It’s been a while since we polled our readers on some of their most important tools—the software designers use to bring renderings and animations of their exhibits, event footprints and environments. ED sat down with event designers from studios large and small to find out what CAD rendering and animation software they use, what they love about it and even tried to get a few secrets out of them.
EVENT DESIGN: What CAD rendering and/or animation software are you using in your studio?
JEN D’AGOSTA, senior creative director, Xperience Communications: At Xperience there is not one particular program we use. Much of the company’s designers are spread out across the country, and they use mainly freelancers, so it’s difficult to really argue for anyone of them to purchase a particular software. I can tell you that I use mainly Cinema 4D, Adobe CS5 and VectorWorks for renders, technical drawings and animations. One of the other main designers based out of our Detroit office uses Rhino for both his drawings and renders.
DENNIE FREUND, senior exhibit designer, ACER Exhibits & Events: We are using Vector Works and Strata.
MIKE GRAZIANI, vp of design & engineering, The Trade Group: In our design department, we use Cinema 4D (Maxon.net) for our renderings and animation. Our engineering group currently uses AutoCAD.
KEVIN PEETZ, creative director, Kevin Peetz Design: I use Form-Z for CAD design and color renderings. This program also allows me to animate what I design via camera path. The key thing when you need to animate a CAD concept is not to generate too “heavy” a CAD model. Use reduced detail, simple shapes where possible, and less facets/resolution in curved shapes. The animation will take less time to generate and use less memory if the CAD model has to read less detail.
JOE ZAFFIRO, exhibit design manager, Downing Displays: VectorWorks with RenderWorks to do the color renderings and animation.
ED: About how long have you been using this software?
JD: I have been using this combination for about 10 years.
DF: I have been working with both programs for over 10 years.
MG: We’ve used C4D since 2003. Engineering has used AutoCAD since the mid 90’s.
KP: I have been using this software with its upgrades, approximately 12 years.
JZ: We have been using various forms of Vectorworks for about 15 years. The Renderworks plug in package for about eight years.
ED: What do you like about it? Any favorite features that stick out?
JD: I feel like both Cinema 4D and VectorWorks are fairly intuitive, plus I feel like both companies have significant training opportunities, especially in New York. I also think that Cinema 4D and VectorWorks are really trying to work together more efficiently with the latest VectorWorks using Cinema 4D’s render engine, and vice versa with Cinema 4D providing a VectorWorks plug-in….neither of which I have had anytime to play with yet! But it shows that they are trying to get the programs to work together more seamlessly.
DF: Both programs are user friendly and easy to import/export models from one to the other. Another advantage for us is the ease of interface with AutoCad.
MG: C4D’s interface is very intuitive when compared to other full-featured 3D applications yet it sacrifices none of the features or power that are expected with a pro-level 3D package.
KP: I like the lighting aspects that can be achieved in Form-Z renderings. There are a wide range of lights and effects that can be manipulated to achieve outstanding scenes. A well-lit rendering really helps sell a concept.
JZ: It is very easy to use and having the rendering program as part of the interface makes it fast and easy. The software is very intuitive and not as complex and cumbersome as some CAD programs. Some of the Modeling features are nice, like bending 3D text on curved surfaces, Nurbs, and creating halo lighting effects easily.
ED: Any favorite tools or tricks that make life easier for you as a designer?
JD: I think that there is an effort to get these programs to work together more effectively, however, I have not spent a whole lot of time working with the latest upgrades. I do really think that the Cinema 4D R12 Visualize, which is the one that I use, has a great internal library on material textures and basic objects, as well as some simple environments that can really help you model something quickly. I think that VectorWorks is getting more advanced in its standard libraries such as patterns, and hatches, gradients.
DF: Strata makes it easy to create textures to show clients the exact finish that’s going to be on the end product.
MG: C4D has always been very stable. The fact that we can use it day in and day out without worry of instability or crashes allows us to focus on the design at hand rather than the tools that we’re using.
KP: As far as tricks, pay attention to the lighting and reduce the memory usage per light in the lighting panel dialogue. This will reduce the time to render finished renderings. Also use as few lights as you can, this will add drama to a rendering. Over-lighting will flatten a drawing.
JZ: One of the best features is being able to create floor plans and specs using the dimension tools and still do the 3D elevations together.
Spreadsheets are also a part of the program so we can generate parts lists for estimating.
ED: If you could ask the producer to make any changes to the software, what would they be?
JD: The biggest challenge in using any of these programs is converting to files for others to use when using a different program. This happens particularly when working with most shops that are more than likely working with AutoCAD. I feel that this is the biggest hurdle. Also as I mentioned above, we use a lot of freelancers who are using other software. Something is almost always lost in file conversion. I know that Vectorworks has really worked to get the exporting to .dwg files sorted. The same goes for Cinema 4D files. I work in particular with a Rhino user, and when we exchange models, we both change our files to .3ds, as it seems to be the most issue-free (though not entirely) conversion between us. This can be challenging especially when working with a model that has many textures. I have never imported an animation from another program so I am not sure how that would even work.
DF: One thing that is always a discussion between my colleagues and I is that we wish Strata had more CAD characteristics.
MG: We could always use improvements in file exchange compatibility. It would be great to have all provided models import as parametric, editable items rather than just a collection of dumb polygons.
KP: This software utilizes a USB key in order to use it on one computer only. I hope the new version will eliminate the key to allow the software to be used on two computers at the same time.
JZ: Better mapping tools in RenderWorks, and stronger animation possibilities. The rendering quality is pretty good, but could be more crisp and have more depth to compete with higher-end rendering programs.