How much does it cost? Real-time Architectural Visualizations with Unity3D (and optionally Oculus Rift) FAQ Answered

[UPDATE: We have now published an eBook about Architectural Visualization with Unity3D (including a chapter about Oculus Rift) that can be purchased HERE.]

(tl;dr summary: The cost of taking a project like the one shown below, creating the 3D model from simple schematic 2D CAD drawings, making it accessible on a web browser, including some interface functionality to jump around the scene, development of 1 key interior space (lobby, condo unit, etc.) the ability to change materials on several key surfaces to test different color/material ideas, up to 3 high resolution screenshots and a 30 second unedited promotional animation – AND build it into an Oculus Rift-Ready virtual experience: $12k USD total project cost.  Optionally – to build just the exterior, no programmed functionality, accessible on a website: $4,200.  We have a combined total of 20 years of architectural experience, and 5 years of professional development experience in Unity3D.  Send us a note to get a more accurate estimate for your own project )

It seems the floodgates for the use of game engines in architectural visualization have finally opened.  What had been a niche market has now become an increasingly common and accepted concept – that game engines like Unity3D can be a powerful tool for visualizing architecture.

Of course, the greatest interest remains in drag-and-drop connectivity with CAD and BIM applications like Revit, or SketchUp there seems to be much more widespread acceptance that creating real-time visualization applications is still a specialized form of art – akin to traditional architectural visualization techniques, and requires a specialized skill and careful eye to create the most effective real-time experiences.

As a provider of real-time architectural visualization services, Arch Virtual has seen a steady increase in the number of inquiries and projects. As with any emerging service, the most commonly asked question everyone wants to know is – how much does this cost?   As with most professional services, the answer is – it all depends.

Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about creating real-time architectural visualization apps with Unity3D.

 

What do you need to provide us with to get started?

It is a common misunderstanding that you need to provide fully developed CAD or BIM models in order to create a real-time visualization app.  The truth is, we can develop a compelling virtual experience from a napkin sketch.  You simply send us whatever information you have, and we work closely with you to ensure we are creating a virtual experience that very closely reflects your design intentions.

If you do have fully developed 3D models in CAD, BIM or SketchUp format, there is a chance we can make use of that existing geometry.  However, time and again we discover that these models don’t look great under the close and holistic scrutiny of a real-time virtual experience, and almost always need to be ‘cleaned’ or remapped with more efficient geometry that will enable us to create a more realistic and visually compelling virtual application that will perform well.  That’s what we do best.

What is our final deliverable?

We can deliver the virtual application in a number of different ways.

Web Player

The most popular option is to provide you with a simple iframe code you can embed in your own website.  This enables visitors to your a website to access the virtual tour.  This page is often password-protected and only accessible to clients and internal employees or project stakeholders, but is occasionally made available to the public to help promote or sell a project.

Stand-Alone Application

We can also deliver a stand-alone application that is much like a traditional computer software program.  It doesn’t require any internet connectivity, and opens in it’s own window (not in a browser).  This method can sometimes achieve better performance, and can be distributed via thumb drives or download links.

Oculus Rift

It is safe to say that the Oculus Rift virtual reality head-mounted display has captured the imagination of many architects, city planners and designers who want to experience their designs within this immersive display.  This is by far the most compelling and visually stunning way of experiencing architecture – unlike anything else available.  It is absolutely positively a game changer for visualizing buildings.  We can provide you with an executable file you simply run from your own machine with a Rift plugged in, and it just works.  You’re suddenly standing inside of your soon-to-be new building, and are free to roam around.

If you have a Rift, you can experience this yourself.  If not, we can come to your location and help with the setup personally.

Can my project be kept confidential?  Absolutely.  Most projects require strict confidentiality.

 

Will you sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)?  We will.  Almost every project requires an NDA.

 

How much does it cost, and how long does it take?  

The easiest way to get an answer to this question is to send us some information about your project, and we will get back to you with an estimate.  info (at) archvirtual.com or give us a call at 608-729-5778

In the meantime There are generally 4 major factors we consider when developing a quote.

Complexity – range of 1 to 10

If you’re designing an ornate cathedral with custom detailing on every surface, your project will cost a lot more than a factory building with very simple details.

Scale – range of 1 to 10

This one is deceiving, because big buildings don’t necessarily cost more than little buildings.  But if your project is an entire campus of buildings, for example, or a very large building with lots of different details, it will cost more than a smaller, single building.  Generally speaking, designs with lots of repetition cost less to develop, since we can re-use the same details throughout the project.

