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3D Explainer Videos

The benefits of combining 3D animation and graphics with the internet to distribute compelling marketing material world-wide, are well established. If you’re not doing so, you’re missing opportunity.

3D Explainer Animated Video:showcase your products and services in the universal language of visual intelligence.
3D Explainer Animated Video: Created for Munters as part of a longer animation project explaining their unique approach to cooling data centers.

3D explainer video is the latest term for something we’ve been doing a long time. CraneDigital has nearly 30 years of experience combining advertising, marketing and publishing with 3D animation, graphics and video production to visualize and explain our client’s products and services in unique, compelling and entertaining ways.

Munters SyCool animated explainer video
3D explainer animated video
3D explainer animated video: Created for client to showcase unique industrial design benefits.
Radiate from Nutrien Ag Solutions. This video uses 3D animation to explain the benefits of Radiate from Nutrien Ag Solutions.

Explainer videos explain and showcase your products and services in a concise, unique presentation ready to deploy via the web to a world-wide audience. You’ve heard it a million times and it’s even more true today: a picture is worth a thousand words.

3D Animated Explainer Videos
Working closely with in-house video production team, CraneDigital provides high-quality 3D animation to showcase products in larger, corporate video projects.

Generally speaking, the web-surfing public no longer wishes to be bothered with reading to understand information, especially complex, technical information. Instead we’d like to have it explained to us in easy to understand words, with moving pictures and a friendly voice to guide us through. Combined with the right background music to set the tone, your corporate-approved logos, fonts, colors, etc. uphold the all important branding guidelines.

Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization: Cleaning the air in a pandemic.
Created for Lohmiller & Associates during the height of Covid. This project explains how the air is cleaned with Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization.

Explainer videos can be as simple or elaborate as required. The goal is always concise, brief messaging that reaches the right ears and creates a response.

3D explainer video for Shell Oil
Created for Shell Oil, this project explains the complexities of an enormous underground engineering feat; a freeze wall acting as a barrier containing subsurface contaminates. Otherwise impossible to grasp by the general public, this project was designed to showcase the depths with which Shell is willing to go to in order to protect the environment. Everything was modeled by CraneDigital using on-site photographic reference.

Let CraneDigital put our nearly 30 years of design, communication, marketing and animation experience to work for you. A long list of happy clients is proof we’re exceptionally good at it. Give us a call. We can help.

3D Process Diagrams and Site Maps

Conceptual fly through using blend of 3D modeling/animation and After Effects’ 3D capabilities to blend 2D and 3D and create the animated site map (no audio).

Today’s Marketing Director will tell you they’ve known for a while that moving major marketing initiatives to the web was not a question of if, but when – and how. An imposing task, the need became more acute by longer term affects of the Covid-19 pandemic. A common request from our clients has been the creation a 3D Site Map depicting products and services in context of their specific markets. CraneDigital has more than 25 years of marketing and communications experience on top of the 25 years of creating compelling, complex 3D graphics to help you through this transition.

3D Site Maps, Process Diagrams
3D Site Map, Process Flow Diagram, Virtual World or Interactive Map: whatever the name, the idea is the same: to introduce your products and services quickly and clearly, in-context to a web-savvy market.
Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Cement”

Especially useful for large organizations with products in several (or many) different vertical markets, the Site Map concept may also be called a Production Path, Process Flow Diagram, Decision Tree or Virtual World. Whatever the label, these highly fictionalized yet plausible 3D graphic representations of industries allow translating complex, detailed concepts into easy to comprehend visuals that are perfect for providing a virtual overview contextualizing products and services.

Cement Crusher for Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Cement”

This approach translates complex, detailed concepts into easily comprehended visuals.

The ‘big idea‘ is for large organizations with interests across multiple markets to present their products and services in a plausible, accurate setting; a ‘virtual world,’ then position branded, engineering-precise product data in that environment. Once this virtual world has been created the 3D model has unlimited possibilities for selling, educating and training into the future. Deliverables might include a library of specific images your sales and marketing teams then build their own custom sales presentation using PowerPoint, Visio or any other presentation software. Animations and videos are also obvious uses – whether as stand-alone, product-specific shorts, or animated clips inserted into longer live action videos.

Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Mining”

CraneDigital has been creating with this concept for more than a decade, since our first Site Maps created for Shell Oil, which they referred to as a “Disneyland style” map. A great benefit of working in 3D is flexibility in how one chooses to approach creating a plausibly accurate virtual 3D world, but some of the most common consider the following:

Cyclones,Schneider Electric Solutions for Mining
Cyclones, Schneider Electric “Solutions for Mining”

The difference color makes is clearly illustrated above. Selecting color wisely eliminates distractions and unwanted messaging, keeping your main point clear: promoting your brand.

3D virtual world map for marketing: clean water process illustrated diagram for Milton Roy

a) The environment is often brand neutral – except for the client’s brand. This means stripping out excessive color, or anything that could be tied to other recognizable products, especially those belonging to competitors. This keeps the organization’s branding standards – treatment of colors, logos, proper spacing, applications, etc. – upheld, and devotes 100% of your marketing efforts and dollars to promoting your brand.

Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Steel”

b) The environment needs to be accurate, but not to a engineering level of precision. Plausible is the word we like to use. There are many reasons for this. Industry insiders need to immediately recognize that an organization knows and understands its customers and the spaces they occupy. However, committing to too specific a make or model of anything NOT directly related to your own product line suggests preference to one piece of equipment over another. So constructing believable – but not distinguishable versions of things is important.

Smart Crane for Steel Industry
Smart Crane 3D model, built for Schneider Electric “Solutions for Steel”

c) Level of detail is another big consideration. A significant cost-driver, over-building detail into environments is time consuming and therefore expensive – and – needlessly complicates animation. The vantage point, or perspective you’re viewing the scene from plays a significant role in this decision. For example, if a waste water plant is viewed from 10,000 feet you’ll not need every nut and bolt on every railing or ladder in the facility. If, however, the camera moves in for a closer look at a specific feature, examining how a product may me installed – level of detail becomes important. It’s better to approach Level of Detail in Phases.

3D Diagram of Wastewater Treatment Plant, color version
Wastewater treatment plant, phase 1: the 10,000 foot view.
  • Phase One might be the 10,000 foot view providing the environment for context. Whether a cement plant, steel mill, a mining site or municipal wastewater facility, setting the stage with accurate, plausible environments is considered a first step.
Wastewater Aeration Tank-wide shot
Phase 2: Close up rendering of a Wastewater aeration tank; the more detailed wide shot sets the stage for the phase three shot to come, showing more product specific information.
  • Phase Two might be a closer look at individual areas of activity. Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are essential here to ensure the accuracy and detail as the camera moves closer. In phase two you’re making and refining decisions about what you’ll view next. For example, if your next PowerPoint slide or shot in a video is how your equipment may attach to the environment, you’ll build out enough detail to set the stage for that shot. Once established, cameras may be positioned anywhere in the scene for custom views and unique vantage points. Real world photography techniques like depth of field blur are used to enhance realism.
Wastewater Aeration Tank-Close Up
Phase 3: Wastewater treatment plant, phase three: this detailed aeration tank can withstand the close-up shot with its safety railings and detailed equipment. But for a 10,000 foot shot there’s no need for this level of detail; no one will see it. The trick is planning which is which.
  • Phase Three is where individual products are introduced into their proper setting. The environment has been established and it’s time to reveal the reason we’re looking at this world in the first place. This is where the detailed, accurate product is shown. Often times a CAD data set is the best approach to this, eliminating the costly process of recreating something that already exists.

Choosing how to spend time and budget wisely is important. Once we get into building a scene and an idea moves from abstract/theoretical to visible/tangible – requests for more and more detail come. It’s not a matter of whether something can be made more realistic. It’s a matter of will that help communicate your core message. Staying focused on the big picture and not succumbing to unnecessary level of detail (leading to scope creep) can be a challenge we’ll help guide you through.

Sometimes various color accents indicating common elements, such as water, can break up the monochrome look without contaminating branding.

