Drones and Rendering: How Aerial Photogrammetry Adds Existing Topography into Visualizations

Drones and Rendering: How Aerial Photogrammetry Adds Existing Topography into Visualizations

Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer by Pix4D on Sketchfab

As I have touched on in the past many times, context is what transforms an artistic rendering into a photorealistic visual that accurately portrays a building. Seemingly minute details such as the warmth of interior lighting in night renders can actually make a dramatic impact on how the image is received by a potential client or investor. With this in mind, and in a continual attempt to improve the accuracy of renderings while increasing the value they provide to architects, some rendering artists are now taking advantage of readily available Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms – more commonly referred to as drones – to gain a unique vantage point of land slated for development.

In the past capturing aerial photographs of an area could only be achieved from planes or helicopters, both of which come at a hefty price tag, even to rent. Drones equipped with the same capabilities can now be purchased for a fraction of the cost, making aerial photography more attainable. Aside from capturing standard video or images, drones have given rendering artists access to software that allows them to accurately map the topography of an area slated for development, adding a new level of context and accuracy to the rendering.

Drone Photogrammetry Software

Photogrammetry, “the science of making measurements from photographs”[1], is not a new technique but rather one that has been adapted for several applications, including aerial photogrammetry. In this application a camera is mounted underneath a plane, helicopter, or drone and is pointed towards the ground. Several photos are taken of an area during multiple passes, which are then processed using aerial photogrammetry software to determine the topography of the area. That data can then be output in several formats depending upon the needs of the user. One popular options for architects, rendering artists and developers is Pix4D, which can output data as vector objects, allowing information to be uploaded into popular CAD & rendering programs.

Use in Architecture, Engineering and Construction

What makes this technology exciting is its practical use in architecture and construction applications. It can serve as an aid in everything from site planning, where maps can be stitched together thorough 3D rendering, to deciding upon a building's orientation during the design phase, to monitoring construction progress, up to becoming a marketing promotional tool that helps you tell the story of your project through the creation of renders that sell a space. One excellent example of the output of photogrammetry software is the Chateau De Chillon in Switzerland.

Pix4D - Chillon Castle by Pix4D on Sketchfab

The above model was produced using a combination of ground and aerial photography, mapping the inside and outside of this historic structure (above is a low resolution version of the whole model; higher resolution versions of the outside and inside model can be viewed here and here). Aerial photogrammetry via drones and the Pix4D software were used to stitch together over 6,000 images in creating this precise 3D model. Imagine what this technology integrated with 3D renderings of potential spaces could do for the accuracy of your projects. And while Pix4D is well known for their grand scale projects, they are not the only players in the drone photogrammetry software market: software such as Menci and Drone Mapper are both capable of capturing highly accurate topographic data and exporting that data into a myriad of tools.

Drones & Photogrammetry for Architectural 3D Rendering

As an architect, developer, or rendering artist, you need to have a clear plan and an accurate understanding of exactly what your project will entail. Aerial photogrammetry will allow you to capture a space down to the minute details which can enable you to identify potential issues in a plan, allowing you to solve them early and save considerable time and costs on the project as a whole.

Photogrammetry software can be a great tool for adding realistic environments to the surroundings of a building, as time and budget constraints sometimes lead to cut corners and outside environments that are not completely accurate. This type of software could be used in the future on really large design projects; picture an existing building getting an expansion or even connecting two buildings via a sky bridge. Think about the unparalleled accuracy that photogrammetry could bring to the exterior visualizations of the project.

The realism brought to renderings through the implementation of photogrammetry in capturing shadows, worn out ground surfaces, roofscapes, and surrounding landscapes will enable the artist, architect, developer, or investor to see exactly what their completed project will look like. While the rendering community may not be ready to embrace this technology with open arms just yet, it is certainly something we should keep an eye on as the technology becomes more readily available and implementations costs fall further.

Software will never replace a talented designer or rendering artist but as advanced software becomes more readily available, it will have an ever growing presence in the AEC industry, helping to raise the expectations of the community as a whole while delivering never before seen realism to project renderings.

Jonn Kutyla is the founder of PiXate Creative, a company that specializes in creating compelling 3D visualizations. His monthly column for ArchDaily, "The Rendering View," focuses on hints, tips, and wider discussions about architectural rendering. If you are interested in more information about PiXate Creative, visit the website at www.pixatecreative.com or connect on LinkedIn.


  1. Walford, Alan. "Photogrammetry." N.p., 2007. Accessed 12/29/2015.

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Cite: Jonn Kutyla. "Drones and Rendering: How Aerial Photogrammetry Adds Existing Topography into Visualizations" 31 Dec 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/779698/drones-and-rendering-how-aerial-photogrammetry-adds-existing-topography-into-visualizations> ISSN 0719-8884

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