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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 industry giant 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.
A brief collection of out-takes from 3 different industrial animations created for Schneider Electric: Solutions for Cement, Solutions for Mining and Solutions for Steel.

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.

3d model of cement crusher for solutions for cement industrial animation
3d model of cement crusher for solutions for cement industrial animation

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.

Solutions for Steel Industrial AnimationSchneider Electric

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.

Solutions for Cement Industrial 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 something 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

“CraneDigital did a fantastic job in a timely manner, on budget, creating a marketing video that perfectly captured our value propositions. It was clear that they 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.

Cahill Heating portable trailers.
Whether you have CAD files or not, we can help. Only one of the above trailers leveraged available CAD data. The other needed to be modeled to round out the solution.

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.

Stylized approach to showing how Cahill Heaters heat construction sites.

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 Product Video of Clean Water Process

Industrial animation, product Videos: 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.

industrial animation of clean water storage tower and tanks
industrial animation of clean water storage tower and tanks
3d technical illustration of water treatment plant chemical feed building, with labeling by CraneDigital.
3d technical illustration of water treatment plant chemical feed building, with labeling by CraneDigital.

This industrial animation 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 the best way to communicate vital steps, and associated equipment choices. This is essential when creating accurate industrial animation and 3d product videos. The challenge is always to be brief but accurate.

industrial animation of clean water mixing clarifier flox basin
industrial animation of clean water mixing clarifier flox basin
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.
industrial animation of low lift pump station
industrial animation of low lift pump station
One of the ongoing challenges of industrial animation and accurate 3D product videos 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. On the other, the non-technical audience easily confused by unfamiliar terminology.
industrial animation of sand filtration basin
industrial animation of sand filtration station
Step 1, intake. The idea was to create the different steps in a modular approach to simplify working on each step individually.

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.

This industrial animation 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. 3D product videos are always a challenge, but we work hard to make it fun and worthwhile to our clients.

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.

Radiate for Nutrien Ag Solutions

One of the most powerful uses of animation is when it’s paired with live-action video. For this project CraneDigital worked closely with the team at Nutrien Ag Solutions to help launch their new product, Radiate.

More than simply live action video, more than just 3D animation, Radiate represents a unique blend of both to convey the best of this exciting new technology. Video, graphics, voice and music were all carefully selected to blend with all the important established branding striking the right tone to communicate Radiate’s core features and benefits:

  • Enhance early season vigor
  • Drive maximum root growth
  • Reduce stress
  • Maximize yield potential
  • Support increased profits
Root hair simulation to visualize the difference between applied vs. non-applied roots.

Where appropriate, 3D animation was created to fit specific applications – such as explaining how additional and longer root hairs on plants benefited early season growth. Or visualizing side-by-side the difference between Radiate-treated and non-treated plants.

Visualizing data using 3D graphics is more enjoyable than any spread sheet.
Grower yield data shown over map of the U.S.

Radiate represents an ideal blend of live-action footage and 3D animation to powerfully communicate concepts, advantages, specific applications and value propositions in a short, sweet, compelling, uplifting way.

Motion graphics using actual photographs produced in the lab add credibility to the claims.

3D Cut-Away Illustration

3D Cut-away illustration: Hustler Turf's Super Z riding mower.
3D Cut-away illustration: Hustler Turf’s Super Z riding mower.

3D Cut-away illustration is an excellent way to showcase your products by controlling what you want to reveal and protecting what you don’t. Using 3D Cut-Away Illustration and Animation for potential marketing solutions instead of relying on video or photography – benefits your next graphic design project or marketing effort.

3D explainer animated video
3D Cut-away illustrations of industrial power receptacles.

Why Create a Cut-Away Illustration?

In the real world, visualizing how something works can be difficult. Engineers work hard to create excellent products, but it can be challenging to visually convey the finer points without revealing its secret sauce. This delicate balance requires skill, artistry, and technical aptitude.

3D Cutaway Illustration of Mamiya RZ67 Pro II medium format camera.
3D Cutaway Illustration of Mamiya RZ67 Pro II medium format camera. 3D model of the camera was created by careful study of the actual object and modeling from scratch (no CAD).
3D Cut-away illustration is an excellent way of explaining your products by controlling what you want to reveal and protecting what you don't. This internal floating roof storage tank shows exactly how the concept works.
This internal floating roof storage tank shows exactly how the concept works. Internal floating roof tank, created for LEC Global.