So – you can overbuild the entire site to allow complete freedom of movement knowing that every nook and cranny can hold up to the close shot – which takes a long time and costs a fortune. Or– you can approach it in phases, which is far more sensible. There’s no point wasting time and money detailing a part of the site no one will see.

Building each machine is one of the most challenging – and fun – parts. Working from reference photos and other descriptions, machines specific to each industry are constructed to represent real-world counterparts – but again, not represent one recognizable brand or model – the final version of any considered an “average” of several different samples. There are times, however, that specific classifications of equipment are necessary. Recently there was an example of a (extremely) large shipping container transported by flatbed semi. It was important to communicate a drop-down flatbed as opposed to a regular flatbed due to the extreme weight requirements. So there are times a certain measure of detail is appropriate.

Each piece moves in animation, adding to the intrigue and fun. Let’s face it: part of the reason this approach is appealing is the fun factor for your potential customers to feel like they’re interacting with an environment.

Once your asset library is built, the heavy lifting is done and models may now be leveraged for any purpose into the future. It’s literally a drag and drop process for future marketing efforts. If individual assets require changes they are modified, their changes automatically reflected in future scenes.

Stacker & Reclaimer for Schneider Electric, “Solutions for Mining”

With more than a decade of experience, CraneDigital expertly guides what makes the most sense for your needs. Give us a call at 970-213-1828 to discuss how we can help navigate presenting your products and services on the web. We’re here to help.


Part Swiss Army knife, part Que-Ball, Part Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG), part what ever the heck you want it to be, ToolBall has been around for a while. Originally created years ago as a means to help learn 3D modeling tools and techniques, he has been ported into several different 3D animation environments since. Each new set of tools allows different expressions of his final look and functionality.

The Original ToolBall video, created in LightWave 3D in early 2000’s (no audio)
More contemporary renderings of ToolBall in his present form.

ToolBall’s 15 minutes of fame came at Siggraph years ago when Hewlett-Packard adopted him for their trade show booth, where he proudly flew along side Shrek.

Since then, between projects we like to open the models and implement anything learned since last working on him. He’s also a good project to test render settings. We like to think of ToolBall as an exercise platform, calisthenics for the 3D modeler to limber up and practice on. You never know what he’ll turn into.

More contemporary renderings of ToolBall in his present form.
More contemporary renderings of ToolBall in his present form.
More contemporary renderings of ToolBall in his present form; Top View.

Cleaning the air in a Pandemic with GPS

Global Plasma Solutions' Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization cleans and removes harmful pathogens from the air. Contact Lohmiller & Company for more details.
Global Plasma Solutions’ commercial building application explained

One of the greatest things about what CraneDigital does – industrial and technical animation – is learning about new technologies. When a new technology offers a substantial benefit to others, and contributes to the greater good in the world we live in, well, projects don’t get any more rewarding than that.

In order to effectively communicate something we first need to understand what we’re communicating. This past month we had the privilege of working with local Colorado company, Lohmiller & Company, to explain their Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) technology, GPS that cleans the air of Coronavirus in homes and business.

GPS technology removes the source for airborne viral infection transmission, removing molds, pollens, bacteria and viruses from the air. GPS inactivates and removes 99.4% of viruses such as Coronavirus, Norovirus, Staph, E.coli and Legionella in 30 minutes time, with no harmful by-products as a result – like ozone.

Lohmiller and Company GPS Technology
Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization

GPS, or Global Plasma Solutions’ Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization has been used in hospitals for a while, and now it’s available to anyone – residential and commercial – from a single-room apartment to large-scale business campuses.

Here’s how Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization works: A simple device is mounted in your existing HVAC equipment and emits a charge of negative and positive ions. The ion-charged air is then circulated around your your entire building and attracts microscopic pathogens floating around. This effectively causes the microscopic debris floating in the air to collect around a larger single point that then becomes easier for your HVAC filters to remove. Here’s an animation explaining the process from a commercial point of view.

For obvious reasons, timing was important. Businesses, for example – need this technology today if they’re going to return to normal operations, and customers are to feel safe visiting their establishments. Working closely with Lohmiller’s excellent internal marketing team to effectively communicate the benefits of NPBI, we had less than a month to bring 6 different renditions to life.

