The Real Cost of Architectural Rendering

Russell L. Thomas

No matter what professional field you are in, inevitably you will be asked to provide or even justify the cost of your services. It can be difficult to give pricing while trying to make sure that what you are providing pricing for is what any competition is providing pricing for. In addition giving some context for your price and demonstrating that it is reasonable is often times necessary. If you are an architect practicing in Washington State you may show clients the published price surveys that would indicate where you where within the reported percentile and is a good litmus test of your fee structure compared to the rest of the market. In the architectural visualization profession there isn't any "defacto" standard and many studios are good at the old "Bait and Switch" to lure you in. One resource is the 2009 CG architect survey and the information could be interpreted as follows:

In a 2009 worldwide survey, performed by CGarchitect (most influential and reputable online magazine/community focusing on architectural visualization), the average price charged for a high-quality 3D architectural still image is between $1000.00 USD and $2000.00 USD. This is an average price you could expect that paying in this range as being fair for small to medium projects, large projects range from $3,000.00 USD onward depending on the project. While standard 3D animation costs anywhere between US$5000.00 USD and $10000.00 USD , you could expect to pay a fair bit more depending on duration and complexity of video. Obviously, every studio is different and prices vary, but usually the studios that are producing higher quality work, are charging more. If you have worked with rendering studios you probably know you can get cheaper renderings from countries like China and India, downside can be the quality control and all the time spent managing the process to get the results you want. The comprehensive survey on the profession of architectural visualization can be found here:

There are some firm hard figures on the monetary level of what are going rates by regions and it gives you a good idea how much you may pay in currency, but I would argue that the cost of renderings is also measured in your time and quality of the end result.

It's All Subjective:

I can say a rendering is bad and the average person off the street might say they see nothing wrong with it, so why should anyone care? This is the dilemma many potential clients face, bottom line is the all mighty dollar and if a cheap $500.00 rendering conveys the idea to the average person, why not just go with the cheapest artist/studio you can find? If it serves your purpose, it is hard to argue against it, and probably a waste of time to even try. So rather than argue the subjective, lets discuss the objective.

$500.00 vs. $1,500.00 Rendering:

The little guy in a foreign country using pirated software and hardware supplemented by their government doesn't have the overhead of a big professional studio. Obviously you can reverse the scenario and the little guy in our country using pirated software working from home has less overhead than a big studio in a foreign country, this isn't about foreign vs. domestic, just pointing out the more typical scenario based from my experience. So pricing doesn't necessarily denote quality so that $500.00 rendering is looking pretty good right about now.

In any case the little guy typically can whip out a rendering that is probably acceptable and you are dealing with an individual which a lot of people like. That $500.00 rendering can also come from a large studio that is basically a render mill pumping out renderings at a very fast pace by the use of hundreds of artist working for cheap, producing renderings via assembly line fashion. Down side is usually that you get different people of varying skill levels each time that studio provides services. What it can come down to is the big studio has back up artist to complete your project if initial artist gets sick or has an emergency comes up, but you aren't guaranteed the same artist working for you from project to project. So at this point there really isn't much mentioned here that helps a potential client make better decision.

For an American company seeking artist specializing in AEC, choosing an American artist/studio who has a strong foundation in our construction industry is a huge bonus in the long run. If you go with someone who doesn't have a strong architectural background you will probably need to assign someone in your office to coordinate with them and this cost you money and adds up real fast. There is also the whole English as a second language which can sometimes make communication less than accurate. Now that $500.00 rendering starts costing a lot more. 

Having someone who knows National materials, construction techniques and building codes is very beneficial, saves lots of time for the Client who doesn't have to hold their hand every step of the way. Little things like handrail balusters spaces greater than 4" apart or curbs greater than 6" high can make a rendering appear incorrectly and steal the viewers attention trying to figure out what doesn't look quite right. So a trained professional who charges more can actually save money for the client and more importantly can save a lot of heart ache and revisions.

Selecting an artist/studio by their online portfolio can be difficult for multiple reasons, so if in doubt ask for a reference. There have been plenty of situations where online artist/studios have been called out on stealing others work and showing it as their own. Another item that isn't illegal but questionable is that there are companies out there that sell readymade scenes for people to render and put in their portfolios. The scenes are sold for this purpose, so nothing illegal, but artist/studios are using content not created in-house to pad/build their portfolio, the work doesn't represent what they can do and is misleading. There are also plenty of cases where an artist was a small part of a team and they go off on their own and show the work as their own. So be careful if the work seems world class, but the price is ridiculously low and they can't provide a referral or two.

What it comes down to is finding the artist/studio that is knowledgeable in your industry sector and who has a body of work that you respect and a point of contact that you feel comfortable with at a price point that is in your realistic budget. No simple answers just some things to think about, we have found that there are some fantastic artist/studios in China and the old Soviet Union countries like Serbia or the Ukraine, so it doesn't mean you can't go outside the country to find great reliable talent, just do a bit of homework and make sure you aren't going to do a lot of hand holding for a final product that isn't acceptable.

In conclusion the real cost of architectural renderings may not be the bottom dollar but the end result and your "hassle free" time. And after all on a multimillion dollar project, is a few thousand dollars too high of a price to pay to represent you and your project?

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