What is CGI animation? An In-Depth Look

The method of employing software to produce static or animated visual data is known as computer-generated imagery or CGI. The most common definition of “CGI” is the use of 3D computer graphics to create characters, scenes, and special effects for films, television shows, and video games. What steps must I take? Using specialized computer systems and software,

What is CGI animation? CGI is the process of producing animated visuals. Artists who specialize in animation and visual effects use modeling and animation techniques to create people, things, and surroundings. Then, CGI creations can be readily merged into real-world video or used to create lengthy animated films.

In this article, you will examine what CGI means, go into its history, and explain how it actually operates.

What is CGI Animation, and How Does It Work?

What does CGI stand for? CGI stands for computer-generated imagery. It’s the creation of moving images using computer software and hardware. The technique of creating animated films, TV shows, commercials, and video games utilizing CGI Three-dimensional (3D) animations of people, objects, and environments are created using computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation.

These models are then changed, animated, and made to move and behave differently in a virtual environment by animators. They describe specifics such as character movement, facial expressions, lighting, camera angles, and more. All of this data is converted into actual images and films using rendering software.

The Toy Story films, Frozen, and Avatar are a few well-known examples of CGI animation in animated motion graphics. On TV, you’ve probably seen CGI animation in shows like Game of Thrones for its dragons and The Mandalorian for its spaceships and exotic alien creatures.

The History of CGI and How It Has Evolved

When was computer-generated imagery invented? The current media’s extensive use of animation and visual effects has transformed them. 

The opening of Vertigo (1958), A Computer Animated Hand (1972), and other early CG-heavy movies all predate 1973’s Westworld, the first live-action picture to incorporate CGI into the plot.

Throughout the 20th century, live-action films advanced in their CGI inclusion. The computer animation in Star Wars (1977) was wireframe. Real actors were first used in a CG world in Tron (1982). The first live-action movie to use a computer-generated character was Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which is generally agreed upon. Films like The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) contributed to the advancement of CG liquid textures. Furthermore, to create realistically textured, moving dinosaurs for Jurassic Park (1993), physical effects were combined with computer graphics.

As software became more widely available and computer speeds rose in the 2000s, CGI was used in movies considerably more frequently. Several CGI-heavy properties made their premiere, including Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series (which revolutionized motion capture). It was also employed in smaller projects, including District 9 (2009), to realize its alien people and technology. 

But the film Avatar (2009) completely changed what CGI could do. It was the highest-grossing movie of all time and featured a sizable computer-generated universe that perfectly mixed actual performers and effects. creating a path for other blockbusters with massive special effects, like the MCU. As limitless as the imagination is, the options are virtually limitless.


The Basic Process of Creating CGI Animation

To create CGI animation, animators go through a multi-step creative process. At a high level, the basic steps involve:

Concept Development

Creating a concept or idea for the animation is the first step. This could be an animated version of an existing tale or brand, a fresh story, or the depiction of a client’s product. A lot of brainstorming and storyboarding happens at this stage to flesh out the overall vision.

Character Design

Following concept approval, illustrators create the animation’s characters, backdrops, objects, and other visual components. This entails determining character traits, including personality, physical appearance, body shape, attire, etc. Before being finished, the designs go through several iterations of review and refinement.


Following that, 3D artists create models of the concepts using CGI modeling programs like Maya, 3ds Max, or Blender.
This means creating 3D models, essentially digital sculptures, of characters and objects. The models capture details like forms, textures, lighting, and movement.


Rigging refers to creating a digital skeleton for the 3D models that will allow the characters and objects to move realistically. The rigging process involves setting up joints, controls, and constraints within the model. Animators then test and refine the rigs to ensure fluid movement.

Scene Layout

With the models and rigs ready, animators block out and choreograph the scenes. They determine staging, camera angles, lighting, character performance, timing, and other details required to visually lay out each scene. Storyboards and animatics created in the concept stage are used as references. Multiple layout iterations are done before the animation begins.


Animators then use the rigs to animate the characters and bring the scenes to life. They manipulate the rigs over many frames to create smooth and expressive movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Other details like cloth, hair, and particle simulations are also animated to achieve a realistic look and feel.

Rendering and Editing

The final step is rendering the animation by combining all the elements together with effects like lighting, texturing, and cinematography. Editing is then done, including adding music, sound, titles, and any final touches before the project is complete.

CGI animation production is a long but rewarding process that results in visually stunning masterpieces.

What is the Difference Between CGI and VFX?

A form of animation or illustration known as “computer-generated imagery” (CGI) uses computer programs to generate characters and motion. The field of visual effects (VFX) focuses on enhancing already-existing imagery or video. The focus of VFX professionals is on seamlessly integrating their work into the existing images, even though they may incorporate computer-generated material. Although this mixing occurs in post-production, visual effects artists may have been involved during filming or animation in order to add visual effects afterward.

