Author Archives: Life Should Be 3D

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” – or $1,000 in Your Pocket

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Today I’m featuring a guest post by fellow Chief Architect user Chris Brown.  Chris is a Design/Build General Contractor with his own company, Stone Castle Homes, in Republic, Missouri (contact Chris at chrisdbrown@att.net).  His post today is directed mainly at builders and home designers who aren’t currently using 3D renderings in their work with clients.


I find that dealing with most builders on the subject of 3D renderings (especially raytracing) is like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. Builders don’t want to do it because they don’t want to pay for it. When I design a custom home for a builder, the builder just doesn’t know how to talk to his client about the benefits of the 3D renderings, and therefore it almost never gets done. But when the builder allows me to talk directly to the clients and show them examples, the clients always want it.

Seeing examples always changes a client’s mind, even if they’re not enthusiastic about the idea to start.  When I show them samples from my previous projects, instantly, it’s “Yeah, we’ll pay for that!”  They appreciate the value immediately of being able to see the finished product before the ground is even dug.

In the olden days, plans were hand-drawn, just line drawings; even when CAD came along, they were still just line drawings for a long time.  This leaves a lot to the imagination.  But nowadays, 3D renderings provide the wow! factor – it gives clients the opportunity to actually SEE what their finished home will look like.  Which do you think a client would rather see?  This…….

Custom home floorplan

Floor plan for custom home

Or this………….

3D Rendering of Main Living Area by CastleView3D.com

3D Raytrace of Main Living Area by CastleView 3D

A builder today can make an extra $1,000-5,000 per house by using good 3D renderings.  Renderings allow you to put in all the extras, like crown molding and granite countertops, right from the start, and let the client see how they will look.  Once they’ve seen the top-of-the-line version, then their budget can dictate what to take out, rather than trying to do it the other way around.

It’s taking time, but I finally have some builders coming around on this 3D rendering stuff.  There are some key ways to talk to builders.  You just have to keep at them, and keep explaining the benefits:

  • No change orders
  • Better relationship with client
  • Better communication with client
  • Quicker build
  • More money

Builders can also use the 3D renderings for advertising – a sign on the lawn, brochures, website, etc.

For Chief Architect users, if you don’t learn how to make nice raytraces, you are leaving money on the table. You’ve already done the work, made the 3D model, so why not make a little more money while providing a great service to your clients?

Clients can even seek out a 3D designer first, before they meet with a builder, who can help them work out their ideas.  Then they can bring the finished pictures to their builder.  This is beneficial to both parties, because builders often don’t ask all the questions they should when trying to determine a bid, about the thousands of details that go into a project.  Renderings give them something more definite to work from.

In addition, with the economy the way it is, clients need to be even more sure they’re getting what they want, and 3D renderings are the most cost-effective way to insure that.  “Seeing is believing,” and being able to see what their finished home will look like will inspire confidence.

When a project is completed, I sometimes ask the client about their 3D images: “Was that worth the money?”  And I’m sure you can guess what their answer is.


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But is it Art?

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There is a very cool grassroots art show in Rochester, NY, called ArtAwake.  It originated in 2007 as a student-driven initiative whose purpose is to strengthen the community (and, presumably, showcase art).  It has become an annual one-day festival of creativity taking over a vacant urban space and transforming it for the occasion.  ArtAwake is organized by a team of students from the University of Rochester‘s Urban Exploring Club, but involves collaboration between many local organizations. For the past three years, ArtAwake has transformed three vacant buildings in Rochester through the participation of hundreds of local artists and musicians.

Alliance Building in downtown Rochester, NY, built in 1926

Next Saturday, April 16, will be the fourth annual ArtAwake event.  ArtAwake 2011 will feature over 150 works by local artists, from paintings to sculptures and architecture to fashion, plus 22 musical artists, catering by Lento (a popular locavore restaurant), and a wine tasting.  This year the festival will take place in the old Alliance Building in downtown Rochester.  Built in 1926, the Alliance Building is a 15-story, 167,000 sq ft neoclassical style high-rise in the heart of what’s somewhat grandiosely called the Central Business District.

