Implementing Integrated Visualization Workflow

The valuable role of 3D Visualization in architectural design is recognized by architects and designers more than ever before. When properly implemented, digital visualization can go beyond illustrating a milestone, and become an important tool for gaining feedback and inspiring creativity throughout the development of a design. As visualization continues to grow and informs the design process itself, the days of panicked realizations that a rendering is needed for tomorrow's meeting will be over.

With the availability of online cloud rendering solutions, including Autodesk® 360, the element of time no longer drives the decision about whether to render an image or to go without.

In order to facilitate the office-wide success of a visualization pipeline that has a genuine influence on design decision making, several elements need to be in place. To synchronize image creation with the BIM mindset, it should be recognized that visualization will need to adopt the central versus local approach embodied by Revit.

Getting Started: Planning

Planning an office's visualization pipeline should be a coordinated effort across multiple groups including information technology, design, interiors, marketing, and all 3ds Max® users. Standardization is as crucial to a Visualization Manager as it is to a CAD Manager. Whether there will be one or ten Max users, the setup and practices should be the same, enabling flexibility and efficiency as the workload evolves over time.

After the decision is made about the number of licenses to purchase, the next step to getting the visualization system up and running is coordinating with IT. For Viz Managers, it is important to map out precisely what is required of the network in terms of permissions, file access, storage, and deployments.

Figure 1

Central and Local

The practice of working locally and saving to the network is ideal for enabling 3ds Max to perform at peak efficiency. With Max, centralization means standardizing asset locations on the server. For example, if a Max file resides on the server along with its associated assets, bitmaps, textures, plug-ins, etc., the links do not need to be changed when the file is opened on another workstation. Within all Max files UNC (universal naming convention) asset paths must be used:


This is specified in the 3ds Max Asset Manager. This consistency allows any Max file to be opened by any user on any local machine where Max is installed without having to re-path broken links to assets.

Figure 2 

This also simplifies the network rendering component of the production process by ensuring that all machines in the queue have access to the same assets, and have permissions to write to specified destination folders.  Common issues that arise when Back Burner is added to an existing local installation usually come from permissions inconsistencies and/or linking discrepancies, causing dropped frames, missing maps, and lost production time.

Figure 3


Ideally, the install will be a network deployment, even if there is only one seat of 3ds Max to be used. This will enable the system to grow without needing to be retooled. During the deployment process the installer will guide you through the steps for setting network folder locations and files for each local installation.

Proper deployment requires that you have made a few choices ahead of time. Does it make sense to add Max folders to the project folders already on the network? Depending on available space, this may be acceptable. If volume should increase and especially if animation becomes a common part of your work, you'll want to dedicate 30 or more GB of disk space for the render destination folders alone. A 500-frame shot with six passes each means that you are rendering, and storing, 3,000 uncompressed frames. This can add up quickly.


As a Viz Manager, your job will extend beyond putting the hardware and software systems in place. You will also need to set working standards for all users to learn and follow. These standards are two-fold. First, standardization of file naming conventions is vital to keeping logical track of revisions and option studies. Wherever possible, users should synchronize Max file names with other files created by the design team.

The second standard that must be followed is that of keeping the network files up to date.  It is usually faster to work in Max locally. With large files, nothing can compare to the speed and responsiveness of a local workstation's RAM, CPU, and GPU power.  This, in itself, is not a problem. However, at the end of the day all local files must be put on the server, without exception. Although these two requirements might be unfamiliar to some users, in a short time they will recognize how much easier work becomes by adhering to these two practices.

For example, if a user creates a custom texture map on his local computer, he must avoid the temptation to link it directly into the scene. Instead, it is best to save the map to the appropriate folder on the network and link it into the Max file via a UNC path. This way anyone who opens the file is automatically linked to the correct assets. Another tip is to avoid reusing file names, thereby overwriting assets. If a user titles a texture map "Carpet_blue.jpg", and the finish choice gets changed, it is crucial to add a revision suffix to the file name, such as "Carpet_blue_version_02.jpg". (Be sure to upload it to the correct network folder.)

Figure 4


Once a logical infrastructure is in place and consistent working methods are established, the value of visualization dramatically increases, both in the design process and in marketing initiatives. Proper use of a centralized rendering pipeline also streamlines network rendering, since all render nodes will use the correct textures whether through Back Burner or in a cloud-based system.

In conclusion, it is clear that the visualization component of the design process is most valuable when it coincides with the central versus local mindset embodied by the BIM paradigm.

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