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Renderings Are Ruining Work for Architects

I just got off the phone with one of my clients. With a little laughter in his voice, he remarked, “renderings are ruining work for us. All these television shows are showing cabinets getting dropped into place, and everyone seems to think now that this is just a simple push of the button.”

He’s partially correct. There’s no doubt that costs which would have been normally would have been passed to the architect in the past, have now filtered through to the architectural renderers involved in projects. What was once the realm of the architectural elite (those with the funding), has become more commonplace. The general public sees the flood of new building images, whether it’s on TV, billboards, or on the Internet and have taken our work for granted. Ultimately, this boils down to public awareness and education on the topic. People simply do not often know what is involved in our process and often jump to conclusions that the programs do all the work for us. If this was the case, then most of us would be out of a job.

Secondly, if we do have to place blame, I’d place it partially on technology itself. As computers have become more powerful, the ability to process these images has gotten easier. Highly realistic images are still time-intensive, but nowhere’s as involved as it would have been. One good desktop computer can easily replace a farm of 15 computers from 10 years ago. I recall a time where I’d have to wait almost two days before seeing a final product. Now I can do the same job with one computer in less than a few hours.

Third, I would blame the actual quality of the artists and what is being expected. There’s a lot of bad renderers out there. I don’t mean this as an insult, but their foray into the field is average at best. It’s the difference between looking at a photograph and staring at a cartoon. Photo-realism requires a lot of knowledge combined with computing power to take a rendering to the highest level, whereas a cartoon can be instantaneous. The problem is that a lot of people are satisfied with looking at a cartoon and that sometimes conveys the intended message. It’s basically what people are willing to pay for, and what the clients are content with. Sometimes the clients make the leap in logic themselves, thinking that it’s “just as easy” to produce something more realistic.

Fourth, the barrier of entry has been reduced. Computers and the software have come down drastically in price compared to a few years ago. The 3D software itself is still expensive, but rampant piracy has made the tools available to many hobbyists and start-up companies. A long time ago, the software would have easily run you over $8,000 for a single license. Now, there’s packages available for less than a few hundred dollars. Granted, most of them aren’t that good, but you get the idea.

Fifth, the level of education has increased. Collective Intelligence on the Internet has increased. Once upon a time, I had to buy books and spend weeks figuring out how the software worked on my own. Now, there’s free tutorial available on sites such as YouTube. There’s even better tutorials available for purchase including “out of the box” scene setups which people starting out can study. I still don’t think this is enough to teach someone the finer aspects to our field, but it gets them up and running a lot faster than the way we used to have it.

Sixth, I have to say that outsourcing has been a major issue. I get large companies calling me up all the time saying that they had their work done in another country. Quite often, they eventually learn a lesson and get frustrated with the lack of communication, but for every one of them, there’s another smaller company trying it out and sending their money overseas. Many of these foreign companies are not running legitimately purchased versions of the software which impacts software development in the US. Due to this, their lower costs of living, and often substandard work practices/ethics (long hours, etc.), they can afford to threaten US prices. It’s hard for me to justify one week’s worth of work when they are charging the equivalent of a few hours. I can only hope that other companies in the US recognize these ethics as well as the quality of our own work. Outsourcing has put a real toll on many of us, and have forced plenty of my colleagues out of a job.

Last but not least, I would say that our society has a new level of unrealistic expectations. As I first mentioned, renderings have become more commonplace. Recently, I had received a phone call from a car mechanic that wanted to open up a small garage in a preexisting space. The property required some work – some new doors and a paint job. He went before the town to see if he could move forward, when the committee suggested that he would get some renderings done. So he called me up in a panic, and I explained to him that it might take a few days and I told him the costs. When he heard that, you could hear him almost stop breathing. There’s no way I could really lower my price for him (I did offer him a discount because I felt terrible), but I thought the town was being unrealistic in their requests to begin with. 10 years ago, this would have been unheard of. Now people have come to expect it. I should also note that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a similar story from people.

So was my client partially correct in placing the blame on my field of work? Yes and no. It’s only one component of a much broader picture. In order for us to truly understand what is happening, we have to take some time to learn about a topic without jumping to conclusions. And just fyi, I got into this field for the sake of art. Money was only secondary. If you take away the financial aspects, then it’s going to be a lot more difficult for me to spend the time working on a masterpiece.