Local Voiceover Talent Pro Donna Cuddemi’s voice brought just the right balance of compassion and credible intelligence to the videos, and everything came together beautifully.

Visit Lohmiller & Company’s web site at www.lohmillercompany.com/cleanindoorair for a complete overview.

3D Interactive Product Animation

3D Interactive Product Animation is by some considered the holy grail of 3D; leveraging your existing 3D CAD files on the web for realistic, on-line, real-time display. There are a few companies trying to make this happen, especially with Augmented Reality gaining momentum. Most proposed solutions involve getting locked into proprietary software promising photo realistic, real-time rendering of  super complex, highly detailed products you’ve worked hard to develop. But is it possible?


There are important technical details surrounding the answer that require explanation.

In a nutshell, a highly detailed CAD model translated for display on the web is far too complex and ‘polygonally heavy‘ (translation; requires way too many points and polygons) to accurately show your product (rendered or displayed) by web-based rendering engine. What does this really mean? A ‘real-time, web based rendering engine’ is software designed to produce truly, photo-realistic 3D renderings from random manipulation.

Let’s briefly step through this to understand what it means.

Fully Interactive 3D

A good example of truly interactive would be having a static, un-rendered 3D object sitting on-screen. The user drags a mouse over the object and the object responds as the real-time rendering engine takes information from the model, lighting and surrounding environment to calculate accurate materials producing a realistic object –  in real-time. If you think of some of the more sophisticated video games you’re as close as you’ll get.

Interactive 3D

Instead of the actual 3D model on screen, this method uses a series of already rendered images to display the same product. A good example might be something like the above. This technology uses either photographs or already rendered images to display them as a sequence in response to a user’s interaction. The sequence of images is predetermined and can not not deviated from. What does this mean? It means if you want to stop half-way through a spin and open a door, you can’t do it unless that sequence as already been rendered as part of the image sequence.

The object is pre-rendered in a program like Autodesk Maya or 3D Studio Max as a series of images. The images are uploaded to a server, allowing the visitor to drag the cursor over the object, which loads the series of images to display the object. It’s not ‘real time’ in the sense that it’s not rendering the real 3D CAD object on the fly – the rendering is already done.

Why is this important?

It’s important because most people don’t want to stop at simply having their object spinning around. Their object has doors, and parts, and cool buttons they want potential customers to be able to open, interact with and push.

Unfortunately – this just isn’t a feasible request in today’s web landscape. Not yet, at least, without investing serious money in proprietary software environments essentially trapping your CAD model in that environment, forcing its materials, lighting, constraints etc. to be applied so their rendering engine understands how to display it. And even then, it falls short of ‘realistic.’

Some simplified versions of this can be done – but it’s far from simple, and full of ‘hidden gotcha’s’, never looks as good as the marketing material leads you to believe – and is very expensive.

Where does that leave you?

3D animation from CAD files

CraneDigital takes the rendered image approach for your 3D Interactive Product Animation. We begin with your CAD file. Using photographs for reference, we translate it to our 3D environment. We have virtual photography studios set up with lights and cameras specifically designed to virtually photograph your CAD model.

The process isn’t simply the push of a button. The CAD file is carefully gone through and cleaned up. Materials such as glass, plastic, rubber, any kind of labels, stickers, decals, logos and screens are all painstakingly re-created using your original artwork , then placed in the virtual photography environment. If your screen animates, we animate your screen

The beautified 3D model rendered in any number of sequenced images, from any angle. The object never falls on the floor and breaks, never gets finger prints on it, needs cleaned or has to be suspended in air to be photographed – because it’s all done in 3D.

Down the road, minor revisions are easily made, and re-render as a new sequence and your updated product is back on the web.

It’s comforting to know (for us at least) that there are still some things that can’t be done with the push of a button, or by simply buying a single computer program. Good, 3D Interactive Product Animation still takes good, old fashioned work, skill, patience and an eye for detail. We’ve been at this for a long time and understand what it takes to put your hard work up on the web in its best light.