3D cut-away illustrations are a great way to show off your product’s features and benefits. Controling what to reveal while keeping the rest hidden helps understand important details not visible before.

Data Center 3D Model: two-story, 48MW ITE data center is a complex image to digest. Using visualization techniques like before and after we're able to provide a better look at what's going on under the roof.Data Center 3D Model: two-story, 48MW ITE data center is a complex image to digest. Using visualization techniques like before and after we're able to provide a better look at what's going on under the roof.
Data Center 3D Model: two-story, 48MW ITE data center is a complex image to digest. This image uses visualization techniques like cut-away illustrations and before and after comparisons to provide a better view under the roof. Two-story, 48MW ITE data center created for Munters.

Fusion of Art and Technical Illustration

I learned about cut-away illustrations years ago upon discovering David Kimble’s work, a famous airbrush artist known for automotive masterpieces. His work inspired me to create my own versions of such illustrations. One big difference between what Mr. Kimble did and what we do at CraneDigital is the use of computers. David created all his illustrations by hand, using an airbrush to painstakingly draw every detail.

3D cut-away illustration is used to showcase different aspects of the rain cycling process.
3D cut-away illustration is used to showcase different aspects of the rain cycling process. Rain cycling diagram created for Rain Cycling.

Like Mr. Kimble, before the 1990s, I used an airbrush for my work. As the images became more complex, I chose to use the computer instead. This opened the door to precision otherwise unattainable, elevating the results from an artist’s interpretation to precision graphics.

David Kimble
David Kimble stands alone atop the world of automobile art. His famous illustrations for automotive giants served as early inspiration for what CraneDigital now does on the computer.
Successful animated product videos use easily understood imaging to explain sometimes complex ideas.
Still from animated video explaining how needlepoint bipolar ionization is used to clean the air in the covid pandemic.

Protect your Intellectual Property

Concealing proprietary modifications or protected features within a product is a breeze with 3D cut-away illustrations. This technique allows you to confidently safeguard your intellectual property and maintain control over sensitive information.

3D Cut-away illustrations are an excellent way to explain your product’s features, benefits and value proposition. By either ghosting away the exterior shell or slicing away a portion, details previously invisible are now visible.
3D Cut-away illustrations are an excellent way to explain your product’s features, benefits and value proposition. By either ghosting away the exterior shell or slicing away a portion, details previously invisible are now visible. DR2500 Scanning Spectrometer created for HACH.

Flexibility and R.O.I.

Laboring over a single view only to have the client wonder what the image might look like from a different perspective happened more than once. 3D cut-away illustrations exist in a360° environment with virtual cameras and lights. This allows complete freedom of movement around the object. Being able to see into the inner-most recesses of something to understand mechanical benefits is just one of many applications. Using this method, once the object is created, there is no limit to how it can be visualized. There is also no limit to how many different images may be created from that scene. This increases your Return On Investment.

3D cut-away illustration is used to show the general layout of this water screening device. Large, complex objects can be visually presented in visually understandable ways to clearly communicate their unique features.
3D cut-away illustration is used to show the general layout of this water screening device. Large, complex objects can be visually presented in visually understandable ways to clearly communicate their unique features. Industrial water straining device created for French company Beaudrey.

The Path

Since discovering this approach to visual communication 30 years ago CraneDigital has worked with clients large and small to help visually realize their products and services to new audiences. Sometimes clients have CAD files created via the engineering phase/process of the project. We can use those engineering CAD files to accurately portray any object, providing marketing with imagery using endless angles, sizes or environments to craft the proper visual message.

Warehouse model created for TrenStar animated video. This warehouse was built inside and out to show various aspects of TrenStar’s supply chain process.

Engineering CAD files or Not

Other times, engineering has not been completed – or even begun. Clients are seeking imagery for concepts to raise capital and begin the actual design/manufacturing phase. No problem – we can help there too. CraneDigital can take any starting point you have, whether sketches on napkins, PowerPoint presentations, verbal descriptions or tight conceptual sketches and create believable, plausible, compelling imagery to assist others understand your vision.

