Computer-generated imagery (CGI) in Transformers media has gone through four phases thus far.
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of computer graphics to create or contribute to images in art, printed media, video games, films, television programs, shorts, commercials, videos, and simulators. The visual scenes may be dynamic or static and may be two-dimensional (2D), though the term "CGI" is most commonly used to refer to 3D computer graphics used for creating scenes or special effects in films and television. Additionally, the use of 2D CGI is often mistakenly referred to as "traditional animation", most often in the case when dedicated animation software such as Adobe Flash or Toon Boom is not used or the CGI is hand drawn using a tablet and mouse.
The term 'CGI animation' refers to dynamic CGI rendered as a movie. The term virtual world refers to agent-based, interactive environments. Computer graphics software is used to make computer-generated imagery for films, etc. Availability of CGI software and increased computer speeds have allowed individual artists and small companies to produce professional-grade films, games, and fine art from their home computers. This has brought about an Internet subculture with its own set of global celebrities, clichés, and technical vocabulary. The evolution of CGI led to the emergence of virtual cinematography in the 1990s where runs of the simulated camera are not constrained by the laws of physics.
The Generation 2 "cartoon" was simply the Generation One cartoon with a new CGI opening, and new scene-transitions featuring the nefarious Cybernet Space Cube. These segments added nothing but glitz to the cartoon, and are mostly forgotten.
The Beast Era
Both Beast Wars and Beast Machines were fully CGI, created by Mainframe Entertainment of Canada. Beast Wars was a bit primitive, even in its day. (It is notorious for lacking shadows except when vital.) Its animation quality improved steadily over time, most obviously in comparisons of the landscape between first and third seasons. Beast Machines was a further step forward, and holds up reasonably well even by modern standards. Both are praised for their good use of facial expressions and body language.
Energon and Cybertron
The last two-thirds of the Unicron Trilogy, Energon and Cybertron, both used shaded CGI for the Transformer characters, and traditional cel animation for almost everything else (humans, backgrounds, etc.). Some episodes (e.g., "City") used CGI for doing complex environments, particularly when the camera needed to be able to move through the city quickly.
In comparison to the Beast Era, the character animation in Energon and Cybertron is generally unimpressive. For an extensive discussion of its flaws, see Energon, Production flaws.
On the positive side, the character models are toy-accurate to a fault, reproducing the design and transformations of the toys in detail.
After 10 years, another fully CGI cartoon show has been released.
- If one includes the Generation 2 cartoon, then of the nine Transformers TV shows that have aired in the U.S., more than half have used CGI, and nearly half have used it extensively.