Public Involvement Techniques
4. Using Special Techniques to Enhance Participation
4.C.f — 3D Visualization
What is 3-D Visualization?
Three-Dimensional (3-D) Visualization is a process in which
flat images are enhanced or manipulated by an artist to impart the
illusion of depth. 3-D visualization may be still, i.e., no
motion associated with the image, or may include motion, in which
case the technique is usually referred to as 3-D animation.
Flat images, such as illustrations, photographs, films, and
graphics in a display area or on a computer screen, can be manipulated
through one of several techniques to create the illusion of depth.
These techniques include special viewing lens worn by the viewer
to make flat images appear with depth. Computer illustration and
animation techniques can also provide depth to an image through
special techniques of shading, perspective, motion, and possibly
sound. When using a computer-based technique, it is possible to
select certain viewing points or environmental conditions to examine
the images or objects of interest. For example, a 3-D visualization
of a project may be created using a morning, mid-day, and evening
context to get a sense of the scale, utilization, and appropriateness
of a proposed project in a community setting. All of these techniques
have the intended effect of making the objects appear to be "life-like",
extending flat images out of the paper, print, film, or screen on
which they appear.
Three-dimensional (3-D) animation, the dynamic version of 3-D
visualization, creates the illusion of motion by viewing a succession
of 3-D still images or computer-generated still images. Prior to
the advent of computers, animation was achieved by videotaping or
filming a sequence of still images or painted sequences one at a
time on plastic or paper surfaces. When played back, the sequence
of still images give the impression of motion. When first used,
computers controlled the movements of the artwork and the camera
using this traditional method. Now computers create the artwork
and simulate the motion effects.
Why is it useful?
Many individuals visually perceive the world and the objects
in three dimensions—length, width, and depth. Because this
is a natural state of observing and viewing our world, information
conveyed with this technique does not require extensive translation
or adjustment from our normal visual mode of sensing. The advertising
industry for years has relied heavily on visualizations (and increasingly
3-D visualizations) to convey messages about products or services,
educate the public, or encourage purchases.
3-D visualization are able to convey in a succinct manner the
forms and shapes of an interim or final project design or concept.
This enables the public to better understand the implications of
a potentially complex project or plan and enhance their ability
to provide review and comments.
Does it have special uses?
People perceive the world and objects in three dimensions.
Accordingly, information conveyed with 3-D visualization does not
require familiarity, training, or extensive translation or adjustment
on the part of the public.
Computer animation can be used to create special effects and
to simulate images that would be impossible to show with non-animation
techniques, such as the look and feel of walking through a community
after a large-scale facility such as a replacement bridge or new
transit system has been built. Computer animation can also produce
images from scientific data. It has been used to visualize large
quantities of data, such as those gathered through remote sensing
applications such as weather systems (See Remote
Sensing Applications). Computer animation can also be used to
create a sense of the operations of a proposed facility or system,
including representation of vehicular and people movement in a project
Who participates? And how?
Almost anyone can participate in the use of 3-D visualization.
However, agencies using this technique should consider alternate
methods for involving people with visual impairments.
The technique can be used during various stages of a plan or
project. Typically 3-D visualization is used after a set of
solution options or alternatives have been sufficiently defined
and greater insight into the environmental, community, social, and
visual impact is desired.
Because many of the 3-D visualization technique now involve
the use of computers, the 3-D products may be shared over a wide
range of media outlets, including the Internet, kiosks, CDs,
display tables, VCRs, TV programs, and similar means. Static displays,
such as special display boards, may be used at public forums. This
static format provides the opportunity for a project representative
to offer an explanation of the technique and solicit comments from
viewers. On the other hand, 3-D visualization, when coupled with
sound, may allow for a self-standing display, requiring no project
representative. Self-standing displays may be used in kiosks, on
the Internet, or on appropriate broadcast media (as PSAs, for example).
(See Project Websites;
Interactive Television; Interactive
Video Displays and Kiosks; Information Materials.)
How do agencies use the output?
3-D visualization is a natural way of viewing the potential
effects and outcomes of a proposed plan or project. The visualization
may also be used to create a futuristic or a "desired outcome"
vision for a project or plan, which is not necessarily tied to any
proposed solution idea. In either case, once the public has had
a chance to understand and review the 3-D visualization, agencies
may use the technique to:
- Gather community reaction.
- Obtain community opinion on projects and plans.
- Be a catalyst for further discussion, analysis, or refinement
of a proposed alternative.
- Be the basis for an honest and valid sample of community opinion.
What are the costs?
While commercial software is readily available to support 3-D
visualization, highly skilled techniques and specialized computer
equipment are needed to develop quality 3-D visualizations.
The costs may range from several hundred dollars to several thousand,
depending on the number of 3-D visualizations required, the extent
of animation, and the resolution, source materials, and complexity
of the images being developed. Because this is such a specialized
skill and the visualization equipment is somewhat unique for these
visualization functions, consultant services are usually required.
How is it used with other techniques?
3-D visualization can augment a variety of other techniques.
It is especially useful when describing a complex alternative or
plan, in which case it can augment text-based or other image-based
techniques. 3-D visualization is also useful in providing a baseline
or common reference point for soliciting public opinion and comment
on a project or plan. (See Briefings;
Open Houses/Open Forum Hearings;
Workshops, and Retreats.) 3-D visualization may also be used
for brainstorming concepts or creative activities, such as a design
charrette or community visioning exercise. (See Charrette;
Depending on the acceptability and appropriateness of the 3-D visualization,
it may become a "logo" or shorthand representation for
a particular project or plan.
What are the drawbacks?
3-D visualization is a costly and potentially time-consuming
technique. Care must be taken to ensure that the investment
is beneficial to the overall public involvement goals. Because of
its electronic format, it does have the potential for mass media
appeal and distribution. However, agencies must take care to ensure
that false impressions are minimized through accurate representations.
In addition, proper use of this technique is required to effectively
gather accurate and representative public comment.
When is it used most effectively?
3-D visualization is used most effectively when a small number
of complex plans or project alternatives are under consideration
for review and/or selection. The visualization, when used in conjunction
with other techniques, provides a context for enhanced public understanding,
review, and comments.
For further information:
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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle
at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls
at FTA (202-366-5362).