Posts Tagged ‘3D rendering’

Photographing the Impossible

Women are from Venus -- Raygun Studio practices the art of deception using new, more intuitive 3D software. Stunningly realistic and provocative details has put the image shop in the forefront of a new wave of advertising imagery. Credit: Michael Tompert/Cade Martin

Raygun Studio unwraps the mystery of fantastic CGI effects

“If God is in the details, we all must on some deep level believe that the truth is there, too,” writes novelist Francine Prose.  Good storytellers, she says, know that it takes just one vivid detail to make the tallest tale come across as a truthful account.  Once the fisherman describes the hook caught in the bloody gills, we are somehow more apt to believe the big fish story.

The same holds true with images.   Michael Tompert, Designer-in-Chief at the Palo Alto-based Raygun Studio, has made a career out of presenting the impossible, straight-faced, as photorealistic truth.   We know that carnivorous chocolate, luminescent lather, and winged whales don’t exist, but Tompert’s convincing details require us take a second look.

“In a way I’m like a photographer,” says Tompert, who considers himself an image artist. “I build images that look like reality.  The content might have fantastic elements, which in many cases are client requests. If the client wants a Venus flytrap made entirely of chocolate, I want the chocolate to look so real you can taste it.”

Tompert started his own company after several years retouching product images for Apple and using 3D tools in the design of many of the icons, logos, and concept visualizations.  Now in his own shop for design and advertising imagery, Tompert has wide berth to play in his signature style.

Techniques at Raygun triangulate traditional photography, digital retouching, and computer-generated imagery (CGI) from 3D models.  For many years, CGI technology seemed impractical for photographers and graphic designers.  But Tompert explains that CGI tricks are now within reach, even for Mac-adherents like himself.

3D gets un-PC

A new generation of fast microprocessors and intuitive rendering software has made this kind of fictional photography possible.  One of the leading developers, Luxion, has released its high-speed rendering application KeyShot not only for PCs but for Macs, finally bridging the gap between CGI in the world of graphic artists.

Tompert has worked with 3D rendering since the 90s, gaining some experience in car ads and other product shots.  “Automotive styling is where 3D CGI originated,” he says.  “Photographing cars can get extremely involved.”  By taking the same CAD used to design and manufacture a vehicle, graphic artists could render it with realistic materials and composite it into any scene.  They could plop SUVs onto desert plateaus or park luxury cars on European cobblestones, without the immense effort of on-location photo shoots.

The problem in the past, Tompert says, was that the 3D CAD and best rendering technology resided almost exclusively on the PC side of the fence.  As a consequence, the software demanded a highly technical “engineer-y” mentality that one has come to associate with PCs.  You would have to mix your own material palette by tweaking dozens of optical properties. Setting up the lighting environment required the same sort of math-heavy pre-planning.

Taking his best shot -- Raygun Studio's Michael Tompert at a shoot, mounting his Nikon D300 to a Kaidan spherical pano tripod head for a HDRI. Photo by Montse Llaurado

The worst part of the older, slower rendering apps was you couldn’t see what you were creating.  Previews often gave only a solid-color fill of surfaces.  To see the actual interplay of light, reflections, and shadows – the convincing details — you had to process a final render, which sometimes took hours.  It was a bit like planning a fireworks display when all the rocket labels were in Chinese.  You never knew what you were going to get until you fired it off.

For many intuition-based visual artists, this amount of techie tedium was more than they could bear.   Tompert, however, soldiered through the technical demands for years, collecting a wide variety of 3D Mac tools, like Strata 3D, Amapi, Poser, Modo, and Cinema 4D.  Luxion technology, however, offered something new in its application Keyshot.  Tompert was one of the application’s earliest adapters.

“KeyShot provides an interface worthy of the name Mac OS.   I think it will open up CGI to a much larger audience in the photography and graphic art world, including people that were initially turned off and were unwilling to jump the hurdles.”

Re-touch & go

Incorporating 3D CGI details into an image works similarly to composting one photo into another in Photoshop.  In the title example featured here, Tompert makes a paintbrush swipe in Photoshop of his background image of the on-location beach scene, making an empty space in the waves in roughly the position he wants the flying saucer.  He imports in the preview image from the Bunkspeed application from the backend, just as if it was another Photoshop document.  The UFO model appears within the stroke.  He can go back and forth between the two applications to perfect the positioning and light effects.

