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Improve your V-Ray Textures using these 5 top tips!

We are often asked for guidance on how to improve the quality of V-Ray textures, so we want to give you our 5x top tips which will supercharge your workflow and boost the realism of your work!


1. Never leave the reflection colour as black

Reflections are visible in almost every material – there are very few exceptions to this in the world around us.

Improve V-Ray textures | Reflections are present on every surface.

Consequently, as CGI artists, we need to represent this within our work and ensure that our materials are always programmed to reflect light.

Improve V-Ray textures | We must program our materials to reflect light

As you can see, when we have our reflection colour set to black, we do not see any reflections…

Improve V-Ray textures | Reflection colour of black gives us no reflections whatsoever

Whereas when we set our reflection colour to white, we see really intense reflections.

Improve V-Ray textures | Reflection colour of white gives us intense reflections

Note the difference between reflection intensity and reflection glossiness

There is a difference between reflection colour and reflection glossiness - note the difference here

We cover this on our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses, held at the end of every month over Zoom!

Key takeaway to improve your V-Ray textures: always change the reflection colour from black

Improve V-Ray textures | Never leave reflection colours as black

 


2. Pay attention to repeating textures

There are few aspects to life as inconvenient as repeating (or tiled) textures…

Improve V-Rat Textures | Tiled textures are lacking in realism

An great material could be ruined if it repeats itself too often, and you can see visible repetitions within your work

Improve V-Ray Textures | High quality materials can be created in V-Ray, but we must address how these are applied (or wrapped) onto geometry within our model

It is fair to deduce that we must take measures to prevent this from happening… there are a few things that we can do.

Try and use the largest scale images possible for your materials. Think large-scale!

Improve V-Ray textures | Always look for large scale textures where possible

This fundamentally reduces the number of times that a material must repeat itself on a given surface.

We can also use something called Stochastic Tiling

Improve V-Ray textures | Adding stochastic tiling is done as follows

Using this technique, V-Ray automatically randomises the positioning of your materials – reducing the tiling effect!

Key takeaway to improve your V-Ray textures: use large-scale maps & add stochastic tiling

Improve V-Ray textures | Recording made by Archilime Academy showing the effects of Stochastic Tiling within the V-Ray 5 for SketchUp

 


3. How to fix glass errors

Does your glass sometimes show up as black, or just generally looks strange?

Improve V-Ray textures | Black glass is fixed within V-Ray for SketchUp by ensuring that the faces are facing the front

You’re not alone!

You may have glass applied to back faces – V-Ray hates this! Turn on the monochrome face style to check

Graphic of glass applied to back faces - checking with View, Face Style, Monochrome

V-Ray requires 2x faces of glass, with front (or white) faces facing outwards.

Improve V-Ray textures | A gif made by Archilime Academy showing the correct setup for glass
We also recommend using one of the preset glass materials – they work great!

If you follow these rules for glass, you will never have any more issues with glass!

Key takeaway to improve your V-Ray textures: glass in V-Ray requires 2x faces, with front faces facing out. Check this using the monochrome face style

Improve V-Ray Textures | It is crucial that we ensure that we address incorrect glass materials

 


4. Add specular or gloss maps into the reflection glossiness texture slot

Do your textures look uniform and flat?

Flat reflections are a result of adding a value in the reflection glossiness

Have you ever seen one of these maps before?

Create Realistic Textures | A specular map dictates where on the material we will see glossy or matte reflections
A specular map dictates where on the material we will see glossy or matte reflections.

Add them into your reflection glossiness slots to create varying levels of gloss across your material.

Using maps, we can create variances in reflection across the material

If required, you can wrap these gloss maps in a colour correction to enable to adjust this further

Colour corrections can be added to any type of map to change the appearance of a material

We can see the comparison between a material with & without a map inside the reflection glossiness slot.

The difference between using a gloss map and not using one

Check out more on how to do this on our blog on how to create realistic textures!

Key takeaway to improve your V-Ray textures: using maps to control your materials’ glossiness makes them more realistic

Improve V-Ray Textures | An advanced V-Ray material
An advanced V-Ray material

 


5. Add imperfections to your textures

Nothing is ever perfectly smooth…

Surface imperfections are often what tells us that a material is photorealistic

Not even seemingly ‘flat’ surfaces…

No surface is ever truly flat in the real world

Motes of dust, minute scratches or greasy fingerprints – top-level CGI artists look at add these details to our finishes.

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - An interior CGI of The Priory in Tetbury

It is possible to add black and white alpha masks into the reflection glossiness and/or bump slots.

Scratches are seen everywhere in the real world - as much as we hate it!

Wrap these in a colour correction, and tweak the brightness and contrast of these maps to achieve the desired results.

Scratches can be added to surfaces by adding alpha maps into the bump sections of the asset editor

Key takeaway to improve your V-Ray textures: use alpha masks to simulate surface imperfections.

Improve V-Ray Textures | The use of alpha masks to break the uniformity on flat surfaces is crucial for realism

 


Want more tips like this?

Join our mailing list for professional, technical content like this as well as offers on courses, updates about upcoming webinars and prize giveaways!

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Create Realistic Vegetation using SketchUp

What good is the intricate Architectural modelling or realistic textures when the quality of the vegetation completely lets down the CGI… we’ve all been there. Read on to find out how to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp and V-Ray workflows.

Throughout our years in the ArchViz industry, this is a common question asked by CGI artists all over the world.

