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Renderings that Fool the Eyes and Minds

If CAD and simulation are the tools to digitally conceive and test your design ideas, rendering and visualization are the tools to win the hearts and minds of consumers, clients and decision makers. In the last five or six years, ray tracing and physically accurate rendering technologies have significantly improved, making the graphics output virtually indistinguishable from real-world photography. In some cases, rendering allows you to visualize products long before any physical mockup is available for studio photography. The latest CPU and GPU horsepower now allows individual 3D artists to use a standard workstation to create photorealistic images that previously demanded the use of servers and clusters to render.

Many automakers and consumer goods designers now rely on immersive visuals and renderings to communicate design ideas to consumers. Manufacturers have begun to make critical decisions on the material choices or surface styles based on renderings. It’s a testament to the way high-quality renderings can rival and mimic the integrity of professional photography. For this feature, we reached out to some 3D modelers and rendering artists to understand their workflow, tools of the trade and the clever tricks they use to present pixels as tangible physical objects.

Motorola Mobility Red Phone by Helder Filipov, Vinicius Longo and Eduardo Bellesa

Helder Filipov, art director and head of Motorola Mobility’s Brand Experience Design (BXD); Vinicius Longo, 3D artist, BXD; and Eduardo Bellesa, CGI artist, BXD, are responsible for many of the iconic images the telecom provider uses to reach out to customers. The one shown here was modeled in Rhino and rendered in Luxion’s KeyShot.

Image courtesy of Motorola Mobility, motorola.com.

Image courtesy of Motorola Mobility, motorola.com.

“Our team partners with the industrial design group on creating the visual assets for every product launch,” says Filipov. “The designers usually create the 3D models in Rhino or [PTC’s] Pro-E [later renamed Creo], and they use KeyShot as a facilitator of the development process to quickly visualize the concepts and proposals generated.”

What guides the design team’s visuals is the need to “create the best representation of each surface, texture, shape, material and finishing for communication,” says Filipov. “The most helpful tool in KeyShot is the material graph editor. With it, we can create and fine-tune the materials. This is the main feature we use to create realistic looking materials,” adds Longo.

What the BXD team gets out of Keyshot is usually “90% good to go,” according to Filipov. “The fundaments are all based on product photography and on crafting each tiny detail of every image we produce. Consistency is also crucial for us, so every color-finishing material needs to look the same in all views, which takes a lot of our efforts as well,” he points out.

The LandWhale by Stefan Berentzen

Berentzen used Autodesk 3ds Max to create the conceptual vehicle he dubbed The LandWhale. Primarily a 3D character artist, the vehicle design represents a departure from his usual work. “I think about the object’s functions too when I am designing something,” he says. “My main design idea is always to create something that looks as different as possible from the existing concepts, but also familiar at the same time because it retains certain recognizable elements.”

Image courtesy of Occult Art, occultart.com.

Image courtesy of Occult Art, occultart.com.

Berentzen says he sculpted The LandWhale by “blocking out the general shapes in 3ds Max and slowly adding the larger layers at first, then smaller forms.” Recounting his workflow, he adds, “Later, I cleaned up [base blocks] with Modo MeshFusion to create soft blends between the shapes. For a few parts in the undercarriage, I used ZBrush to smooth the 3ds Max Boolean shapes. I added wrinkles and details to the chairs with ZBrush and later added as a map in 3ds Max.” He rendered the image with “procedural materials and HDRI lighting with Corona Renderer for 3ds Max.”

Berentzen reveals he has amassed a lot of custom scripts and plugins to help with modeling inside 3ds Max and to automate repetitive, complex tasks. He favors 3ds Max because he can exchange data among 3ds Max, Modo and ZBrush effortlessly.

The Black Panther Royal Talon by Joseph Hiura

At the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference 2018 in March, Hollywood set designer Joseph Hiura shared some of the renderings he created for a number of blockbuster movies, including “The Black Panther,” for which he was art director of vehicles. When designing the ships for the movie, he said using SOLIDWORKS Visualize with the new NVIDIA Iray AI-powered denoiser made the work a joy to do.

Images courtesy of Joseph Hiura, Marvel Studios, news.marvel.com, via NVIDIA.

Images courtesy of Joseph Hiura, Marvel Studios, news.marvel.com, via NVIDIA.

