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CAD Rendering: Virtual Photography with ART VPS

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At the sharp end of automotive design, manufacturers are constantly seeking ways to improve the virtual visualisation of their products. CAD rendering allows designers to evaluate their work and assists in the decision-making processes of new vehicle development. In addition to the purely in-house benefits, virtual visualisation can be used to place a design in front of potential customers before production engineering and tooling take place.

Despite the benefits of the system, CAD rendering has often been unable to convey the reality of a design convincingly. ART VPS, based in Cambridge in the UK, have devised a highly successful solution with their 'Virtual Photography' process.

The beauty of the ART system is the way it becomes possible to not only convincingly render the CAD form but then to build it comprehensively into an extremely realistic scene.

With ART VPS’s hardware, it is possible to take a computer model and make it indistinguishable from a photograph. Changing the subject's location or visual properties to create another 'photograph' can be done in about 20 minutes, far faster than traditional software solutions. Features such as real-world lighting, physically based materials, and unique camera effects make it possible to create powerful images. The high level of realism allows designers to make decisions on specifics of the aesthetic, more accurately than with previous rendering techniques.

Virtual Photography images are produced through ART VPS’s plug-in interface to major modelling and animation programmes such as Discreet’s 3ds max, Alias’s Maya, Autodesk’s VIZ and Dassault Systemes’s CATIA Photo Studio 2. The interface, called RenderPipe, provides access to ART VPS’s dedicated hardware rendering devices, which enable much higher rendering quality and speed than can be achieved with built-in software renderers.

The Virtual Photography Process, Step by Step

Step One - Data Import

First, the model is imported into or created in 3ds max, Maya, VIZ or CATIA. Often, the CAD model will already exist in a company’s design or styling departments.

The image shows the mesh data in 3ds max with a standard blue material applied to it.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Step Two – Apply Materials

The RenderPipe interface supports native 3ds max, Maya, VIZ and CATIA materials. ART VPS also provides a library of specially designed RenderPipe (RP) materials or shaders. There is also a specifically developed range of 'RP-Automotive' shaders specifically for use in the auto industry for unique functionality and photorealistic material behaviour. The materials are based on the RenderMan scripting language, which makes it possible to tailor them to individuals' requirements.

This image shows the RenderPipe material types in 3ds max’s material browser. These can then be loaded into the material editor. This allows users to create their own materials by simply changing the various settings and colour values. RP materials can also be mixed with standard 3ds max, Maya or VIZ materials, creating many possible variants.

The car uses both standard library materials and RP-Automotive materials such as RP Smoked Plastic and RP Matt Aluminium. The RP Metallic shader is an example of a custom shader, which accurately reproduces special aspects of car paint, including surface perturbation, coloured paint layer, and lacquer or coating layer.

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