How do I create realistic vegetation using SketchUp?

We must consider what we can do differently to improve both the quality of the 3D vegetation models and also how they are distributed within our scene.

The best way to do this would be to go through the process step-by-step, and show you first-hand how we ‘vegetate’ our scenes!

Initially we must plan out our landscaping. We could do this by using landscaping PDFs or simple annotations (very simple in my case!)

How to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp - draw out a plan ahead of time

A preference is to then begin resolving larger pieces of vegetation first, moving down to smaller planting with each step.

We held a webinar recently with the guys at Laubwerk which ran through the process from start to finish… more on this collaboration later…


 

Trees

First and foremost, let’s talk about sources. For us, there are two sources which account for most of our realistic vegetation models, the first is provided by our friends at Laubwerk.

 

Laubwerk provide 3D vegetation

Laubwerk

Based in Berlin, Germany; Laubwerk offers an expansive library of render-ready 3D vegetation models where the worlds of botany and 3D modelling overlap.

Using the Plant Library Browser, simply select the desired species, and then chose where to place it within the scene!

How to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp - Laubwerk Library Browser

When in our SKP file, we notice the characteristic green blob – this tells us that this is a render proxy.

Proxies are better to add to our scenes because they contain less geometry than the full model, which keeps our files optimised and generally more operable.

How to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp - Laubwerk vegetation imports as a Proxy

At Archilime, we have used Laubwerk plants to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp for several years, and for some key reasons:

How to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp - we can create variations of tree species using the Plant Attribute Editor

  • Each plant has multiple variations. This helps us to reduce the ‘copy-paste’ effect that is visible in some CGIs.
  • We often asked by our clients to add specific young or older variants of a specific plant/tree into our scene. The Laubwerk plant attribute editor allows us to do this.
  • Need to change your scene from summer to autumn? Using the season attribute within the Laubwerk interface, this is straightforward and painless!

Download your free Plant Kit from the team at Laubwerk here!

Download your free plant kit from Laubwerk here


Chaos Cosmos

Another source which we use on a daily basis is Chaos Cosmos which is a powerful new feature of V-Ray 5 for SketchUp.

How to create realistic vegetation using SketchUp - Chaos Cosmos also offers a vegetation library

Simply use the filters and select the vegetation tag to view a large selection of V-Ray-ready plant models provided by creators such as VizparkMaxtree and DesignConnected.

As we are adding larger plants first, we can select the Tree filter to show us the list of available trees that we can add into our scene.

Chaos Cosmos vegetation library using the filter: Tree

Select a species that you like, and hit the Download button. This will save the file onto your PC, and once this has done so, you can then import this directly into your scene.

Like with the Laubwerk plants, Cosmos plants are also imported as proxies to keep the scenes lighter.

An image showing how proxies look within a SketchUp model alongside their CGI counterpart


 

Bushes & Hedges

Now that we have placed our larger plants into the scene, we can do a similar thing for our hedging & bushes.

I’m looking to add some nice box hedges into the planters here, so I’ll use one from the Chaos Cosmos…

Hedges from Chaos Cosmos are very high quality

After downloading and then importing this into the scene, I can then go about filling the desired planters with this 3D model of vegetation.

Hedges from Chaos Cosmos are very high quality

This process works great when working with larger plants, however when I want to place smaller variants of a bush en-masse, placing each one manually is not time efficient…

Introducing Skatter…

Skatter is used to automatically distribute objects within the scene

 

The first step is to add the Host grouped surfaces which will have the plants scattered onto them.

After adding all of our hosts, we can see how they have been added to the list, and some strange red lines appear in the chosen areas…

Skatter - add the hosts where our plants will sit

We can adjust the density of these red lines by modifying the appropriate parameter within the distribution section of the Skatter interface

Skatter - adjust the density here

These red lines are going to be swapped out for the bushes, by adding the bushes as my Scattered objects. In doing so, we then see the red lines change to red boxes, which now represent our bushes!

Skatter - Scattered objects are swapped-in here

As we can see, these are still in a grid pattern as the boxes are aligned to the axis…

To remedy this, we head down into the Random Transformation section and turn on the Rotate option.

Skatter - Randomly rotate your objects

After hitting the big, red Regenerate button at the top, this will then confirm the Skatter setup for us.

Skatter - Confirm the skatter group by hitting the regenerate button

A great thing about Skatter, is that we have the option to edit pre-existing setups, and we can do so by right clicking on the new Skatter group, and go to Edit Skatter Group.

It is possible to adjust where the vegetation has been scattered – we do this by adding a Clipping area as shown.

Skatter - Clipping areas are used to show where vegetation will appear

We then paint onto our model where we would like the scattered plants to appear by adding a paint area, and unticking use surface boundaries as include area.

As we paint our model, with Live Preview turned on we can see how our plants appear where we have painted… a very satisfying process!

This is useful when working to specific views – we can very easily control where we need to see vegetation in accordance with the chosen camera angles within our scene.


 

For grass lawns, we use two different approaches…

Girl in a grassy field made using V-Ray Fur

V-Ray Fur

At the drafting stage, we recommend using V-Ray Fur.

This is a feature which comes with V-Ray 5 for SKP, and allows you to grow strands of fur from grouped surfaces.

We have lots of control over the density, length, thickness, taper and bend of this grass, so it is perfect for the early stages of a project.

