Guidelines to help us achieve your project goals efficiently.

I welcome new customers, value you highly, and always strive to have a friendly, informal relationship with you that stretches into the future. This page is designed to make that process easier, based on my ongoing experience with other customers.

The articles visible here are of course, those that are not under non-disclosure agreements. However, I also do a variety of advertising, future concepts, visualization, and training-oriented projects for various aviation/aerospace customers, which cannot be shown here. Feel free to contact me with any 3D project you may have in mind.

Why work with me?

I handle every step of your project personally. I'm equipped with great, modern tools to work quickly, and there are no 3rd-party individuals involved, to slow the process or cause problems. I handle every email, request, modification, etc., myself, and respond to you personally, from beginning to end, to ensure that you get what you want. This approach also allows me to complete most jobs faster, and for a lower cost than you would pay a larger company. For a brief summary of my background, as well as a list of some of projects and customers not under NDA, see my Services and History page.

What do these things cost?

There are some general examples of project costs lower on this page, but it's best to simply email me with your proposal, once you have your needs clearly defined. When I know what you need, I can usually put together a price for you very quickly.

As an example...

It's not unusual for potential customers to write to me and ask something like, "What would it cost to build a model of a (insert name here) aircraft?" I can't answer that without more information. Does it need to be precision scale? Do you need a simple exterior model, or a more detailed model with many separate, possibly animated parts? Does it need to be textured with a particular color scheme? Does it need to include an interior? You get the idea... The more information you can give me, the faster I can answer your questions, and come up with a time/cost estimate.

My terms are simple and fair, with two ways to work. Regardless of the method you choose below, no intellectual property transfers to you until I've been completely paid. At that point, you own it. If you'd rather not wait, perhaps because you need to use the work as it is delivered in sections, you can pay the full amount in advance, thus owning the work as it is delivered. My rate is variable, depending on the complexity of your project, the precision required, whether the product is destined for machining, etc.. Typically, this is approximately $50 per hour, but I usually prefer to agree on the deliverables, and then provide a discounted flat rate for the entire project. In most cases, this saves you money, and avoids any surprises later in the project. (See below.)

For anything other than short-term projects, I'll generally create a private page on my site for you, invisible to my site visitors, and invisible to search engines, where I can provide images, animations, and text, showing my progress. This is more efficient than sending the same information via email, where file size is often a consideration. And, it also gives you the option of sharing the link with other members of your team, if you like. The other advantage of this is that often, any items that need to be changed can be discovered by you, early in the process. As models grow in complexity, editing obviously becomes more difficult.

1. Short-term projects (60 days or less)

First, I'll send you an outline describing what the project will cost at my hourly rate, based on my experience. If the goals of your project are very clear, I will usually offer to do the job for a flat fee. We'll agree on exactly what I'll deliver to you before I begin work. One half of our agreed cost is required in advance, as a deposit, before I begin work, with the balance being paid incrementally over the course of the project. This deposit is not refundable, if you should cancel the project. If we've agreed on a flat fee, you can rest assured that the price will not change during the project, even if we encounter problems. I never surprise customers with "cost overruns".

2. Longer-term projects (More than 60 days)

If you have a complex, longer-term project in mind, we can divide it into "phases", based on a weekly rate, with each week paid in advance. These weekly deposits are not refundable, but there is no cancellation fee, should the project be cancelled or delayed. At each phase of your project, I will send you an invoice, describing that part of your project, it's cost, and what remains, in clear detail. This ends up being the most fair method for both you and I, because since the work is delivered to you incrementally, and payments are made to me incrementally, neither of us has much at risk. I have a PayPal account to make all of this easy, or you can pay via check or money order.

The fun stuff...

Concept Design, or Scale Precision?

Often, a simple model, along with a conceptual rendering, is enough to illustrate the point you're trying to make. For example, if you're using what I create for you to bid on a contract, you may want to show your client a proposed "general arrangement" design, before continuing on to the detailed model. Sometimes, these can be done in as little as a day or two, depending on the level of detail required.

If, on the other hand, you want an accurate model of something, (real-world or whimsical) then precision documentation is required, in the form of reference drawings and/or specifications. Photos are hugely helpful too, but in general, no one can build a truly accurate scale model without good references. If you want a conceptual model, which "looks right", but may not be accurate in the real-world sense, then of course I can work from simple sketches, in addition to any general specifications you may have. Many projects start this way.

If you already have your documentation in hand when you contact me, you save money, and the job goes faster. Obviously, higher resolution is better, when it comes to drawings. I have no problem with signing a project-specific NDA for the use of such documentation, and never redistribute documentation, whether there's an NDA or not, even if I'm the one who accumulated it. So, any reference materials that you send me during the project will remain private, for both your protection and mine.

What do you want as a final product?

There are generally two kinds of end products I can deliver. One would be "media", meaning images and/or animation. The other would be the 3D model file itself. Most people will want the media, because to use the 3D model file requires both (expensive) 3D software, and the expertise to use it.

