NPR: Non-Photo Realistic Rendering

Happy 2017 design readers.

Over the break I’ve made a concerted effort to work on some new digital rendering techniques.  As anybody who has followed this blog or knows my work may attest, I personally avoid doing photo realistic renderings.  I came up in this business during the analog/manual era … actually on the cusp of computer models and visualization.  I was modeling/rendering on AutoCAD 3D 15+ years ago … you remember the UCS don’t you?  The “Ultra Confusion System”?  I got some nice renderings but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me.  Individual, hand drawing techniques are just more interesting (and faster) than perfect photo-like creations.  So, have a look at two NPR rendering examples, both of which were developed in Sketchup.

The first is a series of conference table variations I worked on late in 2016.  I had three basic ideas and I wanted to show them together, with my favorite in the foreground.

NPR Conference Table Sketchup Renderings by Mick Ricereto

Once you have your design, setting up views like this takes seconds.  And if I want some alternate views, turn the mouse a bit and go.  Once you build up a library of materials again click click and it all moves very fast.

Next is a kitchen that goes back a couple of years to 2015 (wow – 2015 is now two years ago!).  As with the conference tables above, the secret sauce is getting the line work to replicate my hardline pencil base drawings, but in this case I also had the floor and an exterior to simulate as well.

NPR Kitchen Rendering in Sketchup by Mick Ricereto

Again, if I want another view, I just go for it and do my 3 second re-render right in Sketchup.  There is no outboard rendering program to bother with, just some post work in P-Shop (just like their would be with hand drawing).

With hand presentation it’s either very quick sketchy styles or taking a huge amount of time for more detailed materials and multiple views.  And then you still need to scan them in and touch up as well.  I will still sketch live in front of clients and colleagues the same way, but when presenting more defined designs (like above), back in the studio, I’m very excited to be exploring NPR Sketchup models.  This is like a huge breath of fresh air for me as I can work very quickly and still get individually-styled presentations that I’m happy with.  Also, if it needs to be more realistic, off to a rendering farm it can go (just like rapid prototyping – no need to do it in-house anymore).

I’m looking forward to 2017, getting better and faster.  I hope you’re also off to a cracking start and best wishes in all your endeavors.



Working in Sketchup

Like many designers (and also hobbyists), I have been recently enamored to Sketchup.  For those unfamiliar, Sketchup is a free* 3D design software associated with Google (but sold off a few years ago to a company called Trimble).  I have been using SU to work on environment design (as opposed to product design), as it is very quick to get ideas across and quickly develop views to communicate your design intent.

Seating Area Sketch

3 Minute “Napkin Sketches” – Essential to the Design Process

Most will maintain that drawing by hand is an essential function to working out your designs.  Many are familiar with the story of a “napkin sketch”, or a squiggly Frank Gehry concept drawing; there will always be a place for quick sketches.  With tools like free 3D design packages however, detailed hand drawings are becoming too difficult to justify.

SieMatic Beaux Arts 2 Kitchen for Client in Bermuda

Hand Rendering – Charming but time to move on?

Did I say *Free?  The basic program is free but a Pro version allows many more features including the full-featured Layout element which is similar to Paper Space in AutoCAD.  I use Pro as I would like to master the Layout feature and eventually move away from ACAD.

Entry 2

Sketchup – A Quick Design and Communication Tool

As mentioned before in previous posts, I’m well aware the time-consuming method of drawing by hand is charming but inefficient in today’s design world.  Although I can draw quite quickly in a loose fashion (napkin sketches and so on), more and more of my clients are used to seeing photo-realistic renderings and as this becomes the norm pencil and marker sketches just simply will not cut it.  It isn’t the speed and the efficiency alone that renders hand drawings obsolete (sorry), but the fact that realism is so easily obtainable and frankly expected in luxury interior presentations.  Worst is when you need to present a few options in the same space; this is where digital designing such as SU can manage things in a few clicks.

Classic Main Alt

Basic SU Presentation.  No Post-SU rendering needed for quick images such as this.

Although my screen shots show basic line work, you can always export your SU model to a rendering package (also inexpensive) to get into photo realism.  It should be noted there are consultancies – many in Eastern Europe or Asia – who do nothing but make renderings of complex buildings and other important 3D projects.  These “Rendering Farms” have super computers toiling away to make your models look like the CGI from Skywalker Ranch.

After working in SU for a year or two, it became quite clear that although I don’t need CGI-level rendering yet, the quality of materials representation and purchasable interior elements make a big difference to the quality of your design.  Looking at my screen shots above, I’m referring to not only the realism of the stone floor but the appliances, the paintings I placed on the wall (small replications of a friend’s work), the chairs – all the things we called Entourage back in the pens-and-marker days.  With hand drawings you draw these elements yourself, or Photoshop things in later.  With 3D design, you can insert scale models of products into your room.  One of Sketchup’s most powerful features is their database of objects you can download and use in your design; the 3D Warehouse.

SU Warehouse Image

A View to Mick’s 3D Warehouse Page

The 3DW is a user-uploaded repository of free models.  If it has been uploaded to the Warehouse, you can use it.  Some “power users” display entire buildings and iconic models they constructed in the manner of a gallery.  I have seen the Empire State Building, Endeavor Space Shuttle, Tie Fighters … there are some incredible models uploaded to the 3DW.  For me and other furniture designers/manufacturers however, the 3DW presents a unique opportunity to get our products in the hands of architects and specifiers.  By having your commercially-available designs in the 3DW, there is a very good chance of having your pieces specified when the design gets executed in real life.  With this in mind, I have recently been converting my product designs to the SU 3DW format and uploading them for other designers and hobbyists to use.  In the first week I had a couple of hundred downloads of some of my lighting designs.  Who is looking at/using my product models?  This I do not know, as there is not a feedback loop or way to track who is using what.

SU Screenshot

Screen Shot of Sketchup Interface – and the Popular Ilex SPAL24 Space Array Fixture

So far the most popular of my products is the above Space Array fixture, at over a hundred downloads by itself.  Not bad for the first week.  I looked at some iconic furniture pieces by well-known manufacturers and their downloads were in the many thousands.  Surely some of these model usages will result in actual sales, right?

How many of you, dear readers, are using Sketchup and the 3D Warehouse?  Do you use actual products you intend to specify for the final project?  Does the availability of a model on the 3DW increase your chance of using it in real life?

With dozens of lighting fixtures currently in production – not to mention the scores of Amerock hardware designs I did between 2004 and 2009 – I could put a huge amount of product on the 3DW.  I’ll continue to focus on the newer and better designs for now, with the hope of getting a wider audience for my more marketable designs.

If you are a Sketchup user please have a visit to my product gallery and try some of my lighting and hardware in your models.  I’d love to know how they work in your designs.