A great feature of V-Ray Fur is that each strand takes on the material of the image painted onto the grouped surface – a technique which allow us to simulate mown grass effects.

Grass is easy with V-Ray Fur - simply adjust the attributes and run an interactive render to test!
Grass is easy with V-Ray Fur – simply adjust the attributes and run an interactive render to test!

Skatter grass

For the final image stage, we recommend using Skatter grass for a realistic result.

Let’s now open up the Skatter Library, and pick one of the cut grass options.

Skatter grass is very high quality

We are asked whether we want to import the full geometry or the proxies – we will opt for the latter to keep our SKP file lighter and more optimised!

Once we hit the Load button, the same Skatter window that we saw previously pops up.

As you would expect, this is the point where we would select the lawn areas as our grouped surface which we want to be the base for our grass. Once done, we then hit the Regenerate button!

Skatter grass can be added to any grouped host within SketchUp

We can adjust the Distribution settings in exactly the same way as before to make the patches of grass appear clumped closer together or more sparsely distributed.

Again, we want to ‘paint on’ where our grass will appear by using the Clipping Areas section of the Skatter window, as this enables us to remove excess plants that are not visible!


 

Finishing Touches

I highly recommend going away and looking through the Laubwerk, Chaos Cosmos and Skatter libraries to find other objects which we can skatter within our scene…

I’ve added some more planting from Laubwerk alongside some boulders and daisies from the Skatter library.

Hey presto – here is our finished scene!

The final image from the Vegetaiton webinar with Archilime Academy and Laubwerk


 

What’s next?

We offer one-to-one training over Zoom which teaches the concepts discussed here. These bespoke 4-hour sessions are heavily tailored to you to really ensure that you are challenged and learning appropriate coaching points.

For those of you that want to step up your rendering skills, take a look at our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses. This 3-day course, which runs from 09:00 to 14:00 (UK time) at the end of each month, covers the basics of material generation, how to light your scenes and covers render management skills.

On our most recent webinar, which covered all-things vegetation, we gave you the opportunity to use our scene and show us your skills! Feel free to download the SketchUp scene here and tag us and Laubwerk in your social media posts once finished!

As I said; we love hosting webinars and our next free one is on the topic of materiality and is scheduled for Thursday 5th August – sign-up here.


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How to create a photomontage…

Have you ever wondered how to create a photomontage, completely from scratch?

Going from this…

Create a photomontage | Original photograph to house our montage

… to this

Create a photomontage | Our final photomontage with a CGI superimposed over a photograph

Well – we’ve got you covered. Here’s how it is done.

Firstly, what is a photomontage?

A photomontage is a mix of two different media. A computer generated image (CGI) is overlaid onto a photograph to show a new design superimposed into its existing surroundings.

Stitch a CGI onto a photograph to market property or win planning permission

Whilst traditional CGI allows us to model the surrounding environment; photomontages offer us the opportunity to view the real-life surroundings as captured through the lens of a camera, which is often required when trying to win planning permission.

What is the recipe for a successful photomontage?

In it’s purest sense, we can break down how to create a photomontage into four fundamental steps…

Create a photomontage is made by combining a photograph, sketchup model, CGI using v-ray, stitching them together in Photoshop


Step 1: The photograph.

The photograph that we are to use for the photomontage can be considered as our ‘base’. All subsequent work depends on the initial photograph that we would like to stitch our CGI onto.

High quality photographs make for high quality photomontages

As a result, we need to ensure that it ticks all of the boxes before we progress…

  • The industry standard for photographing Architectural forms dictates that all of the verticals must look vertical within the image – ensure that the camera is not tilted up or down!
  • Consider the lighting conditions, as this is something that we will aim to copy within our CGI. Clear blue skies or a flat, overcast day – the choice is completely up to you.
  • The resolution of the photograph is important. We want the highest quality possible – we like our photographs to be 5000 pixels along their longest edge.

In terms of the composition, we need to remember that we will be overlaying a CGI on top of our photograph, which means that we need to ensure that we leave space within the frame to do so!

To maximise the quality of our final product, ensure that we can save out our photographs in RAW format.


Step 2: The SketchUp model.

Create a photomontage | It is important to model as accurately as possible to ensure that the model overlays perfectly over the photograph

Now for the fun part… let’s get modeling using SketchUp!

We must now model the proposed design – we run over the basics of how to do this on our Access into SKP course, and we cover more advanced modelling techniques on our bespoke Top-Up courses or 3-Month Development Programs.

Once we have ourselves a detailed model, we need to roughly match the SketchUp camera angle to that of the photograph.

This is the perfect time to think ahead to our CGI and try to match the resolution to our photograph (remember to ensure that safe frame is ticked!)

Create a photomontage | We must adjust the resolution within V-Ray to match the photograph

A key part of this process is ensuring that we match the Field of View (FOV) – this is akin to ensuring that we make sure that we use the same lens within SketchUp that we did for the photograph in real life.

Within the metadata of our photo, it often tells us the focal length of the lens that captured the shot…

Using the metadata, we can determine the focal length of the lens used to take the photograph

Within SKP, we then head up to View and then choose Field of View…

Within SketchUp, we can adjust the field of view, by going to camera and then highlighting Field of View

Here we type in our FOV value in mm, followed by enter – note how the camera within SKP changes.

Focal length sketchup model

The next step is to reposition the camera to match the photo. We do this by adding our photo as a watermark within the Styles panel of the tray as shown.

