Category Archives: Posts By Me

Creating with what you know

Posted by Kathleen Moore, CastleView 3D:
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A French country style rendering project

A builder came to me a while back with a new floorplan he had designed.  He wanted to showcase it with beautiful renderings on his website and marketing materials.  His only instruction to me was to “make it look French Country style.”

I’ve been to the French countryside exactly once, in August 2003.  Some friends and I spent a week piloting a houseboat through the locks of the Canal du Nivernais in the Burgundy region of central France.  My memories of this delightful trip include lots of good wine and the best boeuf bourguignonne I’ve ever tasted (so good we went back to the same inn the next night and ordered it again).  They also include canalside views of rolling hills and interesting architecture — lovely churches and chateaux, charming lock-keepers’ cottages.

When I took on the rendering project for this builder, I wasn’t especially familiar with what’s known as “French Country decor,” so naturally these were the images that immediately flashed through my mind.

I consulted various design websites, books, and other resources to educate myself more about the style.  In case you’re interested, here’s the list of design elements I put together to define French Country style:

  • Used to be called French Provençale or French Provincial.
  • Rustic, old-world, welcoming; warm and casual; lavender fields and bright sunshine; casual and relaxed with light and airy spaces.
  • Colors:  Sunny yellow, golds, terracotta red, French blue, lavender, bright and dark greens.  Color palette mixed and matched on fabrics, accents, and walls, with accents of black and gray.
  • Fabrics:  Colorful Provençal prints combining primary colors with greens, lavenders, and bright orange. Toile with white, cream, or yellow ground and large motifs in a single contrasting color, such as black, blue, red, or green.
  • Motifs:  roosters, olives, sunflowers, grapes, lavender, beetles [beetles? really?]
  • Rough stained or painted plaster walls, hefty beamed ceilings and walls, delicate carved wood details.
  • Rustic flooring of stone, clay, or brick, covered with wool or cotton rugs.
  • Gently worn, weathered paint; rough plaster, stone, wood, wrought iron, terracotta, clay, zinc, glass, linen, and natural fibers.
  • Textured walls, informal wood tones, weathered patinas, hand painted furniture.
  • A large dining table, rectangle or round, with a dull waxed or low-sheen finish; chairs are ladderback or have vertical slats, often with rush seating.
  • Rusted metal furniture, lighting fixtures, and furniture
  • Woven or wire baskets, colorful ceramics and tiles, carved wood pieces, Chinoiserie pottery, and natural grasses for accessories
  • Faience, creamware, antique lanterns, decorative birdcages, candlesticks, urns.  Iron candle holders, wire baskets, heavy pottery water pitchers, colorful tablecloths.
  • Wrought iron chandelier
  • Old, dark, or colorful paintings
  • Natural flowers in baskets, an old pitcher or copper pot, or clear glass vases.  Geraniums and lavender are popular.
  • Outdoors: concrete statues, potted boxwood, wrought iron accessories; seamless flow between house and garden.
  • Deeply cut window sills with tall, narrow windows.

My research was helpful, but the images from my trip were probably more influential in determining the final look of the renderings.  It was hot during my week in France (perhaps you remember the record-breaking heatwave they had in 2003?  that’s when we were there), so the exteriors and especially the interior rendering have a sultry, sun-baked feel to them (click to view renderings full-size).

CastleView 3D rendering of French Country style house, exterior front view

CastleView 3D rendering of French Country style house, exterior front view

CastleView 3D rendering of French Country style house, exterior rear view

CastleView 3D rendering of French Country style house, exterior rear view

CastleView 3D rendering of French Country style interior

CastleView 3D rendering of French Country style interior

I’m not sure this was exactly what the builder had in mind when he specified French Country, but he was pleased with the renderings so it must have been close enough.

Every artist has their personal favorites among their own works, and these are some of mine. When I look at these renderings, I recapture the sense of relaxed warmth and the spirit of discovery and adventure I had on my boat trip through the French countryside — and my hope is that some of that comes through to other viewers as well.


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Newly released update to Thea Render

Posted by Kathleen Moore, CastleView 3D:

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Sandro Sorce's 3d recreation of Carapicuiba House, designed by Angelo Bucci & Alvaro Puntoni

Sandro Sorce’s 3D recreation of Carapicuiba House, rendered with Thea

My rendering engine of choice, Thea Render, just issued a new update yesterday, v1.1.  I haven’t had much of an opportunity to try it out yet, but already I can tell that it’s  much faster than the previous version.

Here are just a few of the new features/fixes in this release, as listed on the Thea user forum:

  • Optimized environment resulting in a speed up factor close to x2 and better memory footprint.
  • Addition of Render History functionality. [Allows side-by-side comparison of render versions.]
  • Integrated support for large previews (256×256) for material and texture editors (high resolution).
  • Colimo integration with the unbiased TR1 and TR2 engines. [Colimo sounds very intriguing and I’m definitely planning to check it out.]

Sandro Sorce (a Thea beta tester) had this to say in a review on Ronen Bekerman’s Architectural Visualization blog:

Thea Render is packed with features. Whether you prefer to render using biased or unbiased methods, Thea Render has a lot to offer – the render quality (IMHO) is excellent, and I’m sure there will be a lot more examples of great renders as the user base grows… Thea Render is a very young, yet already very mature product, and I honestly think it’s going to go from strength to strength.

And Ronen Bekerman responded:

I’ve been playing with it on and off, but recent updates really look good. I like the Interactive Render very much… Although very similar to V-Ray RT in how it looks, it is much more capable in that you can navigate it and select elements inside it…

I been exploring the material lab today and I love it very much too – the preview is very fast which is nice and helps in developing materials much more at ease.

I’m happy to hear positive reactions to Thea, which was only introduced a little over a year ago.  For me personally, it took a while to initially warm up to Thea, but the more I use it the better I like it.  I’m sure the new features in this release — including more SPEED — will make it even better.

There’s a great video tutorial here that goes into detail about some of the new features.


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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?


Like our blog? Visit our website, castleview3d.com, for more 3D deliciousness!