Programming Scope – range of 1 to 10

This deals with the functionality you want to build in.  For example, if you want the ability to pan around the exterior of the building, then click a button to zoom into the lobby – we need to factor in the integration of that piece.  If you want to be able to change materials, or turn the lights on and off.  These functions don’t necessarily cost a lot to include, but it is something we consider when developing our estimates

Revision Potential – range of 1 to 10

If we take on a project in very early schematic phase, which is expected to change significantly over time, we generally want to include more time in our estimate to accommodate those changes.  We encourage architects and real estate developers to utilize this service as early in the design process, since it can very effectively help make decisions and visualize the design as it is taking shape.  The cost of making design updates doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot, depending on the level of detail expected in the final deliverables.  If, for example, the project only needs to be a simple study model with only a few materials and a relatively crude non-polished character, it would cost a lot less to include lots of revisions to that model than a more polished, final model with lots of details.

 

CASE STUDY 1:

To help gauge cost and time of development, we will use a sample project as an example.  The project shown below is a renovation project of an existing building that occupies about 1 city block.  It is 3 stories tall, and has a moderate to low level of custom architectural detailing, but a lot of repetition.  So, on the complexity scale, this building would be a 2 or 3.  For scale, it is only 3 stories tall, but it occupies a full city block. On the other hand, it isn’t a high rise, and it’s a really simple shape.  I would rate this a 4 for scale.

For programming scope, this project was delivered as a web player they could embed on their site.  It had 3 voice-over clips that were automatically triggered as the visitor explored the space.  It also included info-icons that visitors could click on to learn more about the project’s features.  There was also a promotional video that played on a screen in-world.   So, all in all, for Scope, I would rate this project about a 6.

This project was very light on revision potential.  The design was 100% complete when we started, and didn’t change much as the virtual model evolved.  There were several revisions to the voice-over and pop-up clips, but they were kept very modest.  I would rank this a 1 for revision potential.

Final Cost:  To do this project all over again today, we would estimate the full project at around $6,500 USD, including the interactive pieces, video player, voice-over triggers, web player deployment and exterior shell only.  To create just the exterior shell only, without any interactivity, we could deliver this for about $4,200.  With this project, we also delivered static illustration jpg files to show specific views of the building, along with this promotional video.

Delivery Time:   We could have this substantially completed within 4 to 6 weeks of project kick-off.

 

CASE STUDY 2:

This project featured in the video below was started when the architectural drawings were about 70% complete.

For complexity, I would rate this a 7.  There was quite a bit of repetition, which helped reduce the time and cost, but there were several different detail types and several unique spaces that needed careful attention.

Scale wise, this project was pretty big.  It occupied an area that would probably be considered about 3 average city blocks, maybe 4.  It had 5 floors, and we built the entire interior space of the entire building.  Every stair, corridor, auditorium and lobby space were accessible.  This all contributed to a fairly comprehensive interior build-out, so the scale would be about a 7 or 8 on this one.

For programming scope, this project was delivered as a multi-player web player build they could embed on their site.  It didn’t include any additional programmed functionality, as the client was able to build this into the project with their own staff.  Scope on this one would be about 4.

As for revision potential, it did require significant revisions, which were very helpful for enabling project stakeholders understand the design as it evolved.  I would rate this one an 8 for revision potential, due to the substantial revision that occurred.

Final Cost: In all, to deliver this project again today, we would charge about $10,000.

Delivery Time:   We could have this substantially completed within 4 to 6 weeks of project kick-off.

 

Oculus Rift.  The biggest consideration for delivering a build for use in an Oculus Rift is performance.  With some tweaking, we can take just about any of our real-time projects, and create an Oculus Rift experience.  We have already created several arch-viz projects for Oculus Rift, and the results were spectacular.  If you want to differentiate your project from the rest, and knock the socks off of your client, let them see the design in a Rift.  I can all but guarantee their enthusiastic response to the virtual experience.  The cost of delivering a Rift-ready build of your project would be about $1,000 (in addition to the development costs described above).

 

Additional things to consider.  When considering the cost of developing a real-time application, keep in mind that once the model is completed, it can be used to deliver both traditional 2D illustrations (high resolution screenshots taken from within the virtual model), as well as architectural animations.  These can be delivered at a far lower cost than hiring an animator or illustrator to develop them from scratch.

There are also a variety of ways to build programmed functionality into your virtual application.  For example, you might have an overview model that enables you to pan around the exterior as you would in Google Earth, etc. to get the bird’s eye view and zoom in on exterior details.  There might then be buttons that you can click on to enter various featured spaces within the project.  You might have us build a detailed lobby space or key interior space that can then be accessed from the overview experience.

We can also add in ‘npc’ or non-player characters that make the scene feel lively and populated.  They can be standing idle, walking, talking to each other, etc.

You might also consider a multi-player experience that enables you to choose an avatar, then actually meet with other people inside the model.  You can talk to each other with voice or text chat to discuss the design and invite other project stakeholders into the model for a walk-through.

 

Conclusion.  Again, the best way to get a sense of the cost of your project would be to send us a few images – whatever you have, it doesn’t have to be much – and we will quickly get back to you with an estimate.  We can also discuss your desired functionality, and brainstorm a strategy for making the most of your real-time application.

Send us a note at info (at) archvirtual.com or give us a call at 608-729-5778

 

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