and professional interests.

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3. Develop your professional portfolio

Start building your professional portfolio. As a professional artist, your portfolio demonstrates the types of projects you have experience with, along with your skills. You may start your portfolio even before you begin your education and continue to develop it throughout your training. As you begin your career, you may use your portfolio to find jobs or internship opportunities that can help you advance in the field. Over time, you can continue to build onto and develop your portfolio by adding your professional projects to it. Here are some considerations for developing a portfolio:

  • Prioritise quality over quantity.

  • Include options that demonstrate your versatility.

  • Demonstrate your originality to make your portfolio memorable.

  • Offer context for each piece you include.

  • Be flexible and update your portfolio regularly with your most recent or relevant work.

  • Describe your pieces, including your goals for each and what techniques you used.

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4. Gain experience

It is important to gain relevant experience if you plan to become a CGI artist. You may pursue opportunities, like volunteering or interning in your preferred industry, before you finish your education. Another option is to work on independent projects that help you gain skills and showcase your abilities. While gaining experience in your preferred industry, make sure to focus on developing your professional network. CGI artists who want to work in film, television or other forms of media can benefit from developing strong connections with professionals who have established themselves in the field.

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5. Continue your education

As part of your career development, consider opportunities to continue your education. You may enroll in a certification programme to gain more specific skills or you can pursue another higher-education opportunity, like a master's degree. Earning an advanced education degree can be a great way to improve your portfolio, gain specialised skills and make your job application more competitive. You may also meet other professionals in the field while attending classes to earn additional credentials.

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