Category Archives: Posts By Me

CastleView is a verb!

Posted by Kathleen Moore, CastleView 3D:
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At a party celebrating my recent leap into full-time entrepreneurship, a friend  suggested that one of my goals in building my business should be to make the name of the business synonymous with the product.  In other words, I should aspire to be the defining standard in the 3D rendering business — to become such a known and trusted quantity that people would use the name of the business to refer not only to MY product, but to the entire class of similar products.

Great examples of this abound:

  • kleenex
  • jello
  • band-aid
  • popsicle
  • post-it
  • velcro
  • q-tips
  • frisbee

Frisbee

What else would you call these things?

But there are also company names that go beyond being merely synonymous with a product — they have become familiar verbs:

  • Google (“I just googled myself.”)
  • Xerox (“Could you xerox this for me?”)
  • Facebook (“I’m facebooking that photo right now!”)

or the curious case of

Spam

My friend suggested that CastleView 3D should aim to become not only a noun synonymous with 3D rendering — as in, “does your contractor provide castleviews?” — but also a verb:

I’m thinking of remodeling my kitchen.

How exciting!  Have you castleviewed it yet?

His suggestion made me smile — as it was intended to.  But it also got me thinking… hey, why not?

I wonder if Google or Xerox ever imagined that their company names would become common verbs?


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“Leap and the net will appear”

By Kathleen Moore, CastleView 3D | Like CastleView 3D on Facebook

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leap and the net will appear

Today I make my big leap.  I’m trusting that the zen wisdom in the quote above will prove true.

I’ve been employed in the field of higher education full time (sometimes MORE than full-time) pretty much without a break for almost 25 years. Working in higher ed has been rewarding in many, many ways.  There’s a lot to be said for the professional challenges and stimulating intellectual colleagues of academe — not to mention the steady paychecks, health benefits, paid vacations, holidays, sick time, generous contributions to retirement accounts, etc., etc.

But today I choose to leave all that behind.  Today is my last day of job security.  Today I leap into the world of entrepreneurship. After a lifetime of working for other people, as of tomorrow I will officially be self-employed (which some people seem to think is a euphemism for UNemployed).  As you can imagine, I have very mixed feelings about all of this.

It’s not a complete leap of blind faith, however.  I’ve put 4 years into preparing for this drastic life change.  I have plans in place, some big dreams, and an exit strategy, if it comes to that.  So I’ve created my own net, of sorts.  But it still feels like a leap into the unknown.

Butterfly on Lilac BlossomPeople tell me that it takes guts to walk away from the field I spent 8 years training for and most of my adult life working in. I seem brave to some, foolhardy to others.  I may have guts, but my guts have butterflies.

But I’m also very excited, because I have found my passion, work that fascinates and challenges and sustains me like no other.  And just as important for an INFP like me, I believe in its potential to add value to people’s lives.  Embarking on a building or remodeling project can be a big question mark — a big EXPENSIVE question mark — and my visualization and rendering services can help provide a bit more security and peace of mind in a process fraught with tension and uncertainty.

So let the new adventure begin.  I’m ready to leap.


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A different kind of 3D modeling

Posted by Kathleen Moore, CastleView 3D:

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Just something quick and fun today — a LEGO version of an architectural masterpiece!! You can now build your own 3D plastic replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, located in Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in LEGOS

Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, but I wasn’t aware of the LEGO Architecture Series.  In addition to the new FLW Robie House kit, it includes models of:

They range in price (list price) from $19.99 (Empire State Building, John Hancock Center, Space Needle, and Sears Tower) to $199.99 (Robie House).

Now that I’ve seen these, I want them all!  I wonder if they come with tiny LEGO furnishings?


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How to get good at photorealistic rendering

By , CastleView 3D
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photorealistic rendering of kitchen remodel by CastleView3D.com

3D rendering of kitchen remodel by CastleView3D.com

Five tips for improving your photorealistic rendering skills

Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about how to produce high-quality photorealistic renderings, and I thought some tips might be useful for anyone trying to learn or to improve their skills.  But a few caveats are in order:

  • I don’t consider myself an expert in this area, just someone with some knowledge to share.
  • I’m completely self-trained.  (If this field of study had existed when I was in school, my life might have unfolded quite differently.  Or maybe not.)
  • What I’m going to say may only apply to architectural rendering, because that’s all I do.

