Information concerning general artwork.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.
, ,

LunarStudio Summer 2013 Architectural Rendering Newsletter

*Update: we discontinued our newsletters with Constant Contact. This is an archived post.*

LunarStudio’s summer newsletter went out today to all of our clients and colleagues. It details the architectural rendering projects we have been working on for the past year. Several highlights include our work with Marketing Drive (now called Match Marketing) on the CVS Caremark iPad application as well as an airport terminal proposal in Zambia for AAE Systems, Inc. and Gensler.

If you have a moment, please take a look!

Thanks!

-Charles

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.
, ,

Outsourcing Renderings to China and India

I first brought up outsourcing (or sometimes referred to as “offshoring”) many years ago, long before President Obama was elected to his first time. Architectural renderers, 3D artists, architects, engineers, manufacturers and software developers were getting bombarded by spam originating from other countries which offered to perform similar services at much lower costs. Unless you were on the front line of this wave of spam, you might have been oblivious as to how frequent companies and people such as myself were being approached with these lower-cost services and opportunities. For many corporations, outsourcing their production costs to other countries such as China and India made great financial sense to the higher-ups and CEOs – they could cut out American workers and try to get a similar product at only pennies on the US dollar. These same companies would be able to provide inexpensive goods to the public which made for great short-term profitability. It’s only fitting that just prior to the recent re-election of President Obama, that job outsourcing became one of the main hot-topic attacks the Obama camp levied against Mitt Romney. Mitt after all was an executive at Bain Capital – a company known to “trim the proverbial fat” in corporations in order to make them highly profitable, often at times through outsourcing.

Politics aside, outsourcing has taken a huge toll on myself and my company LunarStudio, fellow artists, and others within related fields. Many of us have been forced to lower our prices in this economic recession in order to just stay afloat. I have had numerous clients call up and say to me, “well, I can get this architectural rendering done in China for $500.” Others have said, “having the best quality isn’t as important as simply communicating the basic idea.” In other words, they don’t care about the quality of the end product as long as they can save a few hundred dollars. Yet still, I’ve had numerous others come back and say, “I had someone create renderings for cheap in China, but it’s not worth all the aggravation and back and forth – it ends up being cheaper for me to hire someone locally.”

Initially, I based a lot of my conclusions based upon my thoughts and what others had said, but hadn’t actually put outsourcing to the test for myself. The thought was that I could try having another company or individual model a scene overseas, then I could take the model, implement changes, light, and texture the scenes myself. In many ways, it would be similar to having someone in-house perform the modeling grunt work (and in case one has a problem with this concept, you might be surprised to know that Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and authors such as Alexander Dumas had people doing their more menial tasks as well.) In other cases, I’ve had larger architectural firms and developers provide me with models but I always ended up putting together the finishing touches. So I waited for an opportune moment, time-frame, budget, and quality to present itself from another country. Eventually, it came.

The first time I outsourced the modeling portion, it was to another person was in Mumbai. The quality was pretty good overall. The language barrier is almost non-existent depending on the person you are working with. The turn-around times are satisfactory – it’s definitely a lot faster and more accurate to have someone model your scene locally but at slightly higher costs. To be fair, I think accuracy really depends on who you are working with in this situation. The more experience (and motivation) someone has, the faster the process will go. However, the prices are much higher than China. In cities such as Mumbai, I’ve been told fees in the range of $10-$15/hour is not unreasonable. On the other hand, it will come to less than double if a modeling service is performed here in the United States, especially factoring in time zone differences. As for the final images themselves, I have yet to find another firm in India that meets my standards of image quality, so I’ve always ended up working on the final images myself. The savings in this country are definitely not where it was five or even ten years ago. The wage gap for skilled professionals is getting closer.

