A guide to outsourcing real time visuals as a client

If you plan to have real time architectural visuals for your project as a client, by outsourcing it, this article might be helpful for you. 

Unfortunately, there’s some confusion in people’s minds (on the client side of the archviz business) when it comes to real time visuals. So in this article, I will rather talk to them, instead of professionals. 

(However, if you are a 3d artist or an archviz studio owner, you might still get useful ideas from this article – this way you’ll be able to provide a better experience to your clients who need real time visuals.)

The thing is, you must keep some things in mind when you outsource your real time visuals to others, especially, if you don’t really have experience with it. Otherwise, it could easily turn into a complete disappointment and a waste of your valuable time, energy and money.

But what are real time visuals?

In this article, I will refer ‘real time’ or ‘real time visuals’ to architectural visualizations that are created with game engines (such as the Unreal Engine or Unity), instead of traditional technologies (such as V-Ray or Corona). The biggest difference between them is that real time engines produce a single image (frame) in milliseconds, instead of hours.

Thus, with real time, it’s possible to create interactive spaces that you can explore just like a first person shooter game or you can take a look around in the space in virtual reality, using a VR headset.

Animations and short films can also be real time, depending on how they are created. If you use real time technology for these ‘products’, we can also call them real time.

An example of a short film created with Unreal – rendering took only minutes, instead of days
Production of M9 Museum and NEMA FX, Unreal Engine production by me

Anyway, I wrote an ebook on this topic in which I go deeper – just deep enough so you can grasp the essence of it, even if you’re not a technical person or a professional. I highly recommend you to check it out before you dive in to this article. It’s free – click here to get to know more about it.

What you should know about real time is that it’s a different technology compared to traditional archviz (that we’ve been using for decades). It means you must pay attention to certain things during the preparation phase that are specific to this technology.

I refer ‘preparation phase’ or ‘prep phase’ to the overall time from the first contact up until asking for a proposal from 3d artists or archviz studios for a project of yours.

That’s why I wrote this article: to help you bringing out the most from real time technology. This way you’ll know exactly how to approach any real time projects when contacting 3d artists or archviz studios.

How to use this article?

I wanted to make this fairly long writing easy to use for you – kinda like a checklist. If you don’t have any (or just a few) experience with real time, it might turn out that this technology is not what you’re looking for – and that’s great news because this way you won’t waste any of your resources on things that are not for you.

So with that in mind, I split this article into two main sections:

In Section 1, I will help you with clarifying if real time visuals are really what you’re looking for. These are the topics to be covered:

  • What’s your goal with real time visuals?
  • What should be the end product?
  • How should the visuals look?

If your answer is something like ‘yes, real time is definitely for me!’ at the end of Section 1, great!

In Section 2, I will further help you with introducing what you should definitely clarify with any 3d artists or archviz studios even before asking for a proposal.

Disclaimer: what I’m going to talk about is based on my 9 year experience with real time and 17 year experience with archviz. Still, not all might ‘resonate’ with you and it’s completely fine – it’s basically impossible to see everything in the archviz business. So if you have any observations or you feel I should definitely add something that’s missing, I encourage you to give me feedback in the comment section, at the end of this article. The more perspectives we have, the better it is.

Okay, let’s start then!

Section 1

What’s your goal with real time?

Or I should ask it in a different way: do you really need real time for your projects?

There are three important things you should know about this technology. 

First, real time visuals are more complex ‘products’ than the traditional ones, such as still images (renderings), screenshots and 3d models that you can ‘play around with’ in any 3d software (such as SketchUp or 3ds Max) or in any BIM applications (such as Revit or ArchiCAD). So it definitely requires more time and energy – and special expertise – to create real time visuals. 

Second, there are less 3d artists and archviz studios specialized in real time, compared to professionals who work with traditional technologies.

Third, its perceived value is usually higher than any products created with traditional technologies. For example, a fully interactive interior (that you can walk around in virtual reality and you can interact with) is perceived to be more valuable than regular still images. 

Therefore, real time is considered to be as a more expensive product (even if you create your visuals in-house: you’ll definitely need an expert in your team). Prices highly depend on the given 3d artists or archviz studios but in general, real time visuals tend to cost more because of their complexity and the special skills needed.

