A Personal Benchmark Study for Ray Tracing with Chief Architect Software

Warning – unless you are are a user of Chief Architect software -this post will make about as much sense to you as me speaking Spanish to my Mexican husband.  He usually just cocks his head a little and says: “Huh?”

So what is the purpose of posting this on the blog?  I wanted to share this info with other Chief users that might find this study helpful for their own ray tracing efforts. It’s the least I can do as there have been so many Chief users who have generously shared their information and helped me through some pretty difficult processes over the years.  For my purposes, it gives me a quick access location to view the different rendering schemes for comparison.  I have placed them on three new pages at the top of this blog.  Each page represents the different benchmark sections: Quick (Interior Quick Ray Traces), Standard (Interior Standard Ray Traces) and Hi Qlty (Interior High Quality Ray Traces). I think by placing them here, I can quickly access them to evaluate the setting parameters for future renders as I produce them.   

This View

Frustrated with the outcome of a ray trace I’d been working on for a couple of days, I searched Chieftalk (Chief Architect program users forum) for some answers. Typical problems I encountered were things like grainyness and mysterious light dots that would inexplicably show up after running a trace for 5 or 6 hours. I even found old posts that I had written in the past that still had valid info from forum users even though these posts were more than a year old. What I found interesting were the varying differences of opinions -both from experts and users- about what different settings do and what they are supposed to do.  Also, what users consider reasonable time invested vs. ray traced results. I chuckled at some who were frustrated at a trace that took a whole hour! I’ve been doing this long enough now (9 years a Chief user and 5 computer systems later) to know that a high quality, detailed ray trace rendering may take several hours to achieve.  And, if what you use the program for is primarily to create high-quality photo-realistic renderings, then no it’s not a deal breaker when you compare it to the cost of programs that only do high-end renderings more quickly –they are MUCH more expensive.

This to me is a major improvement over the days it literally used to take back when Chief used PovRay. My ray traces then were not near the quality of what I can produce now. I recall times when I would be running a trace overnight, just to get up in the morning to discover it had crashed and had to start all over again. And this could go on for a day or two before I got any sort of results!  No amount of Photoshop finessing could fix major problems that I encountered back then. That was about the time many Chief users I know discovered other programs for rendering that were much more effective at ray tracing Chief views like Artlantis and Kerkythea (now Thea Render) both in terms of time and quality of output. Because my focus wasn’t directly on rendering in those days, I stayed with Chief which finally developed it’s own rendering engine, Phoebe, a few versions ago. It keeps getting better, but there are still some nagging problems that don’t seem to get better. Based on recent comments, the newest version, X5, still has some issues -so I won’t be upgrading from X4 right away. One great improvement in recent versions is how Chief handles transparent objects –particularly glass. Windows with light coming through into interiors and reflection and refraction of light through transparent materials like water and glass objects. Again –amazing accomplishments when you consider that it can now rival it’s more expensive software competitors.

The last few days I’ve been conducting a little research project of my own to analyze ray trace settings as they apply to a typical rendering I produce. I had two primary goals: #1 What do the different settings accomplish; and #2 How long the ray traces take when a given setting profile is applied to them.  Aside from establishing parameters to get the best possible results in the least amount of time, I can then use this information to standardize my rendering processes.  This will enable me to give more accurate quotes concerning time completion and cost estimates based on my cost of doing business.  It also allows me to create a high quality product at  a reasonable and competitive price –something I could not have done with the old PovRay rendering engine.  I’ve finally come to believe Chief’s Phoebe is powerful and stable enough to compete with the ‘big boys’.  Additionally, I feel I’m at a stage in my development as a program user  in conjunction with my artistic ability that I can maximize results and produce a viable service.  So are the stars aligned?  Well –about as close as they’ve ever been!

My approach to creating views and representing spaces is a little different than most other rendering professionals I’ve encountered because I place a higher priority in regard to the experiential aspect of the space by inclusion of decorative objects, textures and especially location-specific light quality.  This is the hallmark of my creations that I feel sets me apart from my competition and makes my renderings unique.  Thus, against the advice and comments I’ve found in the forum, I tend to use some large poly objects to the limit that my system will allow. (If I go over what my computer system is able to process, the screen just goes black, and I have to edit the plan until I come up with something that will not crash.) So to get the details I like (and I like a lot), I’ve discovered how to incorporate 2-d images –though it’s tough to get them to look realistic sometimes. So I use Photoshop to fill in shadows and touch up where needed. None of the attached samples have had any Photoshop work done on them so you may be able to tell objects that are actually 2-d images.

About the model used here: Each sample is the same plan with the same 800 x 600 pixel view. It was created in X4 32 bit (because I often use Sketchup models and Sketchup is a 32 bit program), and ray traced in the 64 bit version because it doesn’t hang up as easily.  The program is optimized for ray tracing over Chief drawing and drafting (a preferences setting for the program). The ‘adjust image properties’ has not been used on any of the traces either.  This is not the typical size of renderings I tend to create.  I chose this size for the expediency of running multiple traces.   Mine are usually much larger and can be up to 1920 x 1080 pixels.  I think if you could figure out what percentage the sample size is to your planned rendering size, you could adjust the expected ray trace time accordingly

There are 11 lights being used. The six vanity lights are point lights set at high quality with shadows with 60W bulbs. The three candles are puck lights flipped over, reduced to 1/2” diam. Point lights at 15W each. (still too bright- don’t know what to sub them with as that’s the lowest wattage available). There is one 4” diam recessed light on that is not in the scene that is 75W spot light. There is also an unseen 75W non-fixtured ambient light at 75W near the view’s station point at ceiling height. The sun is turned on as a light and colored orange to address the sunset.  Chief users are often confused about the number of lights you can use.  In ray tracing the number is not limited but each one slows down the process.  This is why kitchen and bath ray traces tend to take more time than other types of interior views.  Chief’s regular rendering (vector view) application is limited (usually to 8 lights) depending on the limitation of the video card’s memory.  Ray tracing doesn’t use the video card.  This difference is an issue of semantics because a ‘rendering’ is one thing and…. well… a ray trace is a rendering too… just different!

Some of the things that contribute to the long running times of this ray trace are a few high-poly objects.  These “poly hogs” have multiple polygon faces that may not be seen in the view but are part of what makes an object 3-d.  The more detail an object has, the more faces it has.   Also the bath water texture has a bump map applied.  This adds texture to an otherwise flat 2-d image so that it looks like it’s 3-d (the light areas are pulled forward and the dark areas are recessed).

All of the ray traces have some settings that are the same:  they are 800 x 600 size. For the ray trace settings: Under lighting tab -camera view settings is turned off.   Direct sunlight intensity is set at 5. Environmental light (outside) is enabled and is set at 5 and colored orange to address the sunset in the view.  The photon numbers where noted is the multiplier that is applied to the default ( not the actual number of photons).  Depth of field (F stop) is not used.

Standard and High Quality schemes:  “Use ambient occlusion” is checked  at the default settings (.3 to 1.0).

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