Contracts for 3D Imagery

Contracts for 3D imagery tend to be pretty straightforward, especially when compared to the legal documents for actual construction projects. We highlight the parts of a contract that are unique to creating 3D images.

So here’s a recap of where we’re at in the process: we’ve come to a good verbal understanding of why the client needs a rendering, what needs to be rendered, when the rendering needs to be completed, on what media it will be delivered, and how much it will cost. At this point, our studio sends out a quick email that outlines the above. If the client gives us a green light, we move to the next step, generating a formal contract.

Typical Contract Outline

Contracts for 3D imaging work tend to be pretty simple, usually requiring less than 10 pages to spell everything out. Here’s the outline of the one we use in our practice:

  • I. Project Description
  • II. Services, Fees and Schedule
    • A. Services
    • B. Fees
    • C. Schedule
  • III. Additional Services
  • IV. Terms and Conditions
    • A. Conditions of Contract
    • B. Client Responsibilities
    • C. Reimbursable Expenses
    • D. Extra Services
    • E. Billing and Payment
    • F. Ownership & Rights to Documents
    • G. Client Representative

Some of the outline topics above are self explanatory. Some of them merit more discussion, in particular the ones that are confined to the process of creating 3D imagery, and are therefore most likely to be unfamiliar.

Section I – Project Description

This defines where the project is located, why the images are required and the anticipated set of uses. It also spells out the legal names of the entities involved in the contract.

Section II – Services, Fees and Schedule


This is one of the most important parts of the contract in that it specifies exactly what’s included in the job. Here is a list of what is typical for our work:

  • Kickoff meeting – this gets everybody on the same page and provides an overview of the process for everyone involved
  • Data gathering of all files and documents necessary to build and texture the 3D model
  • Explicit definitions of camera view locations, and if animations, the path of the camera, which define what is to be modeled, textured, lit and rendered.
  • If the rendering is an exterior image, what will be included with the structure, for example site work, landscaping, people, cars, etc.
  • If the rendering is an interior shot, what items are included in addition to the design, for example, furniture, window coverings, people, etc.
  • Drafts and Review Sessions – how many draft images will be created for review and comment
  • The definitions of the deliverables; for example still renderings, animations or photo-composites, and how many of each
  • The format of the deliverables; for example whether they are to be digital files delivered electronically, hardcopy prints; DVDs, YouTube animations, etc.


It’s important to point out that our contracts use the term “fee” as distinct from “price” or “cost”. “Fee” is designated as the amount of money payable for services. “Cost” is the amount of money to be paid for a thing or activity related to the services, for example postage or mileage. This usage is in part due to differentiate the fact that services are not subject to sales tax.

Fees come in three varieties:

  • Fixed Fee – A total, fixed fee is calculated for the completion of an entire job.
  • Hourly – The job sets a price per hour and then bills by the number of hours required to complete the job. This is useful when the scope of a project cannot be defined, for example when a design has not been finalized, and an indeterminate number of iterations will rendered.
  • Hourly not to Exceed – This sets an hourly rate with a capped maximum amount not to be exceeded. This is useful if a project’s scope can almost, but not quite be determined, for example when one of three design ideas will be rendered, but which of the three cannot be determined at the time the contract is signed.


Besides specifying the date for the final deliverable, this section lays out the intermediate milestones. A schedule will include the following:

  • Kickoff Meeting
  • Deadlines to submit all the documents required to complete the modeling and texturing
  • Draft Submittals to the Client
  • Typical turn-around time to receive client comments

Section III Additional Services

The most common additional service occurs when the design of the project is changed after work has begun, requiring modifications and extra labor not envisioned by the original contract. In this case, an addendum to the contract with the additional amount is sent to the client for signature. Our contract is explicit about this detail: we will build the model once, from one set of documents, and any alterations are made thereafter are treated as additional services.

Other less common additional services are:

  • Additional meetings not specified in the original contract, for example a community meeting at which the images will be presented
  • Preparing written responses requested by a review agency

Section IV – Terms and Conditions

This section spells out information applicable to the entire contract. The ones that merit further mention are:

  • What happens if work is stopped. Stopping work means the project is put on hold with the anticipation that work will be resumed at a later time. Our contract allows for a hold of up to 60 days. After 60 days, the contract is subject to renegotiation.
  • What happens if the project is cancelled by the client. Our contract spells out milestones and corresponding percentages of completion. If work is stopped, the client is billed up to that level of completion.
  • The client’s responsibilities, the most important of which is providing direction and feedback in a timely manner so as to not delay deadlines
  • A schedule of payments due, and how payments may be made.
  • Ownership rights to the images. The client has the right use the images as defined by the terms of the contract. When the images are to be used outside of the stated contract terms, the client is requested to credit the renderer.
  • Ownership rights to underlying instruments. This means the files that created the images. It is standard practice that all files and any other assets used to create the 3D images are retained by the renderer and are not part of the deliverable. There are several reasons for this:
    • Many renderers, including us, use proprietary methods or assets in the creation of their 3D images. Distributing the underlying files would compromise the competitive integrity of these techniques.
    • Distribution of non-proprietary assets used in the creation of an image would often violate the terms of using these assets. Restricted distribution is standard in all of the libraries we use, for example collections of trees and people.
    • File sizes necessary to create most 3D images are quite large. Gathering, organizing and distributing all these assets is not a trivial task.

Once a contract is signed, it’s time for the next phase: Production.