Things to consider with Computer Rendered Animation

BSBG has found that investment in production of a 3D animation can pay dividends in terms of advancing client understanding of a project, as well as providing a cornerstone for sales and marketing material – in particular for large scale or masterplan projects.

Critical to the positive outcome of a 3D animation is the planning and management of the production process. It is important that the animator fully understands the architect’s vision and translates the project documentation and details as accurately as possible while rendering the visuals in the most ‘positive light’ in order to promote the unique properties of the design and intended use of space.

As with any design process, clarity of brief is essential. BSBG finds that concise diagrams or ‘storyboards’ with clearly illustrated camera positions and paths are most useful in this regard, although a certain amount of flexibility should be allowed within a brief to allow for the professional advice and guidance of the animator.

The general sequence of events within the course of an animation production is as follows:

A. MODELLING/MASSING

The exercise of interpretation of documentation has been made significantly more efficient with the advent of BIM modelling within the design process which has taken place in the architectural ‘mainstream’ over the last decade. With the ability to convert architectural BIM models directly into 3D animation software much of the modelling work traditionally within the realm of the animator’s scope is able to be reduced, thereby assisting with production timeframes and improving model accuracy and co-ordination.

While the project is in the initial ‘mass modelling’ stage, caution is advised with regards to sharing progress imagery with the client. Many people find it difficult to interpret massing models as opposed to final detailed models and the resulting confusion can hinder perception, programme, and general faith in the process. We have found that it is sensible to be selective about the distribution of ‘early development’ imagery for this reason.

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B. CAMERA PATH ESTABLISHMENT

The camera path has to be established in order to satisfy the intended purpose of the animation. For a client presentation, the path may be designed to demonstrate more practical information such as massing, built element relationships and finishes, while for marketing purposes a camera path may be designed to give an impression of lifestyle and use of space rather than focusing on minute detail.

In either case, consideration must be given to camera height, angle and speed. Often a camera path will interchange between human scale ‘point of view’ shots to floating or sweeping ascending and descending aerial shots and it is important not to disorientate the viewer during these transitions. An experienced animator should be able to provide guidance on the best way to position and manage the camera path in order to best meet the requirements of the brief.

The camera path is typically reviewed by means of ‘white card’ still shots or renders – that is, images devoid of finishes and textures which can be rendered at a relatively speedy rate for the purposes of establishing fundamental shot structure. As with ‘mass modelling’, it is important that the client understands the purpose of the white card images if they are to be involved in review of the same. The lack of colour and texture in these images has the potential to provide a poor impression to those unfamiliar with or unable to understand the process of production.

C. MATERIAL AND TEXTURE MAPPING/APPLICATION

The process of applying materials and textures to the model is demanding on both the expertise and time of the animator. For the architect, it is important that care be taken to provide the animator with the most accurate samples of intended materials as is possible in order to avoid disappointment. The same is true for planting imagery – the impact and importance of landscaping on a rendered visualisation cannot be under stated, particularly for residential projects.

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Material appearance is typically reviewed through the production and review of fully rendered still shots. The production of these shots is relatively time consuming and needs to be done in parallel with positioning and specification of light sources etc. In order for the review process to be as efficient as possible it is important for the architect to be as clear and thorough as possible with their comments, particularly when review is taking place by remote correspondence.

D. RENDERING AND POST PRODUCTION

The final step in the process is for the animator to consolidate all of the input received from the architect (and in some cases client) and produce the final animated render. The addition of accompanying narrative or music may be undertaken at this stage, depending on the brief requirements.

As with the fully rendered still shots, production of a rendered animation is an intensive activity in terms of both time and labour. Being the last activity in the programme the team will invariably be under some pressure to complete the exercise as quickly and efficiently as possible, therefore ideally the full animation render will only need to be undertaken a maximum of two times (as draft and final). If the earlier stage review processes have been undertaken with care and diligence up to this point then this should be a realistic outcome.

Required timeframes for full animation rendering can be particularly problematic when production is being undertaken overseas, and consideration must be taken as to the logistics within the project programme where applicable.

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Conclusion

In summary of the above, BSBG found that production of 3D animation can provide invaluable assistance with regards to understanding of a project and in demonstrating the vision of the designer. Bearing in mind the salient points above in relation to animation production, if due diligence and care is applied in accordance with a considered brief and programme, then like any other design activity the process should be able to be undertaken in an efficient and timely manner.