A new "Making Of" from Scott Baumberger for his USC Village image.
This is one of a series of renderings commissioned for the proposed USC Village project, located next to the University of Southern California campus near downtown Los Angeles. My client was the San Francisco office of SB Architects, and the developer Caruso Affiliated was also involved in approving the final images. These renderings were created in late 2009, and this image in particular was one of the first that I did using a direct SketchUp technique that has by now become somewhat of a standard.
The architect had already built a very detailed 3d model in SketchUp, but it had no materials assigned and a lot of the elevations were just CAD drawings that had been tilted up and pasted onto flat surfaces. So although the model looked great in SketchUp, a few quick tests showed that it would not hold up for rendering in a package like 3ds Max or Cinema4D. I didn’t have enough time to reconstruct the entire model in full 3D so I decided (in a bit of a panic!) to tackle all of the lighting & rendering within Photoshop.
In SketchUp, I apply a custom hidden-line Style to get short line extensions and a hand-drawn “sketchy” look. Color and shading are turned off and just the linework is exported to a JPG file.
Here’s a screenshot of the Style settings in Sketchup for this model. Remember that these settings aren’t meant to work every time, it’s important to experiment and see what works for your scene.
And here is a close-up of the linework at 100%:
In Photoshop, with the original “unsketchy” color export layer I used the Magic Wand and the Lasso tool to select and fill in the base colors for the rendering. These colors are sampled from an elevation drawing that was also provided by the client. I have the sketchy lines turned on though so I can see where I need to be more or less accurate with the selections. These selection sets will be used for isolating various building elements throughout the rendering process. I also went ahead and painted in the crosswalks even though they are not in the model. Once it’s all done, this color base layer looks like this:
The sketchy linework layer is moved to the top of stack and set to Multiply, so we now have this:
Back in Sketchup, I make sure the View / Edge Style has “Edges” unchecked and then change the View / Face Style to “Monochrome”. Turn on shadows and adjust the Light / Dark settings to create a shadow-only view of the model. Export as a JPG with the same pixel dimension as the color & line exports. In Photoshop, adjust the levels so it’s pure black and white - should look like this:
Next I insert this shadow layer and set it on top of the stack in Photoshop. I then adjusted the Hue / Saturation with the “Colorize” box checked to give the shadows a medium blue tone. I make a note of the HSL numbers so I can re-use them for Layer Styles and other settings later on. Hue = 200, Saturation = 25, and Lightness - 50 - these are good middle-of-the-road settings for a pure daytime scene. For magic hour and dusk scenes, experiment with sliding the Hue to the right and increasing saturation. And of course, you can always change this later.
Change the blending mode of the shadow layer to Multiply:
Next, I create a new layer on top of the stack set to Color Dodge blending named “Sunlight”. With selection sets from the color base layer and the Lasso tool I filled in the areas that receive direct sunlight with a flat yellow-orange color. I then selected the shadow areas from the last step and mask out the sunlight from these areas.
Here’s a look at the layer stack at this point:
Subtle indirect lighting and “ambient occlusion” is painted in at the ground plane, particularly at the retail arcade just right of center. For this, I used the Overlay blending mode because it can both lighten and darken areas that need adjustment.
Another shadow layer is added to darken the undersides of the balconies, cornices, etc., they were needing a little more “punch” and differentiation. This is done on a new layer set to Multiply blending mode set right on top of the original shadow layer.
I then created a new layer between the base color and shadow layer for textures. Granite, asphalt, and a very subtle brick texture are painted in Overlay blending mode. I also sample the elevation drawing to get the texture on the building at the right edge. I don’t worry about the tree as I’ll put a new one in front of it later.
Now it’s time to work on the glass. I select the dark blue color from the base color layer using the Magic Wand tool with the “Contiguous” box unchecked. I created a new layer group and used this selection to create a mask. Using photographs of retail spaces, I build up interior lighting and interest in the glass areas. These photos are set to a mix of Overlay and Normal blending modes at various opacities. In the condo areas on the upper floors I can re-use many of the same photos to create variety. If something is feeling too tight or too specific, I used Smart Blur or Median filters to keep it loose. At this point, I’m only trying to hint at details that aren’t really there in the model.
An initial layer of entourage is added on top of the later stack, including the loading gate at the far left, decorative railings and umbrellas at the retail arcade and running vines here and there. In the stack I add a people layer in between the shading layers and the railing. Here’s a look at 100%:
Trees and “growies” at the cafe railings are added.
Tree shadows are set in just underneath the tree layer from the last step. Foreground shadows are also added to fill out the scene and help vignette the image. The shadow color matches the medium blue tone from the SketchUp export, in this case HSL = 200/25/50. As with the sunlight layer, these added shadows are masked by the original building shadow layer to prevent them from overlapping.
Building signage is added just above the tree layer - glows are created with a Layer Style, in this case Outer Glow + Bevel & Emboss.
Cars and decorative street lamps are added. I know that the red car at left will be covered up by foreground entourage so I’m not as careful as I would otherwise be with blending it into the scene. For now I leave it fully saturated.
More people and existing street light fixtures are added.
More growies are added in the left foreground, and a large tree at the left edge helps to frame the composition.
Subtle reflections are added to the pavement surface. This is essentially a flattened copy of the entire stack, flipped vertically and masked to the pavement selection. Soft Light blending mode typically gives the best results for this effect. If needed, applying a Motion Blur will reduce the specificity of the reflection as well. I also cool down the reflections with a Photo Filter to further differentiate the pavement from the sidewalks.
At this point, the sky was painted in the background, set just above the base color layer and masked out. It includes a filtered sky photograph (in this case Smart Blur + Watercolor) as well as several foreground-to-transparent gradient washes for depth and vignetting.
A slight atmospheric haze effect was added just above the shadowing later to help separate the tower from the foreground building. A warm tone was selected to further differentiate the stucco cladding from the cooler granite in the foreground. This layer is set to Normal blending mode, but at 40% opacity.
An initial paper texture layer is applied in Overlay blending mode. The texture’s brightness is centered around 40% to slightly darken the scene and give it a little more “punch”. In Overlay mode, 50% gray has no effect so if you don’t want to alter the tone of the image make sure the tonal range of the texture is centered at 50%. In this case, as I was adjusting the brightness of the texture a slight darkening effect seemed to help. Experimentation is the key, and that’s big part of the spontaneity in this technique.
Two light blue washes set to Multiply blending mode further vignette the top and bottom edges of the image.
Light yellow-orange washes on the foreground building in Color and Overlay blending modes warm up the brick and stone textures.
More paper textures are added. Because I am pretty happy with the overall tonal balance at this point, I take extra care to make sure these textures are centered at 50% brightness.
Here’s a close up of the tower at 100% so you can see the texturing effects. It’s important to view the image at several zoom factors as you work to make sure the amount of detail is appropriate.
Just some final tweaking of the curves and levels, and we’re done!
Thanks for taking the time to read the article, I hope you find it helpful to your work. Of course feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
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