Ten Things to Make Your Renders Suck Less

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  01 January 2010
Ten Things to Make Your Renders Suck Less

I think I'll change the pace of my posts, and offer something more along the original intent of this thread.

Ten Things to Make Your Renders Suck Less

1) Motivate your lights - As much as possible, every light in your scene should have a logical source to it. Is your key light coming from a lamp? a window? the sun? Sure you'll wind up cheating the position and intensity of lights a bit for a better look, but try to keep them logically consistent

2) Don't be afraid of the dark - Too much CG is over-lit (high key lighting). Let parts of the scene be under-lit, or drop into near black. You still want some shape in your dark areas/shadows, but it can be just the suggestion of forms. If you know an area will always be in near darkness, this is also an opportunity to save some time an not model/texture everything in this area to a detailed level.

3) Dark scenes do not mean under-exposed scenes - If you have a night-time scene or a dark interior scene, don't just turn down the intensity of all the lights and call it a day. Drop the intensity of your fill, and even cool your fills off with a blue tint, but keep some elements of your scene properly lit. A character that is lit from the side (or slightly from behind) with a full intensity key and then darker fills will look better than a character that is more front lit but with the key turned way down in intensity

4) Depth of Field - We are used to looking at images taken by a camera, and camera lenses are unable to keep everything in focus at once. Items that are too near or too far from the focal point have softer focus. This can be done in 3D (slow to calculate) or 2D (faster, but with more artifacts that have to be worked around). Also remember that you need to use a circle/bokeh blur, not a gaussian blur if you are doing this in comp.

5) Keep your light sets separate - In real life, you often have to light your actors/subjects with at least some of the same lights that light your environment. But as a result you wind up having to set up all sorts of flags, diffusers, barn doors, scrims, etc. in order to keep the light at one intensity for one object in frame, and another intensity for other objects in the frame. If you separate out your environment and your subject where possible and light them with different sets of light, then you have more control over the lighting of each element. Each of your characters can be lit with their own set of lights as well. Most CG films I've worked on have a set of lights (key, fill, a couple of rim lights) for each character, and these lights are constrained to the center of gravity/placer of the character and move with that character (but don't rotate.. they stay aligned to world space). This gives you a lot of control over each character's lighting, and you can adjust one character without affecting the others. Also by rendering characters separately, you save a lot of time when you are tweaking lights. Then the characters are put together in the compositing program to create the final image.

6) Learn to use a compositor - Whether you are using Photoshop/Gimp for still images or Nuke/Shake/After Effects for image sequences, you should learn to use a compositing program. It is much faster to make color corrections, blur edges, fix render artifacts, adjust fog/atmosphere/fx-levels, adjust reflection amounts, etc. in 2D rather than tweaking settings in your 3D package and re-rendering. The faster you can turn around and see the results of a change/tweak, the more interations you can perform in a given amount of time. The more iterations you can pull off, the better you can make your art. This also ties into the above suggestion that you render layers separately so that a tweak that affects one element doesn't require re-rendering them all. Don't get caught up in trying to get perfect renders out of your 3D package. Get useable layers out of your 3D package, your 2D package, your particle engine, etc, and then blend them together in your compositor.

7) Linear Workflow - As others have mentioned, linear workflow is very important when you want lighting that you can control. Others have covered the how and the why of this elsewhere, so I'll only mention it here.

8) Composition - Likewise, I'll echo the sentiments of others and stress that image composition is very important. Make the meaning of your image clear. Light and compose to focus on your subject matter. Remove distractions from elsewhere in your frame. Especially if you have moving images, and your audience can only focus on the image for the few seconds (or fraction of a second) that it is on-screen, you want to focus attention and remove distractions so that your intended message comes across.

9) Calibrate your Monitor - If you have access to colorometers that can be used to adjust the color levels, brightness, and contrast of your monitor, then do it. Otherwise there are test images and procedures out there (Google is your friend), that will help you at least get your monitor somewhat close to calibrated. I've run across several renders that were too dark, and the reason turned out to be that the artist had the brightness on their monitor cranked soo high that they were able to see the image, but it was way too dark for everyone else.

10) Atmosphere - One of the things that make CG images look very CG is that their color stays the same across vast distances. In real life (assuming you are on a decent-sized planet's surface) you view distant objects through a lot of air. This air has color and opacity that blocks/scatters the light moving through it. So if you are looking at objects more than a few meters away, you should add some sort of atmosphere to your render (usually best done in your compositing package). Render out a depth-from-camera pass (z-depth), bring it into your comp package, adjust the values with expand/gamma/curves, multiply it by your fog color, and add it back in on top of your image. This additional atmosphere really helps to sell that your image exists in the world, and gives it a sense of depth.

There, hope that helps in a constructive way. :-)

Cheers,
Michael
 
  01 January 2010
Originally Posted by guilemo: Great discussion we have here. Some great tips. I would however really appreciate if somebody could make an alternative list with things on how to improve your renders, and not how how to not be crap. The list shouldnt try to redefine art, but rather help to create great renders, in a technical sense, like Master Zap said in his first post.


Quote: Hi guilemo, I think that would be impossible since non crappy art varies and over time all the things mentioned in such a list would soon become part of a similar list like "10 reasons why your render sucks". know what i mean? it would all become cliche or old news...like the ps lens flare. some staples like good aa settings and composition laws will never die but it all boils down to the situation, scene and the artist....
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I stand corrected! all very good "timeless" points MDuffy!!! good post and very helpful!
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  01 January 2010
Originally Posted by MDuffy: I think I'll change the pace of my posts, and offer something more along the original intent of this thread.

