3D Modeling for Graphic Design

3D Modeling for graphic design has evolved tremendously over the years. CraneDigital has been there since the early days, today putting to work 30 years of experience, creativity and wisdom on every project landing on our desk.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Munters VariMax® IFRG Process Graphic. Explaining the principles behind heat exchange technology.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Munters VariMax® IFRG Process Graphic. Explaining the principles behind heat exchange technology. 3D Illustration is used to graphically represent concepts without committing to a specific model of equipment. This allows the graphic a longer shelf life due to not being tied to specific piece of equipment’s life span

3D Modeling for Graphic Design is a cornerstone technique used to visualize anything by creating believable, plausible content. CraneDigital began (as Sandhill Studios) doing this right around the time the (current version of the) internet was born, using airbrushing techniques learned in art school.

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. Using visualization techniques like before and after we’re able to provide a better look at what’s going on under the roof.
A brief assortment of graphical logo treatments for clients over the years.

Then one day walking through an Albuquerque, NM bookstore, I stumbled upon something that would alter the course of my career – and life. Deep in the computer software section there was a software box with catchy illustrations that looked similar to what I was creating with an airbrush – only better. I showed it to my wife and we both winced at the price: $300 – which was a lot of money to a couple of artists trying to make it in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the mid 90’s. After a brief discussion we decided it was worth the risk, and my first 3D Illustration program, Ray Dream Designer was purchased.

3D explainer video
CAD Translation opens up an entirely new realm for the 3D modeler/illustrator. If an object already exists as a result of R&D/Engineering, it makes no sense to waste time re-modeling it. The 3D illustrator is able to then use truly accurate digital twins and do things otherwise impossible in real life. Slicing through exterior housings to see interior features, for example. Created for long-time client Informa-Engage these industrial-strength power products are from CAD files.
3D Modeling for Graphic Design.
Ant Acid, where it began almost 30 years ago. Dusting off a project from art school and using it to teach myself 3D modeling, Ant Acid went on to win notoriety in the New York Society of Illustrators. The makers of Ray Dream Design initially couldn’t believe their software was used to create such a complex, detailed model.
3D Model of Well Head.
Using photographs as reference, virtually anything can be built by a skilled 3D modeler. Extreme attention to detail is essential to creating believable objects that appear as they would in the physical world. A firm grasp of photographic techniques translates well to working with the sophisticated virtual cameras of 3D.

With computer skills young and undeveloped, but a firm understanding of the essentials, I loaded the software on my Mac – which barely met the basic system requirements. Immediately it became clear I needed a new computer. The journey had begun.

BioCycle-D from Enviromix: Optimized Aerobic Digestion for waste water technology explained
BioCycle D Optimized Aerobic Digestion. Part CAD file translation, part re-modeling/optimizing for animation, this image is a good example of using client-provided information as a base, then altering various components for optimum presentation.
Land diagrams and plot maps.
Created for Shell Oil’s S.U.R.E (Shell Unconventional Resource Exploration) team, 3D illustration was used with GIS data to accurately represent a real plot of land in western Colorado.

Fast forward 30+ years and many, many hours later, learning many, many 3D modeling software packages – here we are, the end of 2023. The potential of 3D graphics packages far exceeds the wildest imagination of yesteryear. Today, virtually anything can be created, visualized, invented – and animated – on the computer, bringing an entire new level of potential to visual communications.

With 30 years of examples 3D Modeling for Graphic Design to show, it’s tough to decide which images should be on this page. As well, styles change over time. Initially my color palette leaned towards brighter, more vibrant colors. Over time I’ve become more understated, focusing instead on the nuance produced by subtle shifts in lighting, allowing an object’s natural character to emerge. This is also attributable in part to more advanced lighting techniques.

Cut-away illustration of blow out preventer.
After the Deep Water Horizon’s catastrophic failure, Royal Dutch Shell executives were in damage control explaining to share holders why this could not happen to their equipment. 3D illustration from CraneDigital helped convey that message in high-stakes meetings with the CEO.

While CraneDigital has worked with large, multi-national corporations over the last 30 years, we’ve also had the privilege of working with those just starting out, trying to help get ideas out of their head for the rest of the world to see. The work below was created for start-up company Cahill Services, providing heat to construction sites around the world through use of portable, jet-engine powered heaters they somehow figured out how to mount in trailers and ship to some of the coldest, most remote sites on earth. We worked closely with Cahill Heating to understand their value proposition, then advise visuals that best supported core messaging. The result was a explainer video concisely summarizing Cahill’s value proposition.

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Conveying complex value propositions is a key benefit of using 3D graphics for marketing. Being able to visually illustrate concepts relationships between elements eliminates confusion and clarifies messaging.
3D Modeling for Graphic Design: Conveying complex value propositions is a key benefit of using 3D graphics for marketing. Being able to visually illustrate concepts relationships between elements eliminates confusion and clarifies messaging.

One trailer model (below) was represented by CAD engineering. The other needed to be constructed as a 3D model by CraneDigital. Can you tell which is which in the image below?

3D Modeling for Graphic Design: We illustrate and animate using 3D models either provided by client as CAD files, or by building the model from scratch using visual reference.
We animate and illustrate using 3D models either provided by client as CAD files, or by building the model from scratch using visual reference.

This last image is an example created recently for a project that has not yet been fully realized. The initial ask was for a series of images relating to Clean Energy. Though the project didn’t materialize due to deadline constraints, it seemed a good enough idea to explore anyway. As a result we’ve embarked on modeling various components for future projects. Below is a DAC Hub, created as a 3D model allowing 360° views for future projects. After 30 years of doing this, our model library is extensive.

DAC (Direct Air Capture) Hub
Direct air capture, or DAC, is a carbon dioxide removal process that separates carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere. The separated CO2 can then be converted into components of products like concrete or stored safely and permanently deep underground. DAC, and other forms of carbon removal, is a critical tool for reaching net-zero emissions and cleaning up the legacy carbon pollution that is already in the atmosphere, causing significant climate change related damage.

So no matter the project, CraneDigital has 30 years of experience creating custom imagery for an enormous variety of applications and clients. Give us a call at (970) 213-1828. We’d love to help on your next project. Thanks for reading.

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.