Using Styles within SketchUp it is possible to add a watermark image overlaid over our SketchUp model

This image overlay acts as a guide as we adjust the camera so that our model sits perfectly within the photo! Hit ‘Add Scene’ to save this angle!

Using Styles within SketchUp it is possible to add a watermark image overlaid over our SketchUp model


Step 3: The CGI

We now have a SketchUp model which is aligned to our photograph – let’s prepare our CGI using V-Ray

The first step is to develop our materials within V-Ray so that they look realistic. If you are new to this, check out our blog on creating realistic textures.

How virtual textures are broken down within V-Ray for SketchUp

Matching the lighting in the CGI to the photograph is important, so we need to ask ourselves the question…

Are we going to use the V-Ray Sun or opt for a Dome light?

Our recommendation would be to use the V-Ray sun if your photo was taken on a sunny day.

Whilst interactive rendering, we can move the position of the sun manually as shown below to match the shadows seen in the photograph.

 

Adjust the sun position using V-Ray 5's Asset Editor for SketchUp

This technique allows for a great degree of control, enabling you to truly match the lighting conditions as you see fit!

If your photograph was taken on a day with no direct sunlight – we recommend using a dome light.

Typical examples of this would be for cloudy days, photos taken at dawn, dusk or even at night.

Check out our blog on dome lights which explains how we go about adding these into our scene.

A preview of a 3D scene, lit using a Dome Light. The HDRI image used is from PG-Skies.

Pay attention to try and find an HDRI that matches the lighting conditions in your photograph!

Final render

Before pushing the button on the final render, ensure that we tweak our exposure to roughly match that of the photograph (we can refine this later).

We must match the exposures between the CGI and the photograph

For more info on how to improve the quality of your lighting within your CGIs, check out our blog on the topic here.


Step 4: Marrying the CGI with the photograph

Now that we have the raw materials, let’s bring these into our image editing software – we highly recommend Adobe Photoshop.

Overlay the CGI on top of the photograph.

Add a vector mask, and begin removing sections of the CGI which we do not need

Masking within Adobe Photoshop is a crucial step when creating photomontages

It is possible to use other render elements to help with this masking process – we coach artists on this topic on our tailored Top-Up courses.

At this stage, we also look to match the tones of the materials within our CGI to those seen in the photograph.


Et voila!

Our final photomontage with a CGI superimposed over a photograph

We hope that you have enjoyed reading about our process to create the perfect photomontage, from start to finish!

Keep an eye out for next month’s blog on how to scatter realistic vegetation in our scenes!

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create realistic textures - Daniel stone


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How do I create realistic textures?

Have you ever wondered how you can go from this…

Create Realistic Textures | A screenshot from SketchUp of a simple texture

…to this?

Create Realistic Textures | An advanced V-Ray material

Well, grab a brew and open up V-Ray – we want to show you how to create realistic textures using some common examples to help improve your texturing game within the V-Ray for SketchUp Pro workflow!

Basic Principles

Textures (see also; materials) are painted onto faces within your 3D modelling software, and these can be flat colours or image-based.

The process within SketchUp to import images to use as textures
The process within SketchUp to import images to use as textures

In our first example, we are going to begin developing a wood floor texture – and so we need to find an appropriate image to use here.

We recommend Poliigon or Extreme Textures if you are looking for high-resolution images to use as materials, whilst SketchUp Texture Club is another source with an extensive library.

In this example, we are importing Extreme Texture’s Antique Oak into SketchUp as a Texture, which will allow us to paint this onto a face.

The process within SketchUp to import images to use as textures
How to import images to use as textures within SketchUp

Now is a great time to check the scale – within the Materials panel of the tray; use the global size settings to ensure that our boards are scaled appropriately. To help me do this, I like to draw a guideline that equals the desired width of the board, so that I have something to reference.

Create Realistic Textures | Within SketchUp, we resize the texture globally using the material panel within the tray.
Using a guide line for reference, we resize the texture globally using the material panel within the tray.

Here we can see how important it is for our material to be seamless. There is a vast collection of seamless materials available from the sources mentioned above!

We now have a high-quality, seamless texture applied to our model which is the correct scale.

Why does this not look realistic yet?

Create Realistic Textures | A SketchUp texture

Building Blocks

Light.

What V-Ray allows us to do is to bounce light around our model and control how our materials interact with it.

Create Realistic Textures | How virtual textures are broken down within V-Ray for SketchUp
Virtual textures can be broken down into three maps.

As covered on our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses; most solid materials can be divided up into three mapsdiffuse, reflections and roughness.

The diffuse texture is what we see within our SKP model. This can be considered our ‘base’ texture and defines predominantly what the material looks like without lighting or roughness effects applied.

A diffuse map is often considered our base texture.
A diffuse map defines what our texture looks like. Texture map courtesy of Extreme Textures

If light bounces off an object and is not absorbed, then one sees a reflection. V-Ray has the ability to control the intensity and glossiness of reflections of materials within the scene by using reflection or specular (see also; spec) maps. For example, areas on a texture where one would see a glossy finish would show up as white on a spec map, whilst matt areas appear darker.

A specular map dictates where on the material we will see glossy or matte reflections
A specular map dictates where on the material we will see glossy or matte reflections. Texture map courtesy of Extreme Textures

Not all materials are as flat as a mirror; for this, we use a bump or normals map. Areas on a bump map that are darker are shown as depressions on the surface of the material when rendered, whilst the opposite occurs for lighter areas. Be careful with the intensity of bump or normal values – anything above 1 is normally not required.