So with these things in mind, let’s examine what purpose you need real time for. 

According to my experience, there are three main purposes (scenarios) when it comes to using any archviz products:

  1. Presenting your ideas;
  2. Assisting in the architectural design;
  3. Generating sales in the real estate market;

Let’s start with the first one!

1 - Presenting your ideas

As an architect or interior designer, real time might be a great and powerful tool to use in order to present your ideas to your clients (or to others). Real time has the power to completely suck people in to the virtual space so they wouldn’t just see your design but they would also feel it (and that’s important).

But maybe that’s not what you need. 

There are a couple cases when real time might be the right tool for you. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How important is it to bring your clients into your designed space? Is it enough if they only see your design in renderings or do you also need them to feel it? You should clarify your goal from a practical point of view. The more details you show them, the more they will understand your design – but how much detail is enough?
  • How powerful the emotional impact should be? If you explore an architectural space for example in virtual reality, it has a very strong ‘wow’ effect on anyone (even on professionals who got used to VR) – an impact that still images and animations can’t have. In general, the more luxurious or prestigious your projects are, the more emotional impact they should have.
  • How important is it to demonstrate higher perceived value of you, your office and your service? Real time is still considered as a relatively new and ‘fancy’ tool – it will definitely make your clients perceive you and your service as more valuable. 
  • How do you plan to present real time visuals to your clients? This is a huge factor as a powerful (or at least a mid category) computer (or mobile device) is needed in order to bring the most out of real time. 

I can’t stress enough how important logistics are! That alone can determine your decision whether you invest in real time or not. Having a Bugatti with a 90HP engine (or worse, that can’t be started) is not the experience you’re looking for.

Let’s see the most important questions on logistics:

  • How do you plan to present real time visuals to your clients? Would you do it on your device, or would you send the end products to your clients so they can check them out on their device? 
  • If they come to you, do you have the proper logistics for real time? Do you have a computer that will run your real time scenes fast enough in order to provide a flawless experience? Do you have a proper VR device?
  • Do your clients have capable computers (or mobile devices) that can handle real time visuals? Do they have VR headsets in case of a virtual reality experience? It’s an important factor that determines how you approach real time projects.
  • How important mobility is? Do you plan to bring the real time experience to your clients on your device? Mobility also determines what platforms to use (mobile or desktop) and what device to choose (desktop computer, laptop or mobile device).

I know these are a lot of questions to answer. But I think it’s better spending a couple hours clarifying these important details right at the beginning, instead of wasting your valuable time and money on things that you don’t really need or aren’t what you expect. 

Okay, let’s see the second scenario which is… 

2 - Assisting in the architectural design

Well, it’s similar to the previous scenario: it’s about presenting your ideas but more like in a long term fashion. Assisting in the design process usually requires modifying the virtual space a lot – and some of them might be fundamental, conceptual changes.

As I mentioned before, creating any content for real time is complex. Which means it takes time to implement any modification requests, especially if they are fundamental ones.

Therefore, real time might not be the best and most efficient tool for the job – well, they might be but in exchange for visual quality. For example, Twinmotion has great solutions for that and you can also bring out decent quality from it.

I think it’s better using more simple tools during the design phase – when your ideas are constantly changing. And when all is set, you go for real time at final visual quality.

If you decide to use real time for the design phase anyway, you should also answer all the questions above in order to clarify what exactly you need.

Okay, let’s see the third scenario!

3 - Generating sales in the real estate market

In general, there are three main goals you want to reach when it comes to selling properties:

  • Reaching your prospects in the most convenient, efficient and effective way. It’s more like a ‘functional’ goal to have. Still images, animations, websites and brochures are great tools to have and traditional archviz can easily provide them (these might be materials for IQLs*). Once you have reached this goal and got the prospects’ interest, you might want to provide them with further information (to become MQLs* or SQLs*). The way you do that usually depends on the size and the ‘status’ of your project.
  • Educating your prospects and making it easier for them to understand what you sell. In sales, there’s a rule of thumb: the more your prospects understand what you sell, the more likely they will buy. Ensuring a well informed decision making is absolutely essential when it comes to market your property.
  • Once you have reached your prospects and got their interest, you might want to engage them with your project in an exciting and fun way, in order to have an emotional impact. The more engaging your stuff is, the more emotions you provoke and the more likely they will remember your product even weeks later when they are making up their minds. In addition to that, having an emotional impact helps you to emerge your offer from competitors. 

