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The right partner will have the tools and processes to help you reuse content, scale, deliver ROI and develop complete customer journeys across applications and buying stages.

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For enterprise buyers evaluating 3D initiatives, it is important to understand the role of the 3D content pipeline in rolling out and maintaining successful enterprise 3D initiatives.

To design a successful 3D initiative or enterprise-wide 3D strategy, you need to first understand 3D content. A solid understanding of 3D content will help to crystallize your vision, achieve a positive ROI, and future-proof your investment.

If you are a newbie to 3D, check out our Beginner’s Guide to 3D Content for a quick overview of 3D file types, applications, and use cases.

If you are familiar with the basics, the next step is to learn how to develop a 3D content pipeline that provides a holistic, future-proof approach to 3D content creation and management at scale.

What is a 3D content pipeline?

A 3D content pipeline is a system consisting of people, hardware, and software aligned to work in a specific sequential order to do pre-determined tasks in a predetermined time frame, in this case, 3D content models.

Why is a 3D content pipeline important?

A 3D content pipeline is essential for retailers and manufacturers who need to order and manage accurate, configurable 3D content at scale. Here are five reasons to establish a 3D content pipeline for enterprise 3D initiatives:

  1. 3D content at scale requires a process. Establishing a content process and clear communications upfront will keep 3D initiatives on track.
  2. 3D content is still expensive. A content pipeline helps to manage costs to budget, ensure reusability, and reduce rounds of quality assurance that drive costs up.
  3. Speed to market with new content. A pipeline helps ensure that your 3D content orders align to merchandising priorities and is ready when you need it.
  4. Quality control. Having a pipeline and QA process in place ensures that delivered content meets your quality bar.
  5. Ensure maximum consistency and reusability. Not having a content pipeline can limit your ability to reuse 3D assets across experiences.

Approaches to designing a 3D content pipeline

The goal of a 3D content pipeline is to meet the specific needs of your business with an eye to cost containment and efficiency through 3D asset reuse and portability. Two common approaches to designing a 3D content pipeline are:

  • Decimation. Create 3D models at high LODs (levels of detail), and enable reuse by “decimating” or scaling down high LOD models
  • Multiple LODs: Create 3D models at high, moderate, and low levels of detail upfront to maximize reuse and portability.

Before you land on an approach, it is important to think beyond a single immediate use case. Focusing too narrowly could limit the ability to reuse assets across future 3D experiences.

How to establish a 3D content pipeline

We recommend defining a complete enterprise strategy that takes multiple use cases into consideration. This takes time, but 3D is here to stay, and 3 – 5 years from now, you’ll be glad that you have a 3D content strategy that includes a well-considered 3D content pipeline. Here are five steps to get you closer to a successful 3D content pipeline.

  • Develop your thinking around reuse and content costs. Work through every possible use case for 3D content to establish requirements.
    1. Deep dive on products. Look for reuse opportunities across product SKUs. You can model castors, finishes, or materials once and reuse them hundreds of times. 
    2. Socialize the concept. Share your idea for building out an enterprise-wide strategy and developing an efficient content pipeline.
    3. Get buy-in. Educating the broader team and organization can help. Listen to concerns, feedback, and ideas for future uses.
  • Choose an approach. Based on your discovery process, choose decimation or create models at high, medium, and low levels of detail upfront.

The importance of 3D content reuse and portability

One of the best solutions for managing content and cost is to understand your products to get as much reuse out of meshes and materials. This means fewer assets to manage and sell across a myriad of 3D experiences to deliver maximum ROI on a 3D content investment.

Building a 3D product is very similar to the physical manufacturing and assembly of a product.  Each product is composed of parts and materials, and these are assembled to compose a final product. For instance, a furniture manufacturer starts with a frame, adds foam or padding, covers it with fabric, and may finish it with tufting, piping, or tacks.

To create a 3D product that mirrors a real-world product is to start with a product shape (also referred to as a mesh, geometry, or geo), materials, finishes, and configurable components. The materials and finishes are wrapped around the geometry. Then components such as decorative pillows and details such as tacks or tufting can be added or removed.

Modeling down to the individual part level – or not

Every product is composed of parts. Break configured products into their modular parts and create material libraries that can be reused across many different products. Creating models and materials at a more granular level can deliver serious cost savings and flexibility.

We are often asked questions such as, “Should we model down to an individual part level?” Think castors, chair legs, and feet, nail heads, stitching, etc., that are reused among many different armchairs, sofas, accent pillows, and so on.

To minimize costs and maximize value at an enterprise scale, consider having 3D models and materials created at an individual part level: as many as you create physical products (e.g., screws, nuts, bolts, joints, clamps, stitching, etc.).

Models can be “unwrapped” to mirror sewing and upholstery instructions so that only one material must be created and applied to many different meshes. Each model possesses a unique unwrap that corresponds to the real-world application of that material – like the fabric on an upholstered chair.

