This week we welcome Nicholas Lott to talk a little bit about the process of rendering and share some of his work. We have both had the honor of attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with Nick and getting to know him personally while admiring the incredibly unique work he does. We hope that our viewers can learn a thing or two from someone who puts hours upon hours of practice into rendering. Enjoy! -Defragging Architecture
“Rendering is quite an interesting aspect of the architecture profession. A rendering of your architectural creation is both the most important drawing and the least important drawing at the same time. It is the visual communication of a large conglomerate of technical drawings that, otherwise, have no meaning to the client…and again, at the same time, do very little for a contractor trying to build the building. It is the selling point, and the main way we, as architects, show our ideas. It is the main way we judge architecture that isn’t built. It sells your building, as well as being a design tool. I am perplexed and enraged that we don’t teach rendering in schools. Rendering isn’t just using the computer; I do a lot by hand. I always start with a sketch before using the computer.”
“A lot of people think they need fancy programs that cost a lot, but I currently work professionally, and my workflow is sketching on paper, SketchUp, Twilight (free rendering program in SketchUp), and Photoshop. I have recently added Vray, and I do love it, but I’ve used Twilight all throughout school and work. There are hundreds of programs that you can use; I’m just relaying what has worked for me in the past.”
One of the main features I would be lost without is the ability to export your renders at a given size and to save a particular view. Nearly all rendering programs have this, but it is extremely important because the final rendering image is never one image. For instance, I usually always render the building, then render the line work of that scene, then render the glass or glazing, then I render the clay model with shadows (the building with materials turned off). The final image is a composition of all of these, and not having to size or change these so that they line up perfectly is important. Tutorials of these can be found all over the internet, but one site I refer to as the ‘rendering bible’ is Alex Hogrefe’s Visualizing Architecture website; I can’t say enough good things about this site. Ronen Berkerman, CGarchitect, and SketchUp Artist are other good ones, but if you want to get good at rendering, Alex Hogrefe is the best.”
“Rendering is now becoming a full-time job due to its importance in selling a project, and honestly, I think it’s really lacking in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of amazing studios (D Box, Brick, Luxigon, and MIR to name a few), but it’s a huge industry. Why does it seem like architecture is indifferent. I am not sure why this is. I know the film and video gaming industry sees the value of rendering.”
A collection of tips that have helped me, maybe they can help you too
1 – Draw every day
Every day I take lunch and draw for an hour. It took a while to get in the habit, but now, even if I have to I use picture references, I just draw where I’m eating lunch, sometimes I doodle on a napkin…but draw every day. I change mediums from paints, to markers, to usually just pencil sketch, but drawing every day helps me. Sometimes it’s architectural stuff, most of the time it’s not, and I usually post my good ones on my Instagram (shameless plug…..Instagram name: nicholas.lott).
2 – Texture library and searches
The first thing I do every day when I log on to my computer is look for new unique textures. http://www.textures.com/ is my homepage and is great.
3 – From concept sketches to render
I start every project with hand sketches, but what I found is that I do all of them on one sheet…yes one sheet of paper. It’s a really large sheet, about 36 by 24 inches. I have even been known to use a roll of paper and do a giant drawing much bigger. If you can’t be the best, be the biggest (old Texas proverb). I try to get all the ideas on one sheet then pin that up. When working in a sketchbook it separates these ideas and doesn’t let them evolve. I draw a section over a plan with a relation to a detail.
4 – Computer to analog and back again
Like I said, I always start with some hand-drawn sketches, but I usually do one big drawing and then it’s off to the computer. I work a lot in SketchUp during this stage because of the ease of doing mass models, then quick renders, a print, and then another round of drawing on top of those. My work flow order is hand sketches, massing in SketchUp, hand sketches, modeling the building in SketchUp, export the base drawing to CAD, CAD finalize drawings, finalize model, import CAD back into SketchUp, Vray to render, and finally Photoshop to combine everything. For all renderings I use 11 by 17 inches at 300 dpi except for if I know this is going to be a big one; I go up on the size.
