Sunday 5th October 2014
Choosing a visualisation company: 9 questions to ask
There are plenty of good visualisation companies around. But how do you tell the good from the average? Or even more importantly, from the below average?
We’ve spent the last 6 months working with Stoats and Weasles, who designed and built our new website. Before we started working with them we approached plenty of other companies. They all had similar standards of work and gave almost identical quotes and similar timescales. To make a decision we started asking alternative questions that we felt might narrow the list and let us make an informed and confident decision about which company to choose.
Having been through that process, and feeling it gave us a good result, I decided to write a similar list of questions – beyond the obvious questions about cost and time – that I think might be useful for a client to ask a visualisation company.
1. What is your background in the industry?
A company with a background in the architectural will have the ability to read plans, sections and elevations. If they work in the golf industry they’ll be able to understand routing and grading plans. In short they’re more likely to understand exactly what you need and why. If they’ve been in either industry for a while, they’ll know what is required at each step of the design process.
Experience counts, and having a good number of varied projects in their portfolio is always a good indication of a company’s reputation.
Also ask them who else they’ve worked with. References or recommendations from past clients are another good way to determine if it’s a company you could work with.
2. Do you outsource any of your visualisation work?
Outsourcing can be a way to cut costs, but it can also lead to delays and an inconsistent quality of work. Just because a company outsources some of its visualisations, don’t discount them though ? just ask for some details.
They might have a good relationship with a reliable visualisation company that helps them complete big projects or provides extra hands when there are tight deadlines. Ask them to tell you how they work with the outsourced company so you can be confident in giving them a project.
3. Do you have an in-house render farm?
Creating visualisations, especially animations, requires a large amount of computing power. The banks of networked computers required are known as render farms. Some companies have their own, and some use specialist online rendering companies for this part of the process.
If the company has its own render farm it will be able to render what it needs when it needs to. It will be able to render images more quickly, which is extremely useful for last-minute changes and for rendering progress images. Rendering power is especially important if you’re commissioning an animation, because 100s, maybe even 1000s of frames need to be rendered.
4. Is your software fully licensed?
Whether or not they have fully licensed software might not have a direct impact on you or your project, but a reliable company who has made a commitment to the industry will have made this investment.
Software manufactures are starting to check more and more if companies are licensed to use their products. The last thing you want is to give a big project to a company who can’t finish because they’ve been caught with unlicensed software.
5. How many times will you let me review and make changes to an image?
Some companies are very strict about this. They’ll only give you one opportunity to review and comment on the image or animation. Other companies are more flexible and like to work collaboratively, providing progress images throughout the process.
Ask them specifically about the cost for different types of changes and if these are included. Most companies will allow changes to the materials, lighting and smaller design features, but if the 3D model has been mostly completed and there are significant changes to the design this could potentially require a lot of remodelling. This might not be covered in a quote.
It’s also worth asking about revisions after the project is complete. There are often design changes after the initial design review or client presentation. Ask about the cost of revisions and the company’s availability to do them. You don’t want to have to wait for a company who is too busy to do them, and getting another company to remodel the design will be costly.
6. At what resolution will you deliver the image or animation?
Companies will often render your images at a standard resolution. If you need the images at a higher resolution be sure to check if they charge extra for this.
If you’re not sure what resolution you need, tell your visualisation company what you need the images for and they can advise you on the best resolution. You might find our blog post Printing image: what resolution do you need? useful.
For an animation it will also depend on what you want to do with it. Will it be played on a website or large format screen?
7. Who will own the rights?
It’s common for the visualisation company to retain the copyright to the images and animations and allow you to use it. Be sure to check this, because sometimes the copyright specifies that you can only use the image for its original purpose. So if you had the image created for a planning application you’d need to pay again if you wanted to use it for marketing later on.
We believe that after the client has paid for the image then it’s theirs to use however they choose, although unless the project is confidential we like to retain the right to use the image for our own promotional materials.
8. Who will own the rights to the 3D model?
This is very different to the image rights. It’s very rare for the 3D model to be handed over at the end of the project, unless it’s a collaborative project and all the consultants involved have agreed to share the files.
If you think you might need the 3D model at a later date then you should ask this question before the project begins because it will probably affect the cost. Visualisation companies will often price the rights to the 3D model at a premium.
If you do want the rights to the model, you should ask how compatible the model will be. This will depend on the software and systems used by you and the visualisation company, because they will often use lots of plugins and licensed models. These can’t easily be handed over to a client, so they might need to remove these from the 3D model first. This means you won’t simply be able to open the 3D model and render lots of images yourself.
9. Who will be my point of contact during the project?
Knowing who you’ll be dealing with in the company is important. Will it be a project manager or the person who’s working on the 3D model itself? This will often depend on the size of project. If it’s a small project and a single person can oversee it from start to finish, then it might be beneficial to be in contact with them directly.
A big project might have lots of different people working on it at any one time, so it would be better to be in contact with a project manager who can answer any questions or provide progress images.
One last thing
Why we chose Stoats and Weasles?
When looking for a web company we asked plenty of questions before eventually choosing Stoats and Weasles, but it wasn’t just the answers to the questions, it was their personality that decided it for us. We met up for a coffee and an informal chat ? about more than just web design ? and we felt they understood our company and what we were hoping to achieve.
So, even once you’ve asked all the questions, my biggest piece of advice is to pick up the phone and talk to the company you’re considering. See if you want to work with them and if you feel can trust them with your project.