Architectural rendering styles & techniques

To manypeople, architectural rendering is art. The people behind the mouses and keyboards,the pens and pencils, take great pride in their work because, as all art, it istheir form of expression used to elevate the design of a place.

As issuch, the individuals and teams behindarchitectural rendering give to the design their own “architectural rendering style”. Sometimes architectural renderingwill be solely for making something look nice. Other times it will be to tellthe viewer something very specific about the design. But no matter the angle,there is no denying the wide range of architectural rendering styles andtechniques 3D Artists use to maketheir work stand above the rest.

Thefollowing list describes the indescribable, as I attempt to give form tosomething that really does not have any. A 3D Artist’s style is an etherealconcept - much less tangible than the subject matter itself. Trying to put aname or a label on it in many ways discredits the thought and rigor of iterationthat went into it.

This isin no way my intention, so please take these assertions with massive grain of salt and a tongueplanted firmly in cheek.

1| The “That Cannot Be Fake”

We areall familiar with this one, no? It is the architectural rendering style youlook at that might as well have been taken with a real life camera, by a reallife human being, in a real life location. They suspend disbelief and show theviewer exactly what something will look like without it actually being a thingyet. Sort of like the first time you saw Jurassic Park.

It takesa mountain of technical skill to make these types of drawings work. If you areaiming for ultra-realism, you better nail it. Otherwise the 3D rendering style endsup looking like a screenshot from a made for TV Sci Fi movie. That is whatmakes nailing it so impressive. 3DArtists who are able to recreate lighting, materiality, and mostimportantly, the accuracy of human perception, are highly sought after and paidwell.

So how do 3D Artists do it?

Asidefrom years and years of practice and education? To get good at photo realisticrenderings, you have to get familiar with your 3D rendering software. Many say VRay is the most capable rendering engine, but the 3D Artist mustalso be well versed in Rhino, 3DS Max,After Effects and so on. It takes all of that 3D rendering software knowledge and skill to recreate lifedigitally.

Mostimportantly is an understanding of light. Light is how we see, so being able tomanipulate the rendering engine to mimic real time lighting is key. The rest isabout the 3D Artist’ssense ofcomposition, framing, and emotion.

2| The Diagram

Architectslove their diagrams. Put it right up there with black mock turtlenecks andworking through the night. A diagram tells a story. It shows you somethingvitally important to the conceptual force behind a building’s design.Architects and designers use diagrams to explain the “why” behind the “what.”It is a singular representation of the idea, and for it to work it needs to begraphically straightforward and abundantly clear.

BjarkeIngels Group has made waves in the architecture and design world in the lastdecade. Their designs are a blunt representation of a small collection ofenvironmental inputs. They create elegant, simple diagrams showing exactly howthe design responds the world around it. A few arrows here. A splash of colourthere. And voila! You have got yourself a diagram that could explain to yourgrandmother what the project is about.

So how do 3D Artists doit?

Diagramsdo not look like much as far as technical prowess, but you would be surprisedin the amount of work that goes into crafting something with such clarity.Often diagrams are best served being created with a combination of SketchUp andAdobe Illustrator. A simple vector drawing goes a long way, and in the case ofa diagram, less almost always means more.

3| The Stan Lee

A comicbook drawing is something most people instantly identify with. This architecturalrendering style awakens a childlike nostalgia that allows the viewer to connectwith the subject matter on a much more playful level. The Stan Lee attempts totap into this tucked away portion of the human psyche, and does so with anabundance of colour and thick, expressive line work. Who better to name this architecturalrendering style after than the father of modern comics?

A gooddesign presentation tells a story. You want the people who are seeing yourcreative labours for the first time to be able to get into the head of thedesigner and see what the project is attempting to achieve. With buildingdesign, it is much more effective to tell that story with images rather thanwords. If someone can look at a drawing, or series of drawings, and puttogether that story for themselves, the greater the impact it will leave. Thatis where the Stan Lee comes in so handy. Giving your drawings emotion andexpression goes a long way to framing the storyyou are trying to sell.

So how do 3D Artists doit?

The StanLee can be best achieved through a combination of hand and computer drawing.First modeling the building in SketchUpor Rhino, then printing and drawing over to achieve the desired comic book effect. The drawing can thengo back into the computer to be touched up and polished in Adobe Photoshop andInDesign.

4| The Old School

You can pry my drafting pens frommy cold, dead hands!

The OldSchool is a tried and true design drawing technique that happens almostexclusively outside the computer. The old guard of architects and designerswill demand hand drawn design renderings, claiming the computer cannot capturethe soul in the same way. While not everyone agrees with that, there is meritto the assentation that hand drawings have a quality that cannot be replicateddigitally.

There isa haptic quality to a hand drawing. You can see the pencil strokes, smell thelead, feel the tiny ridges in the 220 pound paper. There are imperfections andnuances that can give a project life, utilizing the imagination of the viewerto fill in the real world gaps that will be manifested in the completedproject. Hand drawn renderings can be the most visually stunning way torepresent a project, especially now that we have shifted so hard and fast towards the digital rendering. They are time consuming, expensive, and only asmall handful of people still know how to do them. Sadly, a dying art indeed.

