Travel Plaza Visualization and Photo

  • Working from CAD files
  • The review process
  • Planning for the photo shoot

As an architect or designer, the need to represent the building or space in an accurate way at some point is a huge selling point to the client. I want to stress that working to build realism doesn't have to be tedious. This project was that example for me.

Starting from scratch

It's one of the hardest things to do. All you have is a floor plan and maybe a few interior notations. It's especially difficult when you're at the sketching phase, but that's probably why it's so fun. This project wasn't too difficult because the preliminary and schematic design drawings had already been completed. I had building sections, floor plans and interior wall elevations to work from, as well as an architect who was able to provide me with examples of what he was looking for in the look & feel.

Working with CAD files as your basis for building a visualization is actually pretty simple. It's the file management and setup that can sometimes be tedious, but if you have a good management system in place (which I needed to work on for this project) you should have no problems.

For this project I had several schematic-level drawings, and some look & feel references to work with. They were clear, had some notes, and overall were pretty complete and coordinated. When I started the job I imported them all into the project, and began laying them out. This was actually a mistake on my part, and I ended up with the first lesson here. Import the floor plan only, leave the rest for reference.

Importing the floor plan only would have saved me a lot of time in file management and headache. So, after struggling with managing floor plan, section, interior elevations for each room, I removed the other files, and was left with just the floor plan. I used the plan to build the model elements and then extrude them with measurements from the CAD file.

After building the base elements I could start adding the embellishments that weren't present in the CAD drawings. Things like coves, ceilings, soffits, lighting, and other items that sell the design further. This is where working back and forth regularly with the designer is of massive benefit.

Never enough

There's never enough time for revisions to a visualization, and for my part, I want the client to have as much time to review as possible. Therefore, the client and I made sure that we were in constant collaboration and that I was sending him weekly – if not daily – updates to each file so he could make tweaks as the design progressed.

Please note, I don't recommend this with every client. Currently I have a client that, if I were to provide daily renderings, he might fire me because it's not that kind of contract. But for this client it was a great working relationship. He was able to make tweaks and I was able to make tweaks and render quickly because of the way I set up the model. 

This back and forth process was critical for this design, and I attribute the success of the project directly to constant feedback.

Extra touch

With what was to be built in mind I began thinking about how awesome it would be for an as-designed/as-built comparison. To the left you can see the as-built below, and I think it speaks for itself. But making sure the image can be re-created is important.

It's fine to build crazy perspectives with a weird angle for emphasis of a particular detail, or just to add some edge. But I like to make sure that at least the feature locations are done in a way that I can come back and photograph them later. For the image below I did just that. I spent some time after building the model to really set the view as an architectural photographer, with photo-real settings within the 3D rendering program.

I think its an incredible benefit for the designer's ability to sell themselves. The designer can be confident that when they give their client a rendering and 8-12 months later take the picture, they can hold them up side by side with pride.

Did the client get what they expected? For the client and owner, the answer was "yes!". And that feels pretty good.