Adding People to Renderings, Creative FuelWhy add people?  On a practical note, they add a sense of scale.  On an emotional level, they allow the client to see the space being used and it gives the project life and interest.  In the case of the concept renderings for Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, showing people interacting with the space was vitally important.  The fans and students are the life and energy of the school, so we added as many people as we could fit into each composition.  As a result, the University published our series of twelve renderings multiple times and on a local and national level including ESPN, and most recently in Stadia Magazine.

Adding People to Renderings, Creative Fuel, Nippert Stadium

Lets explore the techniques we use in Concept Design and Visualization, to add people, or figures to our Vray renderings. This method uses Sketch Up, Photoshop and a touch of traditional illustration techniques to blend our image together.

This is a retail space for one of our clients.  Once we’ve established our design and have the model built, we can begin the process of lighting it and adding properties to our materials such as reflection and bump maps.  (If you’d like an overview of Sketch Up please visit their website and check out an earlier post.) We spend just enough time in Vray to get a photo real background.  In some cases it’s faster to add additional lighting effects and drama in Photoshop.  Of course if we are generating an animation, then all of the lighting would need to be worked out in the model.  But since we need to finish 2 of these renderings in one day, (ridiculous!) we work with the most efficient and fastest technique we have. Pools of light help draw the viewer into the rendering and gives a sense of warmth.  To do this in Photoshop, select the area to be lit, then use the refine tool under select. Copy, paste and then use brightness contrast to adjust the level of intensity.  Many of these Photoshop techniques will be covered in another post, so let’s get back to the figures.

Adding people to renderings, FRCH Design, Creative Fuel

Refine Edge

One question I get asked often is, “where do you find your figures?”.  There are sources on the internet for royalty free images, but one the of the best sources are your own photos. An FRCH event alone can harvest hundreds of figures.  Or if you don’t want to use people from work, dig through your vacation photos … you’d be surprised how much great entourage you’ll find.Adding people to renderings, FRCH Design, Creative FuelHere’s an example of preparing a figure for a rendering.  You first need to make sure the lighting is correct.  You don’t want a figure showered in direct sunlight standing inside a space. Diffused light is better for that.  You also need to make sure the figure is in the proper perspective.  If an eye-level is used for the rendering, then the figure must be photographed from eye-level. Watch the placement of the feet. The feet must be in perspective with the floor so the figure looks as if it’s standing on that spot. I use the refine edge tool so I won’t get a hard edge.  This can make the figure look “pasted on”. Switching to a wedding example for a moment.  I needed a group in the foreground for a Renaissance Hotel rendering. Using various sources of reference I was able to create a new set of figures (lower left in the image) that worked for the space and the story we were trying to tell.

It is also very important to make sure the figures in the space are interacting with each other and not staring off into space. Avoid Zombie people!  You can find MANY examples of pasted-on Zombie people on the internet. The result for the hotel was an image that, when published on their website, inspired several wedding bookings before the hotel even opened.

Back to our retail space. Additional light, glows and sparkle is added using Photoshop. I then drop in the figures, making sure they are in perspective, add to the strength of the composition and appear to be shopping and interacting with the space.

I also knock them back a bit in value and apply a “smart blur” to them located in the filter menu.  This helps them to blend with the Vray pass and gives me some room to darken and lighten elements in the hand drawn pass. At this point things still look pasted on and unrefined.  Now we add a little traditional technique to balance everything out. This can certainly be done on a Wacom, and I have done it that way, but I find I have more control, and fun, (remember fun?) using traditional pencil.

The image is printed on an inkjet printer using a heavy weight presentation paper at 13″ x 19″.  This provides a great surface for Prismacolor pencils.  Blending the figures into the scene as well as adding variety and texture to the merchandise is a delicate process.  You want the end result to look as real as possible, so any pencil technique is kept soft and light. Paying attention to the lighting in the space, I add rim light and reflected light to the figures to make them part of the environment of the model. Once everything is blended to my satisfaction, the rendering is scanned at 300 dpi and sent back to Photoshop. A final pass is made balancing the image, giving a strong focus and increasing and decreasing contrast and hue saturation.

The nice thing about this technique is that it’s a one person job from start to finish, so control and quality is maintained. Figures must be done well or they can be a distraction, so take your time and get it right.  They bring life and energy to a rendering and can help sell the project.