A map that is used to simulate 3D depth to the texture.
A bump map is used to give the texture some 3D depth. Texture map courtesy of Extreme Textures
Adding Complexity

Hold on… how does glass work?

Refraction colour dictates how much light 'refracts' through a material.
Refraction colour dictates how much light ‘refracts’ through a material.

As we can see, the lighter we make the refraction colour, the more ‘glass-like’ our material becomes.

We can deduce that the setting to use that controls the transparent properties of glass is called refraction. Like with the reflection glossiness, we also have the opportunity to create frosted glass by adjusting the refraction glossiness value!

Refraction glossiness enables us to define shapes on the other side of the material.
Refraction glossiness enables us to define shapes on the other side of the material.

What about fabrics?

Depending on the qualities of the fabric in question, we would advise taking a look through the preset textures within V-Ray…

V-Ray offers plenty of preset fabric textures
V-Ray offers plenty of preset fabric textures

Once a similar fabric has been chosen, you can edit the colour and tones of the diffuse, by right-clicking on the bitmap slot within the Diffuse, and wrapping it in a Colour Correction. Here you will be able to modify the hue, saturation, brightness and contrast, to your liking.

Adjusting the colour of materials within V-Ray for SketchUp
Textures can be re-coloured by wrapping the diffuse in a Colour Correction adjustment.

Fabric textures now benefit from a new feature in V-Ray 5 for SketchUp where you can add a translucent layer for extra realism.

V-Ray 5 for SketchUp now offers the opportunity to add a coat to materials for added realism.
V-Ray 5 for SketchUp now offers the opportunity to add a coat to materials for added realism.

What if my texture seems to emit light?

One can add emissive layers to all materials within V-Ray as shown…

Emissive layers can be added to most materials.
Emissive layers can be added to most materials

You can also copy your Diffuse into your Emissive bitmap slot…

Diffuse maps can be added into the emissive texture slots
Diffuse maps can be added into the emissive texture slots

We cover how to create more realistic textures on our one-to-one, bespoke Development programs and Top-Up courses.

An example of high quality textures

Now that you know how to create realistic textures; Wrapping is a term we give to the application of a material to multiple faces within our model – much like the wrapping of a present with wrapping paper. We cover this in great detail on our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses.

We hope that you have enjoyed our texturing tips!

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Brought to you by the Archilime Academy

create realistic textures - Daniel stone


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Do you want to improve the lighting in your CGI?

Learning how to improve the lighting in your CGI is not rocket science, but there are techniques that we use. By understanding a few key lighting concepts I want to illuminate you and show you how to better your CGI, but before we do; let’s talk about why the sky is blue…

Let there be light.

Under intense and unimaginable pressure, hydrogen atoms are forced together in a huge release of electromagnetic energy, of which visible light makes up a small portion of this energy.

This is the beginning of the journey of a single photon from the centre of the burning ball of gas that we call our sun until it reaches our eyes.

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - The sun
Light is formed as a by-product of nuclear fusion

After its tumultuous birth, our photon then takes, on average, 6 minutes to leave the surface of the sun and fly across the vast, 150 million kilometers of hard vacuum until it reaches our atmosphere.

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - Golden hour at sea
Light then scatters through the atmosphere, turning the sky blue during the day and redder at dawn and dusk.

As our photon passes through the big air bubble that surrounds the earth, it bounces off and passes through nitrogen atoms which make up nearly 80% of our atmosphere.

Our photon is a package that contains all of the colours of the rainbow – it just so happens that light on the bluer end of this spectrum scatters through nitrogen most effectively… which is why the sky is blue.

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - an exterior CGI of a garden office made by Ventham Construction

On a physiological level, we have evolved not only to love light but to need it.

Light is the key component that enables us to see, gives us security, and stabilises our circadian rhythms which helps us to sleep deeper and more restoratively.

It improves our moods, decreases depression, and even increases cognitive performance such as reaction time and activation.

On a fundamental level, we have an innate and primal relationship with light that can be traced all the way back to the roots of our shared evolutionary tree.

“I sense Light as the giver of all presences, and material as spent Light. What is made by Light casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to Light.” Louis Kahn, American Institute of Architects Gold-medal winning Architect

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - Louis Kahn's National Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Lighting in CGI.

Modern render engines and most real-time game engines calculate lighting in a way that aims to emulate reality.

By definition, rays are traced (note: ray-tracing), from light sources as they then travel through 3D space and bounce off or scatter through surfaces.

Ray tracing software determines the number of times that a ray can bounce off or through a surface – the bigger the number of bounces, the harder the PC has to work, but generally the more realistic the result. 

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - An interior CGI of The Priory in Tetbury

As experienced and industry-leading producers of CGIs, we wholeheartedly recommend V-Ray as our ray-tracing program of choice.

We use this in conjunction with SketchUp and have done so for nearly a decade now.

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - An exterior CGI of Paragraph 79, Kea House, Devon

Feel free to take a look at what our CGI production team is getting up to using this software combo!

These lights have to come from somewhere though, right?

Whether it is the sun, a light bulb, or a candle; it is the job of the 3D artist to add these light sources to the 3D space and program them to emit light realistically.