So how do 3D Artists doit?

Pens,pencils, markers and paper. These are the tools of the old school architecturalrenderer. And thousands upon thousands of hours of practice followed by… more practice.

5| The Star Wars

A longtime ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Or in thebasement of a young renderer’s mother, where stunning depictions of futuristicworks of architecture are created. The Star Wars architectural rendering styleand technique is best served for architectural designs that look to the future.Because of the progressive nature of the building itself, it often demands anartistic depiction that reflects that conceptual force. The drawing needs tosay: this is what the future looks like, and this is why this buildingrepresents that.

You willnot see any aliens or spaceships or blasters or Han Solo shooting first. Well,you might. What you will definitely see is a keen eye for the unexploredaspects of 3D rendering technology. Thisparticular architectural rendering style tends to lean towards the hyper-real,but does not necessarily have to. Most people find the future easier to believein if it in some way represents the world they currently know. If things gettoo detached from the present, the images can become unbelievable andfraudulent. It is a knife edge 3D Artistslove walking along.

So how do 3D Artists doit?

The mostcurrent rendering engines will be your best bet to produce futuristicarchitectural graphics. VRay, Maxwell,Mental Ray. They all have the capability to produce realistic depictionsfrom your wild imagination. Or you could enlist one of those street fair spraypaint artists who somehow paint glossy and realistic scenes in a matter of minutes.Those guys are rad.

6| The Palimpsest

Apalimpsest is a term used to describe a visual layering of information. It isone of those touchy-feely terms architecture and design teachers use toestablish the basis for a particular assignment. Imagine a small stack ofsemi-translucent pages with different parts of information that, when viewedtogether reveals holistic information about the project. These layers might becirculation, air and water delivery, structure or insulation. Or they can becontributing parts to a larger diagram.

Beforecomputers were used for design and construction drawings, the palimpsest was aninvaluable tool not just to communicate information, but to understandinternally about the design. Drawings were done on mylar or vellum, both thin,translucent type of paper that allowed architects to lay stacking floor on oneanother to understand how things worked in three dimensions. We still do thistoday, although the process has been streamlined by 3D modeling capabilities ofdigital drawing.

So how do 3D Artists doit?

Well, Ikind of just told you! You have probably seen more palimpsest in your life thanyou realize. Ever sat through a mind numbing PowerPoint presentation where pageupon page simply add one or two bullet points or images to a base page? We allhave. That is probably the least interesting but most ubiquitous version of apalimpsest. Maps are also good examples, which often have a variety ofdifferent types of information that tell the story of a place or region.

7| The Minimalist

Theminimalist is the architect’s best friend. Strip all unnecessary noise out of adrawing so to be able to focus on the one thing that truly matters: space. Thisis the 3D rendering with more white on the page than on Al Pacino’s face at theend of Scarface!

Allforms are represented with almost no materiality so as to reveal theexperiential and spatial relationships that make the design a conceptualmasterpiece. This is not a real-world rendering, but a kind of diagram thatadds to the intrigue of a potential design.

FrankLloyd Wright once said, “the shortestdistance to a correct solution is a straight line.” This is the drivingconceptual force behind the minimalist 3D rendering style. There are no frillsor ornaments or added distractions. There is only form, light and space. Theseare the fundamental tools an architect uses to design with. Mix that with aninsatiable ego and a passive aggressive malaise and you have got yourself aworld famous designer on your hands.

So how do 3D Artists doit?

Discipline.You can have all the technical knowledge and design capability that a personcan have, but it takes a certain kind of restraint to produce design drawingsthat show only what they need to in order to communicate the idea. Being theminimalist means going beyond the know-how and reaches into the how and why ofa design that few other architectural rendering styles begin to approach. Yes,sometimes it melts into the pretentious and elitist, but it always gets to theessence of what could potentially make a project great. You can file it underthe “easier said than done” category.

8| The Game Changer

The gamechanger is difficult architectural rendering style to explain. It could take onany number of the techniques and architectural rendering styles I have outlinedthus far. The game changer takes things up one, two, maybe even three notches.This is the architectural rendering you see in the MOMA or the Guggenheim thatspeaks not only to the quality of the 3D rendering itself, but to the iconicpiece of architecture it represents. These are award worthy depictions thatcapture the essence and nature of the subject without getting in the way of theobject and the space.

There isdefinitely much technique involved here. But more than that it is theunderstanding of architecture, space, light and form in general. The gamechanger must have an intimate knowledge of the design. He cannot just know thewhat, but must fully be aware of the why and the how in order to depictsomething that does justice to the design itself. This architectural rendering styleis not something picked up by a gun for hire, but is typically crafted by thedesigner himself. Only someone who has a true connection to the work is able toperfect the digital manifestation with such accuracy and authenticity.

So how do 3D Artists do it?

You knowwhat? They just do it.

The gamechanger takes on an effortless kind of work ethic that is mirrored by the endresult. These 3D renderings and images win international design competitionsbecause they go well beyond simple drawings. They have meaning and competencerarely seen in the design world. This is art in every sense of the word, andcannot be adequately explained in words on a page. You know it when you see it,and that is all you really need to know.