Top Challenges Facing Archviz Freelancers Today
«Do you know why an artist used to be equated with God? Because he could create everything from nothing». I heard such words more than once from my art teacher at the academy. You, fellow 3d artists, may have heard it in other forms. "Artwork", "creativity", "competitive salary", and "minimum technical work" – we’ve been told only the best of what can await you in this field. At the same time, many things that emerge over time and put you in an uncomfortable position are avoided. The truth is always somewhere in the middle, this is an interesting job that has many pros and cons (cons are usually written in small font).
What is written below are my personal observations. After 5 years of visualization work, I left an office job in the year of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, stepped out of the comfort zone and decided to work for myself even in wartime. The search for customers from different countries, a market analysis, and past years’ experience led me to conclusions that are worth sharing with those who are just starting their journey in 3D visualization, and with those who have been working for more than a year.
Competition and market dumping
Congratulations, 3D freelancer - now you are your own boss, you can set the price you want and the terms that are favorable to you. There is no longer a CEO or a project manager who "knows nothing" and "can't even create a teapot in 3dmax." At the same time, there is no longer a regular number of projects you’ve worked on before and earned a fixed rate.
Many platforms on the Internet allow you to search for one-time projects or work based on contracts - Upwork, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour, CGhero, and a lot more. At first glance, it seems that there is a lot of work and it’s true. But there is another truth - it is competition. There can be a dozen or even more applications for one project, often websites allow users to buy the function of boosting their offers.
As a result, you have a good portfolio at the bottom, and John Doe with a rendering from the Mesozoic era is in the top 3. And it’s very possible that clients won’t scroll down to your offer. Yes, we cannot guarantee that this artist will stay on the project and the customer will not look for another, but there are still many people above you and be prepared that they have a lower price, like much lower.
I am sure that with the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine, this problem has gotten worse many times. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, they enter the foreign market, where the prices are higher than in their motherland, and they offer a price higher than what they are used to, but much lower than in the EU zone. The market is becoming full of good specialists for peanuts. It is no longer news that social networks often promote not a best project, but an understated price written with Caps. This attracts the customer but creates chaos in the market. But the question is - how did we get to the situation where the low price became such a determining factor?
Renders quality averaging
Let's be honest, when was the last time you took a careful look at your render settings? I’m not talking about the picture size, noise amount, and render elements, but about the settings, as it was before, for example, in the old Vray. When you check 15 tabs, set the necessary number of subdivisions to different settings, choose types of light calculation, and pray that there won’t be much noise.
Obviously, we haven't been doing this for a long time. Improvements to the most popular rendering plugins, such as Corona or Vray, freed our hands and sped up the workflow many times. We can deal more with materials, the environment in the scene, modeling, and lighting and do it more efficiently. This optimization brought us as close to the "make nice" button as the doomsday clock gets closer to midnight.
But this happiness didn’t last forever. Rendering has become easier – so the learning process does too. The quality of the picture directly depends on the choice of a good HDRI, the ability to adjust reflect, and bump on the material, and a high-quality 3D model. We can talk a lot about various volumetric effects, Real displacement maps, Megascans, and tyFlow, but these are details and nice bonuses. The fundamental basis of a good picture already exists and it is very often enough for the average client.
People en masse sign up for 3d courses and in 2 weeks they receive a prepared 3d scene with black-as-hell contrast shadows and a white background outside. Archviz community can figure out from these people who were engaged in related work, such as design or architecture, but the client doesn’t. He doesn't see the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, rhythm, or meter. He sees that his wish has been embodied in a picture and it’s nothing else than miracle and alien technologies. By the way, about technologies.
Use of AI
The Collins Dictionary named AI the word of the year 2023. It is obvious that AI is not yet fully integrated into the 3D rendering process, but it is already starting to emerge in various places. No, I don’t think AI will replace freelancers or will do all the work for them, rather AI, in addition to the nice advantages, begins to introduce minimal, but still, complications in working with the client.
Yes, there are already existing ones that turn facade drawings into exterior renderings, an interior generator site, or even a site where you upload a photo of the room or a draft render, and, oh Singularity, it offers a so-and-so option with the chosen style. Veras from Evolve lab, DALL-E, This house doesn’t exist, REImaging Home – the list goes on. Sometimes clients start using these services to create a more accurate reference for you. Sometimes it will be like a trick in the discussion "Why can AI do this and you can't?", when they ask to make an additional exterior on the background of a sandstorm (volcanic eruption, Disneyland, choose what’s needed), and you say that the PC will fail or total cost will increase. These are minimal inconveniences, but they are possible (the author of the article has already encountered this).
Artificial intelligence has not yet become a serious obstacle to the archviz market and probably won't be for a long time. The devil is in the details, and details and AI don't get along very well right now. AI does not think or plan, it simply takes a reference base and sculpts a kind of 3D collage from it. With curved windows, curved walls, and mixed textures. Customers could use AI if they knew exactly what they wanted and could potentially visualize the final picture. But this is what 3d artists do. You should not forget that your renderings are part of the working documentation of the architect or designer and the client hopes the image won’t differ from the tech plans.
