Why Ikea Items Look So Good... In the Catalog

Aug 29, 2014

Ever wonder why your Ikea chair or sofa doesn’t look quite the same as the one in the catalog? Turns out that many of the glossy images you've been drooling over aren’t actually photos of a physical chair, sofa, or any other object placed in front of a camera. Instead, the Swedish furniture firm uses 3D rendering technology to create digital models of their products, which can then be dropped into any room or scene the artists and photographers create. That way, they can easily tweak anything from the angle of the chair to the sunlight reflecting through the window to the placement of the fruit bowl on the table.

According to a post from the CG Society, an organization for digital artists, Ikea now uses the technology to create 75% of the product images in its catalog. The firm told CG Society that using 3D rendering is less expensive and logistically easier than trying to ship items from all over the world to be photographed. It also allows for more flexibility. For example, if an item is changed, it can simply be digitally tweaked rather than reshot.

Of course, this technology also allows the company to get the absolute “perfect” shot. “With a lot of those images from Ikea I could tell immediately they were done with 3D,” says Shamus Clisset, a New York City artist who generates his creations using similar technology, and has a show opening next week at Postmasters Gallery in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood. “It is just a little too perfect about everything. The hard thing to get right in 3D is the imperfection.”

For instance, when you build an Ikea chair yourself, it may have a little nick or scratch—imperfections you're unlikely to see in a digitally-rendered image, unless they're added. Similarly, if you screw together a table, one of the legs may not stand completely straight, causing the table to tilt ever so slightly. The computer, on the other hand, can generate a perfectly geometric table.

To be fair, companies have always used tricks to create the best possible images of their products. “It isn’t that different from how product shoots were done in the past,” Clisset says. “When you see a bowl of cereal on the front of a box, it isn’t milk in the photo. You use glue instead because you have more control over it. Now it's just done digitally.”

Clisset explains that the technology has come a long way in the last ten years, to the point where 3D artists can create images that are indistinguishable from an actual photo. “I have been doing the 3D stuff for almost ten years, and when I first started out people couldn’t even grasp the concept,” he says. “But today people are getting more familiar with it.”

Now an artist—or furniture company—can choose between, say, many different types and colors of wood, and simply digitally render them onto a model product, such as a floor or table.

You're also likely to see this technology in auto ads, says Clisset. Want the car in the mountains? Sure. Desert? No problem. City? Just decide where to place the people.

Here is a thread that includes before and after shots from television and movies produced with the help of these techniques.

The challenge now for consumers will be to be able to discern what is real, and what is digitally created. That is, if they even care.

Click here for the original CGSociety post, which includes photos.

Sign Up for Our Newsletters

Sign up to receive the latest updates and smartest advice from the editors of Money