5 – Using rendering to design
Sometimes I have a material in mind but no real form. In Photoshop, I take that texture of the materials I am thinking of and lighting conditions and just overlay a bunch of things, allowing happy accidents to form. I transform these, bending and stretching and using different brushes and layer modes, then I print and draw on top of that.
6 – Talk about architecture
One of the biggest things that bothers me is the lack of conversations about architecture. I find a lot of students and professionals can’t talk about their work, or the work of others. Talk with your professors, colleagues, your parents, really anyone that will listen to you about their likes, dislikes, and favorite buildings, architects, or artists. Also, one question I always ask young architecture students during a critique is “Name me your top five architects, artists, or personalities that inspire you?” If you can’t name five, you are doing it wrong.
7 – Taste change
We all have architectural love affairs and break ups, and that’s okay. As a matter of fact, I hope you have them. It could be Zaha, Gehry, Mies, or Aalto, but have them. One of the great stories I was told that stuck with me was about Glen Murcutt, one of my favorite architects. Apparently after working in the 1960’s in London, he came home loving Mies and wanted to build Miesian houses in Australia. But Miesian houses don’t work in Australia….. and through trying to design and build these homes he merges Australian climate specific designs with his love of Mies with the development of his own architecture.
8 – Look at the Bad!!!!!!
One question students always struggle with is “what is good architecture?” and that is a hard question to answer sometimes. If you ask a professor this you will usually get a mystical answer just restating the question or some bumper sticker phase that literally doesn’t answer any question. But one thing we can all agree on is that bad architecture or problems with architecture can be addressed. I remember hearing phrases like “please for the love of God don’t do this.” Look at and remember these buildings and details. You can learn so much more from them. Ask why they failed, or don’t work, and know the pitfalls of these design decisions.
9 – YouTube
This website may have changed the way humans get information, and this applies for all fields of study. The information is at your fingertips!!!! So the next time you’re watching videos of cats getting brain freezes, watch the Harvard school of design video afterwards and get that lecture for free. (YouTube didn’t pay me for this plug.)
10 – Make up projects
I hear a lot of people say things like “all I am is a Revit monkey or CAD monkey or just a plain monkey and I love to do design work or render but I never get to do that.” Why are you waiting for permission to work on something? Make up a project and run with it. Show it to your boss or professors. You are a designer; the way you get better is designing. Also, architecture competitions happen literally year round. http://bustler.net/ is a great place to look, but there are hundreds. And if you don’t like doing red lines, show them you are capable of doing design work to get more design work.
11 – Want to work on rendering?
It’s hard to learn a rendering program or any new software and at the same time try to learn how to design and make design decisions. Go on ArchDaily and find a project that you like. Use it’s drawing and pictures and make a computer model of that building. Now re-render it. There are no design decisions to make, and you will really understand that project. Or render a building in your city, or hometown, or your office, really whatever. I have done this a couple of times and they are all in my portfolio.
12 – Revisit Projects
As time passes you grow in the architecture field. Your skills grow as well, and it’s always good to revisit an old project. Maybe it’s to bring up a project graphically, or re-render a project because you have learned a new technique, or change and update a design. I have done all of these and encourage everyone to do this. Your school projects don’t end because the semester ends; keep designing and thinking; apply what you have learned over the years of training and doing this.
Other Online Resources:
Alex Hogrefe website (my bible): https://visualizingarchitecture.com/
Need help in Photoshop: https://phlearn.com/
Rendering in sketch up: http://www.sketchupartists.org/
Another rendering site: http://www.ronenbekerman.com/
Want to draw better: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmCJoJ3ATLLmPTO59wMbt7g
Want to paint better: http://jamesgurney.com/site/
Scott Robertson website and youtube for rendering and drawing
(All photographic documentation in this blog post is property of Nicholas Lott. Copy and use of any of this material is prohibited)
A HUGE THANKS TO NICHOLAS LOTT FOR THE INSPIRATION AND KNOWLEDGE!
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