Cutaway Illustration

3d technical illustration of HACH DR2500 spectrometer by CraneDigital.
3d technical illustration of HACH DR2500 spectrometer by CraneDigital.

Cut-away illustration, cut-away diagrams or exploded view illustrations are a CraneDigital specialty. Otherwise impossible to show, using ghosted exteriors and cross sectional views provide a better sense of how interiors and exteriors relate and is a cornerstone technique we’ve been doing for many years, even before the computer. Actually, it has been more than 25 years since beginning with airbrushing way back in the 80’s. This style of graphic design has permeated almost everything created since. It comes from a natural curiosity – how something works, fits together, relates to other assemblies, etc. and a deep appreciation for the engineering process – even though I’m not an engineer.

Attention to Detail is in the DNA

I grew up in a long line of engineers, from a grandfather who worked on developing Radar with the military back in the day, a dad who worked at Bell Labs designing StarWars (not the movie, but the Strategic Defense Initiative) and a father-in-law who designed satellites for Lockheed Martin. For whatever reason, my aptitude was more towards art. So when it came time to pick a career, rather than entering the engineering world or study industrial design I elected to focus on aesthetics; art and graphic design, and apply it towards presenting engineering efforts as the works of art they often are.

Whether You Have CAD Data or Not May Not Matter…

With the aid of CAD, every product can be beautifully illustrated in high-detail cutaway view to avoid spatial ambiguities, provide a clear contrast between foreground and background objects, and facilitate a good understanding of component relationships. We’re essentially able to move (translate) virtually any CAD assembly (CAD is constructed in a ‘solids’ modeling environment, where commercial animation software primarily works in ‘surface’ modeling. In order to move from solids to surface you need to ‘translate’ the files) into animation environment, providing total control over what is shown – and what is not shown. Animating that CAD assembly is often a logical next step, though not always.

The image below is a great example of using CAD data to precisely convey the technical details of a product. Duplicating this object from scratch, to the level of detail and precision required for the project – would have been exorbitantly expensive and time consuming. There was no reason to do so, with engineering CAD assemblies available. Though complex and highly detailed – there’s simply no better way to precisely visualize the fine details of any given design.

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

Often times there are no CAD files available. This can be a plus in certain situations. CAD files are often enormously complex, swollen with data that will never be visible. When beginning a model of an object ‘from scratch,’ we’re able to optimize the model making it easier and faster to work with. Using fewer points and polygons to define hundreds or thousands of objects can save enormous amounts of file size and overhead compared to inefficient CAD translated versions of the same object. But, of course – if 100% precision is the goal, CAD files already generated are impossible to beat.

The image below needed to be reasonably accurate from a distance, and did not require precision, up-close detail to successfully convey the points. Modeling the data center from scratch was the obvious choice. We had CAD data of various components, but because the camera is far enough away to not see specifics, we were able to swap out low-polygon approximations of the CAD objects making the model far more efficient.

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.
3D Cut-away illustration of 48MW Data Center. This data center consists of 8 x 6MW Suites, impossible to see from just an exterior view. Cut-away illustration helps better visualize how space is partitioned.

But when time came for animating close-ups of the device, CAD files were the obvious choice. There’s no point re-modeling/duplicating work already completed. This saves time and money. The image below is a highly detailed (CAD) version of one object in the data center. When it’s time for the close-up shot, nothing beats an engineering CAD assembly.

CAD translated CRAH model replaced with a more simple, efficient model to speed up work flow.
CAD translated CRAH model. This was replaced with a simple, more efficient model to speed up work flow for data center diagrams above.
Cut-away style illustration reveals what's beneath the surface.Cut-away style illustration reveals what's beneath the surface.
Cut-Away style illustration reveals what’s beneath the surface. Without the ability to see inside, this trailer might appear an ordinary utility trailer. Cut-away reveals the proprietary jet engine living within.
3D Cut-Away Illustration of Mamiya RZ67 Pro II medium format film camera. No CAD used here, everything was modeled in 3D referencing the real-world object.
3D Cut-Away Illustration of Mamiya RZ67 Pro II medium format film camera. No CAD used here, everything was modeled in 3D referencing the real-world object.

Whether you have CAD data or not, CraneDigital creates complex, 3-dimensional views of virtually anything. The image above was created by holding the actual camera in hand. Taking apart and measuring every component that was to be represented was the only way to ensure accuracy. 

Honoring the Engineering Process

3D rendering of HACH EZ2000, detail shot 1
3D rendering of HACH EZ2000, detail shot 1

You’ve worked hard on product design; going through iteration after iteration cycle, obsessing over every detail. When it’s time to present it to the world, why settle for anything less? Attention to detail is in our DNA. It’s the life blood – the distinguishing characteristic – of what we do. We work hard to ensure nothing is overlooked.

3D animation from CAD files

Every cutaway illustration and animation at CraneDigital is presented with meticulous attention to detail conveying precision and accuracy in a visually compelling style honoring the integrity of design. Great engineering deserves to be portrayed as great art. CraneDigital employs an artist’s eye with an engineering mindset to ensure your product is presented as you intend.

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.
3D Cut-away illustration of waste water tank showing aeration equipment and how it functions.