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What is Rendering?
By Justin Slick

If you're new to 3d, you might have wondered what exactly is rendering?. To casual fans and folks who are new to 3D production, the concept can initially seem as cryptic and unapproachable as hieroglyphics.

While the sophisticated math and science behind rendering is far beyond the scope of this article, the process plays a crucial role in the computer graphics development cycle. We won’t go into too much depth here, but no discussion of the CG pipeline would be complete without at least mentioning the tools and methods for rendering 3D images.
Like Developing Film:

Rendering is the most technically complex aspect of 3D production, but it can actually be understood quite easily in the context of an analogy: Much like a film photographer must develop and print his photos before they can be displayed, computer graphics professionals are burdened a similar necessity.

When an artist is working on a 3D scene, the models he manipulates are actually a mathematical representation of points and surfaces (more specifically, vertices and polygons) in three-dimensional space.

The term rendering refers to the calculations performed by a 3D software package’s render engine to translate the scene from a mathematical approximation to a finalized 2D image. During the process, the entire scene’s spatial, textural, and lighting information are combined to determine the color value of each pixel in the flattened image.
Two Types of Rendering:

There are two major types of rendering, their chief difference being the speed at which images are computed and finalized.

Real-Time Rendering: Real-Time Rendering is used most prominently in gaming and interactive graphics, where images must be computed from 3D information at an incredibly rapid pace.

Interactivity: Because it is impossible to predict exactly how a player will interact with the game environment, images must be rendered in “real-time” as the action unfolds.

Speed Matters: In order for motion to appear fluid, a minimum of 18 - 20 frames per second must be rendered to the screen. Anything less than this and action will appear choppy.

The methods: Real-time rendering is drastically improved by dedicated graphics hardware (GPUs), and by pre-compiling as much information as possible. A great deal of a game environment’s lighting information is pre-computed and “baked” directly into the environment’s texture files to improve render speed.
Offline or Pre-Rendering: Offline rendering is used in situations where speed is less of an issue, with calculations typically performed using multi-core CPUs rather than dedicated graphics hardware.

Predictability: Offline rendering is seen most frequently in animation and effects work where visual complexity and photorealism are held to a much higher standard. Since there is no unpredictability as to what will appear in each frame, large studios have been known to dedicate up to 90 hours render time to individual frames.

Photorealism: Because offline rendering occurs within an open ended time-frame, higher levels of photorealism can be achieved than with real-time rendering. Characters, environments, and their associated textures and lights are typically allowed higher polygon counts, and 4k (or higher) resolution texture files.

Rendering Techniques:
There are three major computational techniques used for most rendering. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, making all three viable options in certain situations.

Scanline (or rasterization): Scanline rendering is used when speed is a necessity, which makes it the technique of choice for real-time rendering and interactive graphics. Instead of rendering an image pixel-by-pixel, scanline renderers compute on a polygon by polygon basis. Scanline techniques used in conjunction with precomputed (baked) lighting can achieve speeds of 60 frames per second or better on a high-end graphics card.

Raytracing: In raytracing, for every pixel in the scene, one (or more) ray(s) of light are traced from the camera to the nearest 3D object. The light ray is then passed through a set number of "bounces", which can include reflection or refraction depending on the materials in the 3D scene. The color of each pixel is computed algorithmically based on the light ray's interaction with objects in its traced path. Raytracing is capable of greater photorealism than scanline, but is exponentially slower.

Radiosity: Unlike raytracing, radiosity is calculated independent of the camera, and is surface oriented rather than pixel-by-pixel. The primary function of radiosity is to more accurately simulate surface color by accounting for indirect illumination (bounced diffuse light). Radiosity is typically characterized by soft graduated shadows and color bleeding, where light from brightly colored objects "bleeds" onto nearby surfaces.

In practice, radiosity and raytracing are often used in conjunction with one another, using the advantages of each system to achieve impressive levels of photorealism.

Rendering Software

Although rendering relies on incredibly sophisticated calculations, today’s software provides easy to understand parameters that make it so an artist never needs to deal with the underlying mathematics. A render engine is included with every major 3D software suite, and most of them include material and lighting packages that make it possible to achieve stunning levels of photorealism.
The two most common render engines:

Mental Ray – Packaged with Autodesk Maya. Mental Ray is incredibly versatile, relatively fast, and probably the most competent renderer for character images that need subsurface scattering. Mental ray uses a combination of raytracing and "global illumination" (radiosity).

V-Ray – You typically see V-Ray used in conjunction with 3DS Max—together the pair is absolutely unrivaled for architectural visualization and environment rendering. Chief advantages of VRay over it's competitor are its lighting tools and extensive materials library for arch-viz.

This was just a brief overview the basics of what it means to render an image. It's a technical subject, but can be quite interesting when you really start to take a deeper look at some of the common techniques. If you're interested in learning more, there's a lot of good reading around the web, and we'll continue adding more in the weeks to come. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date!