“I get so frustrated with rendering software in that when you’re using them, every little move you have to wait a minute, two minutes to see what it’s actually going to be like,” he says. “With the denoiser on, I didn’t have to worry about that. I just went right through it.”

He says he showed a rendering of “The Black Panther” Royal Talon ship to Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, in a meeting, who immediately approved it. “When he saw this rendering, he said, ‘That’s going to be our ship,’ and that’s what we ended up doing.”

Road to Perdition by Farooq Obaid

In 2013, Farooq Obaid founded AO-Interactive, specializing in architecture visualization, 3D animation and augmented reality, among others. A fan of the movie “Road to Perdition,” Obaid decided to recreate the rain-soaked atmospheric scene from the film in Autodesk 3ds Max. He used Substance Designer to create the 3D materials, and the Unreal 4 game engine to light and render the scene.

Image courtesy of AO-interactive, ao-interactive.com.

Image courtesy of AO-interactive, ao-interactive.com.

“Lighting is very important for getting the best result,” says Obaid. “You can have a high-quality model and you can make good shaders, but in the end, if the lights are not set up properly, you will never be able to get the epic results. So I play with lights a lot, going back and forth, trying different [levels of] intensity and colors to get the balance right.”

Impeller Gear in Water by Magnus Skogsfjord

The most difficult part of his attempt to model an impeller reacting to water, according to CAD visualization specialist and 3D artist Magnus Skogsfjord, is creating a convincing splash of water. But the fault may lie with his older generation PC, which he nicknamed “Patience Computer.”

His workflow is “tweak parameters, see a movie or exercise or eat, repeat,” when setting up the simulation, he quips. “Since I’d never done fluid simulation before, it obviously took a bit of research in order to make a decent looking water flow. I’m mostly using engineering CAD, but am currently looking into the world of polygon tools to aid in visual content, in this case Blender.”

To model the mechanical gear, Skogsfjord used Siemens PLM Software’s NX. “KeyShot allows me to add details and ‘pop’ the image with ease and speed,” he says.

To those attempting mechanical design renderings, Skogsfjord suggests, “First, look up the different texture types involved in rendering. I’m talking about color map, roughness map, specular map and bump/normal maps. If you feel you’ve mastered that, the next step is lighting.”

State-of-the-Art Packaging, by BluePrint Automation (BPA)

Image courtesy of BPA, blueprintautomation.com, via AMD.

Image courtesy
of BPA, blueprintautomation.com, via AMD.

BPA designs and manufactures equipment for the food packaging industry. The complex, 3D mechanical designs are difficult to visualize. After implementing AMD’s CAD-to-VR solution, which includes Dell Precision workstations with AMD Radeon Pro graphics, BPA could visualize the machinery, animate mechanisms and test ergonomics.

The team loaded the free AMD Radeon ProRender add-in for SOLIDWORKS, the free Unreal Engine 4.17, and the free AMD Radeon ProRender Game Engine Importer for Unreal. Radeon ProRender creates photorealistic renderings and exports the rendered scene into a transportable format.

“We can showcase a machine without bringing it physically, saving significant costs by not having to pay transportation fees to ship out and potentially damage it in the process,” says BPA’s VP of Engineering, Chung-Chee Tai. “It’s huge for us.”

Porter-Cable Power Tool, Black & Decker by Brian Muhlbach

To render the Porter-Cable power tool, Brian Muhlbach used SOLIDWORKS Visualize, a rendering program for SOLIDWORKS CAD users. The most difficult challenge for this project was “creating new bump maps and texture mapping/tiling,” and adding “highlights to help show off the different textures and surfaces,” he says. The new Area Lights function now available in SOLIDWORKS Visualize Professional would have made a difference in the project, he points out.

Image courtesy of Black & Decker, blackanddecker.com.

Image courtesy of Black & Decker, blackanddecker.com.

The Decal tool in the software helped him add the brand name to the product’s 3D surface, says Muhlbach. He used the Camera Post Processing tool to fine-tune the saturation, gamma and darkening effects. Other tools he found useful are: the Color Picker for sampling colors outside the software’s interface; the Visualize Cloud Library with access to an extensive selection of materials, textures and environments; and planes with Emissive materials to create highlights.

For this type of project, he advises, “Make sure the model is broken up correctly in CAD before importing. This will make applying materials super-easy.”

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About Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering's resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at kennethwong@digitaleng.news or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.