1.  Train your eye.

Carefully observe the world around you to develop an understanding of the interplay of light and materials.  Notice how different types of light sources interact with different material surfaces.  Make mental notes about the shapes and depth of shadows and reflections.  Learn some of the basic physics of photons and properties of different materials to further inform your observations of light scattering and reflection.  Learn some stuff about photography to understand the ways various lenses and apertures and film types and speeds affect how a scene is captured.  Learn how basic rendering terms (specular, translucent, refraction, bump, anisotropy, sub-surface scattering) relate to the things you’re observing in the real world.

You don’t have to be an artist, just a good observer.

This first step can take a long time (possibly a lifetime), but you’ll never get photorealism if you don’t get this.  You have to have a deep understanding of what you’re aiming for in order to be able to guide your rendering program to produce it.  Some people seem to come by this ability naturally; but it’s a skill that can be learned with discipline and motivation.

2.  Master your modeling software.

No matter how good you get at rendering, or how powerful or expensive your modeling software is, you will never master photorealistic rendering if you don’t first master whatever program you use to produce your models.  If the model isn’t perfect, you will never produce a rendering that is indistinguishable from a photograph (or comes really, really close), because there will always be some jarring detail that is just WRONG.  It might not jump out at you, but subliminally the viewer’s eye will register that something is off.  A symbol that’s too blocky, a book “floating” a half-inch above a tabletop, or a chair leg that disappears into the baseboard are all things that can subtly ruin the realism of a model.  (Want to know how I know this?)

This requires more than a slight degree of obsessive-compulsiveness.  Go over your model with the proverbial fine-tooth comb to identify anything that’s not quite right.  Then do a preliminary render at a really big size to help you see modeling mistakes that might not have been apparent at a lower resolution.  Zoom in really close and go over every detail.  Only when you’re satisfied that the model is absolutely perfect should you proceed to step 3.  And even then you will most likely still find things that you didn’t catch before.

3.  Master your rendering software.

I can’t really give software-specific advice.  At any rate, a skilled renderer who has accomplished #1 and #2 above can produce decent results with pretty much any rendering application.  But whatever you use, the better you understand all the technical bells and whistles in your rendering software, the more power you will have to tweak even the smallest details to obtain the effects  you want.  Read the manual, do the tutorials, frequent the user forum, set up experimental renders to test lighting, materials, displacement, and special effects.

cover of book "Digital Lighting and Rendering" by Jeremy Birn - great resource for photorealistic rendering One of the best resources I know for learning more about how to set up realistic scenes for rendering (without being too software-specific) is Digital Lighting and Rendering (2nd Edition) by Jeremy Birn.  A classic.

4.  Practice, practice, practice.

I know this sounds like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall, but there’s simply no better way to improve your skills and knowledge than to keep practicing them over and over.  Set up a render; see how it looks; decide what you don’t like or what could be better; tweak your settings; render it again.  Compare it to the first version (or the first 100 versions) and see whether it’s better, or not, and figure out why, or why not.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Try something new, experiment, take a risk, see what you end up with.  Sometimes it won’t be pretty (the first time I tried displacement on a stone wall, it looked like the wall had blown up!).  The good thing is, it’s only pixels, so no one gets hurt, even if it doesn’t work.

A lot of times I hear frustration from beginners because the software won’t “give” them the results they want — like they expect to be able to simply push a button and produce a realistic render, just like taking a photo.  But your software isn’t that smart, no matter how much  you paid for it.  Some rendering software has very sophisticated algorithms built in with amazing plug-ins to take it even further.  But the bottom line is that it can only do what you tell it to do.  And this is where your trained eye and in-depth understanding of your modeling and rendering software really make all the difference.  Which brings us to #5……….

5.  Repeat steps 1-4 on infinite loop.

There is always more to learn, more observations to make, more to refine.  Never stop trying to improve.  If it starts to seem easy, you’re no longer growing or improving.  Get out of your comfort zone by doing more observing, more learning, more experimenting.

These suggestions are just one person’s opinion, and may even be painfully obvious — like “duh.”  So I’d love to hear others’ ideas about what you think it takes to get really good at this challenging and fascinating skill.


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An answer to a growing problem

Posted by , CastleView 3D:

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Have you heard or read about Pinterest yet?Pinterest Logo

I had seen mentions of it in several places, and was intrigued enough to check it out the other day.  When I finally saw it, I thought Wow, this just may turn out to be the answer to a burgeoning problem in my life!

