The cost of 3D renderings

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Just about everyone these days understands the value of a 3D rendering, but the cost isn’t always as clear cut. I’ve had many prospective customers express concerns about renderings quickly exceeding their budget, mostly based on experiences they’ve had in the past. While it’s always difficult to predict exactly how much it will cost to produce renderings without all the required information up front, any vendor should have no problem giving you ball park figures or generate a quote with some basic information. What’s really helpful to understand, however, is what affects pricing the most. The actual cost of having a computer render a scene isn’t all that high, and with enough computing power, doesn’t take very long either.

We use computers that have processors with many times the amount of cores compared to a typical consumer machine in order to render true-to-life materials quickly. It’s a common misconception that highly glossy surfaces are harder to render, but it’s often materials with very diffuse reflections that are the most taxing on computers.

What does take time is setting up the scene – any good render service will approach a project both as technicians and artists. There needs to be enough detail to produce a convincing image, and in cases where an object isn’t already stored in a 3D library, it needs to be modeled by an artist. Modeling something like a custom aircraft seat, can require hours of polygon manipulation to get right. The whole point of 3D renderings is to show something that doesn’t exist yet, but if it can be made up of individual elements from a digital library, it takes much less time and effort.

A  rendering of a custom seat design modeled from scratch. Beyond accurately representing the seams and stitching, adding an extra “plush” feel requires experience, judgement, and technical proficiency.

Similar to producing 3D models for unique elements, materials that are not stored in an existing library will need to be reproduced digitally. In it’s most basic form, creating a material for a rendering will require a “seamless” version of a texture that is color corrected and then “mapped” to the 3D geometry. In other words, the texture needs to be placed on the surface of the 3D object in such a way that it reflects what it’s real world counter part would look like – There are many ways to do this, and it’s up to the artist to decide what will be the most effective.

Sample rendering car CGI
A “candid” style 3D rendering. A 360 degree spherical HDRI photo was taken to place the 3D model of the car in a specific location. 

Finally, there’s the composition and the “shot” itself. Photographers need to light and frame a scene to not only highlight the subject, but do it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing – the same applies to a 3D rendering. You can have the best computer in the world with the latest in rendering software, and if you just hit the “RENDER” button, all that’ll pop up is a blank screen. In this sense, even requesting a different angle in a rendering requires some effort, albeit a whole lot less than having to move around heavy lights, tripods, and backdrops!

A studio style 3D rendering can be a great substitute for product photography if development isn’t finished or you don’t have inventory on hand. Ecommerce sites  in particular can benefit greatly from the speed and affordability of studio renderings. 

In short, a rendering itself does not cost much, what you pay for is the effort required to get everything to work – and look– right. If you’re interested in some ballpark numbers, play around with our instant estimate page!

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