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Post-Production Trends in 3D Visualizations

Post-production might well be the most underappreciated part of creating 3D visualizations. It gives you the power to easily make some changes; put in the sky you like, add some dirt, make the colors more vibrant and even correct some little mistakes in your 3D mesh.

Most of the traditional 3D artists tried to do as much as possible wihtin their 3D package since these packages were not focusing on post, but rather on the 3D products themselves. Rendering masks for the different color corrections one would like to do was a painstaking job of fixing the lighting and materializing — making artists choose to do most of the work in 3D (such as adding dirt and textures) and so leaving only color correction for post-work.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

The techniques and styles of correcting images in post-production have changed a lot over the last couple of years. First, we shall take a look at some of the trends and techniques that are happening right now. Next to that, we will take a look at the most impressive architectural visualization shot that CGI has ever seen and at the post-production in that shot. Next to that, the trend it started in terms of post-production.

Different Styles of Post-Production Link

This is what a 3D image should look like according to the corporate industry. Basically, what you do is the following: take a render, do some minor color correction and add some glow. Despite the fact that this is mostly considered standard, it should belong to the past. There are a lot of techniques out now to create better looking, more beautiful images with the help of post-production software. Let’s look at some examples.

Trazar 3D render4

This image, created by a Dutch company called “Trazar” explains exactly what the “standard” is. The image looks great and a client would absolutely love it because the building is so clearly visible, but it looks too perfect. So to a 3D specialist, it still looks fake.

Some things that immediately come to mind:

  • Everything is completely balanced; you can see the sky clearly (it is not too bright), but you can also see every little detail in the shadows.
  • There is a blank spot at the horizon, which is odd, because it’s situated in the middle of a city.

Here is another example, made by a company called “Archiform”. This render too looks very realistic, but still doesn’t look quite as good as it could with some heavy post production.

3D render by Archiform5

Same thing here:

  • The colors are too vibrant.
  • The glow of the sky makes the trees blue

Degraded Photorealism Link

A synopsis to explain what I’m talking about. Degrading your images in post with scratches, vignetting, lens blur and many more things, making your image look more like a photo taken by a (bad or old) camera that uses film rather then a 3D render. What we make in our 3D packages can look perfect: our edges can be exactly 90 degrees (or 89 for that matter), our tabletops can be completely clean without dents in them, as well as that we can produce images in low light condition with an ISO of 6400 without a single drop of grain in the final images.

This technique focuses on how to overcome the perfectness of 3D. It is unmistakably the most popular post-production trend at the moment used in non-corporate 3D visuals. Let’s look at the only example needed to illustrate this technique. This video is made by Alex Roman, a 3D visualization expert.

The Third & The Seventh6 by Alex Roman.

Now, the first thing that’s noteworthy is that everything except the people and the birds is 3D. The art of 3D visuals has come a long way and if we would give a good 3D artist one year of free time on his hands to make whatever he wants, this is what he would come up with (at least, “Alex Roman” did).

Alex Roman’s “The Third & The Seventh” shook-up the 3D world by using a great cinematic style to make the architecture stand out. Most of the time, you don’t even realize it’s 3D.

So, what part of this is done in his 3D package, and what part is done in post? To let Alex answer the question himself, here is another video of the compositing breakdown. He shows a wireframe or smooth shaded view of the model inside 3D studio max, after that the bare render. Each next frame includes a new step of post-production.

Compositing Breakdown (T&S)7 by Alex Roman.

As we can clearly see he replaced the sky, added people, corrected the color and added some other visual elements in post. Those things are purely decorative. What really sets the mood, is the use of vignetting, lens flares and lens blur. He makes it look like this was a movie shot in the early nineties. Don’t get confused, it is not only the post-production that made this mood happen (cameramen wearing somewhat classic clothing, etc.), but this is certainly something that helps a lot! This movie would have been completely different if it hadn’t been corrected in post.

Techniques Link

Let’s discuss how we can achieve this effect, and look at the stuff that will work, and how the same stuff, applied in a wrong way, won’t work. In the examples below, these effects have been exaggerated to see the difference clearer. I’ve had to limit myself to a couple effects since it is simply too much to discuss all of the techniques that can be used. The ones I’ll describe below should get the basics though.

Image with added grain8
Large view9

When using old cameras with film, there are pictures that often show grain in the darker areas of the image because the film won’t pick up the details in the darker part of the image. This effect can easily be achieved in our post-production package. I used photoshop in this case.


  • Make the effect barely visible, only noticeable if you look good.
  • Use plugins like “NIK color effects” that can simulate actual grain from a certain film. This will boost the credibility of the grain.


