Follow the Money - The Climate in Archviz

November 2nd, 2012

3D visualization artists are in a field that has seen significant changes in recent years, and we are tasked with stretching beyond traditional approaches to working and doing business.

I spoke to four major players in visualization, including artists, educators, and business development professionals. Their insights about client relations, technological trends, advancements, and challenges help to illuminate the continuing development of the Viz industry. By all accounts it will be the ability to remain flexible and mindful of new opportunities and innovations that will allow digital artists to thrive, and determine the future viability of 3D Visualization.

Since everyone we spoke to is quite busy—which is a good sign in itself—it made sense to raise only three questions, hoping to boil down the intricacies of the business as much as possible. 

Who Weighed In?

Robert Becker, CEO of Presenting Architecture. Presenting Architecture is a comprehensive curated resource directory of architectural presentation specialists, including communication experts, physical model makers, photographers, and visualization artists. www.presentingarchitecture.com

Ted Boardman,  Authorized Autodesk Master for 3ds Max, educator, trainer, award-winning author, and columnist. Ted has enriched the world of 3D visualization from its earliest days and continues to contribute to the community through writings and seminars. www.tbmax.com

Lon Grohs, Vice President, Business Development at Chaos       Group. A past principal at Neoscape, Lon works with Chaos Group partners and customers, developing strategic market initiatives and promoting advancements in rendering technology. www.chaosgroup.com

Kitty Li, Founder and Managing Partner at LIK Group, and Co-Chair of the Asian/American Designers Forum. LIK Group is a full-service studio, serving the architecture, building, and real estate development industries. www.likgroup.com

Q: How has the typical client profile changed over the last 5 years?

Lon: Follow the money. Having seen AEC from multiple perspectives, it is clear that developers and owners make up the growing majority of high-end Viz clients. Developers assume more financial risk and have more at stake.

Kitty:  It is usually preferable for us to work with the end user of the products we produce.  Even when multiple organizations are involved on a visualization project, the ultimate decision comes from the person who is paying it.  For 90 percent of our projects, our fee comes from the developers direct or indirect billing.

Ted:   As an educator, my clients are architects, developers, and contractors who would like to incorporate 3D visualization into their in-house workflow. Five years ago, clients were ready to roll up their sleeves and learn 3ds Max. Today, I typically have clients requesting that I only "teach them to do photorealistic renderings." The marketing of many 3D packages has led them to believe that the process of visualization is simple, but they are not prepared for the depth of knowledge required to produce exceptional work.

Robert:  Diversification is just smart business. My typical client has changed a little bit to smaller firms—and not always architects, but often planners and developers looking to show their venues in early conceptual design.  From everything I have seen, far more of the visualization work has been in-sourced than many people might think.  SketchUp is the basic in-house solution, and just before the big slow-down, many assumed that a lot of work was getting sent out to cheaper overseas shops. Though that did start to happen, I’d say upwards of 80 percent of all visualization is done by architects in-house.  During the downturn, architecture firms wanted to keep their staff busy. The thing all visualization firms will have to do is to make standout presentations and provide a product that is beyond what can be done by architects themselves.

Q: What are some of the emerging technologies and mindsets that will help to shape the future of the way we work?

Lon: Software that that takes advantage of cutting-edge hardware may be the most significant factor to consider.  New architecture called Kepler is the evolution of the current Fermi.  NVIDIA just announced Maximus 2.0, using Kepler architecture, opening the door for real-time ray tracing and global illumination. Beyond quality of work, this directly affects the artists’ quality of life. CG artists can actually go home at 6 PM instead of 6 AM  the next morning. Tasks such as look development (materials and lighting) can be accomplished in hours, not days. 

Software continues to improve. VRay Real Time and VRay for Maya are both maturing, and are more powerful than ever before. Real-time rendering engines will affect the industry immeasurably.

Robert:  3d printing is going to boom; it’s getting quicker, better, and cheaper. Animation may become the norm even on smaller projects. The firms that can efficiently incorporate new technologies as well as grow on the artistic side well will benefit greatly.

Kitty:  Hardware advancement will help the efficiency of production, but visualization, by nature, is a creative production process and will always rely on talented artists. The fact that tools are getting better can only help.

Ted:  In the near term, some productivity gains can be accomplished by specialization. More use of compositing software such as Autodesk Composite or Adobe After Effects allow projects to be created in layers that are more easily and efficiently manipulated and edited "on-the-fly" to provide a richer experience for the client.

In the long run, computer games technology and workflow should become more important to 3D Viz by providing a rich and far-reaching immersive experience that can be accessed and viewed on a wide range of devices.

Q: Considering the far reach of 3D work in entertainment and AEC, which areas of the industry show the most potential for growth?  And in what parts of the world?

Lon:  AEC is a very strong market for Viz.  The importance of gaming is that it has been at the forefront of getting CG directly into the hands of millions of people.

Canada, Brazil, and Australia are major players even now, but the thing to be aware of is the trend toward localization. In places where there is growth in construction there will be growth in the local Viz market. As things in the global market slowed, the element of risk became more influential in decision making. Issues concerning communication and cultural differences helped to fuel the widespread inclination to work locally. Also important to consider is the relative scale of CG production houses around the world. Top ranked companies in the US rarely exceed 50 employees, whereas in Asia a large Viz house can have as many as 2,500 people. It’s even conceivable that, as things improve and relative values of currency evolve, the US could become a viable outsourcing option.

Ted:  I don't see any one industry becoming a "growth" industry other than the occasional bubble and, given the global nature of communications, I'm not sure that any one part of the world offers more potential than others.

Robert: Interactive gaming will grow and many companies will market their AEC products in some form where interactivity in Viz will be used more extensively.

Conclusion

Whichever course the Viz industry may take in the future, it is clear that as artists we will need to evolve in our thinking, planning, and execution both of the business of art, and the art of business.

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