My problem:  I’m a browser window hoarder.  Yes, I admit it.  That, and Pinterest, are the first steps to recovery.

At any given time, I’ve got between 20-30 browser tabs open, usually things I’ve run across while surfing the web and want to refer to or read later.  Luckily Firefox is good about saving all my tabs when I close out, so I rarely lose them.  But the assortment is unwieldy to navigate and can take a long time to load.  Any videos in the group always start playing again when the page reloads, so a sudden cacaphony of sounds usually results.

Bookmarks don’t really do the trick for me — I already have hundreds sorted into dozens of folders, and can never seem to find what I want when I need it.

So what is Pinterest, and why is it so appealing?  It’s a website (yes, a social media site) for curating (and you know that’s all the rage, right?), categorizing, and sharing items of visual interest found on the web.  In other words, a cloud-based filing system for all those “save for later” photos and ideas I come across on the web.  I know that web curation apps have been around for awhile, but I guess none of them ever “clicked” as being particularly useful for me before.

Here’s a brief description from Pinterest’s About page:

Pinterest is a Virtual Pinboard.

Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.

Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.

"Pin-It" buttonThere is a “Pin It” button you can add to your bookmark toolbar that let’s you click on any web image and save it to one of your “boards”:

Once installed in your browser, the “Pin It” button lets you grab an image from any website* and add it to one of your pinboards. When you pin from a website, we automatically grab the source link so we can credit the original creator.

It saves the original web link along with the image!  Hooray!!  You can even pin videos.

[* I have to note here that it’s not quite accurate to say that you can grab ANY image from any website.  It seems that the images have to be of a certain minimum size, and if the image is only visible in a flash or pop-up window, you’re out of luck.]
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Most of my work is accomplished via digital collaboration, so my clients send me links to products, textures, and furnishings they find on the web that they want me to use in the renderings I’m doing for them, or use images to explain how they want their home to look.  And I usually end up with all of those various browser windows open as I work on the project.  So as soon as I saw Pinterest, I realized it could be a very useful resource for me to collect all the web pages and images related to a single project into one convenient location for reference.  And the clients and I could both contribute to it and “pin” images to the “design board” (I haven’t yet figured out how to share a board with only certain people, however — right now it’s either private to me or shared with everyone).

To try out this new idea, I created a mock “design board” with a collection of web resources used in a recent project, a bedroom remodel.  You can see the actual board on Pinterest here,  or here’s a screenshot of it:

Sample Pinterest Board

Sample Pinterest Board

These were all items the client had found on the web and wanted me to incorporate into the model and rendering I was doing for her.  And here’s the final rendering of the bedroom remodel, where you can see all these lovely items in action:

Final rendering -- Lower Level Bedroom Remodel

Final rendering — Lower Level Bedroom Remodel

So I have to say — Pinterest really does seem promising as an answer to my “browser window hoarding” problem, and as a useful tool for collaborating with my clients to collect project resources in one easily-accessible location.

And in case you’re wondering whether Pinterest is a giant time suck like most other social media sites — sure it is.  Big time.  But for a visual junkie like me, it’s a deliciously decadent treat to browse through all the fascinating and beautiful things that other people have found “pin-worthy.”  Visual voyeurism at its finest.

So what do you think about Pinterest?  Does it sound like something that you would find interesting or useful?


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Using 3D modeling and rendering for interior design

Posted by , CastleView 3D:
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“Seeing it before you build it” with 3D modeling and rendering is really important — even crucial — when building a new home or remodeling your current one.  These projects represent huge investments of money, time, and risk, and you need to be sure you’re getting what you want, and that you and your contractor or builder are on the same wavelength in terms of the design.

But another great application of 3D technology is for less drastic, but still risky, interior design projects.  Perhaps you won’t be knocking down any walls or installing new plumbing fixtures, but when you’re trying to decide on paint and trim colors, fabrics, furniture, upholstery, rugs, window treatments, and accessories, “seeing it before you redecorate it” can be just as much of a sanity-saver as it can with larger construction projects.

