Author Archives: 04 Olivia Kempf

Group Post: Rendering Engines

Rachel Filler, Joyce Hanlon, Olivia Kempf, Matt Lamm, Nick Matthews, Phil Riazzi

To gain an understanding of the capabilities of different rendering engines, we chose to compare and contrast popular architectural engines most available in studio and the workplace; 3DS Max, Rhino, Maya, and Revit. We chose a tactic of attempting to achieve the same ends with different means. The goal was to create a simple scene with a calculated source of light and two objects; a sphere of reflective aluminum and a cube of wood. Our results were curiously varied and we discovered many differences between the programs in the process.

3DS Max is a rendering program with modeling capabilities that is frequently used by video game developers, TV commercial studios and architectural visualization studios as well as for movie effects and pre-visualization. It differs from the other engines we explored in its operation through Mental Ray. Scenes can be constructed though both polygon and NURB in which modeling scripts, material scripts and varying light instances, fixtures, and apertures can be easily controlled. Light can be extremely varied in quality when placed into the scene, essentially determining the outcome of the rendering. Material scripts are applied to geometries through drag and drop assignment and customized with options. Materials are preloaded but can also be determined and uploaded by the user. A downside to this specialization is that the images cannot be edited after a rendering has been completed; one must reset the attributes and render a second time to achieve the desired results.

A NURB based program, Rhino, is commonly used for 3D modeling and can be used to create organic shapes that would be challenging to produce in polygon modeling engines. Because the surfaces of these shapes are very difficult to render in Photoshop, other V-Ray engines are commonly purchased to control lighting and materials. For our purposes, Rhino can be used as a default rendering engine. The lighting in Rhino is simple and can be manipulated the same as any other object. Rhino also allows users to add environment tools. This ranges from adding a fog, to picking a particular sun location, to inserting different backgrounds so the object is grounded in space. Perhaps the most useful aspect of Rhino rendering is the quick and easy post-rendering tools. Examples include the Gaussian blur tool which controls noise reduction, and the depth of field which manages the focus of the rendering. Where other rendering engines require a guess and check approach, post-rendering adjustments save time and allow for easy correction and efficient renderings.

Autodesk Maya is a highly professional solution for 3D modeling, animation and rendering in one complete and powerful package. Like 3DS Max, it is used for film, television, and game development, but also is a rendering engine used for many architectural projects and presentations. Maya is a “nodes” material creator, so unlike Revit or other engines, it does not have material pre-loaded but relies on the user to customize the material attributes such as texture and reflective materials. Maya has three different rendering types; Mental Ray, Maya Software, and Maya Hardware. Mental Ray has more sophisticated features such as shadow motions blur, indirect illumination, efficient displacement map handling, and Global Illumination. Maya Software and Hardware can render various of geometry and paint effects quickly, where Mental Ray has some limitations. Maya Software renders every effect in Maya with the exception of hardware particles, which can instead be rendered with Maya Hardware.
One of the most commonly used software platforms within architectural practices is Autodesk Revit. Revit allows the user to build architectural elements in 3D in conjunction with the ability to annotate 2D elements for drafting purposes. Although the platform is able to produce photorealistic renderings, some may find it inhibiting to create these renderings without an adequate knowledge of the construction process within Revit. Like other rendering platforms, Revit allows the user to alter textures, reflection maps, size, and brightness of materials to allow for a customized rendering experience. The main disadvantage within its rendering capabilities is that it is easier to render light from man-made units rather than floating sources because of the construction-based nature of the program.

These programs, although only a minimal sampling of software available, contain many differences and similarities in modeling and rendering techniques. A significant difference in operation is whether the program uses V-Ray or Mental Ray to render, as well as the evident stylistic differences between programs. Through this assignment we were able to grasp how visualization can be used, applied, and manipulated to create beautiful things.

Rendering Engines for Architectural Vizualization – individual

Rendering Engines for Architectural Visualization – Individual Research

Rendering Engines

Architectural Rendering Engines within Architecture

Rendering Engines

Jean Nouvel’s former project architect once critiqued my work. She spat in frustration, “Do not show an architect a perspective rendering. They are lies and thus should only be shown to clients,”
Rendering is a tool designers must use, not for themselves but to sell their idea. The goal is to make a creation beautiful in a way humans perceive as real (or virtual reality). The challenge is making it truthful.

Through this exploration of rendering engines, we chose a tactic of attempting to achieve the same ends with different means. The goal was to create a simple scene with a calculated source of light and two objects; a sphere of reflective aluminum and a cube of wood. There is a multitude of engines available to us, mostly falling under the categories of gaming rendering and graphic rendering. We studied the graphic side with ray tracing systems, testing Autodesk Revit, 3DS Max, Rhino, and Maya.

3DS Max in particular is the software I chose to explore, mainly because it was the program of which I was most ignorant. It is frequently used by video game developers, TV commercial studios and architectural visualization studios as well as for movie effects and movie pre-visualization. This Mental Ray engine can be used for 3D modeling, animation, and rendering with unique features such as customized particle animation and perspective matching. Objects can be created through polygon modeling, adding detail through tools such as “bevel” and “extrude”. NURB surfaces are also an option in this engine. This makes the program more compatible with Rhino and AutoCAD programs, which function in a similar way.

Material scripts and varying light instances, fixtures, and apertures are easily controlled in generated scenes. Perhaps the most important of these are light, owing to its innate ability to the change color, texture, accessibility, and atmosphere of an entire site so drastically. The type and quality of light can be chosen and added to a scene. Materials are applied to geometries through drag and drop assignment. Exploring properties can control an object’s tiling, mirroring, decals, angle, rotate, blur, UV stretching, and relaxation.

We found, through very elementary exploration, that many factors can be controlled and the smallest details can change a rendering drastically. Unless one is wholly proficient in a single program, there will always be a mixture of programs used to create a rendering. We found that we wouldn’t use one of our renderings “raw”. Every rendering we found elements that were out of our control and would probably need to be fixed in Photoshop. It is extremely difficult to determine how we view the exterior world and apply it to a computer screen. Can a scripted program truly replicate the color of light on a pure white surface? Can it display the layers of the color of a sunrise on a landscape?

Even if it can create something indistinguishable from a photograph, how much truth is in it? It may be more honest to show a rendering done by hand, to be taken as an art piece and an interpretation of the human experience rather than painstakingly attempting to recreate reality.



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Alice Aycock’s work Clay appeared originally in the Los Angles Museum of Contemporary Art in 1974. For the installment, a preliminary form of unremarkable plywood was constructed to create regular and rectilinear voids. Wet clay was then poured into the spaces and left to dry and crack naturally. In addition to environmental and ephemeral significance, I see the chosen materials as parametric items that control the project.

In the most basic senses of the word, the parametric boundary is the wood frame; the variable on which the clay is entirely dependent. It’s thickness, time to harden, resultant cracks, and shrinkage are determined by the wood’s dimension. It is in the nature of clay to dry, shrink, and crack. Aycock simply controlled and emphasized the system with the use of the wood.

I see this project as only a base of understanding relationships of materials. These principles can be carried into a comprehension of complex systems with more encompassing and varying parameters. Aycock is an installation artist from an earlier era of thought, and inevitably this work lacks a spacial value we seek in architecture. When our thoughts become clouded by computers and calculations, we can return to this simple and complete explanation of relationship of earth and wood.