Defining the Project Scope

In this phase, we create the road map for the entire project. It’s the opportunity to explore options and then precisely define the cost, schedule and deliverables.

Step 1: Define the Use

When our studio begins a new project, the first thing we need to know is why the client needs a 3D rendering. Are they showing a final design to a client? Are they going before a city council for permits? Or maybe they need images to pre-sell a new development. These are all very different purposes and require different approaches. The key point is that once we identify how the image will be used, a lot of subsequent decisions become clearer.

Here are the most frequent uses for renderings that we encounter in our practice, from most to least used. Notice that each use requires a different emphasis and strategic approach.

  • Entitlement – These are images submitted to a government agency that issues building permits. It is important that these images retain a strong factual basis and not be subject to manipulation that can distract from the objective assessment of the design.
  • Marketing – These are images meant to sell a property. While these images must retain a strong factual basis, these images allow a greater latitude for stylistic choices, for example strong or dramatic lighting.
  • Design Presentation – Most often this means an architect presenting his or her design to a client. Most architects have in-house capability to do initial design presentations by using tools like SketchUp. Final or critical design presentations sometimes require expertise or software beyond the capability of many in-house departments, and that’s when we get the call.
  • EIREnvironment Impact Report – documents that enumerate the anticipated changes a project would cause, for example traffic, pollution, shadow casting and viewsheds. In many permit jurisdictions, 3D imagery is now routinely expected and even required as a means of quantifying a project’s visual impact.
  • Fundraising – These are images designed to get donors excited about a project. Similar to the imagery in a marketing campaign, these images can be subject to stronger editorial license in order to create an emotional connection to the design.

It is worth noting that many clients can double-task and even triple-task their renderings by re-purposing them. For example, images created for entitlement can be used again, often without alteration, in marketing campaigns.

Step 2: Define the Deliverable

The deliverable is what will be handed to the client at the end of a project. It might be a still rendering, an animation or a fully edited video with voice-over and music. It’s important to note that the deliverable and the deliverable media format (see Step 3 below) are two separate considerations. For example, the still rendering can be delivered as a glossy print or as an image uploaded to a website.

The choices here are determined by a number of factors, most notably the scope of the project and the client’s budget. For example, does a single fixed camera tell the story, or do we need to add another view? Perhaps the project is so large and varied that an animation is the optimum way to express the design. Here’s a list of deliverable options:

  • Still Rendering – This places a camera in the 3D scene and renders a single view. 3D computer models allow unlimited flexibility where a camera can be placed: interior, exterior, bird’s eye, aerial – the sky’s the limit.
  • Photo Composite – A camera is placed into the 3D model and camera matched to an existing photograph. The resulting rendering is then composited into the photograph. This is a great choice for infill projects when there is a heightened concentration on how a design will fit into an existing context.
  • Animation – A camera is created in the computer model and animated along a path. This is a great choice when a design is too large to be understood with a still image, or when the design emphasizes an experience understandable only by moving through it.
  • Video Compositing – Similar to a photo composite, except an entire animation is composited into existing video footage. The labor, time and hardware required to do video compositing well make this an expensive option.
  • Video Production – When a story is best told using a combination of media – for example, stills, animation and live video – this is the deliverable to choose. The final product is usually edited with narration, music and titles, and can be delivered in a wide variety of media, like DVDs or streaming internet videos.

Here is a list of additional, less common deliverables:

  • Virtual Environment – This is similar to fully immersive 3D games – a user may navigate a 3D model and choose where to go and what to look at. This deliverable has great potential but is problematic because it usually requires the installation of software on the user’s computer, not to mention practice to navigate through the environment.
  • Panoramic Still – You might have seen these on real estate and hotel websites. A user is placed within a space and has the ability to see a full 360 degrees from a fixed spot within the space.
  • Shadow Cast Study – These are renderings or animations which show where the shadows of a proposed project will fall. These are useful in dense urban areas where adjacent property owners are keen to see if they will lose direct sunlight if the project is built.

Step 3: Define the Deliverable Media Format

Once we’ve determined the rendering’s purpose and deliverable, we need to know how we’re going to deliver the goods. For example, a still rendering might exist as a digital file on a website and never be used in a printed brochure. Or an animation of a new housing development might be shown within a PowerPoint presentation and later be added to a DVD to hand out to potential buyers in a sales office.

It’s important to understand one thing here: deciding on the deliverable format need not be written in stone. There is a huge amount of flexibility in delivering imagery created from a 3D model. However, the more we know about what that format is upfront, the more likely we are able to control costs, and avoid surprises related to changing the deliverable format.

Here’s a list of the most common media formats:

  • Digital Still Image Files – This is the format for 3D renderings that will be displayed on digital devices – for example on computer monitors, TVs and projectors. Images seen on websites and within a PowerPoint presentation are all digital still image files. Common file formats are JPG, GIF and PNG.
  • Hard Copy Prints – For example 8″ x 10″ prints on glossy paper. There are several printing methods available, each with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. The two main factors which guide the decision are the budget and how many prints are needed. 3D images intended for print are usually written in the TIFF file format.
  • Digital Animation & Video Files – This is the format for motion files that will be displayed on a digital device like computer monitors or projectors. Common examples are animations and videos that are seen on a website or as part of a PowerPoint projection. Common file formats are MPEG, AVI and FLV
  • DVD – Stands for Digital Video Disc. This is a great method of distibuting video content, especially when a video is too large to view reliably on the web. Mass production of DVDs is pretty economical of
  • CD – Stands for Compact Disc. CDs can be mass produced and distributed to an audience for playback on computers. This format is almost obsolete, having been replaced by web-based distribution, which can make the same content and interactivity available online, without the added cost of CD duplication.


When all of the above steps have been completed, a very precise notion of the project emerges. What we’re lacking right now is the cost – with the information gleaned here we’re ready to proceed to the process of pricing the work.

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