  • Add noise in brighter areas of the image, this will look unrealistic.
  • Overdo it. Some noise is good, but don’t make it disturbing, the end product should still look good.

Image with edited vignette10
Large view11

Vignetting can have different causes in photography. The main cause is using a cheap lens / camera. Most of the time this effect is unwanted, but sometimes it can create an image that centers your eye, or guides it to a specific part of the image.

In post, we can use two types of vignetting; one brightens the middle of the image, the other darkens the edges. Normally, the second one is used, since the 3D render still has to maintain its function of showing the subject properly 6mdash; if it’s too bright, this isn’t always possible.


  • Add vignetting to your renders! It looks cool.


  • Tell your client about is, they won’t like that you are degrading otherwise perfect images just too make them look cool. If you use this effect moderately, they probably won’t even notice.
  • Overdo the effect. This will make your image look very dark, and might not fit its purpose.
  • Add them when you are rendering studio setups and such. The effect needs to be believable. Studio cameras are often setup to not have vignetting; so when applied in this case, it won’t look realistic but rather disturbing.

Image edited with chromatic aberrations12
Large view13

Chromatic aberrations are caused by a lens that refracts the light spectrum in different ways on different places. Like with a prism, the light will disperse and fall on the sensor incorrectly.The effect will occur more on wide-angle lenses rather then tele-lenses.

It’s is a very subtle effect and will pretty much only show up in the corners and on the side of the images (unless your camera equipment is really bad). If you look in the circle drawn in the image above at the black beam, there is a red, blurry line next to it, that’s chromatic aberration (CA).


  • Use it (heavily) when you have rendered with a wide angle lens and adapt the amount of chromatic aberrations when using a tele-lens.
  • Make sure you use the correct color slider; the most often occurring colors of CA are red and green. In photoshop, you can also make blue and yellow ones.


  • Overdo the effect (again? yes again!). This is really important. All of these effects should be only very subtle to make them work. You are trying to make it look like a stylized photo, not like you screwed up your image in post.
  • Add it in the center of the image, it will look disturbing instead of realistic.
  • Add it in the beginning of the post; make sure to make this one of your last steps so that the colors of the aberrations are not effected by your color corrections.

Image with color correction14
Large view15

This is were the fun begins. Color correction. The most common thing is to look at “lomography” photographs; they have huge amounts of saturation, produce those artifacts we want to see, and still manage to look stunning. This step is somewhat personal, and I can see why some people don’t like this effect, but I personally like to take this step over the top.

In this image I’ve added a bunch of adjustment layers:

  • Three gradient maps (set to various blending modes).
  • One color balance.
  • One black & white layer set to soft light.
  • A levels adjustment.

All of the layers have a very low opacity (less than 25%) to make the effects subtle, but visible. A little side note; before I added these, I made sure my image was “correct”. No overexposed areas, no huge amounts of contrast and no unsharp areas.

Now, all of these effects standing alone might not be very cool, but added together, it gives a completely different feel to the scene.

Final image16
Large view17

One thing to keep in mind, is that the render you start out with, has to look good already. It has to look somewhat photorealistic to make these effects work. If you start out with a simple render with simple materials that on its own doesn’t look convincing; you should work on those qualities first. After that, you can let yourself go in post to degrade the images again.

Next to the effects described above, there is a ton of stuff you can add; blooming, lens flares, haze, depth of field, motion blur, etc. I have just scratched the surface here. Check the “More to Read & Watch” section for some tutorials and interesting articles.

Hybrid 2D / 3D Visualization Link

Another upcoming trend is to use 2D in conjunction with 3D to create pictures that look like they were painted or drawn, but were the geometry was made in 3D. This movie is made by CMI studio — this technique is relatively new and uncommon, but I think it’s noteworthy simply because it looks great! Let’s look at an example of this technique:

If you take a good look at the movie, you will find a lot of things that are peculiar, and normally don’t happen in a 3D company. The rendered image is printed out, drawn over, the drawing is scanned, and that is the one getting color. So the 3D part isn’t visible in the end product at all! Check the “More to Read & Watch” section for some “making of” videos. I think this is one of the upcoming new things that will become greatly used in the upcoming years.

Wrapping Up Link

The last couple of years, the amount of post-production has grown, most things are easier to add into post, than in your 3D package.

Despite the fact that it has been growing in the corporate way (Because that’s where the money is), I think artist will start showing more of what they can do in post, and the companies buying 3D renders will soon realize that stylized images look much better than the plain, blend ones without some sort of a feeling too it. Adding real-life imperfections to your renders should be something that has to be done a lot more often.

Nothing in the world is perfect, your 3D renders shouldn’t be either!

