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The 3D Artist's Notebook #1 - How we use 3D Rendering

The 3D Artist's Notebook #1 - How we use 3D Rendering

An Intro to the 3D Industry

3D rendering is an ever-growing industry that has a major part in product design and advertising. It’s highly likely you would have seen content using 3D models whether you realised it or not. With the technology behind the software and skills of the artists always improving, these renders can be incredibly photo-realistic. In some cases to the point where it is almost impossible to tell if they are real or not. Companies opt to use these 3D renders to remove some of the limitations that real life photography presents. Whether that is the positioning, the lighting , or something as simple as no imperfections. You don’t have to worry about dust in a virtual studio. Another advantage is that the watch doesn’t have to exist! Using technical drawings I can create the watch in the software and produce images before we have the physical watch. This allows us to get ahead of the game to market the watch and get a listing created. The Geckota G-02 GMT is a great example for this.
The Geckota G-02 GMT made with Cinema 4D R20 x Octane Render
In this notebook I will go into detail about each aspect of 3D design, here’s an overview...

From Graphic Designer to 3D Artist

I first started my creative journey with an interest in graphic design. From about 13 years old, I wanted to have a logo to use as a profile picture across social medias. For example, Twitter and YouTube. As you would expect, they were awful, but you have to start somewhere! From here I started creating random logos and banners for me and some friends. As time went on, I started watching YouTube tutorials and became somewhat of a self-taught designer for content creators. As my interest grew in digital art as a whole I wanted to venture out into other forms of graphics. Therefore, I’ve had a go at pretty much everything from hand lettering to voxel art to mascot logo’s to even illustrations. Nothing gripped me quite like 3D rendering has done. I started at Geckota as a Junior Creative using my Graphic Design knowledge and dabbled in a few different projects for example, newsletters & websites. We then invested in a 3D printer which really marked the start of the 3D design. As no one really had the time to commit to this new endeavour I was eager to get involved. Moreover, I was familiar with the concept of 3D printing simply due to my interest in some art content creators that had used them.

3D Printing in the Development Process

The 3D printer we chose to purchase was the Prusa i3 MK3. This is a great beginners choice to get to grips with printing and gets the job done. We have found the 3D printer to be incredibly useful when it comes to our development process of our watches and speeds up the design stage. The core use for this printer comes into play when creating watch cases, bezels and casebacks. So for example, we can design a to-scale technical drawing of a watch case, so for instance, the Geckota G-01 39mm case. Then I can model that in a 3D workspace and then print it off to get a physical model of the case.
Geckota G-01 39mm case print - Prusa i3 MK3 3D printer
This helps to get an idea of the real life scale and allows you to fine tune the design to fit the wrist. The alternative of this would be to send off the designs to a supplier for them to send back a model, which is a much longer process.
Geckota G-01 39mm case print result

Photo-realistic Listing Images

Creating photo-realistic images of our watches is the aspect I enjoy the most, there’s something satisfying about taking an idea and producing a life-like image of it before it even exists in real life. The latest listing I have created using these renders is the Geckota G-02 GMT, using technical drawings I can model, texture, light and render white background (WBG) images and mimic our usual listing photos. The main WBG image is all about accuracy, and representing the watch exactly how it will look like in real life. Be sure to keep an eye on our blog page for a future post with more detail about this specific process. The other images is where 3D really comes into its own, as you don’t have the same limitations as you do in a real studio. Mainly, camera positioning. Take this image for example:
The Geckota G-02 GMT made with Cinema 4D R20 x Octane Render
In real life, this would be very difficult to recreate without extreme amounts of editing in post. For starters, in my virtual studio I am able to place the watch wherever it needs to be without having to worry about C-stands etc. The Same applies for the camera, in the real world they can be limiting with their lenses and somewhat-bulky design, in this program the camera, like the watch model, can be placed literally anywhere. Whilst keeping real-world scale and settings like aperture.
Cinema 4D R20 Interface
Octane Camera Settings Interface within Cinema 4D x Octane

Surface Imperfections

Another advantage to using 3D which can become a disadvantage if you’re not careful, is that you don’t have to worry about real world imperfections, the simplest of things like tiny scratches, bumps and dust are almost unavoidable in real watch photography. These don’t exist in 3D, you can’t accidentally scratch it and dust can’t fall on it! This is where it can become a disadvantage, it can seem ‘too perfect’ and will look fake, just because we are so used to subconsciously seeing these tiny imperfections. 3D artists can make the most of normal, bump and displacement maps to mimic these imperfections to achieve a photo-realistic look.

The Software and Hardware

The software that I use to create the models and render the images is Cinema 4D from Maxon with the plugin Octane Render Engine from OTOY. Cinema4D is a fantastic program that is used across all sorts of CGI/VFX processes, the possibilities are endless from modelling, sculpting, animating to texturing and lighting to create stylized or photo-realistic results. To go alongside this powerful software is some fast hardware. Technically, the majority of PC setups would be able to launch Cinema4D and perform some basic modelling and texturing, the real problem is when you arrive at rendering your images. Octane render engine uses your PC's graphics card (GPU). A standard office/home PC would likely have an integrated GPU, which would take a very long time to render out images. This means to achieve faster render times you need a dedicated high-spec graphics card or even multiple. You can then branch out to 'render farms' which is a massively high-performance computer system and is traditionally used in film and visual effects. I use an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti by EVGA, which has 11GBytes of VRam partnered with an Intel Core i7-9700K CPU @ 3.60GHz and 16GB DDR4 RAM. Unless you're in the tech world, there's a good chance those names mean't nothing to you. Just to summarise, it's a very powerful PC that speeds up the render times and overall efficiency whilst using the software. I hope this has been an interesting read that goes into how we make most of the new 3D technologies. You can expect future blogs to unveil more details about the process of actually creating these images for example, modelling and rendering.