3D Model Rendering: A Guide to Rendering Across Industries

by Render Pool

May 2, 2020

An essential step of bringing 3D models to life is rendering, but how you render depends on what you intend to use the model for. Keep reading to find out how 3D model rendering is used in a variety of applications from architectural and product models to VFX, animation, and more.

Building the 3D Model

3D modeling is the process of producing a digital three-dimensional representation of an object or surface. The artist uses 3D modeling software such as Maya, Cinema4D, or Blender to organize points of geometry (vertices) on the axes of a virtual space. These vertices connect to each other to form planes or “faces” that become a polygon mesh, and then further combined to form an object. It’s these objects that are usually referred to as models.

After an object or a mesh is complete, it can then be placed, manipulated, shaped, or animated in any way the artist sees fit and used in a variety of artistic and commercial materials like film, video games, design, and advertising.

Rendering Options for 3D Models

Maya has, for some time, been the global industry standard for 3D modeling and rendering. However, times have shown that this is no longer the case for a growing number of independent production studios. Alternatives like Cinema4D, and the equally powerful but open-source engine Blender, have been making their way into studio workflows over the past few years.

Whatever software you choose, the process of building your 3D models may vary. For example, when it comes to rendering architecture, the intent is to make the end result look as photo-realistic as possible in order to bewitch and enchant a potential client — to evoke a reality where you could potentially see the 3D model actualized in the real world.

Engineers, architects, and VFX artists regularly use both self-made and pre-produced models and assets to cut costs and expedite production. Film and television heavily rely on background assets like buildings, vehicles, appliances, and set dressing when considering post-production, so there is an extensive demand for 3D models both online and in production studios. On the other hand, there may be a completely different set of parameters and variables needed to bring an animation to life.

The best way to understand the scope of 3D model rendering is to break it down into the types of modeling applications you will likely come into contact with for each industry.

2D/3D Illustration & Animation Rendering

Rendering is an essential process in computer animation that is used to generate a sequential series of individual pixel based frames. Once rendered, the sequenced frames are assembled and consolidated in order into a “composition.”  Part of this process also includes creating individual elements that are then composited together.

Software like Blender accommodates this type of process and can be used in workflows that employ 2D image manipulation software like Photoshop, Illustrator, and GIMP.

Architectural Model Rendering

Architectural model rendering or visualization is the creation of 3D imagery that displays the attributes of an architectural floor plan or concept. This technology has revolutionized how architects and interior designers propose ideas to clients.

3D modeling software such as AutoCAD can produce 1-to-1 scale floor plans, but 3D rendering software such as SketchUp and Revit cater exclusively to architectural visualization. This allows designers to assess not only dimension, but also proportion and scale using interactive 3D modeling tools. Rendering software can also simulate the effects of reflective and refractive lighting as well as building materials in both interior and exterior environments.

Product Model Rendering

3D product model rendering is a more cost-effective approach to prototype photography and simplifies the design process, allowing artists to evaluate materials and generate amazing eye-catching imagery even during the early stages of ideation.

A product is created with 3D modeling software like Cinema4D or Blender and then visualized by adding materials and lighting inside the same software’s rendering engine, creating a life-like, photo-realistic, or hyper-real representation of the product. With the ability to visualize and digitally interact with a product, potentially expensive design mistakes can be quickly caught and corrected. Likewise, elements like colors and materials can be easily edited to gauge what looks best before entering into the production phase.

Video Game Development Rendering

3D models for video games have a very unique workflow that other processes meant for film or animation do not. Overlooking this may have a detrimental impact on a game and its performance.

Unlike pre-rendered imagery, 3D in-game models are required to be quickly rendered in real time; anywhere from 30 to 60 times per second. In order to accomplish this, a model’s polygon count needs to be kept as low as possible through retopology and dynamic topology. This usually results in lower detail, so texture mapping is used to give the illusion of photo-realistic surfaces. Though Maya or Cinema4D would be chosen for rendering cinematic visuals or non-playable sequences, software like the Unreal and Unity engines are used to render and optimize 3D models meant for in-game visuals.

In order to optimize a model for rendering, reducing the surface geometry, or “retopology,” of a 3d model is done to make it less computationally heavy. The speed to render an image is not dictated by the surface area of the model but by how many individual polygons it needs to render.

Virtual Reality (VR) Rendering

Much in the vein of video game development and the limitations of real-time rendering, as technology improves, these creative walls are slowly being torn down and innovative ways to experience digital representations of architecture and environments are being born. The newest way that end users can fully experience 3D models and environments — and interact with them — is through virtual reality technology accessed through a VR headset.

The better the 3D models and their details are, the more sophisticated the hardware has to be. Quality headsets such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have complex 3D model rendering algorithms that allow them to immerse users into an interactive and lifelike 3D visualization.

Visual Effects (VFX) Rendering

VFX design is a cornerstone of film, TV, and video game entertainment. Effects like these are produced in software such as Houdini or Blender. For rendering, Houdini uses a specialized internal render engine called Mantra, which is a ray tracing-based engine that can easily render complex parameters like light, shadow, volume, and ambient occlusion as well as animation-specific parameters like depth of field and motion blur.

Volume and volumetric data, which are essential in many VFX workflows including clouds, dust, water, and fire, are another example of extreme complexity. The data is much more difficult to keep track of due to its large digital footprint and because it usually involves converting to other formats during the production process.

The Importance of 3D Model Rendering

We hope this information helps you to have a better grasp of the techniques and processes used across the many industries that utilize 3D model rendering. As technology continues to advance, 3D modeling will be all the more seamlessly integrated into consumers’ everyday lives requiring even more professionals to create the content that end users demand. 

If you’re interested in growing your skills in 3D model design and rendering, we have several guides to help you through the process from deciding on the best laptop for GPU rendering, to choosing the right rendering software for your needs, and more.

Happy rendering!