Stan Zaslavsky

Creating marketing drawings for selling projects off the plan is one thing, whereas accurate photomontages for town planning submissions and VCAT appeals is completely different. Sure parts of the process are similar – but because the purpose of the imagery is vastly different – what needs to be done upfront is markedly different to the artist impressions that are done for marketing developments.

The major factor in delivering photomontages for VCAT and town planning applications is urgency and time limitation. And the second factor is the presentation of the images – photorealism and accuracy is really important without the added glitz and glamour.

Often the photomontages are developed as the final step for the pre-council application or the VCAT hearing hence there is a defined date and working towards that date is critical to the overall success of the application.

Typically for VCAT photomontages, the imagery needs to be circulated to all the respondents 30 days before the hearing date – so it places an even more arduous turnaround time as often the drawing plans are being amended on the fly and are going between various consultants – from traffic through to landscaping and the architects. And the 3D team must deliver the finalised version at high resolution and ensure that the images are totally representative of what is going to be built.

So let’s start with how the overall photomontage delivery process unfolds.

Who is Involved?

For the photomontages to be delivered effectively – the following consultants are typically involved:

  • Surveyor to deliver 3D CAD cloud data of the context of the site
  • Photographer to take the Existing site photos in high resolution
  • 3D Visualisation team to produce the 3D photomontages

Sometimes the photographer is an internal member of the 3D team, however, we prefer to have an external expert photographer to take the photos as there is then an added layer of responsibility and reporting that comes from an independent party. Both of the consultants – the surveyors and the photographer will then produce a report of their equipment and the methodology to producing their information. This report is typically used as appendices to the Statement of Methodology report required by VCAT.

How Do 3D Photomontages Get Produced?

A brief schematic is outlined in the Gantt chart below and as you can see there are a number of components that need to happen to deliver your photomontages in time.

At the initial stage, the following is collected:

  • Photographs of the site as directed by the urban planners, town planners or any other key decision consultant
  • 3D Cad survey data
  • Complete set of CAD plans of the project

At this stage – we have to be working backwards in terms of time to work out what needs to be done and more often than not – as soon as the confirmation of the go-ahead is received, the arrangements must be set with the photographers and the surveyors to get onto the site. This sometimes is a bit tricky to coordinate, but what we typically organise is for the photographer to be on-site at the same time as the planning consultant and then mark up the location of the camera points which then get surveyed when the surveyor gets on site.

Because of our proprietary process in developing accurate 3D photomontages – the exact camera point location is not critically necessary – because the model is positioned within the 3D space based on the physical coordinates on the photos that are taken on site.

Once this initial data is collected – we can then set about to develop the 3D model of the project, which can take a little while if the geometry is quite complicated and the plans are done in 2D AutoCAD. Other times this process is expedited if the architect had already worked in 3D CAD software and provides the 3D model.

What we have found although is that typically it is faster for us to rebuild the model for 2D plans and then ensure the accuracy of the model, rather than rely on the model supplied as quite often that model lacks certain details or is an earlier version that has been modified in the 2D plans later on and wasn’t relayed back to the model.

As soon as the 3D model is completed and organised for rendering – we put together a set of “Clay” or “Whitecard” render photo-montages to the clients for review and approval of geometry. This acts as a critical milestone that shows up early positioning and allows for modifications to be done before any materials or lighting has been applied to the project.

After this step of review and feedback – the 3D photomontages get developed further with materials, lighting and landscaping. Once those have been completed and presented – we’re on the home stretch of iterations until all parties are satisfied with the final results. Typically this part may take 3 or so days between going back and forwards and ensuring that all the finishes are correct and the photomontage will ultimately represent accuracy and reality.

This pre-final image initially gets completed in low resolution to allow for the client and all the consultants to accept it and then this will get rendered out in high resolution which may take another day to deliver the finished result. So overall all the stages of the photomontage need to be assessed and taken into account very carefully to ensure that sufficient time is allocated and the imagery will be delivered without compromise to the quality of it.

Key Points for Effectiveness

All in all, there are a couple of major components in what your 3D providers must do to deliver the imagery in time.

In the overall process certain items take set amounts of time – for example, high-resolution rendering of the images is computer-dependent and may take up to a day to finalise. Completion of the 3D model is another large component – which we break down into milestone parts in order to ensure the clients are up to speed with all the items as they are being completed.

So if you are engaging a 3D consultant to deliver planning imagery for your project – these are the three vital keys to ensure the delivery of your imagery happens in time for the application or the hearing date.

Key 1.          Deliver All Finalised Documentation to the 3D Team At Priority

Key 2.          Planner and/or Associated Consultants to be on-site at the time the photography of the site is being done

Key 3.          Request for the Model Montage & delivery of “Clay” Renders for Review as early as possible

By looking out for the three keys above – you as the client can do the best you can in assisting your 3D team to deliver your 3D photomontage on time and hopefully with some extra time to spare just to pick out any minor items that may need some finishing touches and to look absolutely right to then give your project the best chance of presentation at the various public assessments.

If you have any questions at all about some of the key components or processes involved in the creation of accurate 3D photomontages for your town planning or development applications – get in touch and we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

The article was also published in the Victorian Planning and Environmental Law Association October 2013 Newsletter.


To your development success,


Stan Zaslavsky,

Eagle Vision

BEng / BTech (Ind Design), LREA, VPELA

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