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Customers want photorealistic quality

Evermotion 2013-01-29 14:22 article  > Interview

Interview with Zbigniew Ratajczak from Pixel Must Die

maska_zeda.jpgHow would You describe process from order to delivery? What are the stages and how much time takes each of them?

When customer acquisition phase is completed, and we have determined the scope of the project, valuation and the project completion date, we can begin our work. There are various orders and their progress is often quite unusual.

Step 1 - preparing 3D model.

When we receive the plans of the project - usually as dwg or dxf files, sketches, pdfs, etc., our architect starts modeling the building. In addition to it we often model its surroundings, like roads, sidewalks, simplified forms of existing buildings etc. Sometimes we get already finished model from customer and all we have to do is to make minor changes and adapt this model to our workflow.

Step 2 - texturing and lighting

To liven up the scene we add models of foliage, cars, people, small architecture (benches, lanterns, etc).
Greenery is very important at this stage. Mostly we get detailed guidance where and what types of plants we have to place in a scene. It is very useful to have a big library of models, because there is never enough time to model them from a scratch ;) We mostly use Evermotion models which we appreciate for awesome quality and large selection. Occasionally we buy single, sophisticated plants. In general, however, we use plants from collections and it is enough :)


Safran Bureau complex, France

Step 3 - initial renderings

First renderings we send to the client in order to verify whether our work is the same as his vision ;)
There is always something that can be improved, made better. It happens very rarely that client has no comments at all. Unless he is really in a hurry ;)
Often it also happens that client gets a new idea while watching the draft and simply changes some things "on the fly". In general these are the details, but often quite important for project. Such changes are quite common.
Unfortunately, sometimes it also happens that we have to make some extreme changes. The worst part is when You feel that Your work is almost finished and then, suddenly a 180-degree change occurs. It's not cool, but unfortunately it's part of our job and I think we just have to get used to it.
If the result of our work is also (or only) animation, at this stage we set the number and length of shots, frames etc..

Step 4 - execution of the final amendments and preparing the scene to the rendering

When we deal with amendments, we make the final optimization of the scene. We take into account resolution of the final design - we make renderings of standard size (about 3500pix wide), large renderings to print (over 5000pix) or 3D animation. If we make the animation it is usually HD or FullHD.

In addition to optimization, it is also important to set the necessary elements for render, masks and render passes needed to post-production.
If we are working on very large projects, it is good to save different shots to individual files that are deprived of elements that will not be seen in the frame and have no effect on the rendered scene.
Mostly these are greens models or heavy ojects of complex architecture. Such optimization let us save a lot of rendering time so it is worth to take a moment to prepare the scenes.


Step 5 - rendering, post-production, editing

If we are already at this stage, it means that the project is almost finished and the computers did not burn converting all the millions of polys ;)
Sometimes this stage can be very short - just making some slight adjustments. But sometimes it is a complex process of editing animation, photos and rendered materials.

What are the most labor-intensive parts of the visualization process, which tend to be the most problematic, what needs special attention?

It depends. Every job is a little bit different, although the stages of work are quite similar. Sometimes modeling of the architecture takes the most of time, and another time we spend a lot of time on the implementation of client's amendments, because project is constantly changing.

What tools do you use (software, libraries, renderings, plugins, scripts, equipment)? Which are the most useful for you, why did you choose these tools, not the others?

We create the scenes in 3ds max - this software is very good for making visualizations. Moreover it is universal enough to use it for other projects. We use Vray renderer mostly, although I'm closer to Mental Ray by my heart ;) I like shaders and lighting of MR. In my opinion glass and metals look much better in Mental Ray. Of course, we're talking about raw renders without post-production. It happens that if I have a little more time for a project I render it in Mental Ray - it is much more fun for me ;)
Libraries? Of course Evermotion collections rule ;) We have been using them for years and they look excellent in renders.

From time to time we work on the projects with very short deadlines, for eg. - client wants 2-3 minutes of animation in FullHD resolution and all time he has are two weeks. In such cases we need a very powerful render farm to render the material on time. You could use online render farm, but customers don't like increasing the cost ;) So we use Lumion 3D. This program offers real-time rendering with maintaining sufficient quality.

I do post-production mainly in Autodesk Composite with some additional plugins. I make video material editing in Sony Vegas which also uses the same OpenFX standard plugins as Composite.

