Architectural renderings now "indistinguishable
from photos" says leading visual artist

| 21 comments
 

Interview: renderings are now as convincing as reality and are changing the way people perceive architecture, according to architectural visualisation artist Peter Guthrie. "It allows for greater conversation about the built environment," he says in this interview. "Most people are familiar with computer images but would find it harder to interpret a line drawing." (+ slideshow).

Hafner House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Hafner House

London-based Guthrie is widely regarded as the leading exponent of hyper-realistic imagery, and has produced image sets for projects including a Suffolk house by Ström Architects and Claesson Koivisto Rune's prefabricated home.

InnieOutie House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
InnieOutie House

"I try to make atmospheric, memorable images without using too many post-production tricks," Guthrie says. "Other visualisers perhaps take their inspiration from film and video games, but that isn't an aesthetic I'm drawn to."

InnieOutie House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
InnieOutie House

When asked whether we've reached the point where renderings are indistinguishable from photographs, he replied: "I think we have... The 2013 Ikea catalogue has a surprising number of visualisations in it and most people are none the wiser."

HendeeBorg House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
HendeeBorg House

Guthrie believes that people are now so used to computer imagery thanks to movies and computer games that they can "read" architectural renderings more readily than line drawings or sketches. "It makes un-built architecture more immediate and allows for greater conversation about the built environment," he says.

HendeeBorg House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
HendeeBorg House

He adds: "Most people these days are incredibly familiar with computer generated images (although they are usually in the form of feature films or computer games) but would find it harder to interpret a line drawing or watercolour of a proposed building."

HendeeBorg House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
HendeeBorg House

Boundaries are now becoming so blurred that skilled visualisers are now being employed to make it appear that unbuilt projects were actually realised, he said. "I've even had architects in the past ask me to render unbuilt house designs from their archives," he says.

HendeeBorg House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
HendeeBorg House

Here is a full transcript of the interview:


Ross Bryant: How did you get into visualisations?

Peter Guthrie: I studied architecture in Edinburgh and worked for Richard Murphy Architects for about five years after completing my degree. During that time I became more and more interested in both photography and visualisation and eventually decided to make the switch.

Peter Guthrie
Photograph of Peter Guthrie by Rachel Ferriman

Ross Bryant: Are there other visualisers that have inspired or informed your work?

Peter Guthrie: Within visualisation I'm inspired by people like Alex Roman and Bertrand Benoit for their pioneering techniques. You need to have a healthy interest in all the technical geeky things in 3D visualisation and it's important to stay up to date. Most of my inspiration for making images of architecture though comes from architectural photography.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

Ross Bryant: How would you describe your visualisation style? Does it differ from other styles?

Peter Guthrie: I hope it is seen as being closer to architectural photography, that's what I am aiming for anyway. Other visualisers perhaps take their inspiration from film and video games, which still results in captivating beautiful images but it isn't an aesthetic I'm drawn to. I still try to make atmospheric, memorable images but without using too many post-production tricks.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

Ross Bryant: What software do you use?

Peter Guthrie: SketchUp because it's so quick, easy and so suited to the changeable nature of architectural design. Making the model myself builds familiarity with the project and I think that is a very important part in the whole process of coming up with good compositions, a bit like a photographer walking round a building to get an idea for what he wants to shoot.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

3ds Max is the main base for a whole raft of plugins such as V-Ray. The raw rendered images are then treated much like a raw file would be in digital photography - imported into Lightroom to work on colours, exposure, dodging and burning as well as graduated filters etc.

This post production process is probably very different to the vast majority of people working in 3D visualisation and I think this reflects the fact that I have a background in architecture and photography - it's just a workflow I feel comfortable with.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

Ross Bryant: Why go to so much trouble with the images? Where's the value?

Peter Guthrie: Because I enjoy it. For me personally, I just like making good images that I'm proud of and that I can look back at in a couple of years' time and still enjoy. For some clients, like for example Ström Architects whose Suffolk House project you featured on Dezeen back in August, there is a lot of value in making images of as yet un-built designs to help them establish their practices.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

There are projects I have worked on which never actually got built in the end, so the renders then become even more important as a record of the design. I've even had architects in the past ask me to render unbuilt house designs from their archives. It's true that on some of my older projects I could have got away with a lot less and my client probably would still have been perfectly happy, but often I use a project as an excuse to learn a new skill or develop a new technique.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

Ross Bryant: How long does each image take you?

