Getting your feet underneath solid ground when it comes to learning 3D rendering and visualization can be an exercise in extreme patience and steady pressure. There is an overwhelming wealth of information on not only the skills and techniques you will need to master, but the various programs you’ll need to familiarize yourself with as well.
The best option is to start small, and start slow, ramping up the learning curve in a way that won’t jettison you off the path to a career in 3D visualization before it even starts.
The programs on this list are the best places to start. If you aren’t sure about a career as a rendering artist and just want to give the craft a look, this software should give you the glimpse you need to make an educated decision about how to proceed further. And, if you’ve already made up your mind about that deep dive, use these programs to gain a foothold in the knowledge base that sits at the foundation of every professional rendering artist.
This is a no brainer and probably something you’ve already installed on your machine. SketchUp was created with beginners in mind - capable of providing powerful, yet easy to understand modeling tools to people who weren’t quite prepared to tackle the likes of Maya or Rhino. Not only is SketchUp the first place any young rendering artist should start, it happens to be completely free to download and start using.
And if you’re keen on taking things one step further, SketchUp is compatible with a number of professional-grade rendering plugins that can effectively transform it into an all-in-one visualization program that will get you one step closer to stardom.
Like SketchUp, Blender is entirely free to download and use at your heart’s content. This makes it great for beginners. Unlike SketchUp, Blender presents a number of intricate modeling and rendering tools that can be a bit daunting for first time users.
However, don’t let the initial shock of using a more professional modeling program deter you from unlocking its power. Once you get moving, Blender is actually quite user-friendly and simple to navigate - even for beginners. And if you spend a few hours with it and still want to toss your computer monitor through an eleven story window, at least you didn’t waste any money in the process (except for the monitor...and the window).
While there is certainly nothing particularly east about mastering Photoshop, getting acquainted with a few of its more useful visualization tools won’t crack your patience, and will unlock some powerful post-production final touches that can make your early work appear that much more professional.
Unfortunately, Photoshop isn’t free. However, Adobe does offer subscription plans for all of their software that won’t instantaneously drain your bank account (like it used to). Photoshop is the industry standard for photo editing software, and should be a program all visualization artists know how to use.
Now, I wouldn’t suggest any beginning rendering artist to pick up vRay and start to try and master it cold turkey. However, getting to know the ins and outs via something like a plugin for SketchUp can reap massive rewards for those willing to take the time up-front to become familiar with it. Simply put, vRay is the most powerful, widely-used rendering engine in the world, and should be considered for use by anyone, beginner or veteran.
There are some basic concepts that will need to be learned regardless of which renderer you end up using the most. You might as well learn them on the best renderer on the planet.
InDesign is another valuable visualization tool that doesn’t require a ton of technical knowledge to become adept at. It’s essentially a program used for formatting books, newsletters, brochures, presentations, etc. It might not seem like an obvious choice for a rendering artist, but it can add value in the form of presenting your ideas to architects, designers, or the general public.
While mastering this type of program isn’t necessary for being a 3D rendering artist, it’s a good thing to know how to do, especially when you’re starting out and have very few opportunities for work. It will give you career an extra boost and an extra set of skills to rest your reputation on. Also, it’s a quick learn and you’ll probably end up having it anyway if you’ve invested in Photoshop.