The results confirmed what many of us have suspected—real-time rendering is on the rise in architecture, media and entertainment, and manufacturing. But the survey also revealed a few surprising details about real-time rendering and its uses.
What is Real-Time Rendering, Exactly?
Maybe you’ve heard about real-time rendering but aren’t sure how it relates to what you do. Real-time rendering is the process of using the same techniques you’ve been using for years for visualization—modeling, materials, lighting, and animation—but with the traditional rendering process replaced with a render engine that has the capability to render on the fly, in real time.
Real-time rendering gives you the ability to see what the final result will look like right away. Even special effects like fog and depth-of-field can be viewed instantly rather than waiting for a lengthy rendering process.
While real-time rendering might seem too good to be true, it’s actually happening now because of advances in game engine technology. Game engines like Unreal Engine have been pushing the envelope of real-time rendering for years, and the resulting technology has converged with the needs of not only architectural visualization but also film and television, where production companies are using real-time technology to speed up the creative process and even render final pixels.
The Accelerating Adoption of Real-Time Rendering
The Forrester Report tells us that architects are more inclined than ever to switch to real-time rendering. According to the report, 95% of architects are interested in adopting real-time rendering solutions as a means for reviewing and editing designs with customers.
Another driver for real-time rendering is the hypercompetitive market. According to the report, 65% of respondents said they want to use real-time rendering to reduce the time from concept to high-fidelity rendered images and animations.
Perception of Cost
A curious statistic from the survey showed that 42% of respondents cited software costs as a barrier to real-time rendering. This particular result was surprising since real-time rendering software like Unreal Engine is currently offered for free as part of Unreal Studio, a suite of tools for importing CAD, 3ds Max, and SketchUp to Unreal Engine while retaining unit scale, metadata, assemblies, and other data specific to visualization processes. Unreal Studio is currently in a free beta period.
Costs other than software were also of interest, with 27% of respondents citing concerns around hardware and personnel costs as a barrier to adoption of real-time rendering. While it’s true that real-time rendering performs best on a strong system, rendering engines are designed to give a number of options for improving performance. For example, baking ambient occlusion on non-moving objects can save a lot of rendering time regardless of the hardware being used. It’s features like these that make real-time rendering possible on a variety of hardware configurations.
Training of personnel on real-time techniques is also a valid cost/time concern, but the creators of real-time tools have recognized this issue—Epic Games recently released the Unreal Engine Online Learning platform for this reason.
Big Data Takes the Stage
The report tells us that 70% of respondents see the need to visualize Big Data, artificial intelligence, and analysis as drivers for adopting real-time rendering. This type of visualization is a logical continuation of the theme of using game engines for needs outside the game space.
One company that has already started using real-time rendering in this way is National Renal Care, a kidney care organization with 65 locations throughout South Africa. When accountant Chris Commin, an avid gamer, needed a way to visualize the organization’s geographical and financial relationships between their facilities, he explored Unreal Engine’s features and came up with an innovative way to answer financial questions visually rather than with columns of numbers on a spreadsheet.
Commin made use of Unreal Engine’s Blueprint feature for reading in large bodies of data and converting them to visual cues for placement of markers in 3D space and pop-ups with information about individual facilities. While features like Blueprint were originally designed to automate game development functions, they work perfectly for processing large amounts of data and converting them to visual elements.
As companies discover the use of tools like Unreal Engine Blueprint for processing large bodies of data, we can expect to see real-time technology being used in new ways to process geographical (GIS) data for mapping, sales/customer data for interactive analysis of buying patterns, and any number of other ways to show Big Data in visual media.
Real-Time Rendering is Here to Stay
Although adopting new technology means learning new software and methodologies, the many advantages of real-time rendering make it a mainstay for companies wanting to stay ahead of the curve in today’s competitive market. Pretty soon, real-time rendering won’t be “something for the future” but instead, a staple of architectural visualization.