It's probably best to learn to draw early and practise every day.
You also need to be artistic, so you can add an atmosphere to the 3D model you're building.
You should be able to understand architectural drawings, so you have to have a basic knowledge in architecture and interior design. You should be attentive to details and be accurate. Last but not least, you have to be patient. Building 3D models takes time, and your client may ask you to make a lot of changes before your final design is approved.
Ideally, 3D visualisers will have a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and Interior Design. They should also learn how to use 3D Studio Max and AutoCAD - software used by 3D visualisers to build 3D models. These courses are offered in Hong Kong. One such programme is provided by the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education. A more expensive, but maybe worthwhile, option is to take Autodesk courses and exams. Autodesk is the international company which creates AutoCAD software. They have a training centre in Hong Kong. An Autodesk certification is recognised worldwide.
If private courses are too expensive, you can learn on your own. Pang's partner, Jan Wong, did it with the help of books and CDs.
Pang first learned about 3D when she was studying mechanical engineering. She was soon hooked, but thought engineers' 3D models were too robotic and left no space for creativity. So after her Bachelor's, she took a short course at the Supreme Professional Computer College on 3D Studio Max, and took small jobs for interior designers. A few months later, she set up Paws Multimedia together with Wong.
It takes at least three years to master the basic skills of 3D Studio Max. You'll have to handle small jobs at the beginning.
First, it will be creating a model for an armchair or a lamp, then a room, and finally a whole building.
If you don't like to be a freelancer, you can become a 3D draftsman at architecture or interior design firms. A draftsman does basic interpretations for projects at the firm. With advanced designs, architects and designers use the services of a 3D visualiser to get a more stylish and detailed version.
Depending on their experience and the scale of the project, a visualiser can charge from HK$5,000 to HK$30,000 for each job. When Pang started her company eight years ago, she only had a few small jobs every month. But with time, she managed to build a good reputation and the projects started to come more easily.
Nowadays, she can focus on big projects, and doesn't have to do marketing anymore. On average, she works on 10 different projects each month.
Draftsmen and visualisers at architecture and design firms earn around HK$8,000 and HK$20,000 per month respectively. But if you want to earn more, it's better to set up your own company.
With time and experience, 3D visualisers can work for big clients and enhance their reputation. Pang regularly works with Hong Kong property developer Sun Hung Kai and international architecture firms SOM and Benoy.
Pang says it is important to create your own style. She says her company gets both local and international jobs because designers and advertisers like their style.
She plans to explore 3D walkthrough animation and 3D real-time virtual reality, which is similar to video games. To create such animations, Pang will have to get to grips with yet another software - 3D Cubic. She says 3D visualisers have to keep up with new trends.
She and her partner also plan to work with 3D visualisers in Chengdu. There aren't many 3D visualisers in Hong Kong, so it's easier for Pang to look for partners on the mainland.
A day at work
Ophelia Pang arrives at the office around 9am and checks her e-mails for new projects coming up. She then researches each project and has a phone or face-to-face briefing with the clients. It is very important that she understands what the client wants.
Then she begins turning two-dimensional drawings, including floor plans and elevations (vertical aspects of buildings), into a 3D model. When the base is done, she focuses on the details, including colours and lighting, and applies textures and other materials to the structure. There are many exchanges before both she and the clients are happy. Pang says she usually works on several projects simultaneously. It takes her about two days to create a room, and a week for a building. She finishes around 7pm, but often works overtime.