Now in general, downtown Rochester is not a particularly happy place these days, but strides are being made — restaurants and clubs are opening, loft conversions are happening, and big plans are being discussed.  And events like ArtAwake are part of what’s driving renewed interest in downtown.

Well, OK, that’s all very interesting, you say, but what does it have to do with 3D design?  The answer is that for the first time this year, I submitted some of my 3D renderings to ArtAwake.  Here is one I submitted which I called “Chopping Tomatoes.”  (Hey, it needed a title!)

Chopping_Tomatoes, A 3D Rendering by CastleView3D.com

3D rendering rejected by ArtAwake

My renderings were not accepted for the show.  And no comment or reason was offered regarding why.  But I was curious (and a tiny bit suspicious), so I pressed for further explanation, and received a very interesting email from the show’s directors:

“CAD renderings are difficult, and we had quite a bit of discussion about how your works might fit into the show.  In the end we felt the viewers would have a hard time understanding them and how they related to the rest of the works. We appreciate and understand the time and effort that goes into a CAD rendering, but unless the images are unusually striking we did not feel the average viewer would take the time to consider the interesting intersection of art as utility and vice versa.”

In my reply, I thanked them for taking the time to explain their decision, and offered the following:

“A great deal of time and artistic talent go into creating photorealistic renderings, in addition to technical skill.  The computer is simply a tool used to generate the final product — it doesn’t create the scene.  I’m sure you must have other examples of computer-generated art in the show — photos that have been photoshopped for example, or digitally manipulated.  And I’m pretty sure you’ve seen examples of advertising art, which is certainly the intersection of art and utility, that people don’t seem to have a problem understanding.  So I have to key in on your phrase ‘unless the images are unusually striking’ as being the deciding factor.  What you’re saying is that my art just didn’t grab you.  Which is OK.  Perhaps next time I’ll try to create images that are more ‘unusually striking.’ “

I offer all of this because I’m still struggling with the question of whether 3D renderings can be considered “art.”  Obviously “Chopping Tomatoes” isn’t the Mona Lisa — I have no delusions about that.  But is it art at all?  Can CAD-modeled pretty pixel pictures be considered art?  Do the kinds of images I create have any rightful place in an art show?  How much more “unusually striking” would this particular image have had to be to engage the average viewer in the same way that a painting or sculpture or photograph would engage them?

Are 3D renderings merely “utilitarian”?  Or was I the victim of “art-ism” — discrimination against the type of art I create merely because it’s different and non-traditional?

I would really love to hear opinions about this so I hope you’ll share your ideas in the Comments.


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Learning 3D modeling by copying the “old masters”

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When I was first learning to do 3D modeling and rendering back in 2007, I decided to try an exercise that many art students are given in their studies:  learning by copying the old masters.  With sketchbooks and pencils in hand, students visit the world’s great art museums to learn about an artist’s technique by trying to duplicate it themselves.

For my learning exercise, I decided that my “old masters” would be architectural and interior designers whose work I admired.  So I gathered a collection of photos from the web, many from Architectural Digest (which is, in my opinion, the best place to see consistently fine examples of both interior and exterior design).  I set myself the task of trying to learn something about their design techniques, as well as mastering my own modeling and rendering software tools, by trying to reproduce the photos as 3D renderings. I feel this approach really taught me a lot, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their 3D skills.

Now that I’ve been at this for almost 4 years, I still occasionally do this exercise, simply because it provides an excellent insight into a designer’s mind to try to understand why they did things the way they did in the building or room I’m studying.

Room designed by Suzanne Lovell

Room designed by interior designer Suzanne Lovell (photo from an article in Sept. 2007 Architectural Digest)

Recently, instead of tackling a new challenge, I decided to revisit one of my old favorite inspirations, a lovely room created by awesomely talented interior designer Suzanne Lovell in her own townhouse in Chicago.  Her home was written up in a 2007 article in AD (which unfortunately is no longer available online).