Peter Guthrie: Typically maybe a month for five or six images of a house. The museum project I worked on with Thomas Phifer & Partners in New York lasted three months but we ended up with 24 images in total.

Ross Bryant: Are high-end visualisations lucrative?

Peter Guthrie: They can be, there are a lot of visualisation studios around these days and there seems to be a lot of work for freelancers. It can be tricky finding the balance between interesting work and work that pays well.

Allandale House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Allandale House

Ross Bryant: Do you think that we've reached the point where visualisations are indistinguishable from real photos?

Peter Guthrie: I think we have, but certain types of shot are more successful than others. You can get away with a lot if the overall image has a photographic quality, if the composition and lighting are convincing. The 2013 Ikea catalogue has a surprising number of visualisations in it and most people are none the wiser.

Kilburn House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Kilburn House

Ross Bryant: Can renderings look better than the finished building?

Peter Guthrie: Photographs of a completed building often look better than the building does in real life. Whether or not renderings do is part of the same argument isn't it?

Kilburn House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
Kilburn House

Ross Bryant: Architect and visualiser Henry Goss introduces real world imperfections into his architectural visualisations. What's your view on this?

Peter Guthrie: I've always been interested in materiality in architecture so it is important for me to spend time working on making materials look realistic. Taking materials to the next level is about introducing the variety of texture and lack of uniformity that you see in real life situations. You can take the realism of individual materials to a very high level without resorting to making things deliberately worn and dirty as you often see in video games. I'm yet to meet an architect who wants their new design to look weathered before it has even been built!

InnieOutie House by perter Guthrie | architecture
InnieOutie House

Adding small details can also add greatly to the realism of an image. It sounds crazy I know, but I like to model double glazing accurately so that you get the subtle double reflections that you see in real life.

Ross Bryant: Do photorealistic visualisations and the way they are published on the internet change the way people perceive architecture?

Peter Guthrie: I'm sure it does, at least in that it makes un-built architecture more immediate and allows for greater conversation about the built environment. Most people these days are incredibly familiar with computer generated images (although they are usually in the form of feature films or computer games) but would find it harder to interpret a line drawing or watercolour of a proposed building.

HendeeBorg House by Peter Guthrie | architecture
HendeeBorg House

Ross Bryant: Do you think that the big architectural firms will begin to use photorealistic renderings to illustrate major proposals?

Peter Guthrie: They already have that capability, but good designers will know what is appropriate to the current stage of the design they are showing. It really depends how fixed the designs are, and how much time they want to invest in renders. Sometimes architects are deliberately hesitant about showing too much detail as it can make planners or clients question how much scope there is for making changes.

InnieOutie House by perter Guthrie | architecture
InnieOutie House

Ross Bryant: Where is architectural visualisation heading next?

Peter Guthrie: Actually I'm not even that comfortable with the title architectural visualiser as architectural visualisation is too often seen as a service industry where the most valuable aspect is how quickly images can be produced. I think as the industry matures we are starting to see more distinct styles develop. Companies and individuals have the confidence to lead the artistic direction of an image, and clients are employing them because they can offer something different. Thankfully these days potential clients are more aware of the type of work I do.

  • Eleonora

    An absolutely brilliant artist! There’s always something to learn from Guthrie’s works.

  • Nerdy

    Oh boy, this is not art. It’s easier to try to copy reality than represent it. Obviously all these images are technically perfect, 3D grass etc.. but, you better interview the guys who make the software.

    • Leiurus

      Even though I agree that an interview with the software developers would be interesting, your comment on pure technique is false and narrow minded. According to your comment, then photographers are not artists at all as they only “copy” reality. This debate has been held since the very beginning of photography and has been sorted out decades ago.

      Guthrie’s renderings are not just technical achievements. Many 3D visualizers can reach photorealism without being close to the quality of his work. Here we are talking about composition, colors, mood, etc, just like in regular architectural photography.

