They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in the architectural environment, the ‘cover’ or final photo-realistic image needs to be both accurate in reflecting design concepts and dimensions and must be appealing, thus displaying a fair idea of what the final project will look like. Architectural 3D visualisation has virtually become an art form, the piece de resistance in the architectural design process, with a side of technical features. It is both one of the final cogs in the architectural wheel and one of the first faces of the structural endeavour that clients meet. Hence, the 3D architectural rendering software and 3D architectural rendering services employed to showcase this face are vitally relevant.
So, much like a review of ‘Who’s Who’ in a country, we take a look at ‘What’s What’ in the rendering industry, since the software ensures efficiency and realistic planning. Some of the more popular ones are:
SketchUp is very user-friendly. In just minutes, SketchUp allows the drawing of lines and shapes. It has a 3D Warehouse with a cache of 3D models of furniture, plants, trees, grass and animals. Models can be stored and shared and turned into drawings or documents with the Layout feature. Changes can easily be made to dimensions, graphics and views.
- The commercial version license is reasonably priced for professionals and free for amateurs.
- It’s easy to use, with less buttons and key binds, and easy to learn.
- Plug-ins must be used to add rendering capabilities and animation/rigging features, which could be expensive.
- Representing high poly counts in 3D architectural modelling becomes difficult.
- Viewfinder navigation is tricky, especially in smaller parts of the model.
Creating 3D models with rendering software tools such as Adobe Photoshop and After Effects, 3ds Max helps produce high-quality renders. Besides rendering, it can be used for modelling and animation. Many architectural professionals prefer it, because its tools are adaptable and collaborative. Another Autodesk product, it works well with its siblings AutoCAD and Revit-based products so that users can experiment and carry out design concepts easily and efficiently. User-requested features include Camera Sequencer, Dual Quaternion skinning, A360 Rendering Support and Enhanced ShaderFX. A feature called Desktop Subscription keeps users updated with the latest releases, priority support at forums, web support and flexible licensing.
- Perspective matching enables 3D architectural modelling to be easily fit in a still-frame photo background image.
- Vector map support lets vector graphics to be loaded while the texture maps, so that the texture maps can be rendered at dynamic resolutions. Even with considerable zooming, the graphics stay clear.
- Global illumination, general map creation and 3D rendering, dynamic simulation and radiosity enable a customisable user interface and its own scripting language. 3Ds supports Microsoft shaders. It can visualise the concepts and technologies for modern pipelines.
- With a poor normal align tool, it could have a better render element path handling and it can’t use Scene lights in Nitrous viewport on Shaded mode.
- UV Mapping needs a separate modifier.
- It isn’t cross platform (Windows only).
In the last 5 years, VRay has been the rising star in visualisation. It hosts a virtual library of textures, great realism, with the one of the most accurate reproductions of colours, light and shadow. Extreme flexibility and a vast variety of options make VRay a master in the light and shadow scenario. As a plug-in, VRay is compatible with 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Google SketchUp and Autodesk Revit, among others. It has built a reputation for pioneering trends in computer-generated graphics and has consistently shown its ability to innovate.
- Progressive Image Sampler renders the whole output at once and quickly clears it. It renders sub-surface scattering, V-Ray environment fog and uses the Irradiance Map and Light Cache GI solutions.
- Global Switches options can speed up the rendering of scenes with multiple lights. Enabling the Probabilistic Lights allows the selection of random lights to be used in the evaluation of each visible point.
- Use Embree enables the Intel Embree ray caster, which uses single precision instead of the default double precision. Embree accelerates only static geometry (as opposed to dynamic, or render-time geometry) and 3D displacement and subdivision surfaces.
- The VRayClipper Object can clip away parts of a scene with a simple plane. It is a render-time effect and does not modify the actual scene geometry.
- Open Shading Language shaders can be loaded and rendered with V-Ray.
- VRay Metaballs Object can help create a ray-traced iso-surface out of an existing particle system.
- The V-Ray lens effects options can adjust the glare and bloom post effects without re-rendering the image.
- V-Ray Object settings specify objects to be ignored during the ray-tracing of reflections and refractions.
- It does not have viewport rendering. Realtime update isn’t supported by V-Ray Standalone. The price might be higher than for the Standalone version.
- It is less user friendly than other rendering software.
- There is a separation between colour and float data, and there are different nodes for each type.
Focusing on architectural rendering, Lumion works on models created with Revit, ArchiCAD or SketchUp, which are then imported to Lumion. Its special quality is that it takes just a short time to set up and render. Plus, it can be viewed from just about anywhere: desktop computers, tablets and phones. Lumion can introduce people, vegetation, trees, weather, etc. into the 3D model. Once this is done, MyLumion.com mode can select views to make the rendering more attractive. Users can also click a render button to combine the separate images into 360-degree panoramas. Lumion is compatible with just about every 3D modelling programme and is known to be user-friendly. It’s also well reputed for integration of animation and walkthrough capability.
- Render time is reduced; uses 1 computer to render, does not need a render farm.
- Easy to use.
- A scene can be set up in Lumion pretty quickly, and it only takes seconds to produce, or update, a final image.
- A choice of environmental objects can enhance renderings, such as plants, cars and people.
- Lumion commits to giving their customers support.
- A collection of filters can give renderings an artistic touch.
- Cost for the full version is pricey at £3000
- No render elements/passes.
- The rendered images are ‘real-like’ images that still have a hint of video game images.
- No Ctrl+Z. Project may have to be reloaded for mistakes that can’t be undone.
- A poor user interface with no ribbon at the top of the screen. Sometimes, only two or more clicks get a response.
- It’s quick to render but slow to run.
- Lumion informs users to install a new programme and remove the old one. It doesn’t update the current software.