Ten Things to Make Your Renders Suck Less............

Cheers,
Michael


Can we replace the pg 1 list with your list? It's much more technically constructive and informative. That first list reads like noob whining, and many of the entries have little or nothing to do with actual rendering.
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  01 January 2010
*Assembles the forum goblins to whisk in and weave some magical thread splitting spells*

Voila, a new thread. As much as I enjoyed the last thread, this one may prove more constructive in terms of other's contributions. Let's hear everyone's tips for this.
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  01 January 2010
Originally Posted by MDuffy: 6) Learn to use a compositor - Whether you are using Photoshop/Gimp for still images or Nuke/Shake/After Effects for image sequences, you should learn to use a compositing program. It is much faster to make color corrections, blur edges, fix render artifacts, adjust fog/atmosphere/fx-levels, adjust reflection amounts, etc. in 2D rather than tweaking settings in your 3D package and re-rendering. The faster you can turn around and see the results of a change/tweak, the more interations you can perform in a given amount of time. The more iterations you can pull off, the better you can make your art. This also ties into the above suggestion that you render layers separately so that a tweak that affects one element doesn't require re-rendering them all. Don't get caught up in trying to get perfect renders out of your 3D package. Get useable layers out of your 3D package, your 2D package, your particle engine, etc, and then blend them together in your compositor.


This tip, in particular, really stands out for me as being essential. All too often, I see the note "no post work" added to images, as if it's some badge of pride. Oddly enough, nine times out of ten, that image ironically would have been greatly improved with post work.

People really, really need to move past this pointless sense of "artistic purity" when it comes to software and techniques. What matters in the end is the image itself, not the process you used to create it. If you end up painting a whole lot of detail on top of the render in Photoshop - so what? Does it make the image better? Yes? Then do it. Because software and techniques develop and change, but the image should last a lifetime.
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  01 January 2010
Originally Posted by MDuffy: 4) Depth of Field - We are used to looking at images taken by a camera, and camera lenses are unable to keep everything in focus at once. Items that are too near or too far from the focal point have softer focus. This can be done in 3D (slow to calculate) or 2D (faster, but with more artifacts that have to be worked around). Also remember that you need to use a circle/bokeh blur, not a gaussian blur if you are doing this in comp.


One pitfall on this, that a lot of people fall into, is overdoing a severely shallow DOF effect, it can be easy to get slap-happy with it because it looks cool, and there's a lot of renders of otherwise amazingly lit/detailed models that end up looking like miniatures or tilt-shift lens photos.

Just like in real photography, it should be used judiciously. If you're recreating a specific look or style, it might serve you to look for many real photos of similar subjects and see how they manage and make use of their DOF effects. There are plenty of times when shallow DOF and very blurry stylized pictures are taken for effect, but again it all depends on the look you want and it's useful to study what makes something look the way it does.

Of course this mostly applies to renders where realism is the intent, but it's something to be aware of as far as perception of your scene even in more fantastical/whimsical situations.

Just my .02 on that.
 
  01 January 2010
Cool & thanks. I'll check 'em out.
 
  01 January 2010
Originally Posted by leigh: People really, really need to move past this pointless sense of "artistic purity" when it comes to software and techniques. What matters in the end is the image itself, not the process you used to create it. If you end up painting a whole lot of detail on top of the render in Photoshop - so what? Does it make the image better? Yes? Then do it. Because software and techniques develop and change, but the image should last a lifetime.


Very well said! There's a significant history of precision-minded artists being lured to the precision & even "purity" of software-produced images, and this will likely be the case for the near future, at least. It's very easy to get so wrapped up in the technical side of art creation these days that you lose sight of the original goal.

It's like the silly declarations of musical purists on the back of 70s & 80s guitar-rock album covers, "No Computers or Synthesizers Used!" Yeah, but if your music still sucks.....it still sucks.
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  01 January 2010
Originally Posted by Artbot: Very well said! There's a significant history of precision-minded artists being lured to the precision & even "purity" of software-produced images, and this will likely be the case for the near future, at least. It's very easy to get so wrapped up in the technical side of art creation these days that you lose sight of the original goal.

It's like the silly declarations of musical purists on the back of 70s & 80s guitar-rock album covers, "No Computers or Synthesizers Used!" Yeah, but if your music still sucks.....it still sucks.


Definitely thirded/fourthed.

It's understandable as some kind of exercise, but especially if your end goal is production, you want to get in the mindset of taking advantage of every available trick, and utilizing layers and compositing is essential to most pipelines. And even if you're a one-person-band, it just saves time, adds enormous flexibility, and makes your work look richer.

Imagine if TV shows and movies used only raw ungraded footage straight out of the camera. Hell most "reality" shows get a colorist pass. In image terms, it's like expecting youtube flip-cam video to look like a beautifully graded commercial.

Along with basic color theory, some study in film stocks (no matter how obsolete), and docus on coloring work for film and other mediums could be beneficial. There's so much you can do for mood and look and feel with it.
 
  01 January 2010
Research your subject, the more you know about something the easier it is to create a great image about it.
 
  01 January 2010
Great post mduffy
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  01 January 2010
Good tips!!
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  01 January 2010
Great tips! Thank you!
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  01 January 2010
Haha, ideally you could have a thread: 10 reasons why your renders suck, and 10 ways to make it better :P

That sounds pretty constructive to me haha.
 
  01 January 2010
Good read!! Thx for composing this thread !! Thx cgsociety for FP-ing it.
 
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