3D / CGI design developments

Dec 3, 2014 | Blog

As we evolve and improve our capabilities of producing top notch exterior 3D designs, or Computer Generated Images (CGI)‘s, from our Gloucester studio, I thought I’d share what we’ve been doing to improve their realistic look. The tools I’m using are 3DSMax to build the images and VRay is the 3D rendering engine.

From the beginning, a render (the process of computer generating the final image) is simply just a bunch of badly lit boxes with tiled textures and very little to lift itself up. So what are the key aspects needed to develop the CGI design to look more “lifelike”?

As you can see, the above CGI is flat, there is no depth to the colours or life to the surroundings. The camera is not set up properly and the sun is too luminous.

In order to change this and add depth, pictures (called “Maps”) are added. Maps are carefully coloured replicas of the initial textures which speak to Vray and tell it to manipulate how something looks. For example this plane with a simple gravel texture on. When dropped straight in, you can clearly see it’s just a picture of some gravel. However, with some tweaks in Photoshop, you can highlight areas with certain filters which then show Vray where to raise the stones. This is called a “Displacement” map.

Adding 3Dimensions to gravel


This is the base gravel texture on a plane, it’s very flat and 2 dimensional.


This is the image of gravel I used, with some filters added to make things clearly black and white. The white areas deform the plane to appear higher, whilst black causes it to depress lower.

Finally, this is the same plane from earlier, with both the image of gravel as a texture, but also merged with the black and white one for displacement and for increasing the depth and 3D appearance.

Improving realism in our CGI models

The end result of this is a little information for Vray to render the plane in a different way to produce realistic shadows and physical objects for each stone. Little things like this mount up to produce much more detail in the CGI as a whole.
There are lots of different maps available in Vray, each using the same technique of black and white to give information on how to change the initial image to your liking. These are things such as which areas do you want to be reflective, glossy, illuminative or transparent.

When compiling all the textures and their respective maps together, the CGI render becomes a lot more lifelike and realistic.
Trees have specific opacity to create shadows on the houses, Bricks on the floor and walls have depth, windows reflect the sky and surroundings and there’s multiple layers of detail for the camera to focus on.

You can see the development of CGIs through a lightbox of the varying and improving renders here.


There might be traces of moisture on the bricks, therefore creating vague reflections of the surroundings and sky or even the reflection of a window has to vary depending on which angle you are looking at it from.
Most of these methods can be found in my latest piece, displacement on the roof tiles, refraction on the windows and opacity for every single leaf. Am also experimenting with depth of field with the camera work on this one, to further improve the 3D appearance (hopefully!)

In conclusion, to create a more realistic CGI after the vray render process, you must take into account the factors of everyday life. Simple things such as foliage in the back/foreground create different planes of vision, further amplifying depth and focus on the main object in the scene. In general, it’s the little things that usually go unnoticed which make everything more realistic.

Gallery of Progress

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