A fair competitor of 3ds Max, Rhino3D is used mainly for architectural visualisation. Its open architecture for third party plugins makes it adaptable.
- Free form creation capabilities for geometry.
- Allows two objects to occupy the same space to give more texture to the rendering, such as in upholstery.
- It allows the user to manipulate, push and pull surfaces and shape them in ways that are not solid geometry.
- The Mac version does not support it, so it still needs the Windows version.
- It could be better integrated in BIM processes.
Maxwell uses an exclusive lighting engine, ‘unbiased rendering,’ which is based on real-life modelling techniques. For realistic lighting, render times are increased, though Maxwell Fire allows a view of the grainy rendered version before it joins the queue. Such a low-res image can predict lighting, colour and material quickly. This way, designers can change a presentation without having to wait for the print-quality render. User-friendly and easy to learn, Maxwell renderings are projected as a cut above the rest.
- With the right materials and lights, one can render without being an expert in Global Illumination, Photon Maps, Final Gathering, Filters, etc.
- Multilight allows the user to work on Light emitter, ISO, and Shutter while rendering; therefore, the colour and intensity can be changed separately.
- Standalone and plug-ins are available for almost every professional 3D and CAD application.
- Very photo-realistic results.
- It is slower than other rendering tools.
In the 3D architectural rendering services industry, apart from 3D rendering, key services include virtual reality tours and the use of render nodes. The following software is popular for virtual reality for architectural purposes:
Designed for professionals, but perfect for amateurs too, 3DVista creates interactive virtual tours by converting a set of images into 360-degree scenery and letting users move through the environment as if they were present. These virtual tours can be viewed on any computer, tablet or phone with Android and iOS. Features include:
- Live Panoramas
- Adaptive HDR
- Photo Albums
- Floor Plans
- Immersive Audio
A real-time, interactive virtual reality (VR) environment is produced with large 3D datasets.
Advanced rendering of large models is a feature of Visionary Render. CAD can be visualised on a human scale with collaborative VR display systems, such as Virtalis ActiveWorks.
Key Benefits of Visionary Render:
- 3D semi-transparent User Interface to reinforce 3D
- Handles and manages complex CAD data sources flawlessly
- Collaborate in a single VR environment – globally
RenderLights provides architects, visualization artists, designers and other professionals with a versatile virtual reality tool. It supports real-time global illumination and many other sophisticated rendering features with fluency.
RenderLights has the following easy-to-apply features:
- Real-time Global Illumination
- Real-time Radiosity
- Stereoscopic 3D
- Emissive Materials
- Bump Maps
- Water Simulation
- Connection to many other tools, such as: 3DSMax, SketchUp and ArchiCAD
- Real-time Depth of Field
RenderLights is deemed superior to its competitors, because it has:
- An easy-to-use interface
- Highly automated workflow, saving work, effort and money
- Advanced global illumination and sophisticated lighting effects
- No need for 3D modelling kits, just a CAD programme of choice
Rendering applications such as Maxwell and V-Ray can utilise render nodes. A render node is a machine or processor used to access the resources of other network machines to increase rendering capacity. This is done to increase the speed at which renders are produced and is useful for rendering animations.
The architecture and design industries are spoilt for choice, with a host of 3D rendering services on offer. Users can afford to be picky in their selections while honing into the most suitable software for their rendering needs and the available budgets. In many ways, the recent innovations in the industry have made rendering more accessible for many more users and for many more uses than has been the case just a decade ago. In the rendering world, with continued regular improvements and innovations, it seems that the sky is no longer a limit.
Common Parameters Across Rendering Software
- Shadows: The effect of blocking light, varying darkness because of partially obscured light.
- Shading: Colours and brightness of surfaces can vary with lighting.
- Light Sources: Sliders can decide the intensity of three different light types in rendering: Sun intensity; Lamp intensity; and Illuminating Surfaces. Each slider has the option of overriding a light source intensity set elsewhere.
- White Model Effect: All the surfaces appear white, except those with transparency or alpha channels (they stay transparent). This is useful to show the early design phase to a client, to portray the basic shapes and spaces and the lighting effects, minus colours and textures. This effect will change all surfaces in the model and this will take time.
- Depth of Field: The sharpness of the depth view (to what distance it blurs) can be controlled with this parameter, sometimes after the rendered image is complete.
- Environment Panel: This panel can set the rendering to a particular environment: sky backdrop, weather, time and location.
- Sky Setup: Physical Sky – a sky with multiple objects – (sun, weather, clouds, fog, rainbow, atmosphere). It has a background image and lighting effects. It is considered ‘smart’ and the parameters are interconnected.
- Background Panel: A 2D picture is placed ‘behind’ the rendering. Background controls adjust this image.
- None: A non-transparent black-and-white background.
- Colours: Sets sky and ground colour through colour-picker fields. Horizons in the background can correspond to horizons in the picture.
- Image: Uses an existing picture as the background.
- Blend Image (using alpha): This produces a blending effect.
- Texture-mapping: Creating detail on surfaces.
- Bump-mapping: Simulating small-scale bumps on surfaces.
- Fogging/participating medium: Dimming light through hazy air.
- Reflection: Mirror-like or high-gloss reflection.
- Transparency (optics), transparency (graphic) or opacity: Transmission of light through solids.
- Translucency: Scattered light through solids.
- Refraction: Light bending in accordance with transparency.
- Diffraction: Bending, spreading, and interference of light passing by or through solids.
- Indirect illumination: Illuminating surfaces by light reflected off other surfaces, instead of from a light source (aka global illumination).
- Caustics: A form of indirect illumination.
- Motion blur: Objects blurred because of high-speed motion.
- Non-photorealistic rendering: Rendering artistically, to look like a painting.