*What is IQL, MQL and SQL?

According to Danny Wong from Salesforce, an important step in sales is determining the quality of leads (or in other words, prospects who showed interest) and where they are in the customer journey. Once you have that information, a thorough lead qualification process can help you streamline your approach in converting them to the next step. 

  • IQL (information qualified leads): cold prospects who are unfamiliar with you and your product;
  • MQL (marketing qualified leads): warm prospects who are further down your sales process – they understand your stuff that you’re selling;
  • SQL (sales qualified leads): hot prospects who are seriously considering buying from you.

You can find more information on this topic in Danny Wong’s great article about lead qualification.

As you can see, there are two ‘extremes’ here: the purely ‘functional’ one (reaching people with your stuff) and the one that’s more like an ‘entertainment’ or ‘event’ (prospects are engaging with your stuff while you have great emotional impact on them). Just think about Tesla or Apple: they don’t just launch their new product quietly, without any stir, they rather create a huge event around it.

According to my experience, the bigger your projects are, the higher status they have, the more important it is to go from one extreme to the other. So the more luxurious and prestigious a property investment is, the more likely investors will use real time for the sales processes in order to market their stuff in a more ‘fancy’ way.

A great engaging experience can be a luxurious live event where prospects can explore the property in virtual reality. Or they can download the real time visuals for the selected properties that they can explore on their device.

In general, both big and prestigious projects tend to have the sufficient resources to take care of the extra costs of creating visuals – at this point, real time products are rather investments than expenses.

Okay, we have just finished with clarifying your goals. 

Do you still feel you need real time for your project? 

If yes, let’s see the next topic!

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What should be the end product?

In order to reach your goals, you’ll need certain types of visuals for that (I refer as ‘product’ or ‘end product’ to it). 

Let’s see the typical archviz content types and let’s check if you need real time for them or not:

  • Still images or renderings: according to my experience, it’s more efficient to stick with traditional technologies (such as V-Ray or Corona). The workflow is more simple, it requires less time to create them and it’s cheaper overall.

A regular still image or rendering that was created with traditional technology
architect: Studio KVARC  / interior designer: Mariann Fehér / rendering by me

  • Animations and short films can be created using both traditional and real time technologies. It’s up to you which one you choose but real time tends to be faster and more flexible, thanks to the absence of render time – I have an article on this topic, you might want to check it out if you’re interested.
  • Interactive experiences: this is the main use of real time. If you want to explore your architectural space (like a first person shooter game) on a desktop computer, on a mobile device or in virtual reality, real time technology is the right choice for you. Besides exploring, you can also interact with the space in countless ways (opening doors, altering the light setup in real time, changing materials and objects, etc.) making your visuals much more engaging, exciting and fun. 

An example of an interactive experience
It’s the desktop version but scene can be run in virtual reality as well

  • Augmented reality: this is the other use of real time. In this case you can check your exterior (with or without the site) like an architectural model (maquette). 

An example of augmented reality in archviz
Courtesy of Parth Anand

So the question you should ask at this stage: what end product do you need?

You don’t have to stick with one type only. For example, combining still images with animations are quite popular. So you can have renderings created in the traditional way while having interactive real time visuals for your space. It’s up to you.

Do you still feel you need real time for your project?

If you do, let’s continue!

How should the visuals look?

The less experience one has in the field of archviz, the higher his or her expectations might be regarding to the visual quality.

In general, the untrained eyes tend to think that architectural visuals should always look photoreal and high end quality. Their point of reference is based on real life and photos so I can totally understand why it works this way. 

At this point, you might face two problems as a client when it comes to visual appearance regarding to the product you’d get:

  • High and unrealistic expectations: for example, you think you’ll get hyper-realistic visuals but the 3d artist can’t live up to your expectations and delivers a poor or average quality – even if it’s fairly decent, it might be a bit far away from what you had in mind;
  • Different style: you have a certain style in mind but the end product will look completely different that you don’t necessarily like – even if visual quality is great;

So you have to take care of this problem early in the preparation phase. 