“The real breakthrough with the Luxion technology is that it is real time,” says Tompert. “This allows me to work truly visually,  play with the scene, experiment, and find things accidentally.”  In contrast to renderers past, the KeyShot preview generates the entire scene just as it will appear in the final, including all the light sources, high-fidelity materials, and every tiny detail of reflections, refractions, and shadows.

If Tompert rotates the UFO model slightly, the KeyShot preview immediately re-processes the scene, and the new results appear in the PhotoShop brushstroke.  Like a rapidly developing Poloroid, the preview starts out fuzzy at first, but within a few seconds a tinny spacecraft gains clarity.

One advantage comping with a 3D model rather than a static image is that the objects in the KeyShot scene are movable and voluble in real time.  Tompert can tilt, rotate, or re-size the 3D model until the prop is naturally poised in the Photoshop composite.  KeyShot automatically recalculates the lighting effects in the new preview.

“Luxion KeyShot is basically a photo studio in a box. You have lights, a stage, and bring in your props.  You can save your stage and open it up a month later and the lights are still on, the scene exactly the way you left it, without any dust gathering,” explains Tompert.  “Another difference is you can change the materials of your props.”  If Tompert clicks on another material from the library palette, the preview would start again, giving him a UFO in glass instead of metal within a few seconds.

“I just love how I can be creative and spontaneous in KeyShot with 3D models.  I can dial in the lighting and materials in real time.  I can see the reflections and refractions run up and down the models in the real environment just like in a photo studio, rather than having to pre-plan or calculate the shot.”

A real gem -- To produce the luminous effect in Gillette's shower gel ad, Raygun Studio rendered a 3D model using Bunkspeed SHOT's diamond material. The high level of light scattering gives the image radiance as well as depth.

Materially different

The Luxion KeyShot application has taken off with the graphic art crowd (besides releasing a parallel product for Mac users) because that the software comes standard with an extensive library of pre-mixed shaders that perfectly match real-world materials:  woods, metals, enamel finishes, even translucent substances like glass or liquids.  Artist can jump right into rendering models in a sort of paint-by-numbers simplicity, without all the technical complexities.

Tompert often likes to trade out different materials to make unconventional choices to see he gets better light performance in a scene.  In Raygun Studio’s recent ad image for Gillette’s new shower gel, Tompert rendered a 3D decoy of the showering man in solid diamond to produce exaggerated light scattering.   “You can push beyond the limits of a real-world photo studio.  You can make glass that sparkles more than diamond, metals that reflect more than chrome.”

Setting up -- The original HDRI backplate used in the UFO crash image above.

A higher range of possibilities

“Since I work with KeyShot frequently now, I have been shooting more of my own HDRIs especially on bigger productions.  Doing my own HDRIs not only makes for incredible realism but turns out to be a great way to connect with everybody on the creative team at the day of the shoot,” says Tompert.  “It’s a way to span the real working world of photographer to the virtual world of the computer.”

Tompert initially relied on the library of HDR studio and on-location images that come along with Luxion’s software.  Now with equipment to create his own, he has no limits to where he can apply CGI.

A HDRI is a high dynamic range image, which picks up many more intensities in an environment that conventional photography.  A 3D HDRI and the background 2D photograph ideally are taken at the same time to capture the same play of light.  But in practice, one can also improvise.  In the spacewoman image, the photographer Cade Martin created the backplate image of the fashion model in Washington.  Weeks later, Tompert took a 360-degree HDRI at the beach in California which approximated the original scene.

“HDRIs capture a sphere that includes the whole dynamic range of radiance, from the flares on the sun to the tread underneath a rear tire,” he explains.  “Shooting your own HDRIs requires a bit of specialized hardware, whether it’s a DSLR with a fisheye or a Spheron scanning camera.  Then you need quite a bit of post-processing, either in Photoshop or in specialized tools for stitching and blending.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but it allows you to add any item imaginable into a photographed scene. It’s a good idea to work with available HDR images for a while and study how they work, or tweak existing HDRIs in Photoshop to get an understanding of how they affect a scene before going out and investing in equipment and software to shoot your own.”

Creating a splash

The next frontier for Raygun Studio CGI experiments is modeling realistic fluids.  Water – whether it occurs in rain-drenched streets, mountain cascades, or just in a pitcher on a table – has traditionally been a trouble spot for photo retouchers, since it is nearly impossible to remove water elements from their original context in with 2D tools.  Tompert has found ray tracing a way to sidestep this problem.   Now, with the addition of other 3D software tools, he has been pushing liquids closer to center stage.