      Saying that it is not art is basically saying that photography is not art, and in my opinion it is.

      • iag

        I completely agree. Reminds me of this old tale:

        A photographer is at a dinner party – the host says “you must have an amazing camera!” The photographer says nothing. They eat a lovely meal prepared by the host. After the meal the photographer says “you must have an amazing oven!”

    • Samuel Conlogue

      How can you copy an object and setting that doesn’t yet exist? Your comment makes no sense. Making visually real what is otherwise only lines on paper and ideas in ones mind is not art? Well then what is? Besides, have you seen the renders the programmers make? They’re awful ;-)

    • Federico

      “Better interview the guys who make the software” – That would be like interviewing the engineers who make racing cars or planes instead of the pilots.

    • pickname

      Yes it is only the pots and pans that make a good chef, and only the tools that make a good woodworker, and most definitely nobody could do great art with a ball point pen.

    • Brian Eno

      I agree.

      “How determined people seem to be to aim for exactly the same target
      again and again. A charitable interpretation: by doing so they evolve better tools for everyone else, creating vocabulary out of metaphor.

      Like those pathetic computer artists who are so thrilled when they’ve finally produced a picture of a daffodil with a drop of dew upon it — indistinguishable from a real photo. To me this would represent a total failure, but it’s probably those people who propel the evolution of tools.”

      Brian Eno – A Year With Swollen Appendices

  • brononamous

    Nice advert.

  • Gilbert Bongamin

    Enriching interview of a brilliant artist. You may also like the work of artists such as Bertrand Benoit, Benjamin Brosdau, Viktor Fretyan, and studios like Metro Cubico Digital, Pure, Aiko, Tresde or Xoio.

  • Gavin McGinty

    Good read, great stuff from Guthrie as always.

  • David Relan

    The most fascinating thing with this on a site like Dezeen is that the majority of people who see these releases never actually see the building in person. It serves as inspiration just as well, but that line between render and photo is for these purposes less and less significant. A visualisation, in whatever form, is a little more real than reality.

  • Nerdy

    Yeah a little bit… Sorry for that.

  • Jimbo

    Frankly, they all look distinctively rendered.

    • Airborne

      Agree, the pics are in the uncanny valley. It is possible to make an indistinguishable reality however it takes a team effort. Examples are found in some high budget movies.

      The kind of crisp renders on this page bothers me sometimes. At first sight they seem to be real photos but your brain registers something is not quite right. That’s when I start searching for the imperfections that are not there and basically are wasting time. I prefer the renders that add some artistic interpretation that is not too obvious but makes it a distinct render. Think I saw some nice ones from MRVDV.

  • xxx

    Anyone else curious about the relationship between William O’Brien and Peter Guthrie? It goes unmentioned despite 99% of the above being visualisations of the Rome Prize-winning architect’s work.

  • Dave Morris

    I met him once. Everywhere he goes, the light changes subtly into a slightly more interesting hue, the edges of things become crisper. Senses are heightened, and you can hear a pin drop. Any furniture not produced by a Scandinavian craftsman simply vanishes in his presence.

    As he departed – groupies following enthusiastically in his wake – we poor, remaining normals were all left to contemplate the grey, softened, numbness of the real world until I promptly tripped over a fire extinguisher.

    I hold him responsible.

  • Wolf

    I disagree. With every image there are dead giveaways that they are generated renderings.

  • neben

    Actually he does have a background in architectural photography; that’s the only way to get that kind of images. You need to have a well trained eyed, if only for camera position.

  • 3dvisuals

    A great interview and I thank Peter for sharing some of his insights.

    One comment I was particularly struck by was that he typically takes a whole month to produce around 5 images of a house. To me, that is a generous amount of time to be allowed – personally I have never been afforded that amount of time to generate visuals of anything. Clients usually wanting something back within a week.

    The other thing I’d remark, is that these buildings are quite unique looking, and that in itself tends towards making the images appear interesting – i.e. they are not bog-standard buildings.

    Nevertheless, Peter has obviously positioned himself very well in the industry and marketing-wise his presence and foothold in that regard is quite enviable.

    Congratulations to him.

    Jez

  • Bobby Parker.

    Great work Peter, as usual!