VFX includes CGI. In the closing stages of a film, visual effects (VFX) are employed to create pictures, which may comprise CGI (computer-generated imagery) models, artworks, or other elements. However, CGI and VFX can be produced separately and without collaborating.

Understanding the differences between CGI and VFX can help you appreciate the labor that goes into producing realistic fantasy worlds on film, even if they are frequently used in conjunction with visual effects-heavy projects.

CGI: Building a Scene from Scratch

CGI involves using 3D computer animation and modeling to create characters, objects, and environments from scratch. Animators start with a blank digital canvas and build all the assets and details to craft a complete scene.

VFX: Manipulating the Real World

VFX, or visual effects, involves taking live-action footage and manipulating it to create visuals that can’t be captured during principal photography. VFX artists add computer-generated elements like set extensions, weapons, creatures, spaceships, or fantastical environments. Often, VFX involves compositing CGI assets into live footage to create a seamless blend of real and unreal elements.

For example, in a film like Avengers: Endgame, much of the movie was shot on real sets and locations. VFX artists then used CGI to add details like Thanos’ massive army, the Infinity Gauntlet, and the full CGI character of Rocket Raccoon. VFX provides more flexibility and realism than pure CGI. It also typically requires less computing power since animators are building on live footage.


What Does a CGI Animator Do?

You have a responsibility as a CGI animator to use animation and visual effects to animate the digital setting. You get to use ingenuity to do the unthinkable. Some of the main responsibilities of a CGI animator include:

Modeling 3D Characters and Environments

A graphic design technique called “3D character modeling” produces a three-dimensional digital representation of a surface or an object. Using specialized software, artists begin with a basic shape and gradually add additional elements to it.

Rigging and Animating

Once you have 3D models, you rig them by adding a virtual skeleton and controllers that animators can manipulate. You then animate the characters and objects by moving them frame by frame to create the illusion of movement. You make characters walk, talk, and emote realistically.

Texturing and Lighting

You enhance the look and details of 3D models by adding textures, colors, and lighting effects. Texturing involves applying images to the surface of models to add realism. Proper lighting, including shadows and highlights, helps make CGI creations look like they are part of the real world.


After models are built, rigged, animated, and enhanced, you render the final product as a video or still image. Rendering uses the computing power of animation software and computers to convert 3D scenes into 2D images and videos. Different camera angles and lenses can be used in the rendering process.

Collaborating With the Team

CGI animation is often a collaborative process. You work with other animators, modelers, riggers, lighters, and renderers, as well as clients, directors, and producers. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are important to ensure all parts of an animation project come together seamlessly.

The potential applications of your work span films, TV shows, video games, product visualizations, virtual reality, and beyond. If you have a passion for animation and a drive to imagine the unimaginable, this could be the career for you!


The Future of CGI: What’s Next for Computer Animation?

CGI animation has come a long way since its early days. While traditional 2D animation and stop-motion are still used, CGI now dominates major animated films and visual effects in live-action movies. As computing power increases and new tools emerge, CGI will continue to transform animation and visual storytelling.

Greater Realism

Advances in rendering software and computing power will enable animators to achieve photorealistic graphics that are indistinguishable from live-action films. Animated characters, objects, and environments will appear incredibly lifelike and detailed. Films like The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019) show how far we’ve come, though there is still room for improvement.

Faster Production

New animation and rendering tools will streamline the CGI production process, allowing smaller teams to create high-quality work on tight schedules. Real-time rendering and physics-based animation will provide instant feedback and require less manual input from animators. Productions that once took years may now be achieved in months. This could democratize animation and open the door to new creators.

Virtual Production

As virtual and augmented reality become more advanced and widely adopted, they will transform how CGI films are made. Instead of animating characters and filming live-action plates separately, actors and CGI characters will share virtual sets. Directors will compose shots and see CG elements in real-time. This “virtual production” approach could blend live-action and animation in seamless, imaginative ways.

Interactive and Generative Storytelling

CGI will enable new forms of interactive and generative storytelling. The future of CGI is bright. As technology and creativity converge, computer animation will transform how we experience and interact with visual media. Animated worlds will become more immersive, characters more believable, and stories more responsive. The potential of CGI is limitless, yet there is still more to be done.


From blockbuster movies to viral YouTube videos, it shows how CGI allows creators to bring their wildest imaginations to life. As technology continues to advance, CGI animation will only become more realistic, seamless, and mind-blowing. Who knows what the next generation of CGI will enable?

Maybe one day we’ll have immersive virtual reality experiences that transport us into the world of animation. Until then, sit back and enjoy the show as CGI animation takes us on adventures we never thought possible!

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