Guest Post for Autodesk: What We Know About VR
“What We Now Know About VR and Design Visualization” | Autodesk | June 14, 2017
With advances in VR technology and headsets making the medium more accessible, people outside the gaming industry are starting to take notice. Design firms like ours, Tangram 3DS, are using VR to tell stories in a more innovative, personal and immersive way than your traditional architectural renderings. It’s transformed our business in more ways than we can count, allowing us to meet the ever-changing design needs of our clients.
Virtual reality is a huge opportunity
VR for architectural design is nowadays a sought after service offering in advertising, architecture, real estate and health care, and there’s a great opportunity for design visualization firms to get in on the ground level. VR works for Tangram 3DS because it isn’t just a stand-alone medium: we combine innovative 360 or real-time VR experiences with traditional design work to tell a story from A-to-Z, and that’s always been our strength.
For example, we have a client who is an architecture firm that is building a high-end luxury apartment complex in mid-town Manhattan. Real estate prices are going to be astronomical, and the marketing team is going to have to sell a certain clientele on that value. They’re going to need photo-real collateral that gets people through the door.
Still renderings and animations can show people what the space will look like—whether the client is an architect who wants to better understand finishings and inform their design decisions, or a realtor who’s looking to sell a given space. It’s VR, however, that allows people to put themselves in their new apartment, and get a sense of the volume and atmosphere of a space. As a visualization firm using VR, we’re able to tell that luxury story across all these different media. That’s how we operate, and that’s how we’re going to flourish.
Adapt or die
From a business perspective, our biggest leap was adding a wide new range of services: interactive design, web design, and marketing. Like many other studios, we’re testing out the best way to create real-time VR presentations or experiences, since project timelines have gotten shorter and clients want everything faster.
With many clients not always willing to pay for bigger jobs, a lot of the larger architectural firms do a good deal of their 3D work in-house. This has its ups and downs since in some ways, they’re a growing competitor for us. On the other hand, when they’re hiring us for the refined high-end renderings or final touches on their work, we receive 3D models that require less time spent on the bare bones and more focus on turning a simple model into so much more.
Due to this, we’re finding ourselves in this niche high-quality side of the market. This puts a lot of pressure on us to produce increasingly better imagery and animation, and offering VR experiences has been a one-up in this regard.
Virtual reality comes in different flavors
As Tangram 3DS has evolved our VR service, we’re finding that our clients are falling into two distinct buckets. The first is made up of big architecture firms like Gensler, Perkins+Will and Foster+Partners who have in-house resources for everyday VR rendering, but may look to us to produce high-quality pieces that are shown as representations of their designs for clients.
We also work with real estate companies that present our VR renderings to prospective buyers in a sales center or through sales outreach. They want to be able to give clients a feeling of being in a potential space, and only high-quality, top-end designs will work for that purpose.
Most VR projects fit within existing workflows
Within those two types of clientele, we have two different VR workflows. The first is 360-degree panoramic shots, which we can produce fairly easily and send our clients a web link that they can view with Google Cardboard or on a desktop. It’s very streamlined and falls in line with our traditional workflows.
The other type of VR we’re creating is real-time, and is created with the help of a game engine. This is where having some knowledge of how the game industry works is handy: you need to take polygon counts, texture sizes, and scene optimization into consideration. It’s quite a stretch from our traditional work, but we’ve gotten familiar very fast to create a separate workflow for this.
Innovation in virtual reality will continue to evolve
VR is just now coming into the public’s consciousness. We’re still at the beginning of the wave, but five years from now, it’s going to be very different, perhaps an integral part of our daily life. The software is getting better, and real-time VR is getting less cumbersome—requiring less powerful, dedicated hardware and less production time. To succeed, VR will need to run as a web app and on mobile devices. Real-time engines on smartphones will be huge, because clients would be able to take these immersive experiences around in their pocket. We’re heading toward this nexus where public perception, hardware, and software are all meeting in the middle. That is when VR is really going to take off.
Eventually, and this is a little scary for me, VR is going to change the way we actually produce our work, and we’re going to get to a point where designers will be able to get out of their chairs and actually move around to physically move walls and add detail right in the design.
We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming. And we need to be ready.