Let's start at your desired end result and work back from there. The first question is "What do you require as your finished output?". Is it an image for print, an animation for your website, or a hard model? It's probably somewhere in-between or a combination of many options. Your final output format and media will dictate how we build your 3d models and more importantly how they are textured. Large high resolution images for print have much different requirements than a website animation. The goal here is to build a proper 3d model for your situation, this is going to save us time and you money so the more input the better.
Input...This is your idea, sketch, or CAD file that you provide as a basis for your project. The more input the better. It's impossible for us to read your mind and usually leads to disappointment, so we don't try. Most important at this stage is scale, proportion, and dimension. We are just fine working with your napkin sketch, but we need to be able to put the proper dimensions to them. In order to properly construct your 3d model and to have the finished product feel as realistic as possible it is very important to get the dimensions right. CAD files are the opposite end of the spectrum as they contain this info. Although data transfer gets better every day, problems still exsist. We can accept most CAD file formats and get useable data from them.
After building an accurate 3d model the next step is adding the correct colors, finishes, and materials. This portion of your project is probably the most subjective and thus can be the most difficult. Have you ever selected a paint chip, bought the paint, painted the wall, and been completely disappointed with the result? We have, both in reality and in 3d. The question is why? The answer usually has a lot to do with lighting. In reality as well a 3d light and shadow are everything and ever-changing. We make every attempt to get close to your color and material palate with the understanding that exact matches are impossible. Again more input is better, so reference to your color and material choices is critical.
Lights, camera, action...3d lighting is serious art form and every attempt is made to simulate accurate real world lighting. Whether in the studio, indoor or outdoor, great lighting is the key to great images. Input is very much needed in this practice as well. Is it noon? Overcast, sunny, or partly cloudy? Nighttime or maybe sunrise? The choices are many so this is an important decision. The second part of the equation is the placement of the camera. In 3d the camera can go anywhere, so you need to pick a view that tells the story. Action is the animation portion of this section. A single image is often all that is needed but when you need more, animate. Whether it is an exploded view of your new product or a flythrough of your next building, animation can tell a more complete story. Animation can be output for a website or DVD.
Rendering is the final step in the process. Photorealistic rendering is an artform that takes years to perfect. The hardware and software used are complex and constantly changing. The real struggle exists achieving a balance between the deadline and the desired look. It's a constant struggle and a very real problem. Every attempt is made to create a 3d scene that is both efficent to render and beautiful.
At the end of the day it comes down you being satisfied with your project. With enough input and hard work this goal is entirely achievable.