Architect renders

Render hyper-real? The 3 types of renders Fat Sumo architects use.

In the architecture industry there is diverse opinions about rendering.

Are we losing something when we render hyper-real?

While the ability to digitally render does represent a powerful new tool in the architect’s repertoire, some may say that the rendering’s photo realism makes all projects appear visually similar regardless of their designers.

If all projects look the same then how can we substantively set them apart? Granted, it’s a superficial distinction but that’s precisely the point. These images can already be disseminated with stunning ease such that their value can never again be in their preciousness but rather the concepts they visually convey.

In our opinion, digital rendering is a means of expressing and illustrating a design so others can visualize the intent in a familiar way, rather than sketches, wire-frame drawings or blueprints, digital rendering enables an architect to show its clients what the intended design is in a format they understand, its in essence a way of better communication.

What is a render?

Once we have our 3D objects modeled and textured, we can move on to rendering images. Rendering is the virtual equivalent of photography. We take our objects, we add lights and cameras, and then we take a picture, or render, the final image. Now, the 3D process is similar to photography, but because it happens in the computer, we have a lot more control over the process. First off, we can choose different types of renderers, much like how a photographer may choose different film.

Each renderer is a little bit different and has its own look. Some of the more popular types are scanline renderers. Scanlines are fast and probably the simplest. They can look great, but advanced optical effects are difficult to simulate. Raycasting uses the camera as a source of rays which are cast into the scene. It is fast enough for real time and a lot of game engines use it. Raytracing is similar to raycasting, but it traces rays as a bounce throughout the scene.

This allows for more realism and advanced optical effects such as reflections and refractions. Radiosity takes raytracing a step further by allowing objects themselves to become light sources which creates a better simulation of ambient and bounce lighting. In both photography and rendering, lighting is a very important element. Lighting can affect the mood of the scene and be used to draw attention to certain parts of the scene.

In 3D, lighting is simply a simulation of the real world. Since it is a simulation, we can bend the laws of physics to suit our needs. For example, in the real world, every light casts a shadow, but in 3D, shadows are optional. In 3D a light can affect one object but not others. There are many other ways to control light. The same goes for cameras. Since cameras are virtual, we can control all aspects of the image. We can control focal length and aspect ratio.

We can also control depth of field which blurs the background and we can have the camera see some objects but not others. All of this gives us a large degree of control over our images.

What type of renders architects use?


V-Ray is arguably the stardard staple for for rendering proffesionals and us such one of the most used. V-ray is a rendering engine that uses advanced techniques, for example global illumination algorithms such as path tracing, photon mapping, irradiance maps and directly computed global illumination. The use of these techniques often makes it preferable to conventional renderers which are provided standard with 3D software, and generally renders using these techniques can appear more photo-realistic, as actual lighting effects are more realistically emulated.

The desktop 3D applications that are supported by V-Ray are: 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Maya, Rhinoceros, SketchUp, Blender

Exterior render v-ray renderer. See full project here

Mental ray

Like V-ray Mental Ray is another one of those rendering engines that have been around since the beggining and although in recent years it has lost popularity still one of the most used. The primary feature of Mental Ray is the achievement of high performance through parallelism on both multiprocessor machines and across render farms. The software uses acceleration techniques such as scanline for primary visible surface determination and binary space partitioning for secondary rays. It also supports caustics and physically correct simulation of global illumination employing photon maps. Any combination of diffuse, glossy (soft or scattered), and specular reflection and transmission can be simulated.

Interior render mental-ray. See full project here


Corona is the new kid on the block, gaining a rapidly increasing fan base. This is due to its easy setup in comparison to its counter parts and fast rendering times to produce a nice looking image.

The appeal of Corona is that is easy to use and very convincing realistic lighting simulation out of the box without long set up procedures. It’s still not perfect as die hard V-ray and Mental ray users still prefer to use what they are familiar with such as in the case of creating animations of high quality.