Digitizing Lowe’s Entire Catalog for Virtual Shopping Experiences

This article is part of a series focusing on the 3D industry in India. Read more here.

For the past few years, the trend in the retail industry has been to digitize its product catalogs, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accentuated the need for companies to engage in full-digital shopping experiences. According to a 2020 McKinsey study, “the online share of fashion and apparel in Europe and North America is to increase by 20 to 40 percent during the next 6 to 12 months”.  

Bangalore-based product visualization studio House of Blue Beans has been surfing this trend, specializing in creating hyperreal content through CGI for companies around the world, including Lowe’s Home Improvement

House of Blue Beans has been using the Substance toolset to recreate Lowe’s entire product catalog, making the product visualization process faster, more flexible and of higher quality, demonstrating the benefits of a full CGI pipeline versus a traditional photography pipeline. 

As Mike Gil, manager at Lowe’s advertising services, states: “They consistently deliver high-quality CGI imagery for our 3D models and Room Scenes […]. Utilizing their expertise and attention to detail, we were able to develop a streamlined process which in return has given us faster turnaround times and lower cost.” 

Let’s have a look at the story of House of Blue Beans, and how they integrated Substance into their 3D pipeline. 

House of Blue Beans share their story

House of Blue Beans was founded by Kaushik and Keshav Vijay back in 2011. The first three years of our journey as a 3D visualization startup explored a wide range of industries through a variety of applications of 3D art and technology.

Over the course of the next five years, we specialized in building customized CG content pipelines from online retail startups to retail giants such as Target and Lowe’s Home Improvement. Thanks to this, we amassed significant domain knowledge that enables us to be a “Visual Content Transformation Partner” for retailers across the globe.

The key to our success in this niche space is our domain knowledge and the right blend of 3D artistry and technology combined with our ability to be nimble and leverage powerful tools available in this space.

House of Blue Beans’ Vision

Consumers today are able to access a wide range of information when it comes to making purchasing decisions. Much of the time, the visuals that come up during a customer’s research are generated through conventional photography. And yet getting the vaunted ‘perfect shot’ doesn’t come easily or cheaply – photoshoots are frequently time-consuming and expensive, and the images that result can only be used for very specific purposes.

Creating 3D images, by contrast, is cheaper and faster than a conventional photo shoot, and has the advantage of creating future-proof assets that open up the possibility of augmented and virtual shopping experiences, as such technology gradually becomes more mainstream. We are currently working on using our customers’ data to create rich visual search experiences for their customers, in line with the current trend of image recognition technologies making headway within various aspects of the retail industry. HoBB as a company provides solutions that cover the entire spectrum from creating CG content that replaces still photography and video content to using CG content to build shopping experiences based on AR/VR and image recognition.

Substance Pipeline

Our production pipeline delivers content for hyperreal CG content that is extremely high fidelity, as well as low-fidelity yet photorealistic CG content for real-time rendering engines used for AR/VR.

The effort involved in bridging the gap between photorealistic low-fidelity assets created on one set of tools and high-fidelity assets created on another set was significant until we adopted Substance. This transformed the way in which the artists worked and collaborated, and the ease across various software tools with which we were able to achieve photorealism was astonishing!

Breakdown

We’ve built a state-of-the-art asset-publishing tool, which we call ‘Trestle,’ that bridges the gap between various tools of the trade. This tool helps our 3D artists along the entire lifecycle of the CG asset all the way from when its modeled in software like Blender, 3ds Max/Maya to all forms of its delivery such as rendering engines Cycles and V-Ray, and real-time engines like Unity and Unreal.

We primarily use Substance Painter and Substance Designer for most of our texturing and material work, and the Substance Source library is quite handy, too, during crunch deadlines!

With a combination of Substance outputs and Trestle we’re able to generate photorealistic renders of products against white backdrops automatically without any artistic intervention! We’re also working on automating our lifestyle imagery through this and we have gotten as far as previsuals, which are a great start.

Asset Management

Our asset publisher, Trestle, automatically converts a mesh file and texture file into a file that is ready for multiple rendering engines. Since our artists follow a methodical workflow that outputs multiple fidelities of assets, Trestle packages the right combination of mesh and texture fidelity in order to package it for the real-time and photorealistic rendering use cases.

Trestle makes it possible for our lighting team to easily integrate assets into the respective rendering software, i.e. Cycles, V-Ray, and Corona, and to achieve a hyperreal visual without too much manual work. It also makes it easy for our engineering team to publish high-quality assets for VR & AR applications.

Scenestyler

‘Scenestyler’ is our cloud-based previsualization product that enables creative and art directors to create scenes in an interactive 3D environment. The product is focused on enabling creative iterations using 3D interactive technology, so it can cut down the iteration time for content production. The unique aspect of this product is that it plugs into an automated cloud-rendering engine (patent pending), which provides near-photorealistic visuals of the customized scene extremely rapidly.

All images courtesy of House of Blue Beans and Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Read more about 3D in India here.