Quick Overview

Here’s our 3D Guide distilled to outline form so you can get the basics in about 3 minutes.

Part I: Pre Production

The process usually starts when a prospective client contacts a 3D imaging professional seeking an estimate or proposal. To generate an estimate, both parties need to determine the following:

  • Define the Purpose for 3D Imagery – In other words, why the client needs 3D imagery. Common reasons are entitlement, marketing, design presentations, EIRs and fundraising. Determining the purpose of the 3D imagery heavily influences all subsequent decisions and choices.
  • Define the Deliverable – The most common deliverables are still renderings, animations, photo composites and video productions.
  • Determine the Deliverable Media – Depending on the type of imagery – still or motion – 3D imagery can be delivered all sorts of ways – as digital image files on a website or perhaps animations in a PowerPoint presentation. Still images can be delivered on traditional print media, for example in a brochure or on a billboard.
  • Define the Scope – this essentially means defining what will show up in the camera view or views. At this point, the client will need to provide all the relevant project data – this can mean plans, elevations, sections, detail drawings, landscaping plans, finish schedules, furnishing lists, etc.
  • Determine the Schedule – the final due date must pass a ‘reality test’, and once established, interim deadlines can be determined – for example, kick-off meetings and the submission of draft images for client review.

Proposal – The 3D professional reviews all of the above information and issues a proposal which precisely states all the project facts – the scope, deliverable, deliverable format, the schedule and the price. The proposal is reviewed by the client and either rejected, revised or approved.

Contract – If the proposal is approved, a formal contract is drafted. The contract serves as a legally binding agreement stating all of the conditions, responsibilities, methods and instruments involved in the transaction. Once the contract is signed, the actual work to create the 3D imagery begins.

Part II: Production

3D Modeling – Building the 3D model proceeds according to roughly three different phases:

  • Import the Data Files – This can run the gamut – 2D AutoCAD drawings, SketchUp models, 3D Revit models, even hand drawings on paper.
  • Build the Model – The client’s custom design is built according to the data files. Off-the-shelf components like doors, windows, light fixtures, appliances are often not built from scratch but are pulled from pre-existing 3D model libraries. This speeds the process and minimizes cost.
  • Model Review – When the modeling is complete, lights are placed in the scene and placeholder materials are applied – these make the model look as if it were cast in plaster, thereby allowing the client to concentrate on the form, not textures or colors. Images are sent to client for review and comment. The model is revised until it is correct. When the client approves the model, production moves onto the texturing phase.

Texturing – Realistic materials are applied to the model. Materials are largely drawn from pre-made libraries – this saves on labor and keeps the cost down. Where materials and colors are specific to the client’s design, new custom materials are created.

Entourage – Refers to anything added to the 3D scene to create a naturalistic sense of place and setting – for example, people, cars, furnishings, etc. The content and placement of entourage is usually left to the discretion of the 3D professional. The arrangement of entourage should never be incidental or arbitrary. On the contrary, it is a powerful means of creating focus and drama.

Draft Renders – When the 3D scene is complete, images are rendered and sent to the client as a series of drafts. Clients review and comment on the drafts and the 3D scene is revised until the client approves.

Final Renders – The final rendering process differs from the draft renders in at least two respects: the resolution and quality settings are usually set to maximum, resulting in images that are polished and free of any artifacts associated with draft render settings. This requires more computing power and so the render times can be substantially higher than in draft renderings. Depending upon production methods, the renderings are also separated into layers for further editing in post production.

Part III: Post Production

Post Production – This refers to any process that is performed after the 3D software has rendered the final image. All modern 3D professionals employ post production to refine and enhance the image quality of the final deliverable.

Post production is a widely used term that can have different meaning depending on what’s being produced – for example, for TV, film, and music production it means different things. With respect to its use in the production of 3D architectural imagery, it generally means the following:

  • Fine Tune Image Quality – This runs the gamut and includes color balance, contrast/brightness, hue/saturation, and image sharpness.
  • Add Special Effects – All 3D software has limits on what it can render – post production can add some of these missing elements back in. Most notable are optical effects like focal blur, motion blur, lens flares and light glows.
  • Edit a Video Production – In addition to image editing, post production refers to the process of editing video, animation, music, titling voice-over into a finished video production

Part IV: Final Deliverables

The choice of final deliverable is tied to the deliverable type (for example still versus animation). Other factors that affect deliverable choice are the target audience and method of distribution. Here’s a list of the most common deliverables associated with 3D architectural imaging:

  • Digital Still Image Files – This is the media 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 and PDF.
  • Hard Copy Prints – For example 8 x 10 prints on glossy paper. The printing process used depends largely on 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 presentation. Common file formats are MPEG, AVI and FLV
  • DVD – Stands for Digital Video Disc. This is a great method of distributing video content, especially when a video is too large to view reliably on the web. 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.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you’d like further information, click the chapter headings on the left-side menu, or get started from the top by reading about the first step in the process – Defining the Project.

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