I liked my original rendering so much that I had been using it for years in my portfolio on the CastleView 3D website, despite the fact that it was a very early example and wasn’t actually produced for a real client.  But because the rendering software I use now (Kerkythea) is much more sophisticated than what I was using in 2007, I wanted to see how much the image could be improved simply by using the new tool.

I didn’t change my original model except to import it into Chief Architect X3 (to enable VRML export), but instead spent time tweaking the lighting and textures in the imported file within Kerkythea.  Below is a comparison of my original image with the most recent one (you’ll need to click to enlarge the images for a decent comparison).  You can see that in the 2007 version, the render engine wasn’t able to produce reflections, or even shadows!

2011 3D Rendering by CastleView3D.com of room designed by Suzanne Lovell

My recent update (April 2011), using the same model but re-rendered in Kerkythea

2007 3D Rendering by CastleView3D.com of room designed by Suzanne Lovell

My original 2007 rendering, modeled and rendered in Home Designer Pro

Of course I’m much happier with the more recent version, although as I look at the final product there are still things I would like to change in my addictive quest for photorealistic perfection.

Perhaps I’ll work on improving some of my original modeling, and post an update later. But in the meantime, this new image is definitely replacing the old one on my website!


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Google SketchUp: An easy way to get your 3D feet wet

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I was delighted to learn today that one of my favorite bloggers, Annie Elliott of bossy color blog, is working on a handbook for interior designers about Google’s SketchUp 3D modeling application. The book is being co-authored with Bonnie Roskes of 3D Vinci, and will be published by Pearson, a well-known higher ed publishing company, at the end of this year.

Annie is an interior designer in Washington, DC.  As you might expect, given the name of her firm — bossy color — Annie “never passes up an opportunity to nudge her clients toward unexpected color palettes.” She writes a popular, entertaining, and informative blog about interior design and the importance of overcoming your fear of color, which I always look forward to reading.

Bonnie is a structural engineer who started writing and publishing professional-level books and tutorials on SketchUp and other 3D applications almost 10 years ago. She has continued producing professional books, including her intermediate-advanced level Google Sketchup Cookbook.  But when her own children got interested in 3D modeling, she realized that it can also be an engaging tool for kids, and added many instructional projects for children of various ages.  Now 3D Vinci’s [love the name!] special niche is 3D design in education and for kids.  Their mission is “To help everyone think and create in 3D.”  (Obviously a company that totally gets that “Life Should Be 3D“!)

I look forward to reading their new book when it comes out, and seeing the tips and advice they offer on how to use SketchUp for 3D visualization of room designs.  As I mentioned in my last post the other day about my recent trip to the local home show, I was amazed that more of the interior designers weren’t using 3D tools in their design work.

By the way, just in case you’ve never heard of SketchUp, it’s a 3D modeling tool that was introduced in 1999 and acquired by Google in 2006.  SketchUp is fairly intuitive and easy to learn how to use.  You can build models from scratch, or download what you need from the Google 3D Warehouse, where people from all over the world have shared what they’ve made. You can even place your models in Google Earth.

Anyone can create 3D models with SketchUp.  You can see a long list of SketchUp’s impressive capabilities and features here.  And you can download the basic version of SketchUp for free here.  Yes, that’s right — FREE.  So now there is absolutely no reason not to try your hand at 3D modeling.  You just might get hooked!

A simple house modeled in SketchUp, from Google Warehouse

A simple house modeled in SketchUp, from Google Warehouse

 


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A distinctly two-dimensional Home Show

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2011 Home & Garden Show

I spent some time today wandering around our local Home & Garden Show at the Convention Center. This annual show, sponsored by the Home Builders’ Association, is a very popular event. More than 170 vendors, decorating and home improvement seminars, culinary demonstrations, wine tastings, and beautiful spring garden displays — complete with water features — are some of the highlights.

