Hand Drawn vs. Computer Generated Rendering

One of the members of a group that I am a member on LinkedIn called Architectural Illustration posed the following question:

“What do you think about the future of hand drawn renderings? With technology advancing so fast, it is becoming easier to emulate reality when producing renderings. Also it is becoming easier to emulate hand drawn renderings as well! Is there any life left for the original one?”

This was my comment:

“I have been selling my artwork in one form or another for 45 years. My preferred mediums are acrylic and watercolor, though I have also enjoyed soft pastels, pen and ink, and charcoal sketching. While working on my design degree in the ’90s, I freelanced doing architectural renderings by hand. In the meantime, I developed my skills doing 3D computer generated renderings that I do exclusively today. (www.pamdesigns.net) 

Even though I use the computer now, I would recommend that anybody who wants to do architectural rendering should have a solid foundation in hand rendering simply to understand the fundamental requirements for spacial expression and developing compositions for scenes. Without this basic understanding, one may know how to work a computer program, but the results will not be as successful as they could be. 

In deciding whether to do renderings by hand or by computer, one has to ask why we render in the first place. Is it to create beautiful art pieces or sell a project? Realistically, it’s the latter. Renderings are tools like 2D drawings and are created for a purpose. They are not art for art’s sake. Photo-realistic renderings can be created with a level of speed and accuracy that I could never produce by hand. Though when it comes to concept and design development, nothing beats hand sketching in front of a client to win them over. If I were still designing in front of clients I would definitely be sketching my ideas by hand —then creating beautifully crafted 3D renderings on my computer that would seal the deal!”

So as you can see, I do not see a bright future for hand-drawn renderings as a profession, though it is still indicative to have a foundation in it to become a professional rendering artist –regardless of your medium– whether it be using computer software or a pencil. The key in determining which medium to use is one’s marketability and cost effectiveness. I do not believe that high-end computer renderings are easier to create than well executed handmade renderings. To become proficient using the software takes years of learning and practice. It also takes artistic talent (which is a whole other blog post) not just knowing the mechanics of operating a computer program. Even though one may produce renderings by computer exclusively, maintaining ones ability to sketch by hand and ‘see’ the potential of a rendered scene is fundamental to creating successful renderings.

That being said, the future of rendering is going to be driven by it’s market. As computer generated renderings become more able to produce photo-realistic images that imply one can actually view into the future, the value of artistic artwork pieces as architectural rendering have become less in demand. Is the artistry lost in producing computer generated photo-realistic renderings? To a degree, I believe this is so. Computer renderings can be made to look like hand-drawn or hand-painted works, but they can’t recreate the individualistic style of painting that is unique to the artist such as the loose impressionistic style of Jeremiah Goodman.

Jeremiah Goodman in his studio

The following is the artwork of  Jeremiah Goodman who is probably the most successful and well-known rendering artist of the last century. He’s in his 90’s now and still painting beautiful renderings from his studio in Manhatten:

Jeremiah Goodman_0001Jeremiah Goodman_0003Jeremiah Goodman Sir John Gielgud lr DRMJeremiah Goodman 3 Greta Garbo Dean Rhys Morgan793666_530625703635384_785817043_o337266_472250296139592_967256124_o23387_525120140852607_774613230_n

Artistic Renderings

These five renderings were completed at different times quite awhile ago.  I’ve just recently applied artistic filters using Photoshop to give them a painted effect.  I used to paint by hand and know these would take a long time to execute (even if I could)!  And this way, you don’t even have to wait for the paint to dry!

pallet knife effect on canvas

pallet knife effect on canvas

painted effect on pressed paper

painted effect on linen

watercolor effect on pressed paper

watercolor effect on pressed paper

Watercolor and ink on cold-pressed paper

Watercolor and ink on cold-pressed paper

Acrylic on burlap.

Acrylic on burlap.

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).

Dynamic Shift ~ A New Perspective Toward the Future

You might notice some differences if you look at my website –even in this blog title.  I no longer bill my self as a kitchen and bath designer but a 3-D rendering artist.  The content of my website has changed to reflect this new enterprise.  But it’s a temporary fix until a total revamp of the site is completed.  The changes will evolve over the next few weeks.  I’m excited about the future for the first time in quite awhile.

A dozen or so years ago after graduating from college and working in commercial interior design, I had the opportunity to switch gears and take my career focus in a new direction.  That was designing kitchens and baths.  While in college, we were consistently pointed toward working in the commercial and corporate arenas because we were given to believe that was where money could be made and futures built.  I never really felt comfortable there, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to break into residential design work.  So, I packed up my family and moved back to the West Coast and began my career anew once again.

After a couple of years of working for others and learning the kitchen and bath trade, I decided to break out on my own and worked as an independent contractor.  Things were going pretty good until the Great Recession hit in 2006.  Suddenly my workload dropped from about six kitchens a week to six a month.  This is when I formed PamDesigns offering my skills doing drafting, specification documents and rendering to the kitchen and bath trade.  Part and parcel to taking my business online has been building my brand through social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and most recently, Pinterest.  In the past few years I have had several wonderful projects and have had some great adventures due largely to my social networking connections.   Finally, a few wonderful projects and my great adventures do not pay the bills.  In time a reality check was in order, and in accessing my situation have come to the realization that a dramatic change was ensuing once again-a dynamic shift if you will.

The industry as a whole is beginning to show the signs of wear brought on by recent years of declining business opportunities due to the housing market.  Of the many kitchen and bath designers I’ve met through social networking, I’d have to say that at least half of them have also taken their careers in a different direction.   Many of them are still connected to the kitchen and bath industry in some way or at least residential design in some capacity.  Many who have had their own gigs have closed their doors and are now working for someone else.  Many have just dropped off my radar.  In summary, it doesn’t look like there is any great recovery looming on the horizon and I have come to feel I need to acknowledge what others have already known.  It’s time to move on.

So here I am at a crossroads once again.  I recently designed and drafted the plans for my own home remodel.  In the year prior to that, I created many beautiful renderings of my ideas in the process of deciding what the design would be.  Through this exploration, I created many scenarios from building additions and changing various parts of the house.  This process was a great way to try different designs on for size.  It also gave me a basis for forming my budget in relation to what I wanted to accomplish against what I could accomplish.  An unexpected aside of this process, along with some work on some client projects, I honed my expertise using CAD and photo editing software  and developed my skills creating artistic architectural renderings.  I came to realize that this is what I really want to be doing with my time and talent.

Time will tell if my transition to 3-D rendering online from kitchen and bath design was the right business move to make.  I already know that it was the right thing to do in my heart… my head may or may not catch up!