When you are searching for 3d artists or archviz studios, always check their portfolio to make sure if they are able to produce visuals in the preferred style and at the quality you need – they should always match to what you have in mind. In other words, look for 3d artists who can create the same thing that’s in your head – it’s very important!

Also, you should keep in mind that high end visual quality tends to cost more. So a good strategy might be to match the quality to your budget.

These things might sound trivial but not checking what you would receive still tends to be a huge problem, especially if you don’t have too much experience in the field of archviz (as an outsourcing client).

Okay, that’s the end of Section 1. 

So my question is, do you still feel you need real time visuals for your project? 

If no, good – probably using traditional technologies is the reasonable choice for you.

If yes, keep reading!

Section 2

Or in other words, what things do you need to clarify with the 3d artist during the preparation phase?

This section will be way shorter than the previous one.

So at this point, you know real time is definitely for you. You might also have picked the right 3d artist or archviz studio that can help you with bringing your vision into life.

Now it’s time to discuss your expectations with them (in which style and at what visual quality they should deliver). This way you can avoid any future misunderstandings, disappointments and the waste of your valuable resources. 

So these are the questions you should definitely ask from the preferred 3d artist or archviz studio:

  • What’s your goal with real time? Presenting your ideas to your client? Assisting in the architectural design? Selling your real estate? You should always make it clear what you would like to do with the visuals you get.
  • Do you have any ideas on how you want to present your projects (from an artistic pespective)? Which part(s) should be emphasized? Where should we put our focus? Should it be daytime or nighttime? Under what weather conditions? In which season? These are also important details to check.
  • What end product(s) do you need exactly? A short film? An interactive walkthrough scene? A virtual space that can be explored in virtual reality? Or augmented reality?
  • How do you plan to present the real time visuals to your client? At your studio? At their office? Or you just send the end product over to them that they can check on their device?
  • What exactly would the visuals run on? On a desktop or a mobile platform? PC or Mac? Android or iOS? If you need VR, do you need the mobile or the desktop version of it? As I mentioned before, logistics are quite important!
  • What are the target hardware specs that you would run your real time visuals on? In case of virtual reality, which VR device do you plan to use? These are very important questions as the 3d artist or archviz studio should optimize your projects accordingly. A good 3d artist will also help you with selecting the right machines and devices.
  • What kind of interactions do you need? Opening and closing doors? Turning lamps on and off? Changing materials, objects and complete parts (e.g. the kitchen) of the interior in real time? Interacting with displays such as TVs and computers? Minimap with teleportation? Introducing the space in multiple time of the day? Changing weather conditions? Do you need user interface that needs to be customized? Developing interactions influences the amount of work a lot.

After clarifying these questions, you’ll have a pretty solid understanding of what to expect and what you will get at the end of the project. 

A thoughtful and experienced 3d artist will proactively help you with clarifying these questions with you. It’s his or her interest to deliver what you need anyway.

And lastly, don’t forget to provide the 3d artist or the archviz studio with all the necessary input they need so they can fully understand your project.

The conclusion

You’ve made it to the end of this article!

I know it was long and ‘dense’ but according to my experience, it always pays off if you put the time into the preparation phase. It’s for your own sake anyway.

So the bottom line is:

  • Always start by clarifying if you need real time at all for your project;
  • Define what type of end products you need exactly;
  • Also, clarify how the end products will be used and what logistics you’ll need for them;
  • Find the right 3d artist who can deliver in the preferred style, at the visual quality that matches to your vision;
  • Clarify all the details about your project with him or her, until you know exactly what you’ll get.

I think what you should decide is whether you want to sweep your clients (and/or their prospects) off their feet – or you just want to keep the visuals strictly ‘functional’. The more luxurious and prestigious a project is, the more likely it is that you’ll need real time visuals in order to ‘pimp up’ your presentation and to have a greater emotional impact on prospects.

Agree? Disagree? Have any suggestions?

I really hope you find this article helpful – thanks for reading it over!

I would also like to hear your opinions and experience in case you feel I missed something out from this writing.

And if you think this article might be helpful to others, please share!

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About the author, Andras RONAI

I help people with unleashing and bringing their visions into life with real time technology (using Unreal Engine) so they can make this world a bit of a better place by creating something great.

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