3D Rendering for Master Bath Remodel by CastleView3d.com

3D Bathroom Remodel Rendering by CastleView 3D

Chatting with one of the local remodelers I know (I did 3D renderings for a bathroom remodel he worked on), it seemed that business was good — he said his company is already booked up with work until August.  So things seem to be picking up again in the home building and remodeling industry.

But I was surprised at how few of the exhibitors seem to be using the power of 3D visualization to connect with their potential clients and customers. Only three or four that I saw were offering that as a service or using 3D renderings in their advertising or displays. One man that I spoke with, a pool and spa builder/installer, had a lovely 3D fly-around running on a large monitor in his booth. It showed a house with a beautiful in-ground pool plus a large hot tub on a deck. He could switch back and forth between a daytime view and a nighttime view that included great lighting effects in the pool and near the house. It was quite a visual treat and drew a lot of traffic to his booth. He said he had modeled it himself using a special software for pool designers.

It seems a shame, considering all the money people might be shelling out for building and remodeling projects, that home show exhibitors aren’t taking the opportunity to a) entice them with the possibility of what their project could be, and b) alleviate some of their anxiety about the unknown, which might make them more willing to shell out that money in the first place.  An excellent selling and marketing tool is being under-utilized.

Next year I plan to be an exhibitor myself, so I’ll be able to talk with people directly and get them excited about the benefits of “seeing it before you build it” with 3D visualization!


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How to estimate the value of 3D visualization

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I was talking recently with a potential client, a builder from New Jersey, about doing some 3D renderings for him and his clients.  He was very impressed with the quality of my work, but when we got around to discussing prices, he balked.

He said, “Down here people aren’t willing to pay a lot for 3D renderings, although they can see the value of them immediately.”  I’d like to say I was shocked, but unfortunately this was not the first time I’d heard a statement like that — and not just from New Jersey.

So how does someone make a decision about “value” and the price they’re willing to pay for something they admittedly perceive as being of value to them?

A current client recently called to rave about the benefits of 3D visualization for him and his wife in the process of remodeling and redecorating their home:

  • saves money
  • saves time
  • aids decision-making
  • reduces aggravation
  • improves communication
  • eliminates costly re-dos and change orders
  • increases peace of mind

I’d say those things are priceless!  This couple feels that, for their money, 3D visualization offers a great return on investment.

3D Rendering by CastleView 3D.com - Entry hall from great room

3D Rendering by CastleView 3D

I recently conducted some impromptu focus groups with women attending a higher education conference. All of them were well-educated, all were homeowners, and all at some point had either built or remodeled their home — sometimes numerous times. But before our discussion, the majority of these women were not even aware that 3D visualization was an option for them — they thought it was just high-end pixel magic they had seen on HGTV or in million-dollar architectural presentations!

As we talked, their feeling was that 3D visualization and renderings would be of such value to them in their building and remodeling projects that they would be willing to pay 5-10% of the total cost of the project, depending on size and complexity, to be able to actually see and make decisions about their project in advance.  That’s quite a different story than the one I got from the New Jersey builder and others.

So, how do you approach the value proposition?  How do you decide what’s it worth to be able to “see it before you build it”?


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3D Rendering with Chief Architect

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Today I’m featuring a guest post from a 3D colleague, Patricia Abood, Owner and Chief Artist at 3D-Diva.  Pat is a talented 3D artist who creates renders exclusively for users of Chief Architect software.  The images below are examples of her work.


Did you know that many photographs you see in a magazine or on a website aren’t really a photograph? How can you tell? Sometimes you can’t. It’s called 3D rendering.

3D Rendering by Patricia Abood of a room designed by Chad Cardin


3D renderings are computer-generated pictures taken from models or “meshes” built within a modeling software [like Chief Architect]. Lines and curves are drawn to form a geometry so when the computer calculates all the angles, it creates an object that you can visually walk around, look at from behind, above, and so on. While the computer works hard making the calculations necessary to create a 3D object, the 3D rendering artist also works hard to make sure the computer understands what he or she wants it to do — and that’s called creativity.

