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28 Years… Wow

CAD Animation for marketing

On January 5th, 2023 CraneDigital turned 28 years old. I was talking with my wife this morning wondering at what point the number of years one has been doing something could be construed as a minus, not a plus. Neither of us knew the answer to that question. The hope is the number of years of experience translates into integrity, trust and competence and the sheer fact that if you’re still around doing something that long, you must be doing something right.

Freeze Wall Test-Conceptual rendering showing how frozen columns of ice can form containment barrier

The market place can be a great crucible. One metric might be longevity; how long a company is able to maintain the proper balance between serving their clients well and staying in business. Adjusting and changing with market trends to remain relevant can be tricky. On the one hand, ‘trending’ can be important. On the other, ‘trendy’ is, well… no one wants to be trendy. Trying to stay ahead of the curve just a little by investing time and energy in the right places while remaining true to the foundational principles that have shaped success over 28 years – without becoming stodgy or irrelevant.

Process animation:
Product animation; explaining the value proposition and unique characteristics of specific products
Industrial animation: visually explaining difficult to visualize procedures

Another metric might be repeat business. Once a client has elected to put their trust in you, will they do it again? How’s your repeat business? it’s always easier to repeat successful working relationships (for both client and vendor) than to fire up a new relationship from scratch. There are a lot of unknowns, and we totally get that at CraneDigital. That’s why when someone says ‘yes,’ we move heaven and earth to make sure at the end of the project they’re glad they did. When your name is on the door, that’s just what you do.

Product animation: explaining difficult to visualize advantages

And finally, because companies tend to come and go, and individuals within organizations come and go, or – move around to different employment situations – it’s sometimes hard to know who will be around in a year, or two or three when you have a follow up project you need done. We’ve often won new business because the shop that created a previous project is no longer in business and our clients don’t know where to turn.

Process animation: some things are impossible to describe with words, or photograph. This is where 3D animation shines.

I suppose at some point years from now the same thing might happen here. But now, in January of 2023, things are going strong and we’re enjoying our 28th year in this business of creating custom, technically-detailed, creative, specific animation for our clients more than ever. Software has become more powerful and efficient. Computers are insanely fast, especially compared to the state of computing when we began in 1995. This makes it even more fun to create and allows more flexibility because it’s faster to visualize, faster to iterate and the end product is that much better because of it.

Animated product explanations

This is also a thank you to our excellent clients over the years. Without you there is no CraneDigital. To say we’re grateful for your business feels woefully inadequate. But we are, so thank you, sincerely, for the privilege of serving you over these 28 years. We’re still here and can’t wait to work with you again in 2023.

Animated logos have been a mainstay of the 3D animation market for many years.

Sincerely, John B. Crane
Founder, CraneDigital LLC

Where it all began, back in 1995: Ant Acid, inducted into the New York Society of Illustrators Digital Salon, Winner of Fractal Design’s Modern Masters of 3D, “Characters of your imagination” category. Ant Acid was the project used to learn 3D. Dusting off an old graphic design project from college, each piece was modeled in 3D using Ray Dream Designer. My how things have changed in the last 28 years.

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.

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.

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.

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.