Improve the Lighting in your CGI - A preview of a 3D scene, lit using a Dome Light. The HDRI image used is from PG-Skies.
A rendered preview from PG-Skies.com of a scene lit by a dusk HDRI.

Check out our article on how to use Dome Lights to create night-time CGIs.

As humans, we respond differently to different environs and lighting plays a big part of that. Anything that we see has a direct link to the subconscious, and this is what CGI artists tap into when working with lighting in a visualisation.

How do I put this into practice?

If you have read this far, you already understand the power of lighting within a CGI.

We need a structured workflow to better enable us to generate realistic and emotive lighting setups within our work…

If you are relatively new to CGI production, I recommend our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp course!

Day two of this three-day course is dedicated purely to lighting.

We explore what light sources that we have available to us, and how we go about adding these into a scene.

We then explore the concept of ‘Three-Point Lighting’, which gives us a fail-safe method of programming the lights within our scenes to work together in a photorealistic way.

Improve the lighting within your CGI - Scout Farm with lights toggled on and off

If you already have a good foundation, and simply want to improve the lighting in your CGI, look into our Top-Up courses – the premise is simple:

  1. You pick what you would like to learn
  2. A bespoke, coaching session will be designed by us and then pitched to you before you commit to anything
  3. Once you are completely happy with the custom learning material on offer, this is when we schedule a coaching session – we book these out in half-day blocks, to ensure that you have ample time for study and information retention.
  4. The session is held online and is screen recorded – which means you can watch it back when practicing on your own.
  5. Upon completion of the course, we extend a helping hand by offering an after-care period of 30-days, whereby as you take this knowledge into professional practice; you can come to us with any questions that you may have.

All of our courses, now taught online, aim to give you the tools to consistently advance your visualisation skills and improve the lighting in your CGI.

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Improve the lighting in your CGI - Dan Signature

 


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5 time saving techniques for SketchUp or V-Ray

1. Hotkeys

When extrapolated for the full working day; the everyday SketchUp user may spend upwards of 10 minutes simply searching for the correct tool to use.

Introducing Hotkeys.

Also known as shortcuts, hotkeys are a defined as:

A key (or combination of keys) which give you quick and immediate access to a particular function within SketchUp.

The particular function that the definition above refers to would be different for each SketchUp user – meaning that we need a way to manually assign certain shortcuts to assist us with very specific tasks.

Head over to your preferences window, and click on the shortcuts tab.

Simply search for the tool that you use frequently, and tap the key (or series of keys) that you would like to assign to activate the function.

A simple concept – but within a week, we guarantee that this will make you feel more fluent within SketchUp.

5-time-saving-techniques-for-sketchup-or-vray - a keyboard showing sketchup hotkeys

If you would like to hear about other ways that you can feel more fluent within SketchUp, why not try our Access into SketchUp course?

2. Components

The second of our 5 time saving techniques for SketchUp or Vray is, in our opinion, components are THE best way of advancing the quality of your 3D scenes in the most time-effective manner possible.

How do they work?

Right-click on one of your groups within your scene, and ‘Make Component’

This simple process now gives this entity new editing properties. When you make copies of this component, you will notice now, that editing one of them enables all of the others to be edited simultaneously!

The sky really is the limit when it comes to the applications that this offers us.

How do we use them?

Vegetation.

Make loads of copies of a piece of vegetation; randomising the rotation and scale as you go…

Here, we’ve used something called a V-Ray Proxy – which explains why our ‘vegetation’ looks like a box! When rendered, this box in-fact looks like a small patch of meadow grasses.

As you can see, the same principle still applies – an edit made to one of these affects each and every other instance!

We cover components in great detail on our Access into SketchUp courses, which tend to run at the end of every month. Click on the link to find out more!

 

3. Parametric Modelling

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way where, as if by magic, you could pre-program a set of rules into an intelligent program, which could generate a whole host of different modelling elements, with minimal input from the user?

Well, I’m very glad that you asked…

Rather than manually modelling, duplicating and generating profiles and components, take a look at parametric modelling plugins such as Skatter and Profile Builder.

When it comes to creating realistic vegetation, Skatter is the sharpest tool of the lot.

As the name suggests, this intuitive plugin allows you to scatter vegetation components around your model, allowing you to randomise the distribution in ways hitherto impossible using SketchUp’s native toolset.

As the name suggests, this intuitive plugin allows you to scatter vegetation components around your model, allowing you to randomise the distribution in ways hitherto impossible using SketchUp’s native toolset.

We have been using this plugin for years, and it truly is the cornerstone of our landscaping workflow, which enables us to apply and produce complex and detailed landscaped imagery.

Building complex, parametric models is achieved through Profile Builder 3‘s intuitive interface, which gives you the power to construct detailed and future-proof assemblies with labour-saving in-mind.

 

Download preset assemblies or create your own – we really do vouch for the efficiency of this powerful SketchUp extension!

We are often asked for bespoke training in these plugins – take a look into our Top-Up courses if you would like to know more.

4. Test Rendering

If you have done some rendering in the past, you will be well aware that this is not instantaneous… unfortunately.

That said, there are certain techniques that you can use to speed up this rendering process, depending on the quality of the output that you require.

When ultra-high quality is not necessary for the early stages of a project, using a Denoiser in conjunction with a low-quality draft enables you to understand the design without waiting a long time for the render to finish.

After running a few tests of our own – adding a Denoiser to lower quality drafts buys you time to spend elsewhere.

