By Rob Deja

The State of Art Academy in Venice is among the best architectural visualisation conferences in the international calendar.

The best artists in the world talk about their approach, while we also get exclusive demonstrations of the latest, most innovative software. Software that makes us work faster, create more emotional, evocative and compelling images – in other words, software that works towards creating better images, more efficiently for property clients that operate at the highest level.

That’s why Uniform’s 11 strong 3D architectural visualisation team packed their bags and headed out on a journey of discovery to SOA to hear some of the industry’s leaders open up, giving their insights to their ‘frienemies’ – a phrase coined by our international colleagues, not me! Uniform were among the keynote speakers, with our Creative Director of Architectural Visualisation Nick Bentley, Senior Creative Mark Lee and his fellow creative Steven Tierney proudly presenting the Uniform portfolio, describing our approach and offering some insights and opinions – another reason to attend in enmas.

Technical highlights from our three-day trip

1. V-Ray 3.0

The use of V-Ray has always been a core part of the Uniform rendering workflow. The software is constantly evolving and we always like to take advantage of new features the moment they are available.At the State of Art Academy #4 this year, Vlado Koylazov (co-founder of Chaos Group) demonstrated the latest features of the soon to be released version 3.0 of V-Ray, and I think every one of us in the arch vis team is itching to give them a try. The two prominent features which stood out to me were progressive rendering and ray tracing optimizations.

The reason I think these two features are so important are that they both offer significant speed improvements in 3D rendering which allows us to iterate faster. This means more test rendering and therefore a better end result!Progressive rendering – this technique allows us to see a preview of the entire render within seconds with V-Ray progressively refining the result over time. Currently we may have to allow a 10 minute test render to finish before we can spot any problems or alterations we might want to make and when we’re test rendering 10-20 times per day, these minutes add up.

While refining materials and setting up lighting, we rely on test renders to inform us on where improvements need to be made so by speeding up this part of our workflow, we can spend more time making great images. Ray tracing optimizations – the optimization of core rendering algorithms within V-Ray 3.0 means more speed improvements. Along with progressive rendering, the speed improvements that were demonstrated by Vlado show lots of potential for refining our workflow and speeding up the process.

In one example, Vlado demonstrated the speed improvements by showing a scene which took 15 minutes to render in V-Ray 2.40 and rendering it live in V-Ray 3.0 in a time of eight minutes. Impressive in itself but then after enabling Embree the render time was reduced further to six minutes. This reduction is huge.

2. Maxwell

This render engine has always appealed to us because it aligns with our pursuit to produce the most photorealistic images possible, but the problem was that we couldn't find a place for it within our workflow due to the way we need to rapidly iterate on our images. Maxwell renders by mimicking the physical effects of light transport – a highly realistic approach but it ultimately means long render times. Dario Lanza from Next Limit demonstrated Maxwell at AD4 and the presentation reignited my curiosity with the renderer and I’ll definitely be re-evaluating if it has a place in our pipeline. Some of the features which have evolved or are new since I last looked at the product (about 18 months ago) which are of particular interest to me are; multilightinstancing,particle rendering and network rendering improvements.

3. iToo Software Forest Pack

Over the years we have tried many methods and plugins for mass instancing geometry in our scenes and by far the best available solution is Forest Pack Pro. Paul Roberts from iToo Software presented the latest release v4.1 and showed us some of the new impressive feature sets, introducing some great new workflow enhancements:

4. iToo Software Railclone

Railclone is a relatively new plugin from iToo Software but we saw its potential from the start and made it a core part of our workflow. Version 2 was demonstrated by Paul Roberts at AD4 and adds a whole new dimension to the parametric modelling plugin. When creating walls, kerbs, railings and balustrades with Railclone I couldn’t imagine creating them any other way but with Railclone 2. I’m sure I’ll feel the same about creating curtain wall facades,bookcases, bridges and many other structures, although I’m yet to discover which can be built with it. This is primarily because the main new feature of Railclone 2 is the ability to parametrically model in two-dimensions and not just one – this means that instead of just replicating something along a path in X, we can now replicate along a path in X and Y adding a height component into the mix.

Another great addition to the feature lineup was the introduction of a node based editor. The one complaint I’ve always had about Railclone was that the interface was cluttered and difficult to navigate once things start to get complex, but now with the new node based editor makes things much easier and should speed up the creation (and editing) of complex Railclones.

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