Light simulation in renderings and 3d animations
“To play with light is to play with magic,” Richard Kelly wrote in 1952. We totally agree. The American lighting designer was a pioneer in his profession. And among the first people to dwell on the question how the passage of light can be simulated in architectural and interior drawings. The representation of light determines the perception of buildings, rooms, materials, of their function, visual effect and aesthetics.
In Kelly’s days everything was drawn by hand. Today the computer serves as a pen, the screen is the paper, colors and shapes are provided by the software. Highlights (“focal glow”), ambient light (“graded washes”) and the play of light points (“brilliants”) that accentuate details in the picture, were Kelly’s key elements to establish the quality of light. This has not changed for us in spite of the digital revolution. Only the means are new.
Computer-generated photorealism is omnipresent. The supposedly natural reproduction of reality is widely known from real estate marketing, tv ads, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. But where’s the added value? Our key question is: What does my client want to convey? And to whom? What’s the core of his idea? Architects, industrial and lighting designers, property builders, high-tech companies and public authorities need a clear view on what they plan or sell. Depending on their respective target and message the visual representation demands different styles and levels of abstraction – all derived from the appropriate rendering of light. For us it’s both: an appeal and a challenge. Here are four examples from our work:
Light planning support
The reduced design of the interior above shows a computer-generated lighting situation. It’s designed to support lighting designers in the planning process and help them choose the light sources to be installed in the physical world. In this case photorealistic simulation makes a lot of sense. The simulation is based on photometric data provided by the manufacturer. No special effects were used to enhance realism. This example shows: A realistic simulation is not the reproduction of the real environment. It is the imitation of a photographic reality. Images that are captured by a camera look different than what I perceive with his own eyes. Our visual references are always photographed and filmed realities.
Mixed light simulation
In the second example, it’s more about the atmospheric effect of the lighting. The still is taken from a 3D animation that shows the different lighting configurations of a new LED luminaire. The result is a both informative and emotional product film that slightly intensifies the real light conditions. Thus a comforting and highly concentrated working atmosphere is created. To achieve this we combined filmed elements (people and skyline) with digitally produced architecture, in this case, the entire interior and furnishings.
Schematic representation of architecture
A considerably more abstract representation of architecture and light is shown in the third example taken from an animation about the planned expansion of an airport. Here, the rule applies: The less complex the image, the clearer the message. Again, light simulation plays a central role, but in an entirely different way. The graphic play of light lends substance and gravity to the abstract models. Buildings, lines of sight and passenger flows become more apparent than in a photorealistic representation. More details would distract from the core message. The deliberate lack of materials and surfaces draws attention to the essentials.
“X-ray” effect revealing technical details
The last example shows another completely different approach to light. The only source of light here are the outlines of the objects themselves. The resulting abstraction is very technical and cool. Unlike in the previous examples, it is neither about the physically correct rendering of light nor an atmospheric mood. The generated “x-ray effect” unveils technical details within machinery and industrial equipment.
Richard Kelly was right. The light makes the magic. Computers simulating and rendering light have never been more powerful. The digital pictures they produce suggest reality. Nevertheless, the magic often dies from a synthetic hyper-realism that quickly exposes as an end in itself. Reduced light effects and abstract representations are often much better to convey a desired message. The magic arises from the choice of means.