Nowadays, a few interior designers do use basic CAD or Sketchup to model the rooms they’re working on.  But in my experience, they are the exceptions.   The majority really aren’t up to speed on 3D modeling and rendering techniques and so can’t offer this as a service to their clients.  Luckily there are home visualization services (like CastleView 3D, for one) who can work with you BEFORE you consult an interior designer, so that you already have some good options to share with your designer going in.  We can also work hand in hand with your decorator or interior designer, translating their ideas into 3D renderings so you can see how their plan of colors, fabrics, and finishes will look in your own rooms.  Or maybe you just want to explore different decorating ideas, trying different fabric swatches and color combinations in a room to decide which you like best.

As an example of how this can work, here are some renderings I did for someone who was considering painting and redecorating his kitchen.  He didn’t want a big remodel of the space — that had already been done a few years earlier — but simply a different look and feel to the room.  He had some ideas, but wasn’t sure how they would work in his space.  So CastleView 3D provided several different possibilities for consideration, combining various aspects of his preferred colors and decor ideas.  The images below show a rough floorplan of the kitchen, the current decor (light green walls and green laminate countertop), and three decor options using a more earth-toned color palette:  one French country style, one cottage (or “rustic cabin”) style, and the third capturing the Craftsman look prevalent in the rest of his home.

Image of a kitchen floorplan to be used for 3D modeling and rendering

Kitchen floorplan

3D Rendering of current kitchen decor

Rendering of current kitchen decor

Kitchen rendering -- French country style decor

Kitchen rendering — French country style decor

Kitchen rendering -- cottage style decor

Kitchen rendering — cottage style decor

Kitchen rendering -- Craftsman style decor

Kitchen rendering — Craftsman style decor

If you’re working with an interior designer — or even if you’re doing your own decorating — you’re already investing in the beauty of your living spaces.  Doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of 3D modeling and rendering capabilities to make sure you will actually love the finished product?


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A career in 3D — it’s not all glitz and glamour

Posted by , CastleView 3D:

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Skyscraper rendering by Stanley Tang

A career in 3D modeling and rendering — sounds very exciting and cutting-edge, doesn’t it?  Movie premieres of the latest 3D films, gaming conventions, consultations with leading architects on their newest skyscraper or high-end real estate development.  How thrilling!

But trust me, that’s far from reality — at least MY reality.  Although this occupation certainly has its moments of excitement, it’s actually pretty nerdy and requires a high tolerance for sitting at a computer and working by yourself most of the time.

And it doesn’t lend itself to a jet-set lifestyle, either, in terms of time OR  income.  At least in the beginning, you end up doing pretty much any job that knocks on your virtual door, just to be able to make some money.

I was lucky:  early in my rendering career (way back in 2007) I landed a dream job — clients who wanted to pay me a handsome sum to create a complete “as-built” (i.e., an exact detailed model of an existing structure) of a gorgeous multimillion-dollar house they were buying, which they would then use for remodeling and redecorating the home.  And I accepted, because I was too green to realize that it was way beyond my skill level at the time.  Luckily my 3D mentor, Kay Nordby, was willing to help with some of the trickier bits.  I completed the job, the clients were very pleased, and I learned a lot and cemented a lasting virtual friendship.  More on that big job — including further developments — another time.

So far I haven’t done any other project that has been on the same scale as that one, and certainly nothing so grand as a skyscraper.  One recent job was really the antithesis of glamour — a quick rendering of a bunch of self-storage units for a developer, something he could take to the town for permit approval.

Decidedly non-glamorous rendering of self-storage buildings

Decidedly non-glamorous rendering of self-storage buildings

But no matter whether it’s the big cool challenging jobs or the quick moneymakers, I’m happy with my second career in 3D modeling and rendering:

  • It allows me to combine my artistic and technical skills with my love of architecture and interior design.
  • It’s always full of new challenges, new design problems to solve, and new rendering techniques to practice and perfect.
  • It allows me to be my own boss and run my business the way I want to.
  • I can work in my jammies and bunny slippers if I want (not that I would ever do that, of course — I don’t even OWN bunny slippers.  But you get the idea).
  • People pay me to do something I really enjoy and am passionate about.
  • It provides daily opportunities to be helpful to other people by using my skills to translate their 2D ideas and plans into 3D images — and sometimes into gloriously detailed photorealistic 3D images, if that’s appropriate for their needs.

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Remodel, or move?