Another pro-tip is to use region renders whenever possible – as the name suggests, this allows you to test-render only a small portion of the overall image.

The same principle applies when interactive rendering when using the ‘follow-mouse’ technique. After pressing the icon highlighted below, the render engine will focus its attention on the position of your cursor – another very useful technique if you need a quick solution.

We cover rendering techniques in great detail on our Access into V-Ray courses, held in the middle of every month – check out the link to find out more!

5. Distributed Rendering

This time for V-Ray not Sketchup, one of our 5 time saving techniques Many hands make light work.

Imagine being able to harness all of the computing power of your office or home, enabling you to ‘borrow’ computing power from all the machines within your local area network…

Introducing the V-Ray Swarm.


Intelligent render engines like V-Ray allow the user to break-up and ‘distribute’ the rendering workload across many machines.

Depending on the number of cores within your CPU (the brain of your computer), you will have varying amounts of buckets (which are the small squares that can be seen above). 

When you add another machine to your V-Ray Swarm, you will notice that the number of buckets increases – which means that your render will finish much faster!

Let’s have a look at a real-world application for this…

Whenever anyone purchases a new V-Ray license, you automatically receive a free V-Ray Render Node accompaniment.

Imagine that we have two machines in the office, one that we will work on, and the other that will act as our render node.

We then install V-Ray on both the primary machine, and also the render node.

Once we are ready to render, we then turn on the V-Ray Swarm at the bottom of our Asset Editor, and then go to add a new node. You reserve the right to name your nodes anything you like – if you are cool like us, you can also name all of our machines after characters within the Marvel cinematic universe!

We truly believe that these time-saving techniques are useful to anybody, regardless of your level of SketchUp and V-Ray – which is why we cover all of the above on our Access into SketchUp and Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses – head over to our shop to find out more!

All of our courses are now held online, and we truly believe that the quality of the course is only improved by being able to attend within the comfort of your own home or office.

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Brought to you by the Archilime Academy


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Dome lights: how do I use them to create a night time CGI?

You may not know it yet, but a dome light is the answer to creating ever-more realistic lighting setups within your CGIs…

Let’s break it down…

In a day-time scene, we have direct sunlight to illuminate our scenes. Direct light also scatters through the atmosphere and illuminates our environment.

A preview CGI from Peter Guthrie. Used to light a 3D scene using a HDRI within a dome light
HDRIs from PG-Skies.net. is a great way to illuminate your night scenes.

V-Ray considers both direct and indirect illumination as two separate light sources.

To create a night-time scene, we require a technique to remove direct sunlight, whilst being able to create a night-time environment.

To do this, we use something called a Dome Light

A flattened, spherical HDRI from Peter Guthrie. Used to light a 3D scene
A flattened, spherical HDRI from PG-Skies

A Dome light is a type of V-Ray light that surrounds our entire model, forcing light inwards. Images can be loaded into these light sources, which enables the user to simulate real-world environments by using panoramic HDR images. 

Learn more about the benefits of a Dome Light on our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp course

I like to think of a Dome Light as a giant snow globe – with our model in the centre. We can choose what the sky looks like by swapping in different panoramic images.

Now that we know what dome lights are; what does this mean for you?

How to insert Dome Lights into your 3D scenes within SketchUp

Select the highlighted tool to add a Dome light into your scene. Putting this into practice is straightforward. Pick out the Dome light tool from your V-Ray toolbar…

Loading a bitmap image into our Dome Light.
Click on the chequered box to import your HDRI…

Load in your HDRI…

Preview of a scene lit by Dome light using a spherical panoramic, HDRI image
Rotate to ensure that your shadows are pointing in the correct direction!

Hit render! Don’t forget to rotate your dome light to adjust the position of the sun

 

Over the years we have come across many different sources for dome lights…

We would like to recommend just two…

A preview of a 3D scene, lit using a Dome Light. The HDRI image used is from PG-Skies.
PG-Skies provide rendered previews so that you know what the sky will look like once rendered.

For variety, we highly recommend taking a look at Poliigon. Besides offering free assets; they operate a simple, subscription-type service where, depending on your package, you obtain different amounts of credits every month to spend on HDRIs, textures or models

If you are looking for top-quality HDRIs, look no further than Peter Guthrie’s shop – PG Skies. This in-depth collection of ultra high-quality HDRIs contains skies for all occasions. The handy preview renders show each of these in action, to make picking out your favourite that much easier!

 

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Brought to you by the Archilime Academy

 


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High quality 3D models of furniture… where to find them? 

A product CGI that demonstrates the sourcing of a high quality armchair model from Design Connected.
A Product CGI showing high-quality models downloaded from Design Connected.

We get asked this because SketchUp & V-Ray users like yourself are wise to the fact that adding better quality 3D models into your scenes adds realism to your work.

We are in complete agreement – from our experience; there is no other part of the visualisation process that boosts the quality of a CGI more than the usage of high-quality, realistic 3D models…

Check out our work here!

Finding the right source… now that’s another question entirely…

 

Our favourite source is a website called Design Connected.

A screenshot showing a high-quality 3D model of a bed from Design Connected.
The Kelly Bed, by Poliform. A Design Connected 3D Model.

We have no affiliation with these guys – but we rely heavily on their models. Without a doubt; they are the place to go for high-quality SketchUp models of furniture, lighting, and accessories.