Another time, I tried outsourcing the modeling process to China. Plans were sent to one of the biggest architectural rendering firms (and spammers) with a request for pricing. The price was half of what people in India were charging and they were willing to put in more effort on complicated plans. However, I discovered that this came at a huge cost of time. Modeling took much longer, and even further out depending on their current scheduling. On top of this, each time they made a mistake or oversight (for which there was plenty), I would sometimes spend hours of my own time marking up images to sending them back then I’d have to wait overnight due to the timezone differences. In some cases, they still got those changes wrong so I would have to wait an additional evening for things to get back to me. Once, the same issue transpired over the course of five different days for a single problem. On one occasion, they made changes but insisted on charging me extra after they had already made them. I told them that it was only fair to have approached me with additional costs beforehand, but I ended up paying because it was nominal in the larger scheme of things, plus I had an obligation to my client to fulfill. Last but not least, they don’t work weekends which is a foreign concept to myself and other artists I’ve talked with here in the United States. It’s a luxury that we often don’t have.

My conclusions after several experiences of outsourcing follows:

I don’t think it’s worth outsourcing to India as the cost-savings are not that significant. The only time I have found that it’s worth it is if I have an over-abundance of work and my time is best spent on less menial tasks. I have developed a relationship with some of these subcontractors, so I probably get a more timely and higher-quality results than most people who outsource occasionally. Plus I know what I am getting because I’m familiar with the process myself. Not having a huge language barrier is very nice compared to the alternative. From an economic standpoint, I’d still much rather do the modeling work here myself or hire somebody else in the US to perform these tasks. It’s not that much of a difference financially when factoring in their extended time. If you factor them in for finishing the finals, the price is almost comparative (depending on the company or individual) and quality can vary drastically.

As for China, unless you have a large project that’s going to go through dozens of revisions and you have weeks to months to spare, a project can turn into a nightmare. I’m very fortunate that I know the process myself and understand how much work is involved, so subcontractors are often unable to “pull the proverbial wool” over my eyes without me catching it. Even so, the wait can be unbearable. I get a lot of clients that call up with extremely short deadlines of a week or so. Using a Chinese firm on a short deadline would not be practical unless you’re satisfied with few changes and lower quality. On the other hand, if you have weeks or even months to spare, then it might be somewhat cost-effective. The people I hired did seem to have a lot of patience when it came to making changes. However, one needs to keep in mind that the person delegating the renderings ends up having to micromanage all of the communications and hours of markups, so it ends up costing time and wages locally. Last but not least, the prices in China are steadily increasing. At one point, I saw animations priced out at $50/second but recently I’ve seen offerings for $150/second. I only think this is going to increase as their economy grows (or they’re called out on currency manipulation), at which point it doesn’t even make it worthwhile.

I’m not being racist by any means – I’m half Asian myself but grew up here. I’m just merely stating what my own personal experience has been. It seems completely in-line with the other stories I’ve heard.

And to be completely fair, I’ve also had negative experiences with subcontractors here in the US as well. I’ve had clients banging on my door and a subcontractor who “disappeared” in the middle of it. He was also significantly late to implement changes. The model itself took months to complete (in part due to the client consistently making changes) and the final renderings ended up being mediocre. During one conversation, the subcontractor had a slip-of-the-tongue and told me that the job I provided him was “lower priority.” I sort of understand where he was coming from, but I would never dare say something like that to any of my clients. Regardless of the difference in job prices and timing, if I accept a job, I’m going to try to put my best foot forward for every job equally otherwise I don’t accept it. Needless to say, he never received any additional work from me.

In all, I think it’s best to try to keep work in the architectural rendering field as well as other similar professions here in the United States. There’s times where outsourcing is the only practical solution given a very tight budget and if they have a long time-frame to work with (which is a rarity in of itself.) I feel that if you want something done right, you often need to do it yourself. And that’s pretty much where I’m at these days.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.
, ,

Update on Freelance Artist Prices

It’s hard for me to believe that a couple of years have passed since I last wrote the article on “Prices to Charge as a Freelance Artist“, but it has. At the time, it got the attention of several major artist-related websites and it gained a lot of traffic. I received an email in regards to it a couple of days ago. A reader named Adam wanted to know if the general pricing structure outlined has remained the same since time has passed. My answer would be “yes”, but I figured it might be worth copying and pasting our correspondence below as it might prove useful to others:

Here is the original correspondence below:

 I came across your blog about pricing as a freelance artist.  Price to Charge as a Freelancer or Artist.
It was extremely informative, but being that it is now close to a few years old, how much of that information still remains true – Has pricing become tighter within the past few years, or remained the same?

