Animation Workflow Process

Creating an architectural animation can be a very daunting and complicated task. It is very important to thoroughly plan each project before you start work on it. Due to the increased demand on time and resources it is important to analyse each step in the creation process so you can achieve the best possible results in the most efficient way.

In this tutorial I will explain how we at Jironomo go about creating an architectural animation...I am not saying this is the absolute right way... but it might be very beneficial to see the process we go through. At the time of writing we are using 3ds max 2010 and vray 1.5sp4


While each project is different, here are the 8 main stages that we typically go through when creating an animation:


Attaining and organising data
Client Communications
3D Modelling
Basic Lighting and Texturing
Advanced Lighting and Texturing

#1 - Attaining and Organising Data

This is the initial stage of all animations. Getting the plans, sections, elevations, detail drawings, landscpae plans, lighting plans etc etc etc from the client. Depending on the client and how advanced the project is you can often expect to only be able to get some of the data I have listed.

It is very important to organise your files in a clear and simple structure...this will save you heaps of time throughout the project. There is nothing more counter productive than spending loads of time sifting through unorganised files.

#2 - Client Communications

It is very important with every job that you do that you have the clients best wishes in mind. Make sure you have a detailed discussion with your client about the fine details of the project. Find out what their target audience is, the style they are going for and how the animation will fit in with their other marketing material. Other important details are: how long the animation is to be, the soundtrack, the theme, text, captions etc etc.

Basically you need to find out as much as possible about what they want it to look like and work with them. Remember that you are the should know more about architectural animations than don't be afraid to make suggestions that you think will improve the look and feel of the project.

It is also very important to keep your client in the loop throughout the entire animation process. Send them preliminary images as often as possible. Not only does this keep them happy and informed as to the progress of the project but it ensures that the project is advancing in the way that they originally had in mind. By sending as many prelim images as possible you are ensuring that both you and the client are happy before moving on to the next stage. This will save you time in the long run because making changes in the more advanced stages of the animation is a lot more difficult and time consuming than towards the beginning.

#3 - Storyboarding

Always plan out each scene in your animation. Work out how it will all fit together in the end. If you have a soundtrack you might want to take into consideration the tempo of the music so you can style your edits to fit with the beats.

We find that creating a storyboard helps not only in the aesthetic production of the movie but also organisationally. If you have quite a complex project you often need to break up each scene so you can manage your 3ds max file sizes. If you have a complex model with millions of polygons and try and fit everything into the one scene you will end up with a really big file size which is often difficult to manage. We find it best to create a file/scene for each camera path. This means you can keep your file sizes smaller and much more manageable. Simply delete anything that can't be seen by the camera or that will effect the lighting/shadows.

#4 - 3D Modelling

Now that you've completed all the planning its time to get down to the hard work...the 3d modelling. This is one of the most important stages of any architectural animation. You must be careful to include as much detail as possible - but only in the areas that need it. So don't go modelling blades of grass if they are going to be way back in the background! This will just create a huge scene with no noticeable improvement in the final renderings. Put detail in to the areas that are close to the camera and that will be clearly visible in the camera path.

#5 - Basic Lighting and Textures

Once the 3d modelling is complete and you and the client are happy with the form and structure of the built aspects of the project its time to move onto the lighting and texturing. Put some really basic lighting into the scene so you can see what your working with in the test renders. Now apply materials to all your don't have to get them perfect at this stage, just keep them simple...not too many glossy reflections that will chew up your render times!

Once you have basic materials on everything, its time to start setting up the lighting. Now this is not a lighting tutorial so I won't go into detail about the lighting but obviously there are many different options to think about depending on whether your scene is set during the daytime or at night and whether is is inside or out.

From now on in it simply a matter of tweaking everything (lighting, materials and render settings) to get the look your going for.

#6 - Advanced Lighting and Textures

Just keep working on the look of your scenes until you are happy with the result....remember with an animation you won't be able to use as high render settings as if you were creating a still image (unless you have access to pixars render farm!). You will need to optimise your settings so that your render time for each frame isn't too long. Now is when you start adding glossy reflections and increasing your subdivisions a bit. We like to render out multiple stills along the animation path at this point so we can get a feel for what the animation will look like. It is also very helpful if you have a good sized render farm to render out a low res version of the animation. You can send this to the client and make sure they are happy with it before you move onto the higher resolution sequences.

#7 - Rendering

Obviously this is one of the most tricky parts of the architectural animation process. You need to optimise your scene for quality vs speed. Also be sure to use an appropriate vray AA filter. This is where it really helps to have a HUGE render farm..just max out your vray settings and wait. But for those who don't have acces to a huge farm you need to be careful with your render settings.

At Jironomo we save each frame of the animation seperately. We also like to include a few vray render elements (see vray render elements tutorial). This is great if for some reason you need to stop the rendering half way through or your system crashes etc you will have all the frames saved up until the time of the interruption. It aslo gives you more control in post production.

#8 - Editing

Once all the animation sequences are rendered to your satisfaction its time to bring it together with your favourite video editing software. At Jironomo, like many other studios, we use After Effects. SImply add your sequences to the timeline and start editing them together. We will usually play around with colours, depth of field, motion blurring etc etc.

Once the final movie is complete, send it to the client, sit back and enjoy the praise for a job well done!

Thats it for this tutorial, I hope it has been of some help to you. As I mentioned at the beggining, this is not the definitive answer for every project but more of a general workflow process to help you understand how we go about the process of creating a 3d architectural animation.

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