Visualization and Rendering – The Bar Just Got Raised

While it’s not discussed much these days, the process of creating photo-realistic imagery based on 3D CAD models has long been part of the workflow of industrial designers (ID). What’s interesting is that this has, in recent years, expanded outside of the ID world and become common place amongst a much wider portion of the design and engineering community.


The Creative Services team at Wilson is the in-house design agency of choice for all Marketing collateral, product, packaging, interactive and online design. It uses PTC Creo and KeyShot (Image courtesy of Wilson and KeyShot)

I’ve been tracking this progress for the last few years and its clear that rendering or visualization is now a solid part of many folks’ workflow. Whether that’s for collaborative processes (such as presentation to clients or management) or part of a pre-manufacturing marketing initiatives – more folks than ever, are “rendering up” their 3D models.

What’s also not discussed is how the general public’s awareness of the power of high-quality rendering has also changed. If you look at almost any Hollywood movie, you’ll find a mind boggling array of computer generated imagery (CGI) imagery – and often, in places where you’d never expect it.

Yes, the big blockbusters such as Iron Man, Avatar and Gravity are well documented cases, but even in the TV world, CGI backdrops and enhancement of what’s physically filmed is more common place than even the grizzled industry hardened render-monkey would suspect. Then when you combine this at the computer game industry, the same is even more true.

The net result is that those in the design, engineering and manufacturing sectors need to up their game when it comes to the end result of their efforts. The general public is now, thanks to the gaming and movie industry, adept at spotting poor quality renders and if a render isn’t up to scratch, they’ll spot it a mile off.

Most of us will be familiar with older generation 3D design integrated rendering tools. Model up your product, assign a vague approximation of your production intent materials and hit the render button.

And I’m equally as sure we’re all familiar with the sort of images that result. Model shown in an isometric view, shiny mirror finishes of almost everything and usually placed on a marble slab. Today, that’s not going to cut it. The good news is that today’s rendering systems, both standalone and design tool integrated, are much more advanced.

We now have render engines available that give us a selection of physically-based materials and textures, camera controls and all manner of tools to create lighting conditions. And we need all three to achieve true (or at least, closer to) photo realism. The rise of the digital SLR means that many designers and engineers are familiar with photographic concepts, such as depth of field, of the use of the correct field of view, to get much closer to that ideal.


SRAM Industrial Design team use a combination of PTC Creo and KeyShot to generate assets for collaboration with Engineering, Product Management, Marketing, and Manufacturing (Image courtesy of SRAM and KeyShot)

Alongside materials and cameras, another key technology is the use of HDR imagery as the basis for lighting and scenery. These images, which capture a scene both in terms of visual appearance and intensity of light, can be used quickly and efficiently, to give you near physically correct lighting conditions for your model – without all the painful set-up that’s traditionally associated with such work.

For the PTC Creo user, the options are growing. PTC Creo 3.0 saw the introduction of enhanced realistic-looking 3D graphics. This brings all of these types of techniques and technologies into the PTC Creo interface to give your rendering a boost and provide greater control.

At the same time, PTC hooked up with visualization masters, KeyShot, and also launched an integration between the two systems, so you can squirt your data directly into KeyShot and start preparing your rendering assets – then when those inevitable design changes occur, the LiveLinking tools to update the geometry without losing all your work.