Find a 3D content platform with a virtual materials process that takes into account the rotation of pieces and how that should flow with the direction of the fabric and product.

Vector vs. Polygon Art: What’s the difference?

Vector art consists of points and lines, whereas polygon art consists of surfaces that are made up of triangles. When going from polygon surface rendering into vector rendering, some visual information is lost in the translation process. When a vector-based shape or engineering drawing is provided and a polygon-based output is desired, a translation is needed in the middle to resolve conflicts and assumptions between the two environments.

Want to convert existing 3D content files? Read this.

“Why can’t the models I have from another vendor be used in a new application?” This is a common question — especially as more retailers and manufacturers enter the 3D content ecosystem.

Truth: Sometimes content conversion works; other times, it can be painful and problematic. Not all 3D content is designed with reuse and portability in mind. Content conversion is the process of retrofitting 3D content to a new use case — and it’s a lot more complex than it sounds.

Depending on the software programs used (e.g., Corona, Houdini, Maya, 3DS Max, etc.) and retailer requirements, content studios and artists make different assumptions when creating 3D models.

For instance, 3D models are frequently purpose-built for a specific use case and outcome, such as a high-resolution render. Reusing that model in real-time 3D experiences, such as Augmented Reality, 3D product configurators, and/or 3D room planners, presents some challenges. At the least, reverse engineering may be required to correct the topology on the mesh, and there is a high probability that the asset must be completely remodeled to meet the new use case.

In the case of a CGI asset, those are just x-, y-, and z-coordinates represented as a silhouette without any of the underlying data to support a useful, dynamic experience. This is why we recommend having an enterprise strategy that takes reuse into consideration upfront in order to avoid the expense and confusion of remaking assets multiple times.

Plan for reuse upfront and avoid conversion when possible – Why reusability and portability matter

At times and for various reasons, retailers insist on converting 3D content that wasn’t initially designed for reuse across applications. It can be done, but it comes with inherent risks and limitations, and the assets will have limited reusability in the future. If you can, consider reusability upfront when you initially order assets.

Options for conversion could include using a CG vendor that will bring your 3D models to full or partial spec, but there will come a point where additional investment is required to meet the content specifications for various experiences.

With well over a decade of experience in this space, we have a unique strength in 3D content and a gold standard for what good 3D artwork looks like. When evaluating existing models for potential conversion, we have to consider:

  • Distortion
  • Visual shortcuts
  • Blurriness
  • Texel resolution compromises

When compromises are made with 3D models due to conversion, expect issues in the quality, realism, and performance of those models within other 3D experiences.

Be sure that your content is ready for what’s next

As technology continues to evolve, what people will accept as “good enough” is going to change… do you want to pay at every single gate to have that asset re-created because it wasn’t futureproofed?

When you are looking for a 3D content pipeline solution, ensure that your vendor delivers 3D assets with quality and portability in mind.

What is 3D asset portability?

3D asset portability is a simple idea:  When 3D assets are created, ensure that they can be used across experiences. This requires more than just beautiful assets. It takes factors like business rules, metadata, and pricing integration into consideration. It can also include optimizing for the number of unique parts, creating both time and cost savings benefits through providing a 3D warehouse for a complete catalog of 3D products.

At 3D Cloud, we’ve attempted to standardize and consolidate those assumptions into our 3D Cloud platform so that our 3D models can be consumed by all 3D applications, not just our own 3D applications. This allows retailers to take an already good asset that works in most places and is portable, and then you can modify it in other environments as you need to.

FREE DOWNLOAD: UV2 3D Model Requirements for an Enterprise 3D Content Pipeline

There is a minimum set of requirements that 3D models must meet to enable real-time 3D experiences.

Use this 3D model requirements checklist to:

  • Know what to look for when it comes to UVs, polycount, materials, textures, format and scale, modeling, orientation, and pivot point details.
  • Align your internal team on 3D content and modeling requirements for real-time use cases like 3D Room Planner and WebAR
  • Use the checklist to evaluate potential 3D content pipeline and 3D content management vendors


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Checklist: Getting Started with 3D: How to Build a 3D Content Pipeline

Now that you’ve started educating yourself on how to build a 3D content pipeline, what’s next?

The 3D content pipeline is an essential foundation for a successful enterprise 3D strategy investment. Key factors to consider in developing a 3D content pipeline are reuse, portability, and scalability.  Done correctly, a 3D content pipeline will help your company to build a rich 3D asset repository that can be reused, recultured, and stand the test of time.

After you’ve spent some time learning about 3D content and tech, the next step is to build a 3D project business case.  Use our free 3D project business case template to get started.

For a complete guide to launching a 3D project, visit our 3D Project Planning Resource Center or contact us to request a 3D project consultation.

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