The Cost of ARCHITECTURAL VISUALIZATION (or how long is a piece of string?)

Arch-Viz allows stakeholders to see or visualize architectural designs or property developments within their anticipated environment at the very early planning stages, well before the project is built.

It is an elastic term ranging from simple 2D hand drawings of a “sketch up” architectural model all the way to digitally created augmented reality where computer generated assets can be placed within a filmed environment and may include as much reality as is desired such as, for example: including spokespersons conducting a tour around or through the created environment; actual drone or simulated flying over or around the setting or environment including flying right through the interior with a full 360 view.

Developers and Architects know they would love to have high end dynamic visualizations of their new property concept as the benefits are obvious: finance is easier to attract, it will sell easier to prospective tenants; planning boards will approve quicker; and any objectors can hopefully be soothed into acceptance. Arch-Viz allows options in design, color, textures, orientations which is a luxury for a buyer or end-user to explore, to experiment, to be able to see before committing to the a project.

Digitally, there really is no end to what can be done as advance arch-viz studios use the same techniques as film and television visual effects companies and indeed many arch-viz studios started in that industry.

But for many projects costing in the hundreds of millions involving multiple diverse stakeholders there is a tendency to rely on a static model from Sketch up and then use Photoshop to make it “glamorous” – this image of the project, this rendering, and is usually just the one is used by the developer from city hall to the bank manager even though it is neither effective nor efficient.

Is there a fear of the cost of dynamic CGI renderings? Do bricks and mortar people view it as a soft marketing cost without any thought to the money saving benefits? How much is too much if it helps sell the building quickly; secure financing; obtain planning approval or appease concerned NIMBYS.

Asking point blank: “how much?” is not always fair!! Creating advanced dynamic 3D renderings is a labour intensive process. There are hundreds of questions needed to be answered: What Design? How big? Where? What materials? What assets do you already have? For who? Who is the audience?   It is like asking a home renovator: “how much to build a kitchen?” or asking an architect: “how much to design a building?” without any further details!

The task of an arch-viz studio is to manually create the assets (the building, the bridge, the apartment) which includes all the parts which go into it – so if you are showing what an apartment would like then generally all the contents therein need to be created by an artist. So that means labor and perhaps a lot of it. And these viz artists have gone to school for at least 2 years and need about 5 years of experience before they are good enough – and they know it and get paid accordingly!

While important to the determination of purchasing Arch-Viz, instead of solely asking “how much?” the Project Principal should be asking one simple question: “what is the experience we wish to create for the buyer or the end-user of our project?”. The more the project is meant to be an “experience” such as a lifestyle community, then the more dynamic 3D movement visualizations and renderings should be utilized to assist stakeholders in the decision making process.

What we can say about cost is that the simple 2D renderings/visualizations will generally be $1,000 .. when you add “movement” to the image then you double the cost; when you become within the image it doubles again and generally as you add more and more movement, you will be doubling the cost. Other services can be included to the presentation such as drone camera shots; script writing; professional actors; dramatic sound etc. In other words, when you start moving towards an infomercial or publicity videos you will then start paying as you would for a regular commercial.

Granted, high end 3D dynamic high end CGI renderings may not be necessary or appropriate for every project. However, each project should be looked at for its experience sought, the stakeholders priorities, project magnitude, time, and risk, and within that milieu subject arch-viz services to a cost benefit analysis. For many Planning Consultants and Architects then, it is straightforward that a fraction of a fraction of the overall budget should be spent on visualizing the development.

Arch-viz is an inexpensive way to decide how a project will look, and should look within the its planned environment as design changes are far easier and less expensive to make at the planning stage. Make no mistake, while arch-viz firms do try for “good, fast, cheap” it can be difficult to achieve and often, will only be two out of three, but as long as there is value, then it is not a bad compromise.

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Brian Simpson BBA, MBA, LLB

Principal at CityFX Inc. 42 Wright St., St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada     L2T 3J4        289.362.3139