“I am very interested in physics modeling which is coming along lately as the Macs are getting powerful, or should I say, almost powerful enough, to allow this kind of thing.”  Tompert will generate 3D splashes, spills, or pours in applications like RealFlow or MoGraph in Cinema 4D.  “It makes for some very organic and amazingly realistic models which open up other possibility for CGI beyond the usual product shots. Most of the things I wind up using in my final images are not really not planned out; camera views just ‘spoke’ to me and I would take screen shot of them and just drop them into Photoshop and finish it off.”

Pacific Heights -- A collaboration with San Francisco photographer Erik Almås, who shot the girl and the skyline, while Raygun Studio contributed the rest from rendered CGI models. Local shop Jellysquare performed the post-production and compositing.

A realistic outlook for Mac users

The advertising industry have acquired a taste for CGI-composite photography, and according to Tompert, its appetite continues to grow.  At first, CGI was a way to create less expensive glamor shots for products, but now ad agencies recognize that hyper-real compositions that tell a story can reach a deeper psychology.  As Tompert’s examples show, CGI craft can convey a mood or experience that can be imagined, but not — ordinarily –photographed.

“As CGI gets more accessible, the trend will accelerate.  Even more implausibly fantastic and hyper-real constructs of the imagination will be the default for imagery in advertising,” predicts Tompert.  “It will be interesting to see how far that trend will push the envelope.  And like a lot of Mac-based applications, there’s a tendency to democratize what used to be arcane.   CGI won’t be viewed as impenetrable.  The new apps will take the big fear out of 3D and bring in a lot more people who are not very technical yet very creative.  3D tools are now opening up an avenue to express their vision.”

Written by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media.  A version of this story appeared in BPT Magazine Issue 22.  Editor’s note:  at the time of publication, this article referenced Bunkspeed HyperShot. Bunkspeed had announced its new product line, formally called HyperShot, would be called SHOT.  Forthcoming releases of SHOT, however, were limited to the Windows platform.  Technology from the former HyperShot rendering application transferred to Luxion, which does offer an application for Mac users under the name KeyShot.  Michael Tompert reports that Raygun Studio is now producing  effects in KeyShot for Mac.  The product name has been updated in this article to reflect these industry changes.

About Raygun Studio

Raygun Studio, a digital retouching and CGI studio in Palo Alto, California, fuses photography, retouching, and CGI for the best in photorealistic effects.  Founded in 2005 by image artist Michael Tompert represented by Kate Chase of Tidepool Reps, Raygun Studio has quickly grown a client list of design firms and agencies small and large, including BBDO, Butler Shine, Chiat/Day, Crispin Porter, Tolleson Design, Ogilvy and Y&R.  For more examples from the Raygun Studio portfolio, please visit: www.raygunstudio.com.


Use Your Illusion

Luxion KeyShot’s Power of Transformation

For professional photographers, the most exciting software releases in recent years was the introduction of KeyShot, a new approach to 3D rendering from Luxion, which made a marked departure from the engineering mentality usually associated with CAD.  Rendering used to require a large skill set, constant adjustments, and many hours to process a single 3D scene.  KeyShot, on the other hand, seemed made for artists. The debut boasted stunning real-time high-resolution previews, an extensive palette of perfect industrial-design materials, and automatic self-shadows that gave an instant illusion of depth to any CAD object.

With this year’s release of KeyShot’s follow-up, we take a sneak peek into how studios have incorporated Luxion’s CGI technology into their work. All these examples feature cars, the most expensive product to shoot professionally.  In these cases, however, no photographs of the cars were ever taken.  The photographers produced the product images solely through CGI transformations of 3D models.

Basic Black: Vond Studios, London
www.vondstudios.co.uk

“The local supercar club came to us with the idea of using a rare car like Gallardo Nera as an appealing promotional image. As soon as we got the CAD model, we were supposed to render some previews for approval,” explains Michal Baginski, a designer at Vond Studios, which builds images for automotive, product-design, and architectural clients.Vond Studios took no photos for the project.  Baginski’s team used the backgrounds, materials, HDRI files, and lighting schemes from the software package.  The flawless realism on the first render, Baginski says, is arguably better than what would come off of camera rolls after a studio shoot.