Most important 3ds max plugins that we use:

  • Render optimizer - allows you to quickly optimize Mental Ray engine and most importantly, you can use unified sampling which was introduced to the 3ds max already in version 2012 - but unfortunately Autodesk still didn't include this in the UI of this program ;)
  • SoulBurn Scripts Collection - a very useful set of scripts without which I can not imagine myself working in 3ds max. They are a must have! I would definitely recommend them to anyone.
  • Render Mask - perfect tool for fast masks' rendering.
  • TrackScripts - another very useful scripts' package.
  • Outliner - a great script to manage the objects in the scene. Much better than the standard 3ds max tool.
  • Vray Material Control - a great script which allows changing the parameters of many materials at the same time.

Greenery management project, Morocco

Are nowadays more photorealistic visualizations or stylized ones more popular, are there any trends in visualizations?

I think that a lot of customers has today greater awareness when it comes to the quality of renderings. If You want to work on interesting projects, You need to provide quality renders because many customers appreciate the photorealistic renders. Stylized visuals are less common, but there are some companies who developed its own style in just such visualizations and are highly appreciated. Example -

Striving for realism is most often seen and technically more difficult to achieve. Requires more knowledge on preparing shaders and lighting a scene. Finally, there is a very important stage of a post-production. Stylized renders require less knowledge of rendering techniques, but on the other hand - artist must show good taste if he (or her) wants to create eye-catching images.

Concept project - Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Please tell us a few words about Your last realizations.

Over the past few months we worked mostly on typical architectural projects. None of them was big enough to be a real challenge for us;)

But we did a very interesting job in the 2nd half of 2011 for Platige Image. They were preparing a short animation for Qatar television. We were responsible for preparing the environment for 50 shots - mostly covering city center. It was our first time on this type of production. We had to adjust to the Platige Image's pipeline. There were things that we did for the first time and we had small concerns but we met this challenge. The satisfaction while watching the final result was priceless;)

How - in Your opinion - will computer graphics and visualization look like in the future?

When 10 years ago I founded company, working with 3D graphics looked a bit different. Computers were slow and had not much RAM, rendering engines were poorly optimized. Global Illumination was slowly starting and the rendering lasted very long. A rendering with GI and glossy reflection at a resolution of 5000px was a real challenge :)

Processors got faster since then (mainly due to the multiplicity of cores ;) but missed the opportunities to use large amounts of memory... The real breakthrough for me was just at the moment of first official transition to 64-bit - it was the moment when you could start creating large 3D scenes – it was enough to buy a little more RAM to our workstation.
Why do I mention it? Since then, I do not recall such an event that suddenly made me feel: "I see enormous new possibilities!". Yes, the technology goes forward. Components of our workstations are becoming more efficient. New / better rendering engines are formed, 3D packages offer many new possibilities and we can work with them much faster. A lot of changes appear over the years, but there is no longer the boost which gave us 64 bits.

The future of 3D? I think the GPU rendering engines will play a big role if graphics cards manufacturers will equip their toys with the appropriate amount of RAM. Currently it is the bottleneck in the technology. I do not think that biased renderers (vray, mental, etc.) will be quickly replaced by the GPU renderers. Perhaps they will co-exist for the long time.

The popularity in the visualizations can be gained by interactive virtual walks which give customers a completely new experience in dealing with their own projects.
I believe that in the near future, we will work in real time with powerful processors and graphics cards with large amounts of RAM. Spending many hours on rendering perhaps in a few years will be just a memory ;) Then you can focus on the most important - the frame, colors, lighting, story told in the frame, etc. I wish that for myself and all of you ;)


Do you use render farms? If so which ones? How much time can you save this way?

I don't use render farms. We have several machines to render and generally it is adequate for our projects. But I do not exclude their use in projects that will exceed our calculation opportunities;)
What are you interested in besides CG?


CG is not my only world;) For several years I've been a photographer - this is my second passion. These two worlds are intersecting - I recommend for every CG artist to develop some skills in photography. You can learn a lot about scene lighting, composition, use of color, etc. Besides this I also play the guitar – I'm still at entry level (I started playing a year ago) but I've got the ambition to be better. I play mostly hard rock tunes – it's the music I also like to listen :)

I also spend some time on sports – physical activity is necesarry after sitting a whole day at computer screen. I like jogging, I participated in 2012 in marathon in Poznan (PL). And last but not least – I try to devote as much as possible time for my wife and daughter. Without them all the rest would be meaningless.
Thank You for an interview!

Folks, don't forget to visit two great sites of Zbigniew: Zbigniew Ratajczak Photography and Pixel Must Die Studio.



Author: Evermotion Editor: Michal Franczak
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