More to Read & Watch Link

Would you like to see more articles on 3D / Visualization on SM?28Market Research29


Footnotes Link

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Roland is a self tought 3d artist and partner in: ""

  1. 1


    it’s a all-too-common prob (or laziness?) i see very often :

    (video) tutorials on rendering on 3d apps/package..
    what the host/video maker does is simply tells the viewer their settings and its always needlessly high, generating needless wasted amount of time to wait for the renderer to finish rendering.
    even if rendering on a 8 or even 12-core beast, needlessly high settings just to make things look nice/perfect is unpractical.
    the thing is, we need to learn how to OPTIMIZE the work/render so there’s a better balance between speed and quality. its then we post-process to make it even better or to make it ‘pop’.

    • 2

      Roland Peelen

      December 3, 2010 1:27 pm

      Hi there,

      Thanks for replying. You are right that general setting don’t work, but these sort of things all come down to experience. I have some general settings for testrenders, but the settings for all of my projects are different.
      It’s a very subtle balance between your sun, camera, render and other light settings. I think this can only be learned by experience…

      • 3

        hey thanks for reply too :)

        actually wat i have in mind wasn’t visualization… more on 3D animation and motion graphics lol!

        well with photorealistic (with or without “”) renders, there’s so much we can discuss and argue on. but the one thing to keep in mind is to enjoy the process! we can’t definiely learn EVERYTHING, but we can enjoy learning!
        i’m not a pro or 3D veteran, but i love to read what the pros or even experienced 3D enthusists thoughts on the methology, and take what’s best for my own work.
        Having fun and enjoying the (though) journey~ :)

  2. 4

    Brilliant article. I would love to see more 3D Viz discussed on this site.

  3. 6

    Nice tutorial. I’d like to see more about color correction, different techniques, etc. It seems a little color goes a long way.

    • 7

      Roland Peelen

      December 3, 2010 1:29 pm

      Yes.. Little color goes a very long way. I would like to invite you to watch my videotutorial at my website: “How you can make your post-production matter” over here:
      Perhaps this helps a bit :)

      • 8

        Rombout Versluijs

        November 5, 2011 5:42 pm

        Hi ROland,

        where did you move your tuts to?
        Id like to have a look at them

        best regards

  4. 9

    I did 3d rendering for years as an architect and designer and the one thing that always stands out is that things are too perfect. It’s a combination of lazy material swatches (incorrect shader type, not enough bump map noise, etc) and poor lighting. Light is probably even more difficult as it’s really working each light individually and then as a whole.

    For things on the 2d front, everyone should learn to use a node based compositor. I wish Apple would have open sourced Shake after they shut it down, as it was easy to get into and a professional grade product.

    Read Brinkmann’s “The Art and Science of Digital Compositing” for discussions of the more indepth things with transfers, etc.

    And always, always add more dirt. :)

    • 10

      Roland Peelen

      December 3, 2010 1:35 pm

      Thanks for your reply.. Dirt is good! (only on exteriors though)…

      About the 3d, I agree that sometimes the lack of knowledge mainly about shader types (as you pointed out) does contribute to bad renders. Lighting is also pretty difficult, but with a daylight system setup like in max and a basic knowledge about camera settings you can reach pretty good results :)..

      About the 2d node compositor, I’ve personally never been a great fan of that, photoshop is my tool of preference.. But the general concept of node based compositing can be transferred to photoshop easily by using adjustment-layers to make sure you can replace your base render without doing all your post-pro again :)…

      Thanks for the tip on the book, will look into that! :)

  5. 11

    I have almost no idea what you are talking about.

    • 12

      Roland Peelen

      December 3, 2010 1:37 pm

      Sorry mate, which part don’t you understand? Perhaps I can explain some stuff?
      The article is written / aimed for the mid / advanced 3d visualizer, so I get that some parts might not be fully clear.

      Let me know if I can help! :)

      • 13

        @Roland – I’m a web designer, like many of SM’s readers. I was immediately interested by nature when I read the title of the article. This is a field that I don’t often get to peek in to. It is obvious this article is well-written and informative, if you have the right background. As you said, it is mainly directed and mid-high level 3D visualizers. The vast majority of Smashing’s readers are not 3D visualizers. As such, I could not follow this, even though I wanted to. I would love to see an article similar to this, minus the jargon, or at least explain the jargon.

        • 14

          That’s about how I feel when you guys start talking about Ajax or Ruby on Rails. But those articles aren’t targeted at me.

          I consider myself a low-mid level 3d user, and this is pretty basic terminology. Trying to explain the “jargon” to people who’ve never opened a 3d program is kind of silly.