Posted by , CastleView 3D:

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I was contacted recently by someone looking for 3D modeling and rendering services.  He and his girlfriend had lived in their home for 13 years, and had done a number of upgrades to it.  But they were at a point where the home’s floorplan configuration wasn’t working for them anymore.  They wanted a larger family room and deck, an expanded first-floor master bedroom, bath, and walk-in closet, and a new main entry.  They were debating between undertaking yet another major remodel/addition project versus selling and moving to a different house.

Proposed remodel floorplan drawn up by architect

Proposed remodel floorplan drawn up by architect

Proposed remodel elevations drawn by architect

Proposed remodel elevations drawn by architect

They had already consulted with an architect about their remodeling options, and he had done some nice drawings for them.  But the clients were having trouble visualizing the changes from what the architect had drawn up (a floorplan and two exterior elevations).  They asked the architect for 3D images, “like the ones we see on HGTV,” but the architect refused, saying he just didn’t do those. So they  did an internet search and found my website.

Working from the architect’s drawings, plus photos of the current house, I was able to model the house in Chief Architect and produce some basic renderings of what the proposed modifications might look like.

Their place is an old farmhouse that has already been remodeled and added on to a number of times in its 100+ years, so there are numerous roof pitches and floor levels to contend with (always something of a modeling challenge).  But I think the final images capture the essence of what the remodeled spaces would look like.  Here are a few examples:

Front view with new entry

Front view with new entry

New entryway looking up

New entryway looking up

New family room looking towards kitchen and entryway

New family room looking towards kitchen and entryway

New bedroom with bath and walk-in closet

New bedroom with bath and walk-in closet

I haven’t yet heard whether this family has decided to go ahead with the remodel, or move to a new home.  But at least with these 3D images in hand, they have more information to use while considering their decision.

One final note:  The images I provided for this client are not high-end, photorealistic raytraces.  These are just simple 3d renders to show the basic layout of the plans — sufficient for this stage of their decision-making.  Detailed raytraces are more appropriate for the later stages of project planning, when trying to make decisions about final finishes, lighting, and decor.


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The Google 3D Warehouse — like shopping without a credit card!

By , CastleView 3D | Like CastleView 3D on Facebook

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Examples of free stuff you can get in the Google 3D Warehouse

Examples of free stuff you can get in the Google 3D Warehouse

Have you visited the Google 3D Warehouse yet?  This is an amazing free resource where you can find 3D models of just about anything you can imagine.  It’s part of Google Sketchup (Google’s free 3D modeling program) and connected with Google Earth, a worldwide geo-modeling project which aims to put every village, town, and city in the world on the 3D map!*  But for someone like me, who specializes in 3D renderings of interiors and exteriors of homes, I’m usually visiting the warehouse looking for furniture, appliances, lamps, or plants to include in my models.

Browsing the “stock” at the warehouse can be addictive — and time-consuming.  It has a good search function (no surprise there).  But almost every search brings up so many examples that it takes a while to sort through them all to find what you want.  And of course, just like shopping at a real store, you always see other cool stuff that you weren’t looking for but have to have (because did I mention that it’s all FREE??).

The 3D Warehouse has been especially useful for Chief Architect software users ever since Chief added a drag-and-drop feature in version X3 — you download the model from the 3D warehouse and simply drop it into your Chief plan, no import process required.  So easy even a …. well, we don’t need to go there.

The quality of the models in the warehouse varies.  It’s like shopping at a store which carries everything from IKEA to Roche-Bobois to Stickley, all under one roof!  And as a general rule, the better the model, the higher the polygon or face count (and I don’t believe the polygon count is included in the model info).  Sometimes if you furnish a room with a lot of high-polygon furniture, it can slow the performance of your modeling or rendering programs down to a crawl, so you need to keep an eye on that.

Spending time in the Google 3D Warehouse feels like shopping without a credit card.  You can “buy” anything you like — even the Eiffel Tower!  The only cost is polygons.

*Is it my paranoia, or does it seem like Google is on a quest for world domination?  Just wondering.

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What’s new in Chief Architect X4

Posted by , CastleView 3D:

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Chief Architect SoftwareMy favorite 3D architectural modeling software, Chief Architect, will soon release a new version of the program, version X4.

Watch this video to get a summary of new features expected in X4:

http://www.chiefarchitect.com/scripts/flash/whats-new-x4.html

No release date has been announced yet, but rumor has it that it will be sometime this summer.

UPDATE:  Chief X4 was released in July 2011.


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