If you’d like to discuss your next 3D CAD for WEB project, gives CraneDigital a call at (970) 213-1828.

We can help you.

Industrial Animation Case Study: Schneider Electric

Over the years we’ve had the privilege of working on some fun projects. One of them was a series of industrial animation created for Schneider Electric. The goal for these projects was to provide a high-level view of each industrial process where their products and solutions were applicable.

Three primary industries were spotlighted: Steel, Mining and Cement. We began with Steel, following a corporate approved style. Over the next several years the other two projects were created to match. As style evolved, each animation was updated to reflect consistency.

  • Industrial Animation: Schneider Electric, Solutions for Cement.
  • Industrial Animation: Schneider Electric, Solutions for Mining.
  • Industrial Animation: Schneider Electric, Solutions for Steel, Solutions for Mining.
Cement Industry Animation

These were challenging projects. Some of the challenges included identifying the correct pieces of machinery to include in the right locations. Each process was specific and required a good bit of research to accurately represent. It’s a delicate balance: the incorrect piece of equipment and too little detail conveys incomplete knowledge. Too much detail suggests undesirable specifics.

Cement Mill 3D Model. Each 3D model was built from the ground up to be the most efficient representation of an average machine in that process.

A significant challenge was modeling. Each piece of equipment was built from scratch to represent accurate, real world machines recognizable by industry insiders – but not directly promoting brands. Creating individual parts and pieces with real world motion in mind was important. Because the scenes were so large it was vital to create clean, efficient models requiring the least amount of overhead.

Industrial Animation modeling: simplifying complex objects into visually accurate, animatable 3D models is a specialty at CraneDigital.

One core strength at CraneDigital is using 3D CAD models when available. There are times however, this is not the right approach. Sometimes CAD models are not available. But more importantly, 3D CAD models require extensive optimization, given their size and complexity. Essentially, they’re not the most efficient models to work with – but they are the most technically accurate.

Industrial Animation modeling: simplifying complex objects into visually accurate, animatable 3D models is a specialty at CraneDigital.

Fortunately another core strength is building 3D models of anything – from scratch. Accurate 3D models may be created from nothing but reference material to represent any object with sufficient detail. These models are easier to manage and animate in large scenes. Often times for large projects this is a better approach.

Steel Industry Animation

Another challenge was camera movement. Not too fast or too slow; not too high or too low. Positioning the camera to dive and dip through complex scenes while not making the viewer nauseous, as if on a roller coaster.

Cement Industry Animation-Schneider Electric

One of the greatest challenges was particle systems. As the camera passed each conveyor belt moving material to the next station, the size and composition of the material needed to appear visibly different. Each process along the way altered the material essentially making it smaller and changing color until finally resulting in the end product. Because the camera moved close to each conveyor, detail needed to be accurate.

But perhaps the greatest challenge of these projects was the sheer file size and complexity of each scene. The Mining animation alone contained over 154 Models, nearly 5,000 separate objects, more than 1,200 different animated objects, and over 5 million polygons. Keeping track of this all required some attention to detail and good strategy.

One of the goals for these animations was a long shelf life because the processes don’t often change. For industries such as this, the ROI is very appealing.

Industrial Animation Case Study: Cahill Heating

At CraneDigital we get to work on some really fun projects, but sometimes aren’t able to share them right away. One thing is for sure: one of the greatest parts of this job is learning about every industry that walks in the door. It’s an established fact that most communication happens at about an 8th grade level, so “talk to me like I’m in 8th grade” is my typical request to new clients explaining their business.

Not long ago we had the privilege of working with a new client, Cahill Heating, to introduce their revolutionary flameless, portable heating technology. It’s pretty impressive: essentially these guys figured out how to put a jet engine in a trailer, then transport that trailer to the coldest places on earth to use the heat from the engine to keep job sites warm.

Cahill Heating Jet Heat Micro Turbine

“John did a very professional job in a timely manner, on budget, creating a marketing video that accurately captured our value propositions. It was evident that John did a lot of research on the industry and our business to create a unique and powerful marketing message. Throughout the project, John was very communicative and responsive and he was great to work with. We recommend Crane Digital to any specialty company trying to set themselves apart from their competitors.” – Cahill Heating Services

Comparing one Cahill heater to the competition illustrates how efficient the Cahill heating system is.