“In KeyShot, we were able to do it in minutes. The idea was to have minimal in-studio setup, so we tested a few colors of KeyShot backgrounds and stayed with standard black. For the lighting, we just loaded one of the photo studio bundle purchased from the online store and adjusted it for an even reflection that would accent the geometry of the car,” he says. “After the image was done, we just applied some smoke and flares in our image processing software on top of the actual render.  It was easy as that.We completed all the images within one day.”

On Location: David Burgess
www.david-burgess.com

Just as Luxion KeyShot’s standard backgrounds can mimic various studio settings, photographers’ own outdoor shots can create the illusion of on location settings with the aid of High Dynamic Range Images (HDRIs).  And they can even do the rendering outdoors.

“I shot the backplate and HDRI at the same time and at the same location,” says London photographer David Burgess of his colorful ad images for the Ford Interceptor. Seconds after taking the shots, he found a piece of shade from the Nevada sun and processed the image in the Luxion software.

“I had my laptop with me so I could work with the CGI model as I shot the backgrounds to make sure I liked the way the image was looking,” he says. “It is much easier to shoot alternative backgrounds when you work this way as opposed to doing everything later in the hotel or back at your studio.

“I think this was only made possible with KeyShot, as any other software would not have allowed me this freedom to look at a full color, working CGI model with complete HDRI lighting on a laptop on location. KeyShot is the only real solution for photographers who work visually rather than technically.”

Read more about the new KeyShot from Luxion at www.keyshot.com.

[Portions of this article appear in the February 2009 issue of Professional Photographer:  www.professionalphotographer.co.uk]

 


Universal Changes

shell_black_magic_hs481

For Smart Design, better rendering makes for better products

by Brett Duesing

Few product designers have a more conscious emphasis on process than the New York/San-Francisco/Barcelona consultants of Smart Design.  The progenitors of the “universal design” movement in the 1980s, Smart Design today starts each project with extensive research into every aspect of product life, including its ergonomic use, brand identity, and on-the-shelf appeal.  Smart Design maintains a close dialogue with its clients to find an innovative and exacting solution for a new market opportunity, whether it is a sophisticated handheld device or simple household tool.

“Our job is to design, not necessarily to render.  We’re not a graphics house.  We’re not an advertising agency.  We’re a product development consultancy.  High-quality renderings aren’t our final deliverable,” says John Jacobsen, Senior Design Engineer at Smart Design.  “But 3D rendering is an important piece of the puzzle for us.  It helps us sell initial concepts; it helps us communicate; and it helps us build our clients’ confidence in the design progress.”

Smart Design is an example of how advanced rendering is being used not to make a final product look better, but to make a better final product.

Products friendly to everybody

Smart Design was founded nearly 25 years ago, corresponding with the rise of its first and most closely connected client, OXO, a manufacturer of kitchen gadgets, cleaning tools, and other household items.  Together, the companies earned the first widespread commercial success using the concept of universal design.  In theory, the central challenge in universal design is to create a product that can be used by a wide diversity of users – young or old, abled or disabled — without much increase in production cost.

“The pinnacle product that brought this idea to the forefront was OXO Goodgrips Peeler,” explains Jacobsen.  The objective was to make a potato peeler more usable for elderly consumers.  “The OXO design replaced the incumbent peeler, which was basically a bent piece of metal, with an organically curved handle of softer materials. A potato peeler is a pretty mundane, simple product.  Maybe it’s not high design, but very thoughtful, good, innovative design.”oxo_images_844

With the idea of friendliness in mind, Smart Design and OXO essentially re-invented many common tools by carefully studying the task of the tool and understanding its ergonomics.  The success of innovative Smart designs in the 1980s endures today in catalogs-worth of OXO products, and as influences to product development everywhere — especially in the handheld high-tech tools that have become as commonplace as potato peelers.  The curvy aesthetic, a friendly ergonomic feel, and an expanded palette of materials of early OXO designs have now become elements de rigueur.

“Product design in general is getting a lot more sophisticated,” says Jacobsen.  “Clients and customers are getting more specific about how they want a design to look.  You can see this in a lot of areas – cell phones, mp3 players, handheld games, or computer mice.  If you look at the fit and finish of these new products, they are fairly sophisticated in their surfaces.  Designers are pushing the envelope to make things that look better and that are made better.  This includes more attention to the palette of materials, like brushed metals or soft rubber textures.  Throughout the industry, designers are now operating on a level where all these subtleties come into play.”

