Photorealistic rendering

What is photorealistic rendering?

Photorealistic rendering is a digital process using a 3D CAD model within a software package to create a digital image of the model. The result is a rendered image that is hard to distinguish from a photograph of a real-life object.

It’s useful in lots of industries, including architecture and interior design, as well as visual prototyping within product design.As a product design consultancy, we have 3D modelling services as part of our process. It’s a way for clients and stakeholders to envisage the true appearance of a design at an early stage prior to any costly physical prototypes.

Render images on a monitor as part of product design rendering
1. What’s the difference between photorealistic and non-photorealistic rendering?
Photorealistic rendering is a process that involves developing images from 3D models. The software used generates an image, but it appears real and life-like. Whereas non-photorealistic rendering can be associated more with ideas around new digital animation.
Non-photorealistic rendering isn’t concerned with realism because it’s focused on a particular style or function. So it’s more used in applications like animated cartoons and technical illustrations.
2. What techniques are used in photorealistic rendering?
These are some of the techniques that get used as part of photorealistic rendering.
  • Using the right light – it’s critical to use the right amount of light and also the correct light direction on the image because this will impact the texture of the finished product
  • Shading – it’s also important to get the right shadowing on your image if it’s to look realistic and correctly highlight to the right areas
  • Perspective – all of the different parts of the image need to be scaled correctly because if they’re not done properly, the final image will appear flat or too exaggerated
  • Camera angle – setting the viewpoint of the image correctly implies scale to the viewer. A view from a low angle suggests an object is large like a building while a higher angle suggests an object is small like a watch.
3. Why is photorealistic rendering important in product design?
Photorealistic rendering is important because it allows the end product to be visualised as a functional product before it gets finalised in the product development process. This allows design modifications to be made quickly at an early stage. A particular advantage is allowing viewers to quickly compare different colours and textures significantly faster than manufacturing prototypes.
Photorealistic images are often used to sell the product. For example, they can be used as the pictures as part of a marketing campaign or in a new brand or product launch catalogue.
It allows the creator freedom to show a product at the perfect angle, in the perfect light in an ideal location, something where real-life photography would be expensive or near impossible. If the images were poor quality, that product wouldn’t get the reaction that was originally desired.
4. What does it mean to render a design?
To render a design refers to the process of making a 3D design into a visual image. To render means to draw, so in product design, rendering a design means drawing up what that design would look like in real life. Computer aided design, or CAD, is often used to do this.
5. How do you render an image of a design?

Using specialist rendering software the 3D design of a product is placed within a virtual world. The creator then applies materials to the product parts such as tinted glass or textured plastic. The correct colours are then applied to the materials.

Once these have been implemented, the next step is the environment of the virtual world. This involves applying a floor and background much like a stage at a theatre. Again, like a theatre stage, lighting must be added to correctly and realistically illuminate the product.

The camera position is then set to focus on the desired features of the product while also giving the right sense of scale.

After the optimum setup has been achieved, the final step is setting the software to ‘trace’ the image. It analyses every area of the world passing virtual light across every detail to correctly produce a digital image of the creator’s setup which will be a photorealistic rendering.

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