What does CGI stand for

CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery, and this term includes a wide range of various visuals. While often mistaken for VFX (visual effects), CGI technology is still something different.

In simple terms, VFX adds visual effects to already existing elements: actors, props, previously drawn features, etc. CGI may create something from scratch: movie characters (like Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings"), the whole animation ("Toy Story"), backgrounds, and settings.

Some movies consist of CGI effects up to 90%, especially "superhero blockbusters", such as "Avengers", "Guardians of the Galaxy", and others.

CGI effects

Where CGI is used

As already mentioned, CGI is used in different spheres, not just cinematographic production. Other examples include:

  • Science and R&D: creating 3D models and patterns;
  • Advertising and marketing: 2D images, 3D objects;
  • Animated movies;
  • Video games;
  • Pre-visualization to simulate actions of real actors;
  • Augmented reality: usually, it's a mobile app that enhances reality with additional features so that on the screen they look natural.

CGI can not only create something from scratch, but it can also significantly change the existing objects. For example, this technology has been used for aging and de-aging film characters without the need to change an actor. For instance, in "Irishman" (2019), we can enjoy "young" Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

Computer generated imagery

When CGI was invented

However unbelievable it may seem, CGI technology has existed for over 60 years. The first experiments didn't have much in common with modern high-tech projects, but the point still stands.

One of the milestones was the "Westworld" movie (1973), where CGI was used to module the robot's pixelated vision (as the movie's director imagines it). Then, of course, we should mention "Star Wars: Episode IV" (1977), "Tron" (1982) and "The Abyss" (1989). By the 1990s, more and more directors started making use of CGI, and as a result, we have such never-dying classic masterpieces as "Terminator 2" (1991), "Jurassic Park" (1993), and, of course, "The Matrix" (1995).

Then came an epoch of "firsts": "Toy Story" (1995) became the first CGI animated cartoon, and "The Lord of the Rings" (2001-2003) was the first movie in which a CGI character (Gollum) interacted with real actors.

Since the 2000s, the usage of computer-generated visuals has been growing like a rolling snowball. You can hardly find a film deprived of them, even biopics or dramas. Nowadays, it may be cheaper to shoot a scene on a green background and then create the environment with the help of CGI technology than to build real settings.

CGI in movies

The future of CGI

Started as simple 2D images, modern CGI rendering can reproduce the finest details of 3D objects, such as skin pores or wrinkles. One of the last breakthroughs is imitating the work of muscles — for example, in "The Jungle Book" (2016), where Mowgli is the only character not created by computer technologies.

Nevertheless, there is still some space to grow. For example, while CGI can successfully de-age actors, their movements still give their age away. Maybe, at the next step, in addition to capturing actors' facial expressions and gestures, CGI technologies will also be able to de-age their movements.

Anyway, it's crystal clear that CGI has come to stay, and its usage will grow.


What does CGI mean?

Briefly — Computer Generated Imagery. This notion includes a wide range of various visuals, renderings, and models.

What was the first movie with CGI?

The first CGI movie was Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (1958).

Who creates CGI effects?

CGI artists and 3D designers in close collaboration with project managers, programmers, and other specialists. CGI artists usually use complex tools and professional software. But you can dip a toe in the water and try to just edit your footage in a online video editor for the beginning.


Visual effects, especially computer-generated ones, are too various and complex to describe them all in one short article. Especially taking into account that technologies are changing at an exponential rate. Hopefully, now you have a rough idea of what they are and are not.