  • CraneDigital has been creating 3D cut-away illustrations and animations for 30 years. Inspired by early artists working before the computer with airbrush and traditional drawing methods, we moved to the computer to perfectly leverage size and scale relationships – and every nuance to perfectly present each object. Industrial water strainer created for S.P. Kinney Engineers.
  • If the goal is complete flexibility in marketing, an object trapped in CAD is a bit like having built a ship in a bottle. We’re experts helping move your CAD data set to a more suitable high-quality illustration and animation environment. Industrial water strainer created for S.P. Kinney Engineers.

Optimizing 3D CAD Data Sets for Animation

3D CAD animation
John Deere Undercarriage, a massive CAD data set moved from engineering to the 3D animation environment for explainer video creation.

We’ve had the privilege of working on several fun projects with different companies over the years. One thing they have in common: they had CAD data trapped in engineering applications and need to turn that data into effective marketing communications. Optimizing 3D CAD data sets for animation takes time and attention to detail, and is a core competency at CraneDigital. It is absolutely essential to ensure a high-quality project is delivered. Once complete, the model is then ready for any assignment required by the client.

Exterior ghosted away to reveal interior of how this jet engine from Cahill Heating lives in a trailer able to be transported to some of the coldest places on earth.
  • Fort Collins Graphic Design with 30 years experience.
  • 3D Cut-away illustration: Hustler Turf's Super Z riding mower.
  • Cuaway views of power receptacles
  • 3D illustration from CAD files: Created for Universal Motion Control, this image showcases two premiere products for marketing purposes.
  • 3D CAD animation
  • 3D CAD Animation used in 3D explainer animated videos
  • 3D CAD Animation used in 3D explainer animated videos
  • Product Animation Industrial Technical Animation

Translating existing 3D CAD data sets into functional 3D models for animation is step one. CAD data sets can be created in many different CAD software applications. Bringing these different file formats into the animation environment requires a flexible and competent workflow.

CAD animation
3D Animated explainer videos showcasing your CAD engineered product.

On complex assemblies such as machines with many parts this requires patience and attention to detail. Let’s face it – picking through complex CAD models with hundreds or thousands of parts can be a daunting task, and isn’t on every animators list of favorite things to do. Fortunately it is at the top of CraneDigital’s list of favorite things.

3D explainer animated video
3D CAD data set optimized for animation and illustration in explainer animated video

Often times CAD assemblies will come through with every screw, nut, bolt and widget required to build it properly in the real world. Any object visible to the camera contribute to a high degree of realism. The invisible objects hidden from a given shot are dead weight – only contributing to sluggish performance – and require removal. Re-organizing and grouping parts and sub assemblies according to how they’ll be animated and textured is one example of how you might organize a data set preparing it for animation.

Product Animation and Illustration using your CAD data.
Product Animation and Illustration using your CAD data.

Another example is having to remodel portions of the object. Often times the CAD translation process creates a model made up of far more polygons than necessary. Models can be initially optimized during the translation process with software and though a good first step – is not a complete solution. Just as an example, a simple cylinder may translate into many excess points and polygons, but in reality, could be re-created as a simple primitive which is much easier for rendering engines to work with. Though this article is about using existing 3D objects – the necessity to create completely new 3D components to repair objects that didn’t translate well is part of every project. This falls under the Modeling category and will be discussed later.

One final example is large, smoothly curved surfaces (think plastic, injection-molded exterior casings). Often times what should appear smooth and perfect instead appears with creases, edges or even worse – tears in the polygonal geometry. The culprits are rogue “edges” and “smoothing angles” that did not translate well. This can be one of the most difficult things to fix, requiring identifying the offending “edge” and working to resolve the issue. Sometimes you’ll think you’ve got it perfect, then test render from different angles with different light – and sure enough, there it is. Rats!

All of this work is considered Optimizing the model for animation. It’s time consuming but worth it, the end result being a perfect 3D replica-a digital twin- of the device properly set up to behave as it would in the real world: accept any motion, camera angle or close-up.

Medical Device Rendering
3D renderings of medical devices created from your CAD data.

In animation there are always ways to work around an imperfect model, especially if you’re only viewing it from one angle. If the camera doesn’t see it, it’s not there. But in 360° degree rotations or high-resolution still images for marketing it’s impossible to hide imperfections and everything needs to be done right.

Fort Collins Graphic Designer
Created for Universal Motion Control, this image is from a product animation showing the value proposition of their gear box.

CAD translation and optimization is a core competency at CraneDigital. It takes time and attention to detail, but is absolutely necessary to ensure a high-quality project is delivered. Once complete, the model is then ready for any assignment required by the client.