Interview with Animator Willi Waizenegger
By Adrien-Luc Sanders

About Animation Guide: Tell us a little about who you are. Who do you work for? What job do you do?
Willi: I do freelance 3D computer graphics and animation, with a whole lot of multimedia thrown in to round things out. Although I've worked for other people in the past, I'm primarily my own boss these days. Originally, when I started out, I had plans on doing the usual big-blockbuster animated features thing, but eventually found my own niche.

My stuff tends to be more down-to-earth, not as "artsy," creating animations and graphics for TV commercials, TV shows and other video productions, as well as visualization stuff, such as in the medical or architectural areas. A lot of my work ends up as elements in print and web design, too. As a freelancer, I found it limiting to make a freelance career out of just 3d animation, so I became an expert on all sorts of multimedia skills. Flash animation, web design, CD authoring, etc.--I find it extremely rewarding.

About Animation Guide: How long have you been working in the animation industry?
Willi: That's an interesting question. The movie, "Tron" is as far back as I can remember that I first considered getting involved with 3D. It just blew me away.

I first started actually dabbling with 3D in the early 90's with the release of 3D Studio, Version 2 (before it became 3D Studio Max). A friend of mine owned it and I got him sick and tired of me asking to borrow it.

But, it was actually in the Spring of 2000 that I got a "real" job as an animator, a month out of school, doing broadcast graphics. It just snow-balled from there.

About Animation Guide: Name a few of the projects you've worked on in the past.
Willi: Between my freelance work and my work for television production facilities, that's really hard to say. I know I can document over 900 television commercials, television shows and infomercials that I've done graphics for (3D or otherwise). I've also done print and web elements, as well as animations for corporate projects.

Besides animations, I've also created 3D virtual sets for television, such as one I did for a show called "Power Play." This show featured new and upcoming computer game releases, with the host interviewing game programmers and such. The show took place in space, in a space ship that looked very much like a game controller (of course), which I modeled and animated in 3D. The interview set was also done in 3D. Talent was shot in front of a green screen and chroma-keyed into the room that I had built.

I loved doing that show. It was heavily 3D graphics oriented and kept me really busy. It was filled with 3D rooms, animations, bumpers, elements, etc.

Another project I did was a 5-animation contract for a high-definition movie projector company for their company/product demo reel. These animations were transitions between segments in the demo and featured a roller coaster ride on top of movie film strips. It was all done in high-def, which is the first time I played with the format.

I could go on and on.

About Animation Guide: Do you have any future projects planned?
Willi: I have a bunch of things planned, mostly multimedia oriented, but I do have a large-scale (30-foot X 35-foot) 3D print graphics project in the works, for the educational department of a big utility company. I'm also trying to develop a web-based interactive 3D world as my own pet project.

About Animation Guide: What prompted you to move into a career in animation? How did you go about pursuing it?
Willi: Actually, I came by way of television. Behind-the-scenes stuff such as television production, master control, stuff like that. I loved doing the work, having spent almost twenty years doing it. But, it started running its course with me. I found myself in a rut. This was the late 1990's and by that time, I had fallen completely in love with 3D graphics.

My wife suggested I go back to school full time for 3D animation and we moved to South Florida (from New Jersey), where I attended art school. Being a bit older than the other students, I worked really hard to make myself stand out. At the time, I thought I needed to graduate with as much talent as if I had been in the industry all along, just to compete with everyone else. I probably tortured myself a bit too much, but I loved the subject and it worked for me. My wife was also earning the income for the two of us and I felt I owed it to her to succeed.

When I graduated, I thought I was getting out of the television racket, but a month later I got a job in...you guessed it...television. This time in broadcast graphics. I loved the job but in 2002, the lousy economy forced me to become a freelancer. The rest is history.

About Animation Guide: What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today? What's your alma mater?
Willi: I attended The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, which proved to be a great school. Besides learning the software, I learned all sorts of art skills, such as drawing, painting, composition, photography, etc. It was a great well-rounded education and I met some of the people I would network with for the rest of my career.

But, most of my learning was, and still is, from reading on my own. All of the magazines I subscribed to were computer graphics-oriented. I read, read, read, and then read some more on the subject.

I also made myself become a "student of life." I forced myself to see the little details in everything, such as how people move, or how that little stray strand of hair dances in a drafty room. The way light and shadow hits the world around us or notice what color water actually is.

About Animation Guide: What animation software packages do you prefer to use? What would you recommend to a beginner?
Willi: There are so many really great software packages out there that it's difficult to prefer one over the other. I'm partial to 3D Studio Max, mostly because I've spent so much time on it that it's become easy to me and I'm so busy that getting into another program's learning curve is not possible right now.

3D Studio Max has also matured into one fantastic tool that does so much really well. It's well suited for many different lines of work, such as television, visualization, movie, print...the list goes on and on. The best bang for the buck.

However, because most high-end packages require a big learning curve, if I had to start from scratch, I think I would examine the end result first and go from there. In other words, if you look closely, each package has its own "look" that you can pick out if you spend enough time around 3D. The look of the final render is what I'm talking about.