It’s not only about 3D
A common phenomenon associated with the 3D visualizer profession is not a new challenge. Nobody learns only 3d renderings in university. Average archviz artists are usually certified architects, interior or industrial designers, and illustrators, rarely from another field. Why people choose this job - for some, it is an escape from boring technical work or drawings, for someone a chance to show creative potential, other loves modeling or seize an opportunity to move from the 2D to the 3D market. All this background gives the visualizer the opportunity to look at problems much more broadly and understand technical features and nuances.
In 9 out of 10 cases, a person who understands the details of architectural objects will bring more realism to the picture, even just by adding a water drain pipe or electrical sockets, for example. Previously acquired education and knowledge become both an advantage and a problem.
In the freelance market, the concepts of designer and visualizer often go hand in hand. "Need to design 3 rooms, 3D renderings and choose furniture", "rendering of facades and their drawings", "rebuild the patio and make a landscape plan" - you will see it very often and the price for such projects is set as for one specialist. You can collaborate with various architectural offices or purely 3d studios as a freelancer, and perform only 3D visualizations, often these firms need additional hands to close tasks. You may find an understanding with them faster, but the demands on you will also be higher. One thing never changes - the higher the salary, the greater the responsibility, even in the 3D world.
Clients, projects and portfolio
Remembering the words given at the beginning about the artist who was compared to God, do not forget that there is such a strange creature as the platypus. Everyone has such projects - a lot of work has been done, but somehow you don't want to post it on Behance. The freelance market is mostly organized like this - it is simple projects that middle-class people want to implement to solve minimal problems - changing the color of the facade, modeling a house from the drawings, even if it is frankly not very good, redesigning an old bedroom - there is little potential in this, but it is money.
The question is whether you are willing to spend time on it and, even with good money, whether you will have something to show the next clients. Because how do you take on an order for a rendering of a high rise, when your portfolio is filled with suburbs houses or redesigning old kitchens? That’s the moment when a 3D freelancer has to fill the portfolio with his own works, not real orders. It may seem difficult, since you do not have a specific task, but set it for yourself – it will improve your self-organization. It's a vicious cycle - you're not likely to be hired to do an object you've not done before. But it is worth doing at least one job and you will already be in a more advantageous position.
How to grow and not fail
Unfortunately, there is no "make nice" button here. The path of each specialist is unique in its own way, but general recommendations can be made, taking into account the above considerations and problems.
Look at things objectively. Yes, you need to dream, because dreams often determine our first steps, and these steps determine further movement. But always try to objectively assess the reality of the market. Let's be honest, every year it is more and more difficult to surprise people with 3D visualization (although many people still do not distinguish them from photos). This presents us with increasingly difficult conditions - how can we, as specialists, impress someone? But this question would sound more correct - do we need to always impress someone? The art of archviz has no limits, we learn all the time, learn new techniques, create more complicated scenes, and get closer to realism, which we did not dream of 10 years ago. But when working with a client, stop for a while and think - maybe it is enough to just do well and nothing more?
This advice does not call for stagnation and lack of development, it is a question of expediency that we often ignore. We squeeze all the juices out of ourselves so that each subsequent result is better than the last, but it will not always be evaluated, which results demotivates you. That's exactly what you left your office job with - high demands on mediocre projects for mediocre prices.
Be flexible and versatile. To be a good archviz freelancer now is to do renderings, 360 VR, and basic animation. Try to do different types of projects - cottages, apartments, high-rises, public facilities, cafes, landscapes - each such work expands the circle of customers who may be interested in you.
Learn to speak and, most importantly, to hear. You can be a 100-time winner of all the 3D awards (although then you wouldn't be reading this), but if you are zero in communication - clients will not come back to you. Your clients can be not only individuals but entire firms and corporations that need your services. 3D visualization is a field of services. And just as you are looking for nice and smart clients, they are looking for nice and smart visualizers who communicate, follow deadlines and are able to explain certain solutions.
Optimize your workflow. Clients often want to get results "yesterday". You cannot rewind time, but you can create such a system of work that will reduce unnecessary time consumption to a minimum. Clean up the mess in your PC, update the library of materials, keep working templates at hand - throw away some stupid stuff, like a 3D model of a classic office table from 2012. A good ratio of time and quality can be your key to success. No need to agonize for 3 days over the material of the nail in the wooden terrace, if it is not visible. Estimate the time correctly and always take a reserve for emergency situations. There is no need to say much here, realistically estimate the time you would spend on average and add a little more. Believe me, it is better that you reserve more time and complete the project faster.
Everything stated is a subjective vision of the situation in which archviz artists can find themselves. Don’t reject the element of luck and randomness - today you took on a project for 20 renderings of something new, and tomorrow you will be refused work on apartments in which you are a pro. Each project is a useful experience that, brick by brick, builds your confidence and expertise. It’s all about time and amount of work, simple as it is.