Joel Newman is a Senior Designer at Fat Pencil Studio
Finding the right level of detail for our 3D models can be a delicate balance. We like to use generalized, monochrome mannequins to represent human figures, so we can test theories, make changes quickly and create graphics that represent a sequence of events in detail without getting mired in too much detail– by trying to model a specific human's features, for example. We take the same approach to other objects: Interior furnishings, vehicles, trees, construction equipment etc. We use 3D assets with enough detail to get the point across, but not so much detail to be distracting or time consuming to model.
Over the last several months, Kenneth Zapata and I have been compiling a library of 3D cars to populate our modeled roadways and parking lots, which has prompted us to think about the level of detail for our digital motor pool that will be most useful for most projects.
When we model buildings, one of the first decisions we make is the level of detail to include. Sometimes a simple massing model will suffice, when the building in question is modeled only to provide context for something else (like a proposed bridge, in this case). When key events of a case occur inside, we usually need to include precisely located windows, interior walls, and furnishings. Once in a while, the building is the case, and we need to model a lot of very specific details (like in this case, about defects in a wall system).
The same is true for vehicles. Once in a while, a case involves what a bus driver could see, or the bumper height of a particular car, and we need to create a detailed and very precise model of a specific vehicle. Most of the time, though, we can rely on a library of vehicles that are simple enough to be easy to work with but detailed enough to look about right.
The cars in our library are detailed enough to not look too awkward but generalized enough that they can represent a class of car (SUV, station wagon, pickup, etc) instead of a particular make and model (Though sharp-eyed car aficionados might recognize some of our models' real-world origins). They're also simple enough that we can put a few dozen of them into a model without affecting performance too much.