Orban Design

Providing the highest quality architectural rendering for Charlottesville and beyond.

Photorealistic rendering and depth of field (DOF)

One of my current favorite methods of enhancing the photo-realism of a rendering is by using depth of field (DOF) blur.  With my interest in photography, I like to find the ways I can blur the line (so to speak!) between a computer generated image and a photograph.

When a computer rendering is generated, it produces an infinite depth of field – everything is perfectly in focus, near and far. On the other hand with a camera, the lens’ aperture mimics human vision in permitting the camera to only have accurate focus within a specific range of distance, also known as the depth of field. The result is blurriness further away from the object that is in focus.

Many of the rendering programs have methods to add DOF to an image, with trade-offs resulting from different approaches. The method I am using for my example is to generate a map of the 3D depth in the image as a layer. This has two main advantages, and one big disadvantage:

  1. Good: speed – it’s faster to render, as the rendering software doesn’t have to also calculate the DOF.
  2. Good:  I can control the blurriness in Photoshop without having to render the image again.
  3. Bad: reflections are not blurred, nor are objects through glass.

Here is the base image I am using for my example and the “zdepth” layer shown next to it:

And without further ado, here are two versions of DOF blur – one focusing on the fireplace, and the other focusing on near objects.

As you can see, DOF can be very useful to direct the eye towards a focal point, or emphasize certain elements of an image. The first image blurs the foreground to highlight the stone fireplace. The second downplays the chimney in favor of a more photographic style where the detailed foreground is given more weight. This second approach helps give the room a sense of depth as the side walls and fireplace recede into the distance.

Used judiciously, (and once the other elements of the rendering have been accounted for – lighting, materials, contrast, etc.), depth of field can be one more tool to bring a rendering to life.

watercolor for the digital age

When we as architects show clients images of illustrated elevations, what we see as most desirable does not necessarily translate to our clients. Our market and our clients are not (ever?) other architects! I have two rendered samples of the same elevation, but with two different illustration styles.

The first image is a computer generated rendering with soft shadows, which I then post-processed in Photoshop to give it a more illustrated feel. The second used a digital watercolor technique with the base rendering taken directly from a sketchup model.

I was happy with the results of the first image, and the architect I did the work for was pleased. But since I am working on developing my digital watercolor technique, I thought this would be a great elevation to try it on. As you can see, the second image has much more tonality, color depth, and conveys an artistic feel. The architect sent this on to the clients, and there was unanimous approval of the second image.

It’s useful to get out of the box sometimes with our work. We look at elevations and are used to reading flat 2D drawings all day. It’s easy to lose sight of the needs of our clients for warm, styled illustrations that move away from the technical and often lifeless drawings.