Tips to Improve Your 3D Renders
Art is subjective. One could look at a splat of paint and say “who dropped paint on that canvas?” Another can look at the same splat and say “Wow, who painted that wonderful picture?” So when conceptualizing this article, I tried to think of some of the steps that make for a good render, using 3D modeling programs like DAZ Studio and Poser. While I can’t tell you how to make a piece of art, I do feel like there are some tips I can offer to help you create something original and high in quality.
Object Placement and Negative Space
This is particularly important when it comes to rendering three-dimensional objects because it is very easy to change an entire picture’s composition by altering the camera angle or the lighting. What might look amazing from one angle, looks terrible from another. For example, I rendered three pictures using DAZ Studio (right). I changed nothing about the lighting or the figures in the scene, all I did was move the camera. The middle picture was the one where I put thought into negative space and balance. You’ll notice that the Victoria figure is centered and the pillars behind her are fairly even. Now look at the pictures on the left and right. The right picture has the pillars balanced in the background, but Victoria is slightly to the right. While it does not ruin the picture, it does make it feel slightly off balance. The picture on the left has the pillars grouped on the right hand side, leaving only Victoria and the clouds to balance it on the left. While I don’t think the one of the left or right are bad renders, they are examples of how your camera angle can completely change your image’s composition. Maybe you like them better than the center image, that is fine, but the last thing you want is for your image to give off the wrong impression because you weren’t paying as much attention to negative space and balance. Otherwise you might find yourself looking at the 2D image later and find that it doesn’t feel right, at which point you would have to go back and render it again. (It’s good practice to render multiple images from a single 3D scene. It can sometimes be a shocking difference when you see it in 2D).
I also want to note that your figures don’t always have to be standing in the exact center of a render. If you’re trying to render an action scene or an emotional scene, balance can still come into play. A sitting character can be rendered in the center of the image or an object can balance them out if they are off to the side. It’s all about what you want the focal point of the image to be. What is the most important aspect that you want to capture? Then work from there.
This goes hand-in-hand with originality. You want your renders to stand out among thousands of others, and that’s not always easy when you’re using many of the same 3D objects as everyone else. Think of combinations people haven’t seen before and develop new uses for old figures. For example, if you look at the render to the right you will see a throne room I designed from mismatched props. Some are weapons intended to be used with the Victoria character model and others are props that have been re-sized. The throne is the combination of a re-sized chair and a stone alter. And the statues on the wall are monster character models that I added a stone texture to.
Think outside of the box and invent new uses for those old props. Creating new textures for them can be very helpful for making them more original. I described the process of creating new MATs in a previous hubpage. And if you want to know how to create your own props using primitives, you can reference my article on that as well (the rug in the throne room render is the ‘plane’ primitive).
A Story Behind the Picture
If you come up with a story behind the picture, before you create it, it will not only give more direction for your rendering process, but it will also come through in the final product. People will find interpretations of what is happening in the art because you had your own when creating it. For example, you could statically create a woman holding a sword in a forest, but if you know that woman’s name and why she’s in that forest, it can completely change how she reacts with the scene and what you’re trying to emphasize in the picture. And, because of this focus, your audience will find an entirely different layer to analyze when they look at it.
In my example on the right, I had an idea in my head that a science fiction city was under attack and the moment I was going to catch was when one of the city’s guards was hastily running to reach a defense gun before it was too late. I posed the Victoria character in a run and added a blur effect to her. She is wearing jeans and a sports bra; implying that she didn’t have time to get fully dressed before she had to run outside. And I took out all the color from the image except for the character and the laser bolts from the invading ships, to give it that sense of suspended animation, as if this horrific event is frozen in time. So, as you can see, by adding a story to my render, it changed countless small details that would later compile into the final image. Also, this is another example of seemingly un-related items coming together to compose a scene. The platform she is standing on is actually a corridor turned upside down.
Lighting and Color
I used to render a lot of pictures without using the deep shadow map, which creates shadows and a more vibrant range of color. While I came out with some decent pictures, ultimately the lighting made for a more interesting and enjoyable final product. It adds depth and realism to something that is otherwise just a digital object. And the same is true of color. Some times, depending on what type of scene you’re trying to render, muted colors are called for, but you would be amazed how quickly a picture comes to life when you add color to it.
But saying that and doing it are two different things. For example, if I add a spotlight and enable the deep shadow map, it will create some nice shadows, but something still looks bland about the render. You can change the color and the intensity of the light, but somehow it still doesn’t seem to be alive. This is something to consider when creating a good render. You will, almost always, want to use more than one light source. Think about it in terms of real life lighting. While there are times where there is only one light source in the room (a lamp) that isn’t the only place that light is coming from. The light from that lamp is hitting the walls and objects in the room and reflecting off of them, thus changing how that light creates shadows. While there might be some programs on the market that simulate this, they’re probably very expensive and involved. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fake it with two or more different lights in your scene. Just make sure to vary where these lights are. My fallback is two spotlights, placed above, out and to the left and right of the object I’m rendering. So far this has worked to create some really nice looking renders.
Unfortunately the more lighting you add the longer it will take to render something. So you could add hundreds of different lights, but it will take the program a long time to map out the shadows and then turn them into a picture you can save. So try to focus on only the area you’re going to render. If you have a huge room, but you’re only focusing on a small corner, then only use lights for that corner. Also keep in mind the different types of lights. In DAZ Studio there are point lights, spotlights and distant lights. Point lights are great if you want an object to look like its glowing and they usually don’t need a shadow map to look good. Spotlights are for close ups of objects and when they cast shadows they really give you a nice amount of detail. Distant lights are for wide shots and serve the purpose of a sun or moon. They cover everything regardless of where the three little arrows are placed in the scene.
I’ve provided an example that showcases three different forms of lighting so you can see the difference. Also notice how much more vibrant the render with two spotlights looks by comparison to the others.
Post Work as a Flat Image
It isn’t always necessary to do post work in a program like photoshop, but often times I’ve found that the last little bit that a render is missing, is a touch up of color or a blur effect, or a hue change. It is good practice just to play around with renders in a photo editing program because you could easily find a composition that you never saw before.
For my example I took the render above with Victoria in front of the pillars and adjusted the contrast and added rain. (I love rain so I add it to a lot of renders). But this is with minimal editing. If you look back at the render from the story section (the woman racing to the defense turret) that one had a heavy amount of post work. In fact, I didn’t care for the render before I added the blur effects, the black and white and the ships in the background. So don’t think that a render is lost just because it didn’t come out perfectly the first time. Take it into a 2D editing program and see what you can do with it. You never know, a render that was your least favorite could suddenly become your number one.
If you would like to know how to add rain to your pictures, you can reference this article, and if you aren’t sure how to adjust the picture in a photo editing program, you can reference this article.
Last updated on June 10, 2011
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