Much attention is given to the technology companies that successfully introduce disruptive innovations.  And rightfully so, especially when the products are consumer focused, they should receive the sole credit.  However, for business-to-business innovation, the initial customer company that is the very first adopter of the new technology, deserves just as much credit.  If you are the corporate executive in charge of such a go/no go decision on whether to implement an untested emerging technology, you deserve all of our heroic respect, especially when the innovation later becomes an industry standard.  

In 2005, while Apple and Google were in the midst of rolling out 'your-life-will-never-be-quite-the-same' products, such as iPod, iTunes and Maps, Analytics respectively, one leading corporate brand adopted a digital innovation that would revolutionize its industry worldwide.  No, it did not happen in Silicon Valley; neither was there a celebrity CEO on stage at a user conference to announce it.  No fanfare, no news.  Yet, 10 years on, if you are not well versed in 3D visualization, virtual garage, computer graphic imaging (CGI), rendering, augmented reality and virtual reality, you will have a tough time (or have to catch up very quickly) working for an Automotive brand in either marketing or design.  In fact, in an earlier post, I wrote about Apple and Google getting into this sector as well with billion dollar investments.

True, prior to 2005, computer visualization had been used in Automotive Engineering already.  But in order to use it in other areas such as marketing, advertising, commercials, sales, digital, interactive, mobile and design, the critical hurdle was to prove that computer graphics could achieve photo-realism. Can computers render not just a car exterior, which was hard due to a car's layered metallic and glossy paints, but also in particular a complete car interior photo-realistically, which was until then impossible due to the complex visual properties of light bouncing off different materials.  The human eye and mind is incredibly adapt at noticing even the smallest mistakes and picking out a fake. So the challenge was to create a rendered image at such a high quality that even a car enthusiast could not see the difference between a photo and a computer generated image.

In 2005, the above image of the then pre-launch Lexus LS 460 was the very first advertisement image that was made solely with computers (no photography) that fooled even the most experienced photographers.  In fact, once it was understood what this achievement meant, it spread very quickly to other automotive brands.  It set a true revolution in motion that would fundamentally change the automotive marketers' and designers' toolbox.  It opened the door to online Build-Your-Own car configurators and the subsequent introduction of a new industry term: Virtual Garage, a digital place where automotive brands 'park' their virtual vehicles, carefully prepared and ready to be used for marketing or design visualization purposes.  

The Lexus LS image that I used above is a lower resolution version than the original, but the fact that I was able to find it online after ten years shows its timeless quality.  I can assure you that the original ultra high resolution image would still blow you away if you were to see it up close.

With thanks to all corporate executives that adopt innovation early.

Companies to watch

  • Lexus, a luxury automotive brand and digital innovation pioneer.
  • Dassault Systemes 3DExcite, a real-time, high-end 3D visualization company, whose software was used in the above image.
  • Autodesk, a 3D visualization company, whose software was used in the above image.
  • A & M Creative Services, a high-end industrial CGI, Animation and VFX services company.