Are 3D Renderings Deceiving Architects and Clients?

Are 3D Renderings Deceiving Architects and Clients?

"The Rendering View," is a monthly column on ArchDaily by PiXate Creative founder Jonn Kutyla which focuses on hints, tips, and wider discussions about architectural rendering.

Digital architectural renderings and their hand-drawn counterparts both serve the purpose of allowing clients and investors to envision a building or space well-before ground has even been broken on a project.

But while renderings can provide amazingly accurate depictions of buildings, a rendering done in the wrong style can create unrealistic expectations for the end client, leaving them disappointed with the architect and the builders, creating tension and distrust. For that reason, among others, many people in the architectural profession have condemned the use of renderings, especially digital renderings. However, renderings are simply tools and nothing more; if you ask two separate rendering artists to create a rendering for your project, the results would also depend upon the skill and vision of that person. Today I am going to show you that when used correctly, digital architectural renderings should be an architect’s best friend.

Courtesy of PiXate Creative
Courtesy of PiXate Creative

As I am certain you have heard before, a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a moment to compare the picture above to the rendering. Do you think the rendering provides an accurate representation of the actual space?

In an earlier post on ArchDaily, Vanessa Quirk showed some great examples of renderings that were more focused on creating an artistic images than accurately depicting a real space. Take the example below by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects:

schmidt hammer lassen architects' rendering of their Waterfront Development in Shanghai. Image © schmidt hammer lassen architects

While that image is not necessarily “bad” you can clearly see that realistic details came in second to creating an artistic rendering. But while the differences are apparent in this type of rendering and the one above, sometimes it is much more subtle differences that have a major impact on how realistic an architectural rendering appears.

Context Creates Realism in Renderings

One of the most beneficial things you can do with a rendering is to give the structure context that will help the client accurately envision the finished product. Unfortunately, creating context is an area where many renderings are lacking, leading people to stereotype digital 3D renderings as “unrealistic” and “disconnected.”

As humans we are driven to put things into context, creating a sense of comfort by merging what we already know with something new.

Let’s say you are going before a board to seek funding or to pitch a new building to replace an existing structure. Even if your new building is amazing - hands down a major improvement over the existing structure - humans are built to cling to their comfort zone which includes reducing the unknown variables that come with change.

Stop and think for a minute about common messages you see in sales promotions. I bet you can think of several sales pitches that include a “no risk money back guarantee” in one form or another. The reason for this is because it eases our fear of the potential adverse effects of making a change by purchasing a new product. A 3D rendering done correctly has the same ability to reduce anxiety and fears in the end client by incorporating a mixture of known items with the new structure.

Shedding Light on Realistic Renderings

Even renderings that create great context around a building or space can miss the mark on realism if the lighting is wrong. One of the more popular depictions used in renderings is the evening shot of a structure. External evening shots are a great selling tool for a space, but you need to be sure to white balance your images. While many renderings tend to depict lights as bright white, a nice warm yellow glow in your images will make it not only more realistic but also more inviting.

Courtesy of PiXate Creative

Accurate Lighting in Your Renders

There are tools that allow architects to calculate light more accurately. ElumTools and Sefaira for example are add-ons for Revit which allow for fast and accurate lighting calculations.

As visual artists, we are lighting the scenes correctly, but only about 80% accuracy. On many projects, we help our clients identify problems and flaws in a design. A lot of our clients who are architects use us in this manner and we can get really close to the actual space, but we often do not spend enough time on these projects to be 100% correct.

We use IES emitters in our renderings which is a mathematical graph that calculates how light will behave in the real world. We also set the watts from the lightbulbs in our application, adding yet another layer of accuracy to the rendering.

Looking to Architectural Photographers for Inspiration

As I have said before, architectural 3D rendering artists are a lot like architectural photographers, the exception being we photograph a space that does not yet exist.

Taking the time to study some great architectural photographs can be invaluable to the realism of your renderings. While we are on the topic of lighting, you should also make use of the other elements in your photo to create realism and add depth. Including small details like the slight blur on car headlights which you see in photographs can make a noticeable difference in the realism of your rendering.

Another area where renderings often lack but photographs excel is with the inclusion of nature and landscape elements.

While nature shouldn’t overpower your rendering, it certainly has a place in the image. A while back I shared some tips with you for improving the realism of the landscape in your renderings. The key take-away from that post is that even the smallest details can make a dramatic difference in how real your rendering looks.

Tools are Simply Tools, Nothing More

If you gave two men a carpentry belt and told them to build you a house, the end result would be completely different based upon the skill and vision of that person, and rendering is just the same. Saying that digital renderings are bad for architects is a broad and inaccurate statement.

What we should be focused on is the ability of the rendering artist to understand and replicate the vision of the architects. On 75% of the projects we work on, our clients will change aspects of their projects because of our work. I would argue that renderings are very helpful tools that allow people to truly see a space before it is built, and currently there are not better ways of being able to predict what a space will look like. If someone is going to build a $5 million space, wouldn't it be nice to know your clients are going to love their space?

Jonn Kutyla is the founder of PiXate Creative, a company that specializes in creating compelling 3D visualizations. His monthly column for ArchDaily, "The Rendering View," focuses on hints, tips, and wider discussions about architectural rendering. If you are interested in more information about PiXate Creative, visit the website at or connect on LinkedIn.

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Cite: Jonn Kutyla. "Are 3D Renderings Deceiving Architects and Clients?" 06 Oct 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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