Artist Takes Real Estate Marketing to New Heights with CGI Tools
May 6, 2021

Artist Takes Real Estate Marketing to New Heights with CGI Tools

London-based illustration studio Hayes Davidson transforms the visions of international architects, real estate developers and designers into stunning CG visualizations. For most marketing projects, photorealism is the ultimate goal, and to achieve it, the studio has doubled down on R&D in recent years to push new design boundaries. 
The studio’s commitment to technological innovation is evident across its project portfolio, and driven in part by talent like Ciro Cardoso, an experienced studio artist with a specialism in technological innovation. Combining proven 3D art tools with emerging techniques, the pipeline he is developing for the studio using Autodesk 3ds Max and Arnold ensures a flexible workflow to deliver stunning visualizations that leave clients questioning: real or CG?
Most of Ciro’s projects begin with an Autodesk Revit or Rhino (Robert McNeel & Associates) file, reference materials and other information provided by the client, which he and the team then clean up and bring into 3ds Max. Once the files are in 3ds Max, they link or XREF them to ensure everything is in the correct position and merge them if necessary. The geometry is organized into layers and cleaned up using the retopology toolset in 3ds Max.

Using Adobe Substance Designer and Substance Painter, Ciro and team then begin the look development process, through which materials are created and tweaked in 3ds Max. Arnold shaders, as well as the combination of Physical Materials and open shading language (OSL) nodes, help streamline the process, especially for more complex materials like fabric. They make it easy to achieve a realistic look in a few simple steps, so that Ciro can preview how the materials will look under various lighting scenarios.
Following is the image planning stage, in which Ciro and team explore lighting, cameras, composition and framing, which ultimately help them to deliver more photorealistic imagery to sell the idea that clients are there in the space. Everything from time of day to reflections off a nearby water source impact decisions at this stage.

“3ds Max is the base for most everything I do as an artist, from image planning to lighting and beyond. The retopology tool is amazing and allows me to spot and fix any geometry issues in 3D models early on, plus the new slice modifier, smart extrude, symmetry modifier and Auto Smooth updates in 3ds Max 2022 make slicing models in half less tricky and much faster,” explained Ciro. “With the Cryptomatte and Arnold Render View and the AOV manager in Arnold, I also get more flexibility than with other renderers, and the operator nodes give me more control over a scene.”
This versatility is crucial as Ciro progresses through a project. Once the models are cleaned up, he and the team use OSL to load HDRI maps and new nodes to explore different lighting scenarios, before sharing the end-result with the client. After the camera and lighting are greenlit by the client, the team then reviews reference materials, and dives into further look development. In this phase, they run through the client’s provided model and furniture assets for incorporation into the visualization and start populating a scene, add lighting rigs and fix any potential issues. 
Once the materials are finalized, the team builds a materials library for use across the project, which allows them to update everything for the project in one go. Models are merged in a 3ds Max scene using Alembic files, which make the scene easier to work with. Lighting follows, and using Arnold RenderView, they’re able to quickly and easily save lighting options with comments. Moving forward, Ciro and team iterate the visualization, which often involves jumping between 3ds Max and Nuke for revisions until the visualization is client-ready. Rounding out the workflow, the Arnold Denoiser helps ensure a clean render for the more complex scenes.

“The workflow between 3ds Max, Arnold and Nuke is so smooth, and has made it easier to deliver high quality visualizations that impress artists and clients alike, even for projects with demanding timelines. Tasks that previously took two days now take just a few hours,” added Ciro. “This is in part because of Arnold Support for ASS/USD. It allows us to save an entire scene as an Arnold Scene Source file and export materials, geometries, lights, cameras and any other data needed. Essentially, we can have one master scene with all the information included in a manageable file size, so we can open and save scenes quicker, so when a change is needed, it’s a quick and simple fix.”  
Ciro and team deployed the workflow on two recent projects, including Twelve Architects’ Escapade Silverstone. Working alongside the Twelve Architects team, Hayes Davidson developed a combination of marketing images and CG animations as well asa short film designed to sell the new development, which is geared toward motorsports fans with residences and vacation villas that overlook the iconic British Grand Prix race track.

For a Westbank development in Vancouver, Canada, the team also leaned on the workflow. “The great thing about Arnold is that I can start rendering the final image for a project like Silverstone or the Westbank Development the morning of the project deadline and be confident that I’ll still meet it,” noted Ciro. “I’ve also noticed that even if I haven’t disclosed the renderer used, other artists ask about it because the look is so well lit, polished and photoreal.” 
Ciro concluded, “Across professional and personal projects, the time it takes to render complex scenes with Arnold is so quick versus other renderers, that I can spend more time focusing on what I love, creating quality art. And as far as 3ds Max goes, it’s a persistent workhorse and a tool that I count on every day.”