I would like to offer watercolor rendering, but have no clue about what to price, and I too feel that drastically undercutting is no good for the industry as a whole – but am at a loss of what to charge because I see so many ( likely foreign based) illustrators/renderers offering services for a few hundred dollars, and that seems completely unsustainable here in the US.

I chose to email you rather than reply to the blog because the last post was quite some time ago, so I was no sure if you were still watching it.  I hope you do not mind.

My reply:

Hi Adam,

Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been swamped with things to do. It was probably a good question for the blog, and if you wouldn’t mind, I might repost this:

To answer your question, the prices haven’t changed. Most of my estimates factor in just operating costs such as rent and other bills. And trust me, those haven’t changed. If anything cable and cellphone bills have increased. The only thing that has somewhat decreased are oil prices and they’re still high.

As for the market, it’s still competitive with China and India in the mix, however their prices have steadily increased. There might be fewer rendering freelancers out there due to the economy, but that’s not going to lower the bottom line any—it should help the survivors if anything. Also banks are still reluctant to make significant loans to developers without a significant amount down so there’s some cuts in that department.

So, the market is still hanging in there. I wouldn’t say as good as it was a few years ago but it will come back. One shouldn’t have to ask for lower than what I had posted unless a person is starting out for a few first sample projects or a company hits a major lull in work and needs to get temporary finances in order. If it continues to stay low, either an artist is going to crazy due to the amount of work and changes involved, or it’s just going to be unsustainable.

I’ve been told repeatedly by customers/clients that my prices are generally right in the middle, so I think that’s where we all should be (of course, who wouldn’t like more which really should be the case for the amount of work involved.)

As for outsourcing, I have written articles about that and will probably post something within the next day regarding the topic. The savings really aren’t that great due to all of the communication issues which can add weeks to a client’s project. Especially with China, they’ll make unlimited changes but always make dozens of errors, then there’s situations where they hit you up with hidden costs. I’ve had numerous people tell me that they’ve tried it but their time is more valuable in the end. It’s worth just spend a few hundred extra to get it done 3X faster without the headaches. The only time it’s worth it is if its an extremely complicated project and you have months to dedicate to fielding questions.

It’s important for many of us to recognize basic operating costs and try to profit somewhat accordingly, otherwise we are all doing each other a major disservice by undercutting one another. That’s the reason why I posted the article—mostly just to give everyone some basic business-sense to build our craft upon.

Let me know if that helps.

Regards,

Charles
www.lunarstudio.com

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.
, ,

LunarStudio’s Architectural Rendering is up on Pinterest!

I just wanted to make a short announcement that LunarStudio website gallery, but I figure the added traffic and visibility cannot hurt. If you’re on Pinterest or just like to browse images, please feel free to visit us. Thanks!

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.
, ,

Realistic Expectations and Demanding Clients

A week ago, my company LunarStudio was contacted on a late Friday evening by a Los Angeles-based property firm. This company wanted to have realistic renderings created from multiple sketches. The owner informed me that she had “gone through three different people before finding a sketch artist that [they] could work with.” She complained about “missing deadlines” due to the artist’s “inability” to interpret what she wanted to see drawn out. After months of trials, they had finally nailed down their sketches then they proceeded to try to find a photorealistic rendering company or artist that could develop a 3D rendering based upon those sketches. The owner went through an additional person (person #4), stating that the renderings looked nothing like her originals.

