SketchUp and Photorealistic Rendering
The following is a resource page for Photorealistic rendering software used with SketchUp. The post is not comprehensive and I will add information to it over time. Please add your comments on the listed software as well as include any rendering programs I might have missed.
A list of rendering programs is provided at the end of this post.
Also please note that this post is in DRAFT format and needs editing for spelling and grammar.
If you start to use SketchUp you will inevitably come across and become curious about 3D rendering your model. What does it mean to render a model and what is the difference between rendering software and SketchUp?
SketchUp is used to MODEL
SketchUp is a modeling program. You can use SketchUp to create and arrange 3D objects to create an expression; a streetscape, park, building or any other object. SketchUp is unique in the sense that it partially renders the models you make. SketchUp produces a NON-Photorealistic render, also known as NPR.
To create photorealism from your model you need to use a different type of software. These are called Rendering programs.
To provide a real-world example – when you go and see one of the blockbuster 3D movies like Avatar or Star Trek the special affects are created using high-end rendering programs. In essence the 3D objects are MODELED in one software and then RENDERED in another.
Photorealistic Rendering Programs
There are many programs you can choose from to create Photorealistic renderings. In most cases these programs have a sharper learning curve in comparison to SketchUp. Many rendering programs try and minimize or streamline the learning process but to produce excellent quality Photorealism is an art form and will take some time.
Most rendering programs function around the same basic principle: the surfaces of your 3D model receive a texture. This texture is then “baked” in the rendering program. The baked texture can then reflect sunlight, have bumps added or adjusted to give the impression of texture depth and grain, lights can be added to illuminate a model from different directions and environmental and atmospheric affects (like sunlight) can be added.
There are many different software rendering programs available. Some of these programs double as modeling programs as well (for example 3D Max) while others are exclusive to just creating renderings (Maxwell, I-Render, Podium to name some).
It is strongly suggested that before you learn to render, take your time and learn how to model efficiently in SketchUp. More importantly, learn how to apply textures in SketchUp as this becomes important in adjusting, editing and adding textures once you import the model into the rendering program.
Many rendering programs have plug-ins that directly interface into SketchUp. For example, the recent V-Ray SketchUp plug-in provides the ability to add and adjust textures and start your RENDER in SketchUp.
It is very common for people to Render SketchUp models and adjust the rendered scene in Photoshop. In fact, most professional photorealistic renderers use Photoshop to adjust a rendered image. For example, one the best ways to add vegetation to a rendered scene is using entourage 2D trees in Photoshop.
As an aside, an excellent resource page on using Photoshop to create graphics is
SketchUp Artists.org - http://www.sketchupartists.org/
There are many nuances in learning to use Photorealistic rendering software. Many people take classes or go to school. The most talented have been using the programs for years.
It is suggested that you find a trial that you think might suite you and make sure to download any tutorials that might be available. Start with small, simple models and work your way up in complexity.
Rendering is a time-intensive process and depending on your hardware can take minutes or hours (or longer) to complete.
Not all rendering programs are created equal. The more complex ones tend to produce crisper and more photo-real affects.
Mastering and producing photorealistic renderings is an art form.
If you are serious about trying out Photorealistic Rendering, I recommend you try RenderPlus, Podium or LightUp for SketchUp to get a taste. Try the trials and see how it goes. Each has tutorials readily available online on their sites or on YouTube.
Check them out below
Below is a general list of rendering programs that are actively being used with SketchUp. Many of them (all of them?) have free trial versions. If I missed any, please post other programs that you use.
Podium is a favorite with the SketchUp community. Podium was one of the first rendering programs to be designed around SketchUp. Like SketchUp, those who use Podium swear by it. It boasts an easy learning curve, a great on-line community and many tutorials. This is a must to check out:
VUE is not an easy (but not to hard either) program to learn. However, VUE it is one of the best rendering programs you can find to render landscapes, ecology and the outdoor environment. This program was made for landscape architecture. If you can master the learning curve you will have the ability to render unprecedented landscape scenes. VUE is owned by Industrial Light and Magic, the special affects company started and owned by George Lucas of Star Wars fame.
3D Max is an Autodesk product and the heavy work horse for many photorealistic artists. You can model and render in 3D max. It does have a steep learning curve but if you are used to AutoCAD then this might be worth checking out.
V-Ray was created by a company called Chaos Group. It’s a powerful 3D rendering program. Chaos Group recently released a SketchUp Plug-in created in tandem by ASGVIS. This Plug-in has become very popular. A trial version is available.
Render Plus is a recent addition to the rendering world. Like Podium, it was designed to work specifically with and for SketchUp. This is a great program to try out if it’s your first time out with photorealistic rendering.
Aside from the strange name, Kerkythea is another relative newcomer to the world of 3D rendering. It has a SketchUp exporter and other lighting elements. Kerkythea, like RenderPlus and Podium has a steady but easy to conquer learning curve.
Maxwell is a powerful but relatively simple 3D rendering program. It offers the ability to generate professional grade photorealistic effects without the complexity found with similar rendering programs.
Piranesi, like SketchUp, is a NON-photorealistic rendering program. However, where SketchUp can be limited in the affects it produces Piranesi can take a SketchUp model and add beautiful, hand-drawn quality affects. In essence it’s a 3D version of Photoshop for SketchUp. The program does have a good learning curve but comes with excellent tutorials.
LightUp for SketchUp
LightUp for SketchUp is a direct plug-in that allows you to create photorealistic affects and lighting sources within SketchUp. LightUp is a bit more limited then most of the rendering programs listed here. However, its one the quickest to get started with, is not demanding on your computer, it’s affordable (there is a free trial) and is constantly being updated.
Another rendering program that is becoming a favorite among SketchUp users. It boasts an easy learning curve and online resources.