Render Farms and Advertising in 3D

Advertising in 3D

Let’s explore the role of 3D graphics and render farms in creating effective marketing campaigns

It’s 3000 B.C. in Thebes, Egypt. A slave broke free from his owner. The owner searched for the runaway slave, posting a papyrus announcement around town. The papyrus bill also happened to promote the owner’s weaving shop.

This was the earliest evidence of advertising in human history.

It’s now 2023. You are walking to your favorite coffee shop. Along the way, you see an electronic billboard showing the latest lipstick from a makeup brand. At the crosswalk, a cab has signage mounted on its roof showing a poster for a film currently screening at cinemas near you. While waiting for your coffee you open Instagram and view your friend’s story. After your friend’s story plays out, a video ad for a ready-to-drink canned coffee appears.

This is advertising today. While a lot has changed since pre-Jesus Egypt, ads still function the same way: they are pieces of communication designed to trigger a specific action from the viewer. Whether it’s to order a product, watch a movie, or report a runaway slave, ads always have an agenda. 

How does an ad push its agenda? It first needs to capture attention. Especially now where people are bombarded by content (on YouTube alone, 500 hours of video are uploaded every minute), an ad has to find ways to turn people’s heads and get their eyes glued to it for as long as it takes to get the ad’s message across. And since humans are highly visual creatures, an ad’s effectiveness at capturing attention relies largely on the quality of its visuals.

This is where 3D and using a render farm comes in.

Evolution of advertising

This is the very first video advertisement ever:

As you can see, even from the earliest days of video advertising, visual effects have always been part of advertising. Even this simple, 10-second, 2D film had had to be designed and rendered by a team of artists. This was 1941 after all. 

The level of complexity of course only increased with time as visual techniques and technology progressed.

Before the internet and before smartphones put the internet in the hands of everyone, advertising was done mostly through radio, print (newspapers, billboards, posters, etc.), and television. In this era, photography and live-action filmmaking dominated the field. Brands spent huge amounts of money to get photographers and film directors to portray their products in the most flattering way on tarps and TV screens. Brands also spent huge sums to pay famous people to be in those photos and videos to showcase their products. 

Now, the biggest game in town is digital. With people spending more time on their phones than watching free TV (streaming is a different animal from the free TV of old that ran commercials on every show) or reading newspapers (many Gen Zers have never experienced reading actual broadsheets), it made sense for brands to run their ads on social media, search, and other online platforms. 

The increase in the amount of digital content led to an increase in the amount of digital ads. This of course means that there’s also an increase in the amount of competition for the viewer’s attention. Ads aren’t only competing against other ads; they are also competing against cat and dog videos, sports highlights, supermodel reels, dance covers, makeup tutorials, gaming streams, and the rest of what makes up digital content. 

Ads need to continually up the ante when it comes to capturing the viewer’s attention because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good an ad’s message is if it doesn’t even get a chance at delivering that message. Ads these days need to be visually stunning and conceptually engaging.

This is where 3D comes in.

The role of 3D in advertising

Because everything is possible with 3D graphics, there are practically no limits as to how 3D serves advertising. There are however recurring ways in which 3D is used in video materials designed to sell. Let’s talk about a few of the most common ones.

Visualizing the product benefit

From romanticizing how soft a shoe sole is to dramatizing how fuel acts inside an engine, 3D works well in bringing forward what may not or cannot be seen.

In this example, the 3D artist Clark James worked with CG surfacer Zach Cheatham to create a visual sequence that demonstrates the self-lacing technology of the NIKE.MAG shoe (inspired by the self-lacing shoes in the Back To The Future films). The challenge to the 3D team was to portray the key product technology before there was a product available. The duo completed the film in just 4 weeks, using Cinema 4D and V-Ray for rendering. Some rendering was done locally, some were done using an online render farm:

Visualizing the intangible

Sometimes, ads try to sell a feeling instead of a tangible function or benefit. 3D is adept at concretizing the abstract. Take this advert for Apple Music. How can you exactly visualize different music genres? The makers of this ad found a clever way to do so by rendering the app’s logo in different ways using 3D:

Creating impossible characters or situations

Who’s the best person to talk about the heritage of an Australian courier service company celebrating its 70th year? A talking kangaroo of course! 3D is the go-to tool for making the unreal real, just like how Colorbleed Studios did it in this video for TNT. The team used Maya, V-Ray, and Fusion to bring the photo-real Ken Kangaroo to life. Rendering was done via GarageFarm:NET’s online renderfarm service.

We have barely scratched the surface here when it comes to what 3D does for advertising. The main point here is that in the quest to capture the viewer’s ever-elusive attention, 3D is advertising’s key ally in creating visuals that grab and hold attention.

Render farms and advertising

If advertising only sticks to the current visual mediums that are available to it—TV, phones, laptops, cinema screens, electronic billboards—render farms will already have their hands full in rendering all the commercial projects that use 3D. 

But new visual platforms have emerged in recent years, and advertising is already exploring ways to capture eyeballs in them. Virtual reality and augmented reality blur the lines between screens and real life, elevating what traditionally has been considered just “viewing” to “experiencing.” VR and AR offer the tantalizing promise of more immersive experiences for consumers. As such, these platforms still rely on pre-rendered 3D to work, making render farms more and more essential to production teams.

Real-time rendering is also an innovation that may have a huge impact on advertising, particularly with regard to virtual production. Virtual production is a method of shooting cinematic scenes using live talents and real foreground elements in front of giant screens that provide the backgrounds and locations. While this technology utilizes real-time rendering engines like Unreal Engine 5 that don’t need render farms to generate final visuals, pre-rendered backgrounds may still play a role in shots where the camera is fixed. 

What’s this got to do with advertising, you say? Well, with virtual production, there is the potential of dramatically cutting down on production costs because the need for location shoots will be reduced. I used the word “potential” because currently, virtual production stages are still very pricey to book. But it is likely that the technology will be streamlined and costs will go down.

Final thoughts

3D can only become more involved with advertising, not less. The competition for people’s attention has only ever increased and this leads to the bar for visuals in advertising materials to be set higher and higher. As that bar goes up, so does the level of complexity in every frame that involves 3D graphics. And as that level of complexity goes up, so does the length of render times. Render farms are the best solution to render complex 3D scenes fast and within budget. Render farms will continue to be advertising’s friend.

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