Stan Zaslavsky

When clients are following the progress of a 3D visualisation project, their first opportunity to see it in 3D form is often a revelation – the point at which the designed concept takes on a meaningful form. Although there is virtually no colour in the scene – aside from the sky and perhaps some reflectivity in the windows­­ – the 3D clay render is a significant milestone.

We have completed nearly 600 projects since 2008, and this intermediate ‘clay stage‘ presentation is of tremendous value, especially if the architects have worked entirely in 2D to that point. The clay render achieves several objectives: it allows clients a visual engagement with the process; it offers a clear definition of the camera angle, and it presents an early stage of the geometry of the scene.

Our work might seem to appear as if by magic, or be completely done with computer software, where the operator has little to do once the scene is populated. Nothing could be further from the truth. The key to an effective 3D visualisation is twofold: creative artistry in the use of materials and lighting, and expertise in setting up the camera angle to produce the beautiful photographs you see in architectural magazines.

There are countless variables and many time-consuming elements in the 3D visualisation process, and presenting an image that falls outside the client’s expectations can lead to a host of further problems. When time is the most precious resource, hours can be wasted in adding extra details to areas in the 3D space, which might ultimately have no impact on the selected camera angle.

In the past, when we needed to accelerate projects, due to clients’ requests or because of time constraints, we had to skip the clay stage render and move straight through to coloured visualisations. And almost every time, when the clients eventually saw the renders, there came the ‘Aha’ moment of surprise, and the ‘Is this how it’s going to look?’ reaction.

And then, inevitably, to get the project looking right, came the slew of changes, including alterations to the camera angle, which involved adding further 3D environment and scenery to complete the view. This step alone can require an extra week of work, as some of the existing scenery is no longer usable or not in the view of the revised camera angle.

The clay stage render avoids these difficulties.

Clay or ‘Whitecard’ 3D Render: the Basics

The modelling process – from plans to the 3D model – depends on the complexity of the project. A small townhouse development can take between 3 and 5 days; a large land estate might require several weeks. When the entire model is complete, it’s the perfect opportunity to review the proposed development with the client.

To create the clay stage render, we add basic lighting, sky and sun and, to delineate different surfaces, we attach a grey-scale material and glass for the windows. These steps add a little colour to the scene, which is usually enough for the clients to understand how the development is starting to take shape.

The clay stage becomes even more important when we are working on a custom conceptual project.  Clients need to visualise the spaces as early in the process as possible, so they can determine whether any design changes will be needed.

3 Key Benefits of the 3D Clay Stage

To summarise, here are the three key benefits of using the clay stage milestone in the 3D visualisation process:

1. Transparency

Introducing an earlier step in the render development process allows clients a clear understanding of how the visualisation is taking shape. In our methodology, which focuses on client engagement and involvement, the clay render is an important milestone.

2. Certainty

Camera angle direction is a major component in giving a 3D visualisation the ‘architectural magazine’ look. Showcasing the project in a clay form, with a clearly defined point of view, allows for a critical review of the camera angle and for adjustment if required.

3. Geometry Review

Finally, if designers have only worked in 2D up to this point, by producing a clay stage render we allow clients to understand and review building features. Any key design changes are a lot easier to manage during the clay render stage than they would be later in the process. Furthermore, early lighting study can be done – although without full post-processing to the images – and basic sun direction can be discussed at this stage.

In the case of interior 3D perspectives, the clay render stage is the first chance for clients to visualise the available space, and a better opportunity to review proposed furniture placement and styling.

Clay Stage Visualisation is Imperative

Our experience of many successfully completed projects has proved the value of the clay stage milestone in the render development process. Producing magazine quality visualisations requires artistry and technical brilliance to evoke emotion and, ultimately, to create 3D imagery that will convey the property developer’s vision. It is so much easier to achieve this by eliminating variables as early as possible in the 3D visualisation process, while also saving time and avoiding unnecessary costs.

To your development success,


Stan Zaslavsky.

BEng / BTech (Ind Design), LREA, VPELA.

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