A minute you spent is a minute's result you get. Computer renderings is a time consuming process. The better the results, the more time you need to spend. It is all about efficiency and cost effectiveness at the end of the day. Everyone would crave to drive a Mercedez Benz but how much you need to spend on your transportation, just to bring you from one place to another? The concept is the same. 3dmax/Cinema4/Maya is great, as if you are driving a Benz, but how much time, efford, and cost need to be spent? It all depends on the job requirement. The balance of time, cost and efford.
BIM may have higher price at initial stage but think about the cost effectiveness of your work flow and entire design process. To me it worth millions by saving half the time spent just on drafting. Either ArchiCAD, REVIT, or even Vectorworks. We must invest. Time or efford at the initial stage to save more time and efford at the end of the day. It is a process of improvement and evolution in architectural design process everyone have to face, either now or then.
Rendering software. Maxwell, 3dviz+Vray, Artlantis, Piranesi, Cheetah3d(Mac) are great rendering software packages, it depends on your budget. As for starters I would recommend Artlantis+Piranesi, then when your budget is getting better, go for 3dviz+Vray+Piranesi. Piranesi is plus for non-photorealistic renderings.
Sketchup is as a design tool. Hopefully ti will be developed into BIM system. Then it would a real design+architectural software that makes every architects/designers' life easier and better.
Personally, I would now go for archicad, artlantis, sketchup and piranesi! Too bad not much firm in Malaysia or China is into archicad. My selection for archicad is due to the rendering results. Revit and ArchiCAD are more of less the same BIM system. The important matter is, they are BIM systems.
I had recently spent much time and efford browsing and looking for software packages.
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