Visualization Sneak Peek: The Future of Realtime 3D Environments

3D Visualization has improved quite a bit in the past few years. There are lots of professionals out there who have learned it the hard way in the past, including me. I’ve started exploring 3D visualization way before youtube came into existence, my only tool was a damn heavy book about Autodesk Maya. Outdated as well. I was reading it and trying to hunt down a button that’s been renamed or moved somewhere else after the book was released. Right now you only need three things: internet access, time and interest in the topic. Well, in my opinion, that is true for a lot of professions in 2018.

The Past of Visualization

Back in 2004, when I’ve opened that heavy Maya book for the first time, photorealism was pretty rare, even in 3D visualization. As far as I remember. Mostly the privilege of the big film production companies. I’m really happy seeing that as technology evolved, lots of artists have the tool now to create mind-blowing visualizations with 3D apps. I don’t feel nostalgic at all, it was a huge pain in the ass. Waiting for hours to finally see the render has some weird issues, so I can start to render it all over again… After adjusting a slider or two. For days that became weeks. Well, at least on an average pc. Hoping for the best that I have fixed the issue… and most likely I didn’t. Thanks but never again.

Visualization Archviz 3D Kitchen before Archviz 3D
My first visualization from 2006ish

The learning curve was extremely long for visualization with the lack of youtube videos to watch for free. When I’ve first seen real-time rendering, I think it was Octane and iRay, I was hoping for that to be implemented in Maya. Maybe I’ve missed something but it never happened. Not as a default render engine, that’s for sure.

The Past of REAL-TIME VISUALIZATION

I’ve never worked in production with real-time render engines for offline apps. The reason is, that when I’ve tried one or two of the few that were available a few years ago, I was pretty disappointed. I’ve switched to Mac for graphic design reasons and I’ve found myself in a desert when it came to 3D visualization. Most of these first tries of real-time rendering engines weren’t available for Mac, or Maya, or both.

So my options were pretty limited, and when I’ve tried one, I’ve realized that it’s not much faster when you wait for the final result. It is even harder to decide if the render was finished. On a slower machine, you won’t see a decent result in the first hour if the scene is complex. Oh! and you have to learn a lot of new things. After I’ve mastered mental ray I found myself knowing nothing about a new engines material and lighting system.

This convinced me that I should wait till real-time rendering becomes a useful tool, not a drawback.

The PRESENT of Visualization

A few years passed by and I’ve seen a video on youtube about how cool is Unreal Engine is. I was thinking that how lucky are the people who can do coding and boring stuff. They can use any kind of application and get super cool results with it. Like a game engine. That would be really cool for visualization. But I don’t do coding. Bad luck for me.

I had some time to experiment with a few things for my skateboard brand which actually never opened it’s doors to the public. I was thinking of some cool ideas for promotion and did some research. That was the point when I’ve realized that knowledge is all around the internet and you have learning material on anything you want to be. Except maybe doctor and lawyer… ok, there are a lot more that you can’t learn from youtube videos and forums.

Nothing to lose (just time), I’ve tried if I can do something with Unity 3D.
With all the tutorial videos and forum help, I was able to put together a pretty simple augmented reality iPhone app. In a few days. So I’ve tried other tools as well. And what I’ve realized on the way is that today, theres zero need for coding in many areas of technology. OK, sometimes a tiny bit of copy paste and common sense. There is a way to make everything work if you have the dedication.

After experimenting with different applications we have arrived at where we are today. Archviz 3D established on an amazing foundation laid down by those people who can really do that boring coding. So creative people don’t have to.

The FUTURE of Visualization

What I didn’t see coming is real-time raytracing. Epic Games announced that they are experimenting with it, and I can say it is pretty amazing. Today, a real-time rendered scene means that the lights and shadows are baked in the scene so you wait a few hours till it finishes rendering and you get a 3D space to explore instead of a single image. Which is amazing. Really.

3D visualization with real-time raytracing is still a bit in the distant future. However, we are not there yet to use it on an average computer.

But… There are some weaknesses, which can be pretty much covered up or faked to look as close to reality as possible, but let’s be honest, it is missing some key elements which comes from ray tracing. eg. Glass material’s caustic shadow/light transforming effect, or human skin’s in-depth rendering of subsurface scattering – when the light hits the surface, bounces a bit inside of the material and comes back out to the viewer.

There are a decent amount of materials in the real world that have this type of effect, which is natural to the eye, but if something missing from a render, it shows. Something feels off. These calculations are real-time and computing power consuming in a conventional 3D application.

Conclusion

Real-time raytracing will be the next step in interactive 3D visualization, which will put on its crown for good. There is nowhere from there to evolve to. Maybe in future devices. Every 3D visualization will be photorealistic by default. There’s one thing we can be afraid of regarding the future. Sooner or later there’s gonna be minimal to no need for an artist. Putting together a photorealistic visualization will be a simple AI task. Most likely.

Well, this is my opinion, but who knows?

Thanks for reading my article about the future of visualization.

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