Tag Archives: CAD

What’s new in Chief Architect X5

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new version of chief architect x5 to be released soon

image of Chief Architect X5 software product coverChief Architect has just posted a video peek at the new features that will be available in the upcoming X5 Premier version, which they expect to release in Fall 2012.

http://www.chiefarchitect.com/products/whats-new-x5.html

Some of the new or improved features in Chief Architect X5 include:

  • shadow boards and ridge caps (finally!)
  • greater customization of railings
  • auto corner boards and quoins
  • new auto dimension tools and options
  • plan display of door and window casings
  • complex cabinet door configurations
  • automatic catalog  updates
  • PDF file import
  • callout labels for cameras
  • progressive raytracing and better control of raytrace settings
  • improved walkthrough tools, including keyframes.

The upgrade to X5 is automatic for anyone with Chief Architect’s SSA support package.

Chief Architect has been my modeling software of choice for the past 5 years, and this looks like a nice set of improvements and new features.  

UPDATE 8/15/2012:  X5 Beta was released to current SSA subscribers today.  check your digital locker if you’re a Chief Architect subscriber.


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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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What’s new in Chief Architect X4

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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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What’s the difference between a 3D render and a raytrace?

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When I’m discussing a project with a new client, I often get asked what the difference is between a “render” (or “rendering”) and a “raytrace.”  Sometimes I use all three terms interchangeably, which I’m sure can be confusing.  But are they actually different?  If so, how?

Answers to these questions could (and do) fill entire books and webpages, but I’ll attempt a very simple explanation here (which will still be way too technical for a lot of folks!).

Computer rendering* is a general term for producing an image from a model constructed with 3D modeling software.  3D modeling involves creating a mathematical representation of a three-dimensional object.   Once the model, or mesh, is created, it is possible to take a “camera view” of the object from any angle (hence the term 3D).  The information from the 3D model is transferred to a rendering program to be processed and output as a digital image file, typically using a simple rasterization or scanline rendering method.  Current processors can produce this type of rendering quickly and efficiently, pretty much in real time, and it is what is used in most computer gaming.

Raytracing is a specific type of rendering technique.  The name refers to the way the computer creates the final image — by analyzing the light sources in the scene and computing the paths of the rays (photons) produced by those lights.  The result is a very realistic image including reflections and caustics (light refractions through glass), resulting in lighting and shadows that are close to what would be observed in the real world.  Raytracing algorithms simulate light realistically as it bounces between different objects, calculating the exact color of each pixel based on its material properties and the amount of light it is receiving.  In raytracing, many different algorithms can factor into the computation of a pixel’s final shade, including the material’s absorption, reflection, transparency, translucency, and refraction characteristics.

Raytracing actually proceeds opposite to the way light normally travels, because it works backward, only calculating the paths of photons that actually intersect the camera’s view frame.  Although this makes the process more efficient than if it actually traced the path of every photon emitted from every light source in the scene, it does not always yield the most realistic results.  Other methods which combine both eye-based and light-based ray paths, such as photon mapping and bidirectional path tracing, can yield superior results, especially in scenes involving indirect lighting or caustics.

Rendering is generally less time- and computer-resource-intensive than raytracing. However, technology is improving rapidly and real-time raytracing will soon be an accessible reality.

* Of course there are also the time-honored “artist’s rendering” architectural illustration methods such as pen and ink, watercolor, colored pencil, pastels, etc.  Nowadays, the look of many of these traditional techniques can be produced using computer graphics and photo-editing software.  More on this topic another day.

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So, are you still with me?  What does all this technical stuff mean for someone who wants computer images of their new home or remodeling plans?  An example can demonstrate the differences best.  Here is a comparison of a render versus a raytrace of the same room.  The first image is a Chief Architect rendered camera view of a great room and entryway with curving staircase.  The second image is one I posted the other day, a raytraced image of the same space.

