Rendering, also called “digital rendering” or “3-D rendering” is a relatively new form of art made possible by the existence of computers. Essentially, it is the creation of two-dimensional artwork using a computer to generate an image. The artist describes the scene in a way that the computer can understand. The computer then uses that description to simulate a 3D reality from which it takes a virtual snapshot. That snapshot can then be left in digital format or be printed out by the artist.
The first step in creating render art is the creation of a virtual model. This is analogous to sculpting a model from clay in the real world. The artist begins with a virtual lump of clay, often a sphere or cube, then molds model by stretching it, twisting it, and adding on to it. The process can get rather elaborate. Model making software can cost thousands of dollars, but there are some free applications, such as Blender 3D (which I use) that are quite capable of producing high end models. A few such applications are:
- Blender3D (free)
- Scuptris (free)
- Maya (not free, but one of the applications you may need to learn if you want to go pro).
A virtual model really only defines a shape. Generally, modeling software will let you define how the surface of that model appears (color, texture, reflectivity, etc.) but, more complex models call for skinning. Skinning is the process of creating of what is known as a UV Map. A UV Map is a special picture file that can be wrapped around a model to give it a surface. It’s sort of flattened version of the model analogous to the pattern one uses to cut material for clothing. Modeling software will help to create the UV Map, but I use image editing software, such as Photoshop or GIMP, to actually color in the UV Map.
Certain complex models might call for something known as rigging. Rigging allows the artist to reposition certain parts of a model rather than having to remold a whole new one. For instance, if I create a model of a human form, I may want to be able to reuse that model in different poses. Rather than shaping a new model for every pose, I can rig a single model virtual skeleton. I assign groups of polygons to certain “bones” and then define how those bones can move in relation to one another. I use Blender3D for this. But other applications include Poser and Daz Studio.
The layout stage of rendering is where the artist defines the spatial relationships between objects in a scene. The objects are models created in the prior steps. This step also includes defining the light sources for the scene as well as atmospheric aspects of the image such a haze and fog.
This is the step that is handled by the computer (or network of computers – called a render farm). The computer uses advanced mathematical algorithms to simulate the effects of the light and atmosphere upon the objects set up during the layout phase. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to many days depending upon the complexity of the screen. The final product is a CGI, computer generated image, usually in the form of a bitmap or JPEG file.
This is the part that would be more familiar to traditional artists. In the post production phase the image is loaded into image editing software such as Photoshop, Corel Painter, or GIMP. The artist then makes adjustments to the image ranging from simple color changes to painting new parts.
The final step in the rendering process is the production of the physical work of art. This is done by using any number of computer printers. They can be a simple standard inkjet printer printing on photo paper or monstrous wide format printer printing on canvas. I prefer the latter. High quality prints on canvas are often called giclées, though now, most places just call them canvas prints.
If you’d like to see a high speed demonstration, here is an hour long session condensed into two minutes:
It’s a complex way to create art, involving skills of multiple artistic disciplines, but the results can be quite spectacular. It’s a form of creation that is new to the art world.
Digital Art in general is received much like photography was over a century ago when it was a young art form. There’s no reason that digital art won’t achieve similar recognition in the coming years. Imagine if you had the opportunity go back to New York in the early Twentieth Century and pickup a work from Alfred Stieglitz when they were brand new…
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