The Art of Rendering: How to Create an Atmospheric Urban Scene Using SketchUp and V-Ray

Here’s a step-by-step guide on perfecting rain showers in a rendering.

Ronen Bekerman Architectural Visualization Blog Ronen Bekerman Architectural Visualization Blog

Ronen Bekerman is an industry leader in architectural visualization who hosts in-depth tutorials on his specialist blog. Architizer is pleased to present a selection of these guides, written by some of the world’s best rendering artists.

Today, 3D artist Joel Langeveld takes us through the process of making his remarkable “Japanese Rain Showers” visual, which he did in his spare time from doing yet more great work at 3D Studio Prins. Nothing fishy about this salmon!

Introduction

Hi there, my name is Joel Langeveld. I am currently employed as a 3D artist at 3D Studio Prins in the Netherlands. Nose of the Salmon is the name of my portfolio website to share my personal stuff with the rest of the world. I am not that technical, so don’t expect fancy materials or complex render settings. I am leaning more toward the artistic side. I hope you will enjoy this read.

Inspiration

During the summer, I found some spare time to do some new personal work. I felt like making something nice, and the huge amount of rain during the Dutch summers also helped a bit.

Whenever I work on a personal project, I also want to experiment with some new techniques. Because the time was limited (one full day and two evenings), it had to be a straightforward process. If not, it would have ended up on the dusty pile of the “unfinished-but‐could‐be‐great‐if‐I-have‐the‐time” projects like we all have on our hard drives.

I started looking on the internet for some nice references. While googling for unbuilt architecture, I stumbled upon a really nice vector drawing by Alexander Daxböck, shown below. Because the architecture and the composition was to my taste, I could focus on the atmosphere and the texturing.

In terms of atmosphere, I went for the “it‐just‐stopped‐raining” mood, probably influenced by the rainy weather conditions over here in Amsterdam.

The fact I really love these foggy atmospheres also helps a little. Fog makes images more poetic. There is this famous image of James Dean walking in the rain in Times Square. This is the mood I would like to achieve.

Although it is a fairly common technique, I wanted to do some tests with painting the texture for the road, as I had never done it before. This situation gave me the opportunity to do some nice texture painting with puddles, skid marks, cracks, signage and dirt.

I ended up with a 32k pixel road texture and had some fun painting stuff you can’t even see in the rendering.

Another goal was to do a lot in 3D. Often, I rely on my Photoshop skills to finish an image. This time, I want to try to do it the other way around.

3D Modeling

Although I start with a lot of ambition, most of the time, I get bored with modeling quite fast. Hence the fact I solve a lot in Photoshop. This time, though, I was determined everything should be 3D. First, I started with the left side of the image. I had to guess the measurements from the vector drawing. It is really basic polygon modeling. What makes these buildings nice are the realistic textures from textures.com.

I added some Chinese lamps on the awning to enhance the Asian feeling. By placing them randomly (and not vertical), I tried to get the feeling of wind blowing through the Tokyo streets.

The tip of the day is to use the SketchUp Warehouse models to your advantage. I know, 90 percent of the warehouse is garbage, even architects make better SketchUp models. But, at the back of the top shelf, behind that box full of six polygon cars and trees mapped on a plane, there are some real gems inside the Warehouse.

The traffic signs are straight from the Warehouse, as is the street cafe. The elevated metro in the background … straight out of SketchUp’s library. And you don’t think I would model all these background buildings, right? Even the electricity poles with the wires in the foreground are from the SketchUp Warehouse.

In fact, all the red stuff in the image is from the SketchUp Warehouse. Everything else is modeled by myself.

The road is just a plane. All the details are within the texture I painted. The sidewalk consists of simple objects treated with different textures.

I added some water drops on the wires. I thought it would look cool and add some detail. The wires were remodeled with a renderable spline. I made one small sphere to represent a raindrop. I was able to use the spacing tool to evenly spread the raindrops along the spline. To make it more random, I randomly selected 70 percent of the raindrops and deleted them. The leftovers were treated with an object randomizer so they would differ in size and shape.

Texture and Materials

The vector drawing barely had any information on the type of materials used. Deciding the materials was a purely intuitive process. I always had a soft spot for the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art by Zaha Hadid Architects. I love the black and white concrete, so I figured it could be cool on this building. It makes the building manly and stands strong in these kinds of weather conditions.

Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art by Zaha Hadid Architects, Cincinatti, Ohio

Texturing was fairly basic. Because it had rained, I added sharper reflection on the materials and more than normally would have been the case. For the raindrops on the window, I used a black-and-white texture inside the bump slot. At first, I wanted to scatter raindrops on the windows, but then I stumbled upon this method on the web on giancr.com. I doubted it would work, but at the first test, I already noticed that this will work out fine and fast.

Another new thing for me was texturing the road with one big map. I modeled the outline for the road, rendered the unwrapped mapping and brought it into Photoshop.

The first thing to do is to test how big this texture should be. So I tiled some regular asphalt texture and rendered the image at 4500px (height). After some tests, I came to the conclusion the Photoshop file should be 32k pixels to get this road texture sharp enough in a render, which was quite a challenge for my slow laptop!

Now I could start painting at the right resolution. Although it was not quite necessary for this scene, I had fun painting all the details on the road, like the skid marks to the garage and on the crossing, the gutter alongside the road, the arrows and road signs (too bad I didn’t paint nice road signs with Japanese characters), the sewers, the cracks and the different types of asphalt.

The post‐production made a lot of these details vanish, but I can really see the benefit of doing it like this all the time. You have way more control over the quality and level of detail of the road.

Lighting

To achieve this just‐after‐rain mood, I needed a nice cloudy sky to light up the scene. Eventually, I went for the 1044 overcast HDRi from Peter Guthrie.

The HDRi has a medium-bright sun in it. This sun generates some nice soft shadows. It gives the idea that the rain just stopped and the sky opens up and the umbrellas can be closed again. I reduced the gamma to 0.9 to boost the contrast of the HDRi and thus the amount of light and shadows.

All the interior lights were done with a simple V-Ray light. I set the interior lights to disc type and put the directional to 0.78. In this case, the VRayLights behave like cone-shaped spotlights.

Rendering

Not interesting at all! 😉

I used the good old LC‐IM combo.

Post-Production (Read as Main Production)

Now it was time to bring this piece to life, get some “story” in it and make it attractive.

The way this tutorial is set up, it may seem like the post‐production part is the final part of making an image, as the naming also suggests. But I like to fire up Photoshop as soon as I can. So after the first crappy renders, I already start playing around in PS to see if it is all worth it. I would even say that the majority of the Photoshopping is already done before tweaking the materials and the modeling. So the term post‐production is not really applicable in my work-flow!

The first thing I do in Photoshop is start playing with the elements. Basically, I use eight elements, next to the masking elements (see the image below). I use them in screen mode or in linear dodge mode to enhance some parts of the scene.

After I put the elements on top of the raw render, I do some rough Contrast and Color Balance. As you can see, there is a lot of fog in the scene. The base is set up with the Z‐depth element (in screen mode and a level adjustment layer); after that, I painted a ton of fog on top. I just used the standard brush and a simple cloud brush that one can find on the internet. Just make sure you keep the depth in the scene by masking out the objects in front of the fog.

The vignetting is also an important part to me. I like a heavy vignette so that the spectator will get drawn into the image. Here’s the final image:

As I mentioned in the beginning, the famous James Dean image was an important reference, not only the mood, but also his body language; his facial expression is key. So my James Dean is the girl with the umbrella; let’s name her Marilyn. The position of the umbrella was perfect for my “it‐just‐stopped-raining” mood. She draws a lot of attention, and composition‐wise, she is a great counterpart for the building. Marilyn is also quite classily dressed and apparently heading for Block 7. As an ode to the James Dean image, I also put him in the image.

Check out these other amazing how-to features from our “Art of Rendering” series:

How to Create “Sarmiento Museum” Using SketchUp, V-Ray and Photoshop

How to Create “Luga no Lake House” Using SketchUp, V-Ray and Photoshop

How to Create “House on the Lake” Using Corona Renderer

How to Create “Arrival” Using SketchUp, V-Ray and Photoshop

How “Cliff House” Was Brought to Life Using V-Ray and Photoshop

How to Create “Hotel 114” Using Cinema 4D

Be sure to check out Ronen Bekerman’s best renderings of the week and his in-depth guides to all things ArchViz.

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