Then, spend some time reading about each choice. Actually pick up some manuals if you can, or spend some time sitting on the floor of book stores reading. You can sometimes get a feel for how well you mesh with a given package by doing that.

As for a 2D package, there's a lot to be said about Flash. I've used it for broadcast projects as well as for the internet.

About Animation Guide: Apples or oranges, tea or coffee: do you prefer traditional animation, or computer animation?
Willi: In the end, it's all about using the right tool for the job. When working on a deadline (which is always), you have to assess what will best get you the results you need. From time to time, it's a combination of both.

For my personal stuff, I usually gravitate towards computer animation. I love being able to save multiple versions, backtrack, try new things, and have time to do it all. I've done both, and enjoy both, but the nod goes to the keyboard.

Naturally, I'll plan things out with a pencil and paper first if I can.

About Animation Guide: Are you currently working on, or have you worked on in the past, any independent animation projects? Tell us more.
Willi: I did a little 3-minute 3D animation project called "Pee-Pee Stop" about a little alien traveling through space and having to make a bathroom stop at an intergalactic rest area, and not having an easy time of it.

About Animation Guide: Can you offer any advice to those interested in producing their own independent animations?
Willi: Take your time, be open to different options, and don't be afraid to bounce ideas off people you trust.

About Animation Guide: What about those just considering starting in animation? Any educational or career advice, memorable lessons, etc?
Willi: Read, learn, look around you, draw, imagine, play "what if," and most of all...live and notice the little things. After all, that's what you're trying to recreate. Even the untrained eye of the casual audience can sense when something's not right with movement, or the details are just not what they normally experience. It may not be anything they can put their finger on, but it may translate in them not liking the production for reasons they cannot explain. So, pay attention to the details if the schedule allows.

From a professional point of view, remember that it's not as easy to break into animation as some other professions (you can always fall back on digging ditches or flipping burgers). It really is an interesting way to make a living and there are a lot of new people trying to get in all the time. You have to really make up your mind that it's what you want to do and then work harder than you've ever worked to make yourself stand out. Keep the end goal in mind at all times.

Look out for animation or modeling work that may be slightly different than what you had in mind in the first place (unless working for Pixar really is the only thing you want to do). Trust me, animation is enjoyable no matter what the project is.

Try to track down a copy of "The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation" by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. It's considered one of the bibles of 2d animation. I got a lot of mileage from my copy.

And last, but most important of all, keep in mind that it doesn't matter if you're the most talented artist in the entire school, or that you have the best equipment money can buy. You really are only as good as your reputation says you are. It sounds corny, but it boils down to making your client or boss look good to his/her client or boss. Period.

About Animation Guide: Do you ever appear at conferences? What animation events and conferences would you recommend?
Willi: Siggraph is the biggie in my book and a great place to network, which I'm a fan of doing.

About Animation Guide: Can we find you in print or on the web?
Willi: I have a lot of my work featured on my website (www.williw.com). Other than that, I've done a ton of web site and Flash creation, which is all over the internet.

Besides video, a lot of my 3D work is featured in brochures and posters, especially in trade shows where product demonstration comes into play.

About Animation Guide: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing for an (aspiring) animator to remember?
Willi: Persistence.

It's a challenging field to break into but it's not impossible. Persistence and patience will get you a job where even a much more talented, but impatient, artist will quit and get into selling real estate.

About Animation Guide: Tell us your best story about working in the animation industry. Willi: There is a well known condom manufacturer that approached a video production company I used to work for to do a small video project. The producer on this project had me create a small--I think it was about 5 seconds--animation that would then freeze and hold on the last frame.

This animation featured a condom, with eyes and a mouth, that went from a slightly slouched position, to a...er...stand-at-attention-stance (you get the picture). While this happened, "Condom Man," as I called him, would smile really wide, happy and proud.

Well, it probably doesn't take too much imagination to realize that"Condom Man" ended up on the cutting room floor.

What Is Rendering

''Where do architects and designers get their ideas?'' The answer, of course, is mainly from other architects and designers, so is it mere casuistry to distinguish between tradition and plagiarism?
Stephen Bayley

A building is akin to dogma; it is insolent, like dogma. Whether or no it is permanent, it claims permanence, like a dogma. People ask why we have no typical architecture of the modern world, like impressionism in painting. Surely it is obviously because we have not enough dogmas; we cannot bear to see anything in the sky that is solid and enduring, anything in the sky that does not change like the clouds of the sky.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
Frank Lloyd Wright

A modern, harmonic and lively architecture is the visible sign of an authentic democracy.
Walter Gropius

A structure becomes architectural, and not sculptural, when its elements no longer have their justification in nature.
Guillaume Apollinaire

Ah, to build, to build! That is the noblest art of all the arts. Painting and sculpture are but images, are merely shadows cast by outward things on stone or canvas, having in themselves no separate existence. Architecture, existing in itself, and not in seeming a something it is not, surpasses them as substance shadow.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All architects want to live beyond their deaths.
Philip Johnson

All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

All fine architectural values are human vales, else not valuable.
Frank Lloyd Wright


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