Seeing is believing

Design visualisation enables clients to see what their projects before construction gets under way.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Urban Simulations.)
(PHOTO CREDIT: Urban Simulations.)
(PHOTO CREDIT: Urban Simulations.)
(PHOTO CREDIT: Urban Simulations.)
(PHOTO CREDIT: Urban Simulations.)
(PHOTO CREDIT: Urban Simulations.)


Design visualisation enables clients to see what their projects will look like before construction gets under way. We look at new trends in this emerging industry.

Design visualisation has never been more significant in the Middle East than it has in recent years. Dubai is a good example of a city whose urban landscape has changed dramatically over the last two years. With the construction boom in the city, each company tries to outdo the other in creating their architectural masterpiece. It is here that design visualisation plays a key role.

It enables clients to see what their new project will look like before construction gets under way. Using three-dimensional models, animation and photosimulation, artists can create engaging, believable imagery so that a client can actually picture how their project will develop. Visualisation provides a highly accurate method of examining alternatives at the design stage, when most options are open.

Likewise, this technology is also increasingly deployed by a diverse range of other industries, and has become an essential tool for marketing, sales and promotional campaigns for most of the big names in retail, architecture, fashion, motoring and even the arts.

This is because a photorealistic visual makes a vastly bigger impact than regular 2D drawings, helping to create a visual context in order to drive the evolution of the design concept - whether it's an innovative new building or the latest designs for big high street clothing brands - and a better understanding of the final impact it will have.

To provide a visual image or animation of what a project will look like in any given situation or surrounding is a huge challenge for visualisation specialists and in an ongoing quest to create ever more realistic and visually inspiring design, these professionals are increasingly looking to the features and functionality of workflows used by film and video companies.

Design visualisation today has much higher production values than the typical walk-throughs and fly-bys of the last decade. Animations are taking a cinematic approach, created from a storyboard with a narrative informing the design features.

People need to be impressed and entertained and are expecting design visualisation to be of equal or better quality to the games they're playing, the films they're watching or the advertisements on TV.

In much the same way as the post-production industry, 3D modelling, compositing and animation are now the bread and butter of the design visualisation professional. Among the most common techniques from film and television now used by visualisation professionals is compositing. The very nature of rendering in 3D is an iterative process and rendering elements of the 3D image in separate layers means properties like colour, lights, shadows and post process effects can be tweaked and adjusted without the need to re-render.

This experience for an architect or property developer is similar to the 'over the shoulder' experience a music producer or advert producer has in a post-production suite.

Design professionals are also using keying and green screens to include real people in CG renderings, as well as the colour grading and colour correction tools of compositing applications. As a result, we've seen a big jump in demand for this type of product from design visualisation companies.

The use of 3D people in animations is also on the rise, and one of the leaders in the field is Spanish visualisation company Urban Simulations. It's now not uncommon for many of the specialist features of 3D software developed for the animation industry to be adopted by design visualisation specialists. For example, hair and fur tools are used to create 3D grass and foliage; cloth plug-ins are used to recreate fabrics such as curtains, table cloths and curtains; and particle systems are used to create 3D smoke, dust, fountains and water.


Every design visualisation professional aspires to create the perfect image that best communicates the design ideas and concepts in a given brief. Exploring techniques employed throughout the film industry are one way to achieve this and many consultancies now keep abreast of the latest developments in film and television post-production in order to keep pushing the boundaries with each new project.

MaxScripts are increasingly used by many visualisation specialists for 'signature' effects used to identify and differentiate companies. Scripts can create highly complex and detailed animations for build ups or reveal effects. UK-based design consultancy Uniform is one of the companies that have made extensive use of scripts to create their own stamp on projects.

Stereoscopy is making a comeback in the film industry to get people away from their plasma TVs and surround sound systems and back into cinemas. Again, design consultancies have been quick to pick up on the benefits. Stereoscopic images are easy to make using 3D software and the experience for the viewer is both memorable and fun, making it ideal for marketing purposes.

The old adage that a picture paints a thousand words is never more true that when applied to sales and marketing. However, the use of design visualisation is something that will only increase and continue to percolate out to ever more diverse applications, and we're already seeing design visualisation used more and more in other areas of the design process. Nowadays more and more people are using visualisation as part of a visually informed design process.

This focuses on creating visual context in order to drive the evolution of the design concept across all stages of the design process. Organic modelling is something that we'll see more of as visualisation professionals look to complement and enhance technical design applications.

Sustainable design plays a huge part in today's design process and lighting simulation is an area where the benefits of organic modelling play a valuable role. The use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) imagery is being explored by many companies for more realistic lighting and environments.

Although design visualisation is currently done by specialists, as the gap between post-production and design visualisation closes, we could well see the talent pool migrating across the different industries.

The CG community on the whole is very open; creative professionals always want to learn so sharing production methods and experiences is in everyone's nature. We're already seeing a growing number of post-production and film companies using CAD products to build 3D cities and buildings that are then used in visual effects work, so the trend has already started.

In the post-production world, the focus has very much shifted towards fast and efficient workflows that allow creatives to get on with what they do best - being creative. Similarly, in the design visualisation arena, professionals need to know that they can concentrate on aggregating additional scene elements, using advanced texturing and modelling tools, quickly integrating rendering parameters and animating objects or adding special effects.

For vendors, all of this means making sure that workflows are as flexible and reliable as possible and that data exchange between CAD and finishing or effects systems happens smoothly.

Nick Manning is the design visualisation business development manager for Autodesk Media and Entertainment.

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