Now, she presented the renderings to me and we spent over an hour on the phone. I’d be first to admit that there were a decent amount of differences from the sketch and things that could have been done better. But keep in mind, they did not have plans and elevations which tends to make the process much easier because there’s a lot less guessing when it comes to dimensions. Having those construction drawings can actually cut a project’s development time half. Secondly, she did not mention how much she offered to pay this artist. The problems with the artwork in her mind were numerous – from colors (the original sketches didn’t have any colors) to people being placed in slightly different locations, etc.

I could easily see this artist pulling out their hairs trying to perform both a bit of magical mind-reading and having to bend 3D software in directions that it’s not intended to be bent in. In a nutshell, this client was extremely demanding.

A week later, I tried contacting her to see what her status was on her project – if they came to any determinations as to who they would use for their renderings. Personally, I don’t really need the extra work although it might have been decent money – it was more for my own scheduling purposes as my schedule can be really hectic at times. She said that she wanted to take an entirely different approach and find someone that could work internally and that it had nothing to do with pricing as everyone was in-line with one another.

I told her at that point that I was no longer trying to sell myself, but actually trying to help her. I said quite honestly, “any artist that is really good is probably not going to work full-time with someone standing over their shoulders. Secondly, if you do find that person, it’s going to cost a lot of money.” I think she realized my point then mentioned “hiring a contractor instead.”  I stated that hiring a contractor was probably more of a realistic expectation but that it wasn’t going to be easy. I could tell that she didn’t like the fact that I was questioning her decisions, although I was merely trying to help solve her problem. She excused herself and our conversation ended.

The main issue that I see here is one of being picky, bordering on what I would think falls under the medical definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Everyone wants something for nothing – they want the impression that they are getting a good deal. There comes a point where obsessing over the smallest details can be counter-productive as it can add weeks or even months to a schedule and drive up costs. These types of clients that are hiring the artists often do not understand our process and how much work is involved in producing a sketch, let alone a 3D rendering. In other situations, a client may be absolutely in the right when it comes to the finer details, but are unwilling to pay a higher premium for quality. At that point, friction develops. I know personally that I’m willing to make just about any change as long as a client is willing to compensate for my time. The problem is that in many people’s minds, they might think something takes a few minutes when in reality it can take a few hours or even days.

I personally don’t think this person is going to obtain a good outcome in a timely fashion. Her main complaint and frustration involved timing and quality. She went through three sketch artists before finding one that she liked. She went through another 3D artist as well. Now, she is several months in the hole. How much do you think that cost her? She’s probably looking close to $15,000 wasted – possibly more. And that’s not factoring in their own time. The owner and their employees have to be spending their own time in meetings, emails, approvals, back-and-forth with their clients, etc. So at the end of the day, she just wasted $30 grand of her own client’s money and is STILL not any further ahead. By the time she is done, her company is going to have run up a $50,000 bill and clock.

And by some chance she does obtain a good outcome, whatever artist that she hires is probably not going to want to work for her in the future unless she learns the meaning of working together. Sometimes I see these types of overly-picky clients coming and no matter how much money they throw at me, I want to run in the other direction because I know they are going to make my life a living hell.

I suppose the moral of the story is that if you wanted it done right and you’re going to be picky in the first place, don’t be cheap. You have to pay for it. There’s really no shortcuts. Secondly, find someone that knows what they are doing – make sure that they have a good portfolio and a decent list of clients. She was much better off spending extra money in the beginning – $5,000-$10,0000, and would have had the illustrations done properly in a few weeks or less compared to several months down the road. Her employees would have been freed-up to work on other projects and generate income that way. Next, don’t expect any artist to be a mind-reader – that only happens over time with freak-accident bands like the Grateful Dead and The Beatles. You have no idea how many times someone says that they hired me because they liked my work or style, then they sit there and try to micromanage every aspect. They almost invariably get cra*p results because the artwork turns into half of what they wanted and half of the expectations I’m trying to meet. The art becomes muddied. You have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to tell someone, “hey you think it’s easy? Do it yourself.” Lastly, if you are going to be cheap or lack funds, at least try to understand the process better so that you’re not driving other people crazy.