Great room and front hallway - 3D Rendering by CastleView3D.com

3D rendering by CastleView 3D

Great Room and Entry - 3D Raytrace Rendering by CastleView3D.com

3D raytrace by CastleView 3D

In the rendering, you can see that there is some differential shading of surfaces depending on their angle and the amount of light they are receiving.  But overall the scene looks fairly flat.  The lighting in the raytraced image is much more realistic — sunlight coming through the windows, reflections on the polished wood floor, and a greater sense of depth and dimension.

You can view another render-vs-raytrace example here.

Renders are fine for the initial stages of a project, when rough approximations of the look and feel of the space are sufficient for planning purposes.  But once the major decisions have been made, final raytraces are what really bring the space to life and promote confidence in the material and design choices.

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So there you have an oversimplified explanation of the differences between rendering and raytracing.  I was enchanted and enthralled the first time I produced a simple rendering with my beginner-level Home Designer software.  But once I learned how to create raytraces with Chief Architect’s POVray, and later on with Kerkythea and Thea Render, it was impossible to feel satisfied with anything less realistic again.

My sincere apologies to anyone who is more expert in this area than I am.  I’m an intelligent, educated person, but thinking about the technical explanations for all this makes my brain hurt.  I’ve done my best to distill a very complicated topic down to a few paragraphs.  However, I realize I’m in way over my head here, and I’d be delighted to hear a more correct or complete explanation of the differences in the Comments.


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But is it Art?

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There is a very cool grassroots art show in Rochester, NY, called ArtAwake.  It originated in 2007 as a student-driven initiative whose purpose is to strengthen the community (and, presumably, showcase art).  It has become an annual one-day festival of creativity taking over a vacant urban space and transforming it for the occasion.  ArtAwake is organized by a team of students from the University of Rochester‘s Urban Exploring Club, but involves collaboration between many local organizations. For the past three years, ArtAwake has transformed three vacant buildings in Rochester through the participation of hundreds of local artists and musicians.

Alliance Building in downtown Rochester, NY, built in 1926

Next Saturday, April 16, will be the fourth annual ArtAwake event.  ArtAwake 2011 will feature over 150 works by local artists, from paintings to sculptures and architecture to fashion, plus 22 musical artists, catering by Lento (a popular locavore restaurant), and a wine tasting.  This year the festival will take place in the old Alliance Building in downtown Rochester.  Built in 1926, the Alliance Building is a 15-story, 167,000 sq ft neoclassical style high-rise in the heart of what’s somewhat grandiosely called the Central Business District.

Now in general, downtown Rochester is not a particularly happy place these days, but strides are being made — restaurants and clubs are opening, loft conversions are happening, and big plans are being discussed.  And events like ArtAwake are part of what’s driving renewed interest in downtown.

Well, OK, that’s all very interesting, you say, but what does it have to do with 3D design?  The answer is that for the first time this year, I submitted some of my 3D renderings to ArtAwake.  Here is one I submitted which I called “Chopping Tomatoes.”  (Hey, it needed a title!)

Chopping_Tomatoes, A 3D Rendering by CastleView3D.com

3D rendering rejected by ArtAwake

My renderings were not accepted for the show.  And no comment or reason was offered regarding why.  But I was curious (and a tiny bit suspicious), so I pressed for further explanation, and received a very interesting email from the show’s directors:

“CAD renderings are difficult, and we had quite a bit of discussion about how your works might fit into the show.  In the end we felt the viewers would have a hard time understanding them and how they related to the rest of the works. We appreciate and understand the time and effort that goes into a CAD rendering, but unless the images are unusually striking we did not feel the average viewer would take the time to consider the interesting intersection of art as utility and vice versa.”