There were a few important aspects about Cahill’s value proposition it was important to make clear. One, it’s flameless. In combustible environments flameless heat is a must. Anything risking explosion or fire is a show stopper. The second – fuel consumption. In the rented heat business, fuel represents one of the most significant expenses. You have the cost of the rental unit itself, then the cost of the fuel on top for total project cost.

Industrial animation explains technical concepts in visually understandable terms

So whatever can be done to minimize fuel consumption saves money. One of the value-adds of the Cahill system is it burns less fuel. Cahill’s value prop was they could heat your work site safer, faster, more fuel efficiently and cost effectively, with fewer heaters and less equipment repositioning than anyone else. In fact, no one else was even close.

So how to get that across in a short, to-the-point video. That’s where CraneDigital comes in. Helping refine the message, then craft visuals explaining the process is our thing.

We set about working with the script generated to come up with shots supporting each idea. The shots were roughed out, approved, then moved to production. The net result was a final marketing message explaining the business, the value proposition, and the solution to some difficult problems. The process took about 6 weeks from start to finish.

Let CraneDigital help present your unique message to your target audience with compelling, informative media. We have a 24 year track record of intimate, client-focused listening, working hard to understand your business, then recommending and executing. Give us a call. We can help.

Industrial Animation of the Clean Water Process

Recently we had the opportunity to work with long time client Milton Roy on a fun and challenging project. The goal was to create comprehensive but as short as possible animation showing the major steps in the process of cleaning water for human consumption – and where their equipment figured into each step of the process.

Step 1, intake. The idea was to create the different steps in a modular approach to simplify working on each step individually.

The project lasted for several months and underwent many iterations as we all realized just how many important steps there were. Tremendous thought and engineering talent went into each decision regarding vital steps and equipment choices.

Great care was taken on every detail to make sure we weren’t misrepresenting anything – but also with the clear understanding this was – though technically accurate – clearly a creative interpretation of the process, not an engineering schematic.
One of the ongoing challenges of technical animation is balancing accuracy and technical complexity with the need to simplify for presentation’s sake. It’s a delicate balance. On the one hand there are the brilliant, talented engineers who’ve spent sometimes years designing and perfecting their piece of the puzzle.

Several different approaches were proposed, all geared towards creating a friendly, stylized but recognizable rendition of equipment and environments. The information needed to be organized and presented in such a way to get the point across and to keep pace with contemporary communication culture. In other words, it had to be a little fun too.

On the other hand there’s the the rest of us – the non-technical audience- who’s eye glaze over when we hear the words “Excel Spreadsheet.” The challenge is to honor the integrity of engineering while presenting the value proposition and salient facts in an easily digestible and understood format.
This is the ambient occlusion pass of  the Chemical Feed Building 3D model, built to house various pieces of equipment involved in the clean-water process.

This project stretched organizational skills, software limits and hardware power to the max, requiring many man hours as well as many more machine hours. The end result was a presentation that succeeded on all levels and made our client look like a hero to their boss. That’s a win, and worth all the hard work that went into it.

How can CraneDigital help you communicate your difficult to understand message to your audience? We’d love to chat about it.

Industrial Animation Case Study: DosaSkid from Milton Roy

DOSASKID is a industrial animation marketing piece created for long-time client Milton Roy. The goal was to show how modular and complete this pre-engineered system is, featuring each major component.

To create this project we worked with the client’s CAD data sets, beginning by optimizing the 3D models created through the CAD translation process. The goal was to keep the total run time to a minute or less, so call-out copy was written and presented as succinctly as possible to be readable, yet not distracting.

Music was chosen specifically to communicate light, classy (note the orchestration) and uplifting. No voice was intended for this piece.

Final bullet copy at the end was easily added in After Effects. The whole project took two weeks from start to finish. The final piece was created both in English and Spanish.

DosaSkid from Milton Roy is a perfect use of 3D technical animation to present your product’s features and benefits. Used with permission.