Real-time feedback

Jacobsen recently added HyperShot into the digital workflow of the San Francisco studio.  HyperShot can take imports from both of Smart Design’s major modeling platforms, Pro/ENGINEER™ and Rhinoceros.  Besides being a far easier application to use, he says, HyperShot has an advantage over old rendering tools because designers do not have to wait hours to see the end result.shell_black_magic_hs50

shl_images_297shl_images_1532

“The preview out of HyperShot has very high fidelity to what we’ll get when we do render,” explains Jacobsen.  “In fact, you really don’t have to ‘render,’ because HyperShot is always in this continuous rendering process.

“In most other tools historically, you’d get a rough preview, but it’s not really there yet.  You process a rendering, which might take a very long time.  You check it, and have to go back, adjust the settings a bit more, and do it all over again,” he says. “With HyperShot, you can really cut out a lot of those steps.  You get immediate results, minimize the amount of tweaking you have to do, and then move on with the project.”

Smart Design relies on renderings throughout its process, either as internal documents for discussion among team members, or to periodically show the evolution of designs with clients. “Feedback is what we get out of HyperShot.  The program is fast, so our feedback loop is faster,” says Jacobsen.

To gain the client’s green light on important features, Jacobsen can use HyperShot in lieu of PowerPoint in the conference room, or even during an online meeting via Adobe Connect.  HyperShot’s real-time rendering allows Smart Design to do the show live.   The presenter can change the look of the design model instantly, showing different combinations of materials, color schemes, and finishes right in front of the client.

For Smart Design, feedback is the fuel that propels the product development process forward.

“Primarily, good rendering helps us make decisions,” says Jacobsen. “The one thing we’re seeing as the process speeds up due to this very effective and controllable tool, is that we are able to put that time we saved back into our core function, which is design.   We reallocate the time the where it belongs, in the design process.  So in a very real way, Bunkspeed rendering allows to get a higher quality product out the door.”

The power of visual thinking

The careful forethought rooted the tenets of universal design – innovating simple items to include of more groups of customers – paradoxically gives Smart Design the means to specialize.  Recent products like Shell’s Black Magic auto detailing tools contain an attention to style, comfort, and function reminiscent of OXO utensils, but aim at only a narrow lifestyle market.  In this case, the same design elements appeals to the scrutinizing tastes of car tuning enthusiasts.
The lessons from universal design, then, are universal.  A product that looks distinctive, feels good, and works better naturally builds a rapport with its user, which forms a true brand relationship.  The actual shape of the product can create an identity more recognizable and powerful than just a logo on a package.
While tactile qualities and functionality are undeniably important, Jacobsen ranks this visual appeal as paramount, since it the most communicative.  This means that realistic and efficient rendering tools will take on an increasing critical role inside the development process.

“A lot of things we do in life and in commerce involve reasoning in a visual context.  You walk into a store, and you’re gravitated to what you see.  Visualization is the first step in a consumer’s reasoning process,” explains Jacobsen.

“Behind the scenes you need the tools, the process, and the methodology to support that kind of sophistication, and to meet the challenge,” he says. “To visualize that effectively and to really understand the subtlety in these designs, you really have to have the high-end visualization tools, like HyperShot.  It’s not really a choice anymore.”

About Bunkspeed
Bunkspeed is a leading global provider of visualization software and services for design, engineering and marketing. Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Bunkspeed’s advanced visualization technologies leverage digital engineering assets and contribute to enlightened decision-making in the digital design process. The company’s clients gain a cost-effective way to deliver sales and marketing imagery, and realize significantly reduced product development costs. Bunkspeed’s customers include Nissan, Ford Motor Company, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover, Pininfarina, Mercedes Benz Advanced Design North America and BMW Designworks. For more information on Bunkspeed’s products and services, visit: www.bunkspeed.com.

About Smart Design
Smart Design creates informed and inspired design for people and memorable brands for clients.  The award-winning Smart Design team has been turning insight and innovation into successful consumer experiences for over 25 years. Smart Design’s approach integrates product development, interactive experiences, brand communication, and strategic insights to ensure winning design solutions.  Smart Design’s consistent results are delivered by its multi-disciplinary, international staff working in teams across offices in New York, San Francisco, and Barcelona.  For more information, please visit: www.smartdesignworldwide.com.