Depending on your perspective, the kind of work you see here on my site may seem "photorealistic". In many ways, it is, meaning that it includes accurate shapes, materials, shadows, reflections, refraction, and so on. However, if you require a higher level of that photorealism, (i.e. photorealistic shots created to be composited into your movie) then obviously more work is required, and it will be more expensive. If you would like to have a medium resolution, 10-second, "fly-around" or "turntable" animation of the model I create for you, chances are high that I'd do that at no additional cost. On the other hand, true "Hollywood-style" versions of that, with higher resolution renders and more complex (multi-layered) file formats, will cost approximately $100 per finished second of animation, which is a competitive rate today.

3D Models
With 3D models, there's a question of file formats, since all 3D software has it's own way of portraying these files. So, if the 3D model is what you want, it's important that I know that before beginning. I can export files in most popular formats, so this won't typically be a problem.

If you're purchasing 3D models that I build for you from scratch, those models become your property, upon final payment. Unless your project is "secret" (i.e. military, or proprietary for manufacturing) I will expect to have your permission to publish some non-orthographic images of them on my site, to add to my publicly-viewable portfolio. If you're purchasing a "variant" of a model I already have, customized for your purposes, then I retain my rights to my original model, but will not redistribute any of the proprietary parts created for you.

As an example...
Years ago, I built a King Air B200 model, which was then later customized for a client's flight training projects. In that version, the cockpit was rebuilt, to be completely animatable, and several proprietary images and logos were also used. So today, I still offer the B200 model in my 3D Catalog, but without all those proprietary items included. This allows both you and I to keep our competitive edge in our respective businesses, and you get a personalized project, rather than a generic one.

Modeling for physical fabrication

There are different approaches to this…
If you're using the images I create as references (somewhat like a blueprint) for the fabrication, the process is relatively painless. Once the 3D model is created, I can produce orthographic renderings (3-views, 4-views, cross sections etc.) which you can print, and use to draw your parts over. I've done this for RC aircraft modelers, UAV designers, and other product designers, who have used the images to provide accurate scale outlines, from which they produced plans. If, on the other hand, you require actual 3D model files that are going to some sort of CNC process or stereolithography, then the requirements become very specific.

There's an ancient axiom in the 3D modeling business, which is that "you shouldn't build what you won't see." For example, the top part of a cylindrical landing gear strut wouldn't typically need to be "capped", because it would never show. When creating polygonal models, it's considered good practice to think that way, as it reduces the polygon count, file size, and render times.

That's not true with machine-ready files. Every part has to be "solid", or "water tight". (no "holes", like the example mentioned above) And, to avoid rough surfaces, the number of polygons (faces) used to create them has to be MUCH higher... say, 4 times higher, depending on the details. Finally, machinable file formats use triangles, while polygonal modelers can use triangles, 4-sided polygons, and "Ngons". (polygons with more than 4 sides.) For STL format, for example, I have to ensure that the model is all triangles, before export, whereas other formats may require all quad polygons, for export to NURBS.

So, I would need to know in advance, if your model is to be built for any type of machining. It's an entirely different process, and sample files would need to be tested with your particular machine. This will cost somewhat more than a polygonal model, due to the extra steps required. I can produce IGES, SAT, STEP, and 3DM files for standard machining, as well as STL files for stereolithography. ("3D printing")

How much time do you have?

If possible, contact me before your project becomes a "rush job". We'll both be happier if there is time to refine the details, and to allow for revisions you may require. I understand that short timelines are sometimes impossible to avoid, but understand that "rush jobs" will always cost more.

Typical Project Categories and Costs:

Click any of the preview images below for a larger version.

It may be that I've already built a model of what you need, or that a model I've built can be adapted to your needs. Check my 3D Catalog for available models.

Fast-turnaround "Concept" models.
If you're in a hurry for a conceptual or "general arrangement" model to show to your client, contact me as soon as possible, and I may be able to complete such a no-frills model in a day or two, at a cost of just a few hundred dollars or less.

"Widgets" (miscellaneous parts)
Of course, the time required and price will depend on the details required, but these can often be produced quickly at a reasonable cost. These might include items such as product packaging, mechanical parts, (including "cutaway" versions) furniture pieces, etc.. These range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

Both of the categories below will typically take several weeks or more, and will cost several thousand dollars. The details will depend on your needs.

Precision-scale (real-world or whimsical) Exterior Models
If not designed by me, these naturally require documentation of some kind, which I assume you would provide. By their nature, these are more complex, and will require both more time and money. Examples could include vehicles, consumer products, complex mechanical assemblies, architectural layouts, etc.. I've done projects like this for TV, movies, advertising, and training.

These can include animatable parts and custom paint schemes, logos, etc., as required.

Perhaps you need a depiction of something representing future technology or other "concept design". If so, then I can create something like the "future executive transport" shown at the right, based on your thoughts, sketches, or other design input, making changes along the way, to meet your needs. I've also used 3D to create better "sketches" for patent applications, which was interesting.


Structural and/or "Movie-ready" Models
These (and the category above) might include both images and animation of technical objects for familiarization, study, publication, and training. Typically, these involve the most work, as they not only include the actual geometry (the modeling work) but also animatable parts and textures, in the form of labels, colors, logos, etc..

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Unless otherwise noted, all content on this site is ©Copyright by Mike James - - All Rights Reserved
NOTE: I am not at liberty to redistribute any of the documentation used to build any of the 3D models on this site.