In my reply, I thanked them for taking the time to explain their decision, and offered the following:

“A great deal of time and artistic talent go into creating photorealistic renderings, in addition to technical skill.  The computer is simply a tool used to generate the final product — it doesn’t create the scene.  I’m sure you must have other examples of computer-generated art in the show — photos that have been photoshopped for example, or digitally manipulated.  And I’m pretty sure you’ve seen examples of advertising art, which is certainly the intersection of art and utility, that people don’t seem to have a problem understanding.  So I have to key in on your phrase ‘unless the images are unusually striking’ as being the deciding factor.  What you’re saying is that my art just didn’t grab you.  Which is OK.  Perhaps next time I’ll try to create images that are more ‘unusually striking.’ “

I offer all of this because I’m still struggling with the question of whether 3D renderings can be considered “art.”  Obviously “Chopping Tomatoes” isn’t the Mona Lisa — I have no delusions about that.  But is it art at all?  Can CAD-modeled pretty pixel pictures be considered art?  Do the kinds of images I create have any rightful place in an art show?  How much more “unusually striking” would this particular image have had to be to engage the average viewer in the same way that a painting or sculpture or photograph would engage them?

Are 3D renderings merely “utilitarian”?  Or was I the victim of “art-ism” — discrimination against the type of art I create merely because it’s different and non-traditional?

I would really love to hear opinions about this so I hope you’ll share your ideas in the Comments.


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3D Rendering with Chief Architect

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Today I’m featuring a guest post from a 3D colleague, Patricia Abood, Owner and Chief Artist at 3D-Diva.  Pat is a talented 3D artist who creates renders exclusively for users of Chief Architect software.  The images below are examples of her work.


Did you know that many photographs you see in a magazine or on a website aren’t really a photograph? How can you tell? Sometimes you can’t. It’s called 3D rendering.

3D Rendering by Patricia Abood of a room designed by Chad Cardin


3D renderings are computer-generated pictures taken from models or “meshes” built within a modeling software [like Chief Architect]. Lines and curves are drawn to form a geometry so when the computer calculates all the angles, it creates an object that you can visually walk around, look at from behind, above, and so on. While the computer works hard making the calculations necessary to create a 3D object, the 3D rendering artist also works hard to make sure the computer understands what he or she wants it to do — and that’s called creativity.

I’ve actually had emails sent to me asking if I could “plug this diagram into a rendering program and make it look like 3D.”  I try to hold my laughter inside, but sometimes I laugh out loud.  I politely email back telling them that it doesn’t work that way, and that I have to actually draw their diagram in one program and then have another program generate the 3D image so that it will look like a photograph. Since I’m speaking to them via cyberspace, I unfortunately don’t get to see their look of confusion.

So what’s the big deal about 3D, you say? What if I told you that you could visually see the room you’re thinking about redecorating before you even start stripping that 1980’s wallpaper? Maybe your husband wants the spare room for his man-cave, and his idea of decorating is an old recliner in the middle of the room with the flat screen TV as the focal point, a compact refrigerator for drinks, and a leftover cabinet from your last remodel hanging on the wall to store his chips.

You, on the other hand, would like to be able to keep the door open to the man-cave when you have visitors. You have some great decorating ideas but can’t seem to get your point across. Let him see your design in 3D…. brilliant idea!

Men seem to be a little less picky when it comes to decorating and usually let the women do as they please, but there comes a time when too much foo-foo can take the wind out of any manly sail. Collaborating with one another with 3D images can merge two ideas into one that both can agree upon.

Of course I’m exaggerating, but even with the best design intentions, without 3D renderings you will never know what your idea will look like until the project is finished.

Architects, designers, and draftsmen are all climbing on board with 3Ds, showing off their work with realistic images — but not just any 3D image. A professional who spends hours, days, and weeks creating a floor plan wants a photorealistic image that is an appropriate reflection of their own talents. It’s like the parsley on the potatoes — presentation! Presentation, as well as how a professional markets their designs, is just as important as the design itself.

When I receive a floor plan from an architect, designer, or draftsman that was created in Chief Architect, I know how important it is for them to have a 3D rendering that reflects the hours they put into the design. The professionals give only their best to their clients, and a 3D rendering is a wonderful tool to display the best of their creation.

So the next time you see a photograph in a magazine and wonder if it’s real or not, it just may be a 3D render.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your images, Pat!


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