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Architectural modeling is a specialization in 3D modeling that encompasses multiple disciplines for various purpose of 3D visualizations. It generally describes the work of a digital artists that specialize in creating buildings and houses with a 3D software package. This can be either for film, games, visual effects, real estate, architecture, city planning or engineering, and the goals, methods and approach will be vastly different depending on the contexts. In the entertainment industry, architectural modelers are often found under the hard surface modeling category.
Real World Buildings
The most evident application for architectural modeling is, of course, in architecture. Let's say an architect is hired to make plans for a future building construction. First, he designs the building, through sketches and orthographic plans, either digital or paper. Those plans are then used by an architectural modeler to created 3D visualizations of the final building. Models made for this purpose are usually extremely detailed, perfectly proportioned and must be physically accurate because
Sometimes, architects create their designs digitally using CAD software, such as AutoCAD, which can be used almost directly for 3D architectural visualizations. In this case, the architect takes on the role of the architectural modeler, but this model is usually exported for proper 3D renderings into other softwares such as Maya. In fact, only 3D packages for the entertainment and film industry really allow you to push the realism to the limits of what current technologies can do. It can do extreme realism, and beyond in the imaginary. Therefore, the architect may still ask for the assistance of an environment artist, a lighting artist or a matte-painter to create the artistic ambiance required to create a realistic context, lighting and environment for the architectural model.
Urbanism & Planning
In this situation, the architect hasn't necessarily been hired yet. The urban planners and promoters are pitching project ideas to be financed, and there is a great need for 3D architectural visualizations to convince partners and city officials. Those models are created by architectural modelers, usually from the entertainment industry, rather than the architect fields. They will be relatively low detail and made from rougher sketches from designers and drawing artists, proposing ideas. A modeler is hired to create perspective views of different buildings and design ideas, to reflect the desired shapes of the concepts. The idea is to create a uniformity within the existing urban context, so it needs to be integrated perfectly, with practical elegance.
Real Estate Previz
The real estate business is a big adept of 3D architectural modeling. They take great care in creating 3D models for visualizations of a building or condo spaces, before it is even build. Like in architecture, the modelers take the 2D plans to create 3D renderings that are realistic, aesthetically pleasing and mostly enticing for buyers. Those models may however, be less physically accurate than CAD architectural models, because it is not for real-life building purposes. Additionally, the designs may be subject to change, when the engineers will have to make some compromises to actually physically build the structure in the real world, so it is not as much for realism, than it is for sale.
Film Set & Maquettes
Of course, film sets can also make use of architectural modelers to plan or visualize sets projects of huge scale. Sometimes, whole rooms, buildings of cities, need to be made, almost 'out of cardboard' to film a scene. It used to be visualized using miniature models first, but it has it's limitations. Among them, the lack of immersion makes it difficult to plan cameras in advance with accuracy.
This is why they can now be pre-visualized digitally and it's the job of an architectural modeler to plan it ahead, based on concept drawings. It can then be printed in 3D as a maquette, or the workflow can also continue digitally until the final picture, using digital set renderings & set extensions.
Digital Sets & Set Extensions
In the entertainment industry, that is games, films, visual effects and TV shows, architectural modeling is usually considered within the subset of hard surface modeling. And that is even if there are plenty of organic details in many architectural buildings, such as Churches, Cathedrals & Temples. For example, take a look at the exquisite amount of organic details in just this entrance of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, Spain. Watch more on the official site here.
Sometimes, the actually hard surface structure will be separated from it's organic components, such as the human shaped ornaments and sculptures to be assigned specifically to an organic modeler, but sometimes it is not. This depends largely on the project difficulty, the type of structure and the size of the company working on the project. In this respect architectural modelers are a specialization that may contain some parts of organic modeling. The Sagrada Familia in itself is a great example of an organically made architectural structure, both globally and in the details, albeit using hard surface materials. It is however rather extremely rare, if not totally unique, to have a building with such an organic feel.
Set Extensions are digital continuations of real physical sets, that are recreated digitally using 3D software. They serve to make believe that the action is elsewhere than where it was filmed, usually to make it more grandiose and impressive for the big screen.
In the gaming industry, architectural modelers are environment artists of level artists. They will create all elements of a given decor to create a compelling environment, and architecture is a big part of urban landscapes, especially in this era of dystopian war games and space adventures and alien civilizations.
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