Once exclusively the realm of geeky computer scientists and Hollywood special effects artists, the role of 3D has expanded over the past decade to become a ubiquitous part of the design landscape. From elaborate architectural walk-throughs to simple web animations, 3D is everywhere these days, opening new creative possibilities for those willing to immerse themselves in a world of n-gons and NURBS.
For me, the beauty of 3D is that it allows you seek out optimal solutions to difficult problems in the most efficient manner possible. The 3D artist is at once director, cinematographer, and set designer -- a level of "creative control" which speeds along the entire process of crafting compelling visuals.
It should be noted, however, that none of this control comes cheap: high-end 3D programs' costs are still measured in the thousands of dollars, and require equally pricey computer equipment to run. In my own case, I run my applications on a year-old HP XW8000 workstation with dual 2.66 GHz Xeon processors, 2.5 Gb of RAM, and an NVidia Quadro4 980 XGL graphics accelerator card -- a system which makes your average consumer system look about as speedy a horse and buggy!
So those are the "specs." As far as the work goes, the 3D production pipeline breaks down into two distinct stages: the creative stage, which includes the time necessary to construct the models, make the textures, set up the camera and lighting, and refine a scene; and then the "rendering" stage, which is all the time the computer takes to calculate and produce the final image. As you might expect, I charge differently for each part of the process:
1) For all 3D design work, $30/hr.
2) For all rendering time, $20/hr.
Yes, this tends to make 3D work more expensive than work produced in Photoshop or with vector graphics, but working in three dimensions enables one to produce images which simply aren't possible by other means. It's also important to remember that once a particular model or scene has been constructed it can be called up and repositioned at a moment's notice. Compared with a traditional photo shoot, where changing camera angles and trying new effects often involves the laborious repositioning of gear, the time-savings when searching for that "perfect shot" can be enormous.
Ultimately, 3D is a tool; nothing more, nothing less. In the right hands, the results can be breathtaking, as demonstrated by the amazing effects work coming out of Hollywood. Even without that level of expertise -- and I make no claims to being a master animator, only a skilled technician capable of coaxing beautiful stills out of the software -- highend 3D applications can prove a useful and cost-effective alternative to expensive stock photos or even more expensive photo shoots.
Please take a look around here and enjoy the marvels of modern technology ... "artfully applied."
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