I’ve actually had emails sent to me asking if I could “plug this diagram into a rendering program and make it look like 3D.”  I try to hold my laughter inside, but sometimes I laugh out loud.  I politely email back telling them that it doesn’t work that way, and that I have to actually draw their diagram in one program and then have another program generate the 3D image so that it will look like a photograph. Since I’m speaking to them via cyberspace, I unfortunately don’t get to see their look of confusion.

So what’s the big deal about 3D, you say? What if I told you that you could visually see the room you’re thinking about redecorating before you even start stripping that 1980’s wallpaper? Maybe your husband wants the spare room for his man-cave, and his idea of decorating is an old recliner in the middle of the room with the flat screen TV as the focal point, a compact refrigerator for drinks, and a leftover cabinet from your last remodel hanging on the wall to store his chips.

You, on the other hand, would like to be able to keep the door open to the man-cave when you have visitors. You have some great decorating ideas but can’t seem to get your point across. Let him see your design in 3D…. brilliant idea!

Men seem to be a little less picky when it comes to decorating and usually let the women do as they please, but there comes a time when too much foo-foo can take the wind out of any manly sail. Collaborating with one another with 3D images can merge two ideas into one that both can agree upon.

Of course I’m exaggerating, but even with the best design intentions, without 3D renderings you will never know what your idea will look like until the project is finished.

Architects, designers, and draftsmen are all climbing on board with 3Ds, showing off their work with realistic images — but not just any 3D image. A professional who spends hours, days, and weeks creating a floor plan wants a photorealistic image that is an appropriate reflection of their own talents. It’s like the parsley on the potatoes — presentation! Presentation, as well as how a professional markets their designs, is just as important as the design itself.

When I receive a floor plan from an architect, designer, or draftsman that was created in Chief Architect, I know how important it is for them to have a 3D rendering that reflects the hours they put into the design. The professionals give only their best to their clients, and a 3D rendering is a wonderful tool to display the best of their creation.

So the next time you see a photograph in a magazine and wonder if it’s real or not, it just may be a 3D render.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your images, Pat!


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An inspiration (#1)

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Every once in awhile, I see an example of 3D modeling that really inspires me.  Some of them (like the one below that I saw today) are also animated, which makes the 3D effect even more compelling.

This short video by PGK Studios, a company based in Spain, looks like it was designed to sell blinds and shades.  But I’m more impressed by the beautiful home rendering.

They have more yummy stuff on their website.  Enjoy!


August 2010 from PGK Studios on Vimeo.


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The big question

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As I contemplate my impending leap of faith from a fairly cushy position in the ivory tower to the cut-throat world of self-employment as an artistic entrepreneur, I keep coming back to the big question, as delicately posed by my husband:

“But dear, how can you call it 3D visualization when what you’re creating is obviously flat and two-dimensional?”

Well, that IS an excellent question.  And I can see where he’s coming from.

To most people, the images of homes and interiors that I create look like photos (hence the term “photorealistic renderings“).  But the big answer to the big question is that I’m taking a flat floorplan — basically just a blueprint in the x-y plane — and through the magic of CAD software (Chief Architect X4, to be exact) I’m giving it an added dimension.  Height!  The z dimension!

So a simple kitchen floorplan goes from looking like a bunch of lines on graph paper, like this

Kitchen floor plan drawn in Chief Architect by CastleView3D.com

Kitchen floor plan

to a beautiful rendering like THIS:

3D Visualization of Kitchen floor plan by CastleView3D.com

Kitchen floorplan converted to 3D visualization

3D visualization is a way to convey more information about design — a tool to improve communication between home owners and their designers, builders, remodelers, contractors, realtors, decorators, and others.

And to me, that seems like a very valuable service.  Enough to inspire a leap of faith.


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