For over 10 years, they have worked with premium brands to provide photorealistic 3D models of their products – so that SketchUp and V-Ray users like us can download and import these into our scenes!

All models are (or can be) made available in SketchUp format, and all textures are correctly applied to each model, meaning it is the closest thing to a plug-and-play technique that exists for our workflow for furnishings

 

Another source that we use is 3D Sky.

A website screenshot of 3D Sky showing the range of 3D models available to download
A screenshot of 3D Sky showing the range of 3D models available to download

Again, we have no affiliation with this website, however, we have really benefited from the vast 3D collection that they offer.

If models are not available on DesignConnected, we head over to 3DSky, safe in the knowledge that we will find something that we can use.

Rather than the standard SketchUp file-type (.skp) that we are used to; models from 3D Sky tend to be in a different format – a filetype called obj

In a nutshell, they store the geometry and textural information that makes up a 3D model. Different 3D modelling programs use different file types to save models – however, the .obj file type is the closest thing to an industry-standard in this regard.

Transmutr allows you to convert obj, fbx, 3ds, dae files into SketchUp (skp) files.
Convert various 3D formats into SketchUp files using Transmutr

To import .obj models, we use an extension called Transmutr. The easy-to-navigate interface allows you to convert these into .skp files – for you to then import into your scenes.

This process can be covered on our bespoke Top-Up Courses.

 

For its value, the 3D Warehouse is an invaluable resource

An image showing a screenshot of a 3d model search using the 3D Warehouse within SketchUp
The 3D Warehouse has been designed around you. Find free 3D models for SketchUp scenes here.

If you are working under a tighter budget, without the capacity to spend much on 3D models – there is no better source than the 3D Warehouse within SketchUp’s interface.

If you own or have owned, SketchUp Pro – there is a very good chance you know about this already.

Use the sliders on the left to control the quality of the models within your search parameters.

Take note… these models are not quality-checked before being uploaded to the warehouse – which means that you can end up with a real mixed bag in terms of quality.

To be safe, we always recommend saving the desired models into their own files, rather than importing straight into your scene – as this protects your master file from any latent errors that may be present within the imported models!

We run over how to make the best use of the 3D Warehouse on our Access into SketchUp online course.

 

Without over-complicating things…

A CGI demonstrating the quality of furniture 3D models sourced from websites such as design connected, 3d sky and the 3d warehouse
High-quality 3D models bring your CGIs to life. Invest time in sourcing the best quality 3D models available to you.

If you are looking for consistent, high-quality 3D models – we recommend Design Connected.

Variety, on the other hand, is a real strength of 3D Sky.

If you are looking for free models – 3D Warehouse is the source for you.

 

Still doesn’t answer your question?

Model it yourself!

Join us for our next 3-hour, Bitesize course where you can learn to Model with Photography – follow the link for dates!

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Brought to you by the Archilime Academy

 


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A Photo-Realistic Finish

Following the success of SketchUp at The Archilime Academy, based in Southernhay, Exeter, we cannot wait to deliver our new course: Access into V-Ray for SketchUp Pro. With its speed, efficiency and the future-proof nature of this cutting-edge software, we feel that this is the next generation of rendering. The course will be suited to those who have already completed the SketchUp course (or who have a basic understanding of SketchUp), and are looking to extend their skills further. V-Ray for SketchUp Pro gives you the ability to create amazingly photo-realistic renders. The course will give you not just the theory, but practical experience too, where you will be using a high-spec computer, delivered by our Head of Operations, Dan Stone. The aim of the course is to give you the confidenceand independence to be able to create your own professional, photorealistic images.

New Year Resolutions?

Here at Archilime, we consider the New Year to be a time where we think about how we can move forward, and consider how we can better ourselves as creative practitioners in an industry that we love. We would also like to help other practitioners from all backgrounds: from interior designers, architects, construction, hobby and film as well as craftspeople, to stay ahead of the game in the Visualisation arena. This is why we are so excited to announce the launch of this new course. We would like to enable others to share in its enhanced capacity to render still images quickly and easily: from 2D plans and elevations to 3D objects and interiors, all delivered with the Archilime coaching by Archilime Artists, personal support and guaranteed 30-day after-care that makes our Academy so unique.

Easy Access to The Archilime Academy

At The Archilime Academy, we welcome students from all over the country, from all industry backgrounds. Our Academy, based in the offices of Attention Media in Southernhay, Exeter is an ideal, easily accessible location and is comfortable and conducive to learning; with our dedicated training being delivered support in small groups. Once you have completed our 2-day SketchUp course, by moving onto Access to V-Ray for SketchUp, you are ensuring that you are staying at the cutting edge of the Visualisation industry. We will also share opportunities for future advanced coaching with you.

A Showcase Opportunity with Full Support

V-Ray for SketchUp showcases what you have created in SketchUp by bridging the gap between a 3D model and a photorealistic image. It will give you the tools to present complex, detailed and lit renders to enable you to effectively communicate your ideas to clients and colleagues. By the end of the two-day course, you will have had the benefit of lots of hands-on experience having been taken, step-by-step, through the techniques of the software, as well as opportunities to ask questions specific to your own role and industry. All course files can be taken away with you, and, when you leave The Archilime Academy, you are still not alone! Delegates are entitled to 30 days’ email/phone support from their trainer to help with any post-course issues or answer any questions.

To find out more, call the studio on: 01364 654267