The Technical Illustration Process 1 – ( Architectural Renderings, Visualizations, 3D Animations )

Technical Illustrations provide a powerful form of communication, allowing both the technically and non-technically minded to appreciate and understand the basis of design. They present a realistic image prompting discussion of various aspects of the project, rather than a mere description of it. Illustrations play an important role throughout the project life-cycle: the proposal, feasibility study, conceptual design, public hearings, garnering support, preliminary design, funding and final design. Additionally, these illustrations become quite nostalgic once the project is completed and archived.

Familiarity with the Technical Illustration process enables us to produce images that not only meet our expectations, but accurately communicate our ideas. This is the first of a series of articles on Technical Illustrations that will provide a walk-through of the genre, its necessity in today’s industry, the variety it offers, and the tools with which to incorporate this technology into our everyday approach to securing new projects and planning those we may already manage.

An article in PSMJ’s, PM Tactics Newsletter quoted one client when asked about dislikes during a presentation, “The 3D walk-throughs are great and how they can show a project that’s just been completed….”a However, a Norfolk, Virginia, based firm did not leave such a good impression with the City Council when they presented a low-quality sketch during a meeting, as reported by the Virginia Pilot:
“My first impressions?” said Councilman W. Randy Wright. “They’re not printable… I was in a state of shock.”b

In an A/E Pulse survey, eighty-eight percent (88%) of those surveyed responded that clients desire more front-end planning services from design firms. The survey concluded, “The higher percentage of firms reporting clients seeking more services as opposed to using price as a more important basis for selection, indicates clients are more inclined to seek service quality improvements rather than lower prices.”c Even though projects are not awarded solely on the materials used in the presentations, we should strive to always present the best quality to prospective clients. Today’s marketing culture is such that clients are technically-educated and expect high quality presentations. Excellence in graphic presentations sets the tone for the selection of the winning firm; the client will relate the two and assume that “excellence in engineering services will most likely be offered.”

Each new Technical Illustration produced contributes to a firm’s culture in the form of talent, skills and techniques. The type of illustration selected for a project should be based on the information to be communicated, project goals and the target audience. Let us consider the different types of computer generated illustrations, they are: renderings, photograph modifications, architectural collage and animations.

Renderings include plans, elevations, isometric, perspective and exploded views. They can be produced as a realistic image, watercolor, ink/paint (cartoon), wireframe and even pencil sketch. They should contain elements of the project that will be under consideration. This type of illustration provides a great deal of flexibility, because several images can be generated from different perspectives using the same model. Photograph Modification provides the most photorealistic images of the illustration types. The proposed project location is photographed from a perspective that includes room for the proposed structure. The existing structure is removed from the photograph and a rendered model of the proposed structure is ‘painted’ in. Generally, this type of illustration is less time consuming than the others, because the scenery around an object already exists. In addition, each perspective generated has a before and after photograph. An Architectural Collage or Montage can be produced from either a rendering or photograph modification. Several views are generated and arranged to provide an artistic representation of a project. Each individual architectural or structural element can be displayed along with a technical description. This type of illustration is best used as a prop for a presentation or an exhibit at public meetings.

An Animation is a rendering that is put in motion. The audience has the capability to tour a proposed project, witness a bridge open, explore a building, observe maintenance of traffic or observer project phasing. The audience understands the extent of a project as it is viewed in motion. For example, a still image may not capture the true length of a bridge, as does a camera moving along side of the bridge.

In the next article, we intend to walk-through the illustration process, explain techniques and list the information required to produce an illustration.

Technical Illustration Process – Part 2

WIREFRAME – a representation of a 3D image by showing the edges in a transparent drawing, as though the object were made from wires.

PHOTOREALISTIC- images generated with meticulous detail to depict the quality of a photograph.

INK/PAINT(cartoon) – a rendering mode that renders a scene in a cartoon, ink, marker or pencil sketch.

a. The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk Council sends library plan back to drawing board, Debbie Messina, June 25, 2003
b. PSMJ, PM Tactics Newsletter, Client Pet Peeves During Presentations.
c. A/E Pulse, PSMJ Resources, Inc. August 2002.