The adoption of photorealistic renderings is increasing year over year because they’re useful to help architects showcase their designs.
They allow clients to see the designs and understand what the finished project will look like. At the same time, there is plenty of reluctance to use 3D photorealistic rendering because they doubt the accuracy and practicality.
According to a survey by the American Institute of Architects, 88% of architects use some form of digital tools to increase create visualizations of their designs.
But the question remains: how do you create photorealistic renderings that accurately depict a design? It can be a daunting task for architects who are not trained in 3D modeling or rendering software. However, with the right techniques and tools, architects can learn to create photorealistic renderings themselves.
Keep reading as we take a look at the different views on using photorealistic renderings in architecture and provide practical tips and strategies so you can create your own realistic images and designs.
The Arguments for (and Against) Photorealistic Renderings
There’s been plenty of debate within architecture on the role that photorealistic renderings play in the marketing of projects.
On the one hand, you can give shape to your vision and sell that vision to your clients. They can see how your vision interacts with the environment and impress your clients with your bold designs.
There is a camp that hasn’t bought into the technology yet. They believe that you can create unrealistic expectations and lead to client problems down the road. They also say that the focus of 3D photorealistic rendering has a heavy focus on aesthetics and no thought about function.
Some renderings are technically amazing but lack energy and soul because they’re so…well, perfect.
What can you do to impress your clients and manage expectations? It comes down to communication.
For instance, you can explain to clients as you present the renderings that what they see is a visualization and things like lighting and textures may be slightly different. Providing plans and drawings gives additional context to help clients see the big picture and manage their expectations.
As you start the design process, you need to be mindful of the design intent of the rendering, so you focus just as much on the function of the space as the form.
How to Create 3D Photorealistic Renderings
There are a few things that you need to have to create photorealistic renderings. You need to have an artistic vision, design intent, technical skills, and be ready to pay attention to every minute detail.
Your photorealistic rendering is based on a 3D model. This is the foundation of your rendering. If you start with a shaky foundation, the final product won’t be as convincing.
3D modeling tools like Blender, 3DSMax, Sketchup, Zbrush, and Maya can help you get started. High-quality models require more resources, but you’ll be able to deliver ROI with the final product. There are a lot of free or relatively low cost 3D models you can simply purchase online as well from repositories such as SketchFab and Turbosquid.
Making 3D models photorealistic takes some time by forming or sculpting the geometry (polygons). Models typically have textures and materials assigned to them as well which creates the color and realistic look which the model. Textures might be thought about as the actual colorization of the polygons.
Sort of like paint on an object. Texturing involves adding color, materials, and surface details to the model.
You can experiment with different materials like concrete, metal, glass, and wood. An added touch of realism is to include imperfections like scratches and bumps. This prevents you from creating a model that’s too perfect.
Materials act as the controller to the textures or “paint” which can allow a user to change the hue, shadows (shaders), scale, and rotation of the textures as they lay on the 3D model.
Digging deeper into texturing and materials (texture controls) includes learning to use textures in a way to reduce the geometry (polygons) of the 3D model. This optimizes the rendering process and can make file sizes much smaller.
Large textures on a 3D model however can also bloat the file and significantly hamper performance or even crash the 3D software you may be using.
So the name of the game is to achieve the highest level of realism with a minimal amount of polygons and the smallest texture files. This is no easy feat and takes training, however, learning techniques and terms such as UV mapping and displacement mapping can help you achieve these goals.
For example, UV mapping takes your 3D model and flattens it as a 2D surface so you can extract the textures, edit them in something like Photoshop, then rewrap them onto the 3D model. Displacement mapping simply includes more detailed geometry, giving you a more detailed model.
Real-time rendering, such as can be accomplished with Unreal Game Engine, Unity, and Blender, to name a few, has taken great strides as a technology to allow the software to handle larger polygon counts and larger texture files.
In fact, the development of Unreal’s Nanite technology allows a user to completely disregard the amount of polygons in a model, primarily for landscape features, and has essentially no limit on the amount of polygons it can render in real time.
That breakthrough technology only can take a user so far however, and should a user need to export the model with a billion polygons into another software platform, a user will still need to know how to reduce the polygon and texture sizes to be manageable and photorealistic in other platforms that do not yet have this sort of technology.
A Lesson on Lighting
After you have your 3D model, it’s time to add realism to it. Lighting is going to make or break your image. It’s not something that you or your clients probably think about, yet, you do know when the lighting is off in an image.
Things like color temperature, shadows, and reflections can disrupt the realism of your rendering if they’re not aligned properly. Without going into a lesson on normal and bump maps which catch the lighting on a 3D model purely through the materials, it can be said that a lot of this is automatically handled with basic materials coming from the native libraries of your 3D software.
You don’t want to rely on defaults completely. You can add your knowledge to the 3D rendering to make it more realistic.
When setting up the environment of the scene consider whether the scene is outdoors or indoors. If it’s an exterior scene, think about all of the things that will impact lighting – clouds, direct sunlight, how the light bounces and creates shadows on the materials,
Use an HDRI (High Dynamic Range Image) map to accurately replicate the environment’s lighting. HDRI is a simple 360 image that can pass light onto the model. This is a really fast way to light your 3D models.
For interior scenes, you may decide to use a mix of interior and natural lighting. This will impact the shadows and the color temperature of the scene, so make these adjustments accordingly.
Don’t expect to get your lighting setup perfectly correct on the first try. Test out the setup and make adjustments. You may need to adjust the intensity, color temperature, and position to get it just right. To learn more about lighting basics, we recommend checking out William Faucher on YouTube for tips using Unreal – which can translate to other 3D platforms.
Understanding Depth to Create Realism
Filippo Brunelleschi created a sense of perspective to create more realistic drawings way back in the 1400s.
What Brunelleschi discovered centuries ago carries a significant amount of weight as you use technologically advanced tools to create photorealistic renderings.
Depth is essential when creating photorealistic renders. Imagine looking at a 3D image where all objects were the same size and shape. It wouldn’t look real at all.
You can use perspective to make objects in the foreground larger and objects in the background smaller. Perspective is also a way to draw the eyes of the viewer through the scene.
Using overlapping objects and adjusting the focus are other methods for creating depth of field.
The Final Steps
The scene is set and it’s finally time to finalize your 3D render. You can turn to 3D rendering software like Unreal Engine, V-Ray, or Unity.
You may want to make final adjustments in post-processing software like Photoshop. You can adjust the color balance, brightness, and add effects like motion blur in a rendered animation. This step isn’t necessary, but it can help add a little more visual power to the final render.
How much time can you expect to spend on creating a photorealistic 3D rendering? It depends on the complexity of the project. It could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to create a single 3D rendering.
The Possibilities of Photorealistic Renderings
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or new to the world of 3D rendering, you can use these valuable insights that will help you elevate your design visualization game.
The possibilities of photorealistic renderings are endless. You can use them to improve your presentation, get more clients, and communicate your vision.
If you need help or have questions about 3D photorealistic rendering, contact us today.