On January 5th, 2023 CraneDigital turned 28 years old. The hope is the number of years of experience translates into integrity, trust and competence. And – the fact you’re still around doing the same thing that long, you must enjoy it, and you must be doing something right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sincerely, John B. Crane Founder, CraneDigital LLC
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Maximize yield potential
Support increased profits
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.
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.
Those who haven’t yet considered 3D technical illustration or animation as a potential marketing solution – and instead rely simply on video or photography – will benefit from this quick mention.
In the real world, it’s often impossible to visualize how something works. Our eyes stop at the exterior shell of the object, unable to penetrate and see what lies within.
3D Cutaways 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.
I learned about cut-away illustration many years ago when upon discovering the work of David Kimble, the famous airbrush artist responsible for so many automotive masterpieces. Inspired by his work, I set about to create my own version of such illustrations. One of the biggest differences in how David created his art and what we do at CraneDigital is the computer. David did all of his illustrations by hand, painstakingly drawing and airbrushing every detail.
Before moving to the computer in the early 90’s I too was an airbrush illustrator. But eventually the computer became the sensible choice for the technically complex illustrations I kept finding myself working on.
Sometimes you don’t want to show something specific – for example, a proprietary modification you’ve made to your product. 3D Animation can easily omit whatever intellectual property or features you wish to protect.
At CraneDigital we’ve been creating 3D cut-away illustrations and animations for 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.
Ultimately, 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.