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10 Myths about 3D Visualization (in

Transportation/Civil Engineering)
Published on November 3, 2014

Sam Lytle, PE Following

Owner of Civil FX and Lincoln County Planning Commissioner 24 -1
5 articles

10. It costs twice as much to produce two

animation videos for my project as it does
to produce one.

Because most of the cost of 3D visualization is in

building the 3D model, producing the second
video only costs a fraction of the first. If time is
taken to build the project as completely as
possible in 3D, that model can be used for countless video animation and still picture
renders from many different angles.

9. 'Simulation' is the same as 'Visualization'.

This one is tricky because I hear these two words used interchangeably often. Simulation is
a computational model used to simulate data. A good example in transportation is traffic
simulation which is when software such as Vissim uses traffic flows to 'simulate' traffic flow
for a given section of highway or intersection. Visualization, on the other hand, is focused
on what you see. You can have a visualization based on accurate data or even on traffic
simulation, but the two are not the same.

8. If I need to create a project render I can just use AutoCAD. It has a render
button, right?

While it is true that CAD software such as AutoCAD and Microstation have visualization
capabilities built-in, these functions won't give you the best results and often require
specialized training to use. That said, while the visualization abilities of CAD software aren't
the best, these programs can be a great place to do much of the 3D modeling before sending
the model elsewhere for final animating, texturing and rendering.

7. InfraWorks is making high quality visualization easier than ever before.

I've used InfraWorks for years (it was Infrastructure Modeler when Autodesk first released
it) and have used it to make satisfactory visualizations on a few occasions. The quick
roadway modeling functions have especially been useful for me. However, because of
limitations such as vector specific modeling (resulting in poor final quality) and the inability
to animate vehicles and people, I would never recommend InfraWorks as a stand alone
solution for high quality visualization.

6. My project is under $10 million so the cost/benefit just
1 isn't
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This was probably the case 20 or even 10 years ago, but this just isn't the case today. The
tools available for 3D modeling and visualization have gotten better and more affordable in
recent years lowering the threshold of what projects can benefit from it. Small to mid sized
projects can have excellent videos and images created for the low to mid five figures and
now only the largest projects require six-figure visualization.

5. 3D visualization is nothing more than a fancy cartoon without any

engineering accuracy.

I can't speak for every visualization everywhere, but we build out models from actual CAD
data and use engineering specifications and judgement whenever possible and I believe
more and more visualization firms are taking this approach. While it is probably not
recommended to create construction documents from a model created for visualization
purposes, engineering accuracy is important and can be ensured to a certain level of

4. Why should I pay someone to model our project in 3D when my team has
already built the project in 3D using CAD software?

Civil 3D and other land development and roadway modeling software packages have greatly
improved the ability to model surfaces and other important engineering elements such as
walls and drainage features. However, there are still many elements of projects that are
almost always annotative. Many parts of a project including signs, fences, striping and
surrounding buildings and trees are only represented as 2D linework or sometimes even just
with a callout note. While this is acceptable from a design and construction standpoint, these
elements are crucial for creating accurate visuals and can be built upon and around
engineered surfaces.

3. In my experience, 3D visualization often consists of handing CAD files over

to another firm and getting a video back in a few weeks or months that is
hopefully close to what I am looking for.

It is true that the process of 3D visualization can be somewhat messy and a good team might
not want the client to be a part of the process anymore than a sausage maker would want to
give tours of the factory. However, with advances in technology and as studios move
towards video game processes, frequent status updates can be a positive experience for both
the visualization team and the client. We try to give several in-person (or screen share)
meetings a month showing the progress of the model. Using software that can offer real-time
navigation such as Lumion or InfraWorks, our clients can see what their final animation will
look like, long before anything is ever rendered.

2. Rendering takes too long to make 3D visualization part of my fast moving


Some rendering can take long, very long. However, as more studios such as ours are moving
to engine based visualization, rendering can be drastically reduced. When we use Lumion
for our animations, the final video render almost always takes less than a day and sometimes
only a few hours depending on the length.
1. My project doesn't deal directly with the public so I1really 22
don't need 3D Try Premium for
visualization, right?

Animation videos for public outreach are one of the most common uses for 3D visualization
but far from the only reason. In fact, I encounter this myth so often that I wrote a post
showing 50 ways accurate 3D visualization can benefit your project including construction
phasing, alternative analysis, line of sight studies and for use in right of way legal disputes.

I have written this post exclusively for LinkedIn. You can learn more at our website, join the Civil FX Group on LinkedIn here and see some of our
recent work below:

Civil FX 2014 Demo Reel

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Timothy "Sean" Hulbert, PE 3y

AEC/ENI Premium Support Specialist at Autodesk

Well Said!
Like Reply 1 Like

Ruediger Mach 3y
at Mach:Idee, Ing.-Buero R. Mach

short and compact, thank you for the abstract :-)

Like Reply 1 Like

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Sam Lytle, PE
Owner of Civil FX and Lincoln County Planning Commissioner


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