The Art of Rendering


This post will give a general overview of the tools used to create some of these snazzy architectural vizualisations you see floating around Pinterest. I’ve included a series of videos that outline the complete process. It’s a bit general for a first series and the intent is to give you an overview of the process.

For videos, part one of the series is here (check the channel for the rest):

Typically, the process involves these (or some of) these steps:

  1.  CAD plan design
  2. 3D Model
  3. Render
  4. Post production and Layout

Sometimes, you are introduced into the process along one of these phases with little to no control of the preceding ones (ie 3d model). That may not be ideal, but there are still plenty of options available to make the most out of your design.

1 CAD Plan


This part typically involves drafting a proposed design in 2d in CAD. Any program can be used (Rhino, AutoCAD, MicroStation-wait what?) It essentially is drawing it to scale or to 1 to 1 in 2d and in plan.


2 3D Model

After you have a 2d plan drawn out you are ready to switch into the third dimension. The following programs are widely used these days to develop 3d models for site representation:

  1. Rhino 3d
  2. Sketchup
  3. 3D studio Max
  4. Lumion

Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Some are easier to pickup than others. By far, Sketchup is the easiest to pick up, followed quickly by Rhino and Lumion. 3DS Max has some expanded capabilities that the others don’t have, such as complex animation, but unless you are Pixar you won’t have much use for them when it comes to site design. All can do flyovers, if that’s something you think you need. The only caveat I’ll put out there is that even though Sketchup is easy to pick up, it is fairly limited. Incidentally, it has some creepy way of inviting itself into the design. For some reasons, designs that were modeled in Sketchup, end up looking like they were made in Sketchup. I don’t know if that makes much sense… Sketchup products tend to stick out like a sore thumb and I think the reason is because they are very minimalistic in terms of their palette range. The same can be said about Lumion. Even though it looks great initially, I’m not too satisfied with the built in renderer at the moment. It has a very “plasticky” feel to it. However, the advantage is that these two products are easy to pick up.

4. Rendering

Once you are done modeling your site, you are ready to step into production mode. There are several ways you can prep your site for post-production. An easy step (or when you are in a pinch) is to export a screenshot of your view and dump it into Photoshop.


However, these days, it’s pretty typical to include a 3d renderer in the process. The most common ones around the market are VRAY (The best!), Flamingo, Maxwell, Kerkythea, and a few others. Lumion has a built in renderer (I’m not a big fan). Prices for these vary from free to pretty costly (see Maya).


There are several advantages to using a third party renderer. The most obvious one of course, is the quality of the output. If you’re going to spend all this time modeling something cool, then why sacrifice it to a poor screenshot? Use a renderer! Another great highlight is the ability to apply textures to your objects. Let’s say you’re modeling a wooden bench cover is some kind of ipe wood (or even better, Italian marble!), then you would throw a texture on it. The renderer will take care of all the ways light in your scene interacts with the material and you will save LOTS of time in Photoshop by not having to throw materials on every single surface. Use a renderer.


5. Post Production and Layout


This is part is typically where you’ll end up loosing a lot of time because it’s so much fun to play in Photoshop. Here, you are going to do your best to persuade your peers and classmates that you’ve got the chops to cobble something worthy of a portfolio insert. But I’m going to let you in on a secret.

If you did your due diligence during the first and second parts outlined here you are golden. And the reason I say that is because there is a reason the renderer (VRAY, Flamingo, Maxwell, Mental Ray, etc) is so critical in the process. The renderer is what adds that level of realism you are looking for. It’s not the photo bashing or the lens flare or the hot air balloons in the background. Let the renderer do the heavy lifting (textures, lights, shadows, ambient occlusion, volumetrics) and post production becomes a breeze. Pick a renderer, and learn it well. It will serve you well.



That’s it. These are the most frequently used components utilized in making fancy render stuff. The rest is hot air balloons in the background.



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