3D modelling – Bringing building products to life

Let’s face it, some building products can be pretty uninspiring. Damp proof membranes, blocks and concrete don’t photograph particularly well and often lack any real interesting features. When they are being installed, chances are they are generally surrounded by the general clutter of a building site – as a result photography can often look messy. This is where 3d modelling can help.

From raw information such as technical data sheets, CAD files or a product sample, Communication Design Partnership can re-create any kind of building product as a 3d object to be used as a rendered technical illustration, an animation or as part of a fly-through. Once drawn in 3d, the possibilities are endless.

So how do we get from an actual product to a 3d illustration?

1. The starting point

We usually start in one of two places – the product itself or CAD files supplied by the client.

If we need to use the product itself, we will measure, assess and measure again. It’s vital to understand both how the product works and how it looks. Does it have any moving parts? Where is it used? How is it used? And most importantly, what does the architect or engineer need to know about it, so what are the key features we may need to focus on?

2. The basic model

Once we have all the information we need, we can begin constructing a 3d wireframe model. This will be created in Cinema 4D (a sophisticated 3d modelling platform).

A 3d wireframe can be defined as “…an edge or skeletal representation of a real-world object. 3D wireframe models consist of points, lines, arcs, circles, and other curves that define the edges or centre lines of objects.”

3. What about CAD files?

We can also import clients’ 3d models. Doing this obviously represents a potential time saving as we do not have to model the product from scratch.

However, in our experience supplied files can differ greatly in their usefulness. Some are fully fledged models compatible and ready for conversion to the next stage of the process. Others may be 2D illustrations, or – when viewed in 3d software – merely a collection of ungrouped lines, or contain detail so minimal that they are useless in the 3d environment.

4. Lighting and texture

This is where the magic starts to happen. The controlled 3d environment means that we can apply lighting and texture to bring the product to life.

Texture may be taken from photographs and mapped onto the wireframe, or it can be created using sophisticated 3d modelling techniques. Bringing the 3d environment into play means that the product can be lit and shown from any view point – adding drama, interest or focusing on important details.

5. The finished product

Once lighting and texture have been decided upon, the 3d model is rendered out into an image, usually called a ‘render’. If any further tweaks are required, these can be done in Cinema 4D and the image rendered out again.

The 3d environment also means that we can export the object as layers, thereby giving the option of using Photoshop’s sophisticated tools to retouch elements as required.

6. But it doesn’t stop there

Once built, textured and lit, models can be animated to form part of an installation sequence.

Or they could be dropped into a bigger built up or rural environment as part of a fly through animation.

In the same way a photographer uses focus and depth of field to enhance a photograph, we can use a 3D techniques to focus on or enhance the details of a rendered product.

They can be deconstructed and reconstructed.

The possibilities really are endless.

7. The future

Being 3d means that our models will integrate with AR – Augmented Reality. We can reproduce your product and have it appear (via the screen on somebody’s phone) anywhere you like. This could be at a trade show, builders’ merchant or exhibition and it’s a great way to encourage interaction.

8. Getting the most out of your models

Being able to view from any angle, change lighting, travel through ‘solid’ objects and animate means you can really get the most out of your products when it come to marketing: on line, in social media, at exhibitions, in CPDs and in print.

Phil Chandler

Phil Chandler is a Designer and Director of Communication Design Partnership, a graphic design agency that creates targeted, compelling and technically accurate solutions for the built environment and understand the complex stuff first time.

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