          • 15

            Dear Josy and Craig,

            Keep a hold of the site. I’m currently working on an article that will explain all of those basic things you need to know! :)

  6. 16

    I enjoy the idea of ‘post production trends’ – doesn’t have to be for 3d but of all mediums. Enjoyed the info… great idea.

    • 17

      Roland Peelen

      December 3, 2010 1:38 pm

      True that! Thanks for the reply.. Unfortunately, my main focus is 3d, perhaps someone else could write something about photo or video, would be very interesting :)

  7. 18

    This is brilliant!
    More more more like this!

  8. 20

    Thanks for the article. The timing couldn’t be better.

    I have found a slight s-curve overall using the curves adjustment helps to snap up my renders. Also, a very slight blur helps overall to soften the hard-edged renders as well as using the other effects you mentioned.

    Hope to see more articles on 3D in the future.


    • 21

      Roland Peelen

      December 3, 2010 1:48 pm

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your reply. If I might make a suggestion as an alternative for the s-curve, a “black and white” adjustment layer set on “soft-light” or “overlay” will do the same (a bit more extreme), but more controllable :)

      • 22

        Roland, would you use the same approach in AE?

        • 23

          Roland Peelen

          December 3, 2010 5:43 pm

          Hmm.. Short answer: Yes. In After Fx, I would try to recreate the effects in photoshop, I think it would be made in a different way (using adjustment layers, which can be deconstructive etc.), but I will try to replicate the effects I use in Photoshop :)..

  9. 24

    Kevin Thornbloom

    December 3, 2010 6:46 pm

    Love the article, especially the color correction tips. I know this is focused on the post-production, but I’d love seeing some more posts about the world of 3D. Maybe even some open-source programs like Blender since many aspiring artists can’t shell out for the big stuff…

    • 25

      Ronen Bekerman’s blog ( has an article that I wrote explaining how I created an image using Blender + Indigo. While Indigo is a commercial package these days, the same results could be attained using Lux, which is a great open-source alternative. The article is called ‘Making of 93 Tram’ and the link is

    • 26

      Great post, sheds light on stuff many people use but few talk about. I’ve found that lately there have been more and more firms who are looking to differentiate themselves from the market by looking for renderings that have more drama and intrigue to them, if you know what I mean. It’s one of the things that has made me happiest as it’s way more conducive to the artist and his/her creativity and the images possess way more character than the ‘mass-production’ style renderings.

  10. 27

    Christopher Kandrat

    December 3, 2010 11:01 pm

    This is just excellent, would love to see more of this kind of thing. I agree this kind of thing needs more discussion.

  11. 28

    Alex Radyushin

    December 4, 2010 6:09 am

    I think its the first article on smashing EVER that is related to 3D rendering… How is that connected to all other posts that we come here for?…

  12. 29

    luc van amerongen

    December 6, 2010 12:00 am

    Hello/ Hallo Roland,

    You are wright about the examples you show, but aren’t these old examples of the companies?
    Both companies have better examples on their website.

    Alex roman makes beautifull movies, but i think his style is not suitable for most architectural visual purposes. It takes too long to make, and doesn’t show the carefully choosen materials of the architect.

    Second thing is:

    why dow we trie to copy photostyle? a more difficult thing to do would be copy the thing we really see.
    But i have to say, this is very difficult.

    • 30

      Roland Peelen

      January 2, 2011 9:59 am

      Hi Luc,

      Thanks for your reply. There are of course better examples from both companies. Unfortunately, most clients that come to us still ask for these sort of visualizations. Thus my conclusion that this is still the industry standard (not our industry, but the architecture one).
      Alex Romans movies not suitable for archviz. Hmm. I need to disagree on this one. Despite the fact that it might not show the full building in all its glory, it makes you curious on what’s more. I think it is the same thing as I do in my interior stills. Hiding electrical wires, not showing radiators. Just hiding the ugly stuff. Alex does this, but in a very artistic manor. I think (although it is really expensive) this is a really cool method of showing the architectural features of a building.

      And yeah, copying the things we see is the way to go. Of course! But as you pointed out, this is very difficult! But, we do this as far as possible in our 3d packages. The modeling is all the same. The only problem is. Clients would like to see perfection. 90 degree corners. No dirt, nowhere. This is not what we want to make, but what we want to make costs a lot of money!
      So, unfortunately, to this day, we still have to make things perfect, and roughen it up in post (which is somewhat faster / fundable).

      Kind regards,
      Roland Peelen

    • 31

      Ronen Bekerman

      May 7, 2011 11:48 pm

      While I like Alex Roman’s work very much – It is an unreasonable technical effort for a normal production work for a client in the Architectural Visualization Field of today. You will have to charge big $$$$ to cover it and that just doesn’t fly anymore.

      Even more then that, the artistic concept might not even work with some clients.

      Personally, I’m going towards a pipeline shifted to post rather then pure 3d. My latest interviews with MIR & LUXIGON got me thinking really hard about this. Just check out the debate about LUXIGON’s recent Wadi Rum Visuals and the debate they stired on my blog.

      You will see a selection of 20 images done during 6 days span… some of them among the most amazing visuals I’ve seen and yet mostly post worked in Photoshop and technically not so perfect. Those image helped the Architect to WIN the Competition!

  13. 32

    Thanks for this article. I have just started to get into 3D myself (hobbyist: Sketchup and Kerkythera) and this article is a good intro into the topic.

  14. 33

    Rizqi Djamaluddin

    December 6, 2010 3:36 am

    Really interesting – that video was emotionally engaging.

    I totally agree about overuse of effects. Videos/pictures can look good without post-production, and they can look awesome with it. But overdone effects can tear it down to really low levels.

    Just one suggestion: You’re using the term “3D” in many places where you should probably be using “CGI”. For example “Now, the first thing that’s noteworthy is that everything except the people and the birds is 3D.” — little did I know that we had 2D people and birds nowadays. Minor nitpick, though; otherwise it’s an interesting article.

    (Lots of it can be used in 2D work too, actually; lots of designs now are going pseudo-3D, it would be nice to have more convincing effects after textures and highlights and drop shadows.)

  15. 34

    Great stuff. There are similar things one can do for print, and especially for web-based images.

    Such as, flatten the image/layout/webpage etc. Dupe the layer, gaussian blur it around 7-8. Set that layer to Overlay or Soft light.

    The colors just look better, there’s that dreamy look etc. It can work for anything when the opacity is right!

  16. 35

    whilst ur heart is in the right place i afraid that you’re missing the point by a long shot.. Specially with vignetting and chromatic aberrations as the later does not occur in the shadows but in high contrast areas.
    From a photographers point of view I would recommend that you use a photo editing application like lightroom to achievesome of your post production results. It has many excellent built inn post effects you can use to achieve more realistic results.
    That and perhaps pick up a camera and do some architectural photography to become acquainted with how a real camera behaves.

  17. 36


    • 37

      Roland Peelen

      December 7, 2010 5:12 am

      There are 700 people that would like to see more 3d here, I think that if this was not informative, that number would be a lot lower, don’t you think?

      But, why don’t you think this is informative?

  18. 38

    this article is AWESOME .. i just want more post-production related articles .. SamshingMag rocks :)

    ur fan from Arabia : Basel Mousa ;)

  19. 39

    more articles on 3D & post-production would be great

  20. 40

    Is the house on fire?

  21. 41

    I found this article very helpful even though I already do most of these tricks in my renders. A few things I’d add to help:
    – use curves, stay away from levels. Levels are not anywhere near as accurate and you lose information.
    – To match digital camera look & feel add some noise to the dark areas on the blue channel. Digital Cameras suck by adding in a lot of noise to this channel.
    – to create quick chromatic abberation you have to understand that its based on the angle of the light passing through the outer parts of the camera lens. So it usually effects the outer edges of the image and not the center. So if I’m adding CA on the left side of the image I’ll usually duplicate the whole image to a layer, shift the red channel a pixel right and create a gradient layer mask fading the new layer off towards the center. Then I repeat for the other side of the image.
    – Include rendering out an ambient occlusion image, use that layer as a color burn and/or multiply layer (opacity between 10-20% for the layers)
    – I might also duplicate the image to a layer, colorize it you very saturated yellow, and set that layers opacity very very low like 5%
    – Another designer friend has had great success applying rough pastels to the blue channel
    – I’ll also play with paint daubs with a setting of 1 and 2 to add the video effect
    – I also like the Alien Skin exposure 3 film look plug in as well as Richard Rosenmans Depth of Field filter.
    – if you render off a z-depth channel you can use this channel to add in fog or to fade saturation in the distance.

  22. 42

    I’ld like to some more details on your gradient maps (set to various blending modes), color balance, black & white layer (set to soft light) and levels adjustment…

  23. 43

    I have just started to get into 3D my project is terraplenagem for clients

  24. 44

    Daniel Nitsche

    July 18, 2011 6:34 pm

    I’ll give it a shot on my next project

    Architectural Rendering

  25. 45

    Great Article it will help me a lot. Thanks

    Project Designer

  26. 46

    Thanks Roland,

    Informative, great read :)
    Wish there was more!


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