Industry standard photo-realistic modelling


I want to self teach myself the best photo realistic modeling program. I currently know the basics of 3ds Max and will take a class next year where I will learn Revit(don't think Revit models look so great). 

From what I hear, Maya,3ds Max, Grasshopper , and Rhino seem to be the favorites of architects and designers. In your opinion which of these photo-realistic modelling programs can be considered industry standard? Do you believe there's such a thing as industry standard photo-realistic modeling software? Thanks

please, no sketchup recomendations

Jun 22, 12 12:44 pm
i r giv up

please, no sketchup recomendations

this made me happy. sketch-up is 3d for downies.

standard in the industry: 3dsmax + vray, 3dsmax + mental ray.
maxwell and rhino are slowly starting to gain traction, and in all sincerity, those comprise my favorite workflow, because it's lends to a more design-focused pipeline instead of a visualization-focused workflow. While I would have sworn that Maya was the future 5 years ago, the moment TSplines 3 came out and got acquired by Autodesk, compounded by the implementation of an ironpython distribution in Rhino 5, makes that case exceedingly weak. Maya is pretty shitty when it comes to actual design-to-fabrication work.

Jun 22, 12 12:57 pm

3DS Max is powerful and in widespread use, but in my opinion the user interface sucks. It's highly non-intuitive, which is a barrier to using it effectively.

All the solutions you'll hear in response to your question will be of the form {modeling software + rendering software}. What that should tell you is that the modeling software is actually kind of irrelevant to the rendering issue. In my firm, which has more than 1,000 employees, we don't specify which modeling program designers use. It's just a tool, and you should use the tool you're most comfortable with and that gets you the best results. I've built design models using all sorts of different software: 3DS and Revit obviously, but also very complex infolded curvilinear diagrid shapes for a supertall tower exclusively using Sketchup and even highly-articulated construction models using the built-in default surface and boolean modeling tools in AutoCAD v14. The modeling tool you use really doesn't matter that much so long as you can use it effectively. That's not software dependent. It's user dependent.

The rendering software doesn't care where the model came from. The model is just lines and planes as far as it's concerned, and those are ultimately generic.

We do specify that all our rendering happens in Vray plus a couple of other specialized packages (including Piranesi, and always Photoshop for final). Maxwell is good too, but we've standardized on Vray and get very good results from it (no matter where the model came from).

Jun 22, 12 1:38 pm

I use Revit - compared with Maya and Max, Revit can be problematic - esp with higher render settings and  artificial light reflection artifacts - also render times are much longer 

Jun 22, 12 1:55 pm

i like max and i use mental ray because that's what's here.

I think the modelling program does kind of matter.  While V-ray only sees planes and such, it's helpful to have a clean model without a bunch of unnecessary lines, points, triangles, etc.  A plane that's just a plane can be broken up in to triangles so the render software has a little easier time of figuring out what it's trying to do.

I've watched over people's shoulders with sketchup but not tried it myself.  There is something going on there where sketchup makes certain assumptions or something.  There is a lot of crap in those models that doesn't need to be there, but it's hidden so people think 'out of sight out of mind.'

The reason I like Max over sketchup or revit is that I believe I can see what's really going on with a plane and keep it as simple and honest as possible.  I would expect Rhino or Blender would have the same thing, but I haven't messed with those at all.  If sketchup can create clean and honest planes without a bunch of hidden crap, then it would probably be just as good after putting it into a render program.  If I had it all to do over again I would start in blender, but as it is my priorities are focused other places.

Jun 22, 12 2:17 pm
i r giv up

i r agree with curtkram. (the end is nigh).


the modeling software does matter, and it matters because of the way plug-ins handle geometry. if you're actually modeling a curvilinear surface, which given today's fabrication methods, you're bound to do sooner or later, certain plug-ins create odd artifacts out of those. rhino-maxwell is guilty of this. 3ds and maya outputing to mental ray/maxwell/vray don't seem to have those issues.


the workflow is why i stick with rhino-maxwell. quality could get worked on.

Jun 22, 12 4:04 pm

Interesting. I've never had a problem with Sketchup adding hidden geometry to a model except when it's importing 3DS objects, and that's because 3DS triangulates the hell out of everything. Even planes that should be flat.

On the other hand, SKP is a pure surface modeler, not a solid modeler. All it does is lines and planes. That's it. No true curves. So curvilinear surfaces will always be triangulated to planar meshes.

On the gripping hand, true curves, especially compound curves, are frighteningly expensive to fabricate, so it's probably not a bad thing that SKP forces complex surfaces into planar, triangulated meshes. Gehry's office had to write a custom program to do that to Catia surfaces so they could actually be built.

So, I guess I'd have to say that, if you're getting lots of hidden geometry in a SKP model, U R DOING IT WRONG.

Jun 22, 12 6:39 pm
i r giv up

the problem is that native triangulation adds a layer to the translation to a physical object representation inside the renderer. i've seen it completely destroy a rendering.

Jun 22, 12 7:06 pm

its not the modelling software that allows you to create realistic renderings.  Its the rendering software (eg: Vray, Mental Ray, Scanline etc)

And it really doesn't matter what modelling software you end up using.. It all depends on how good you are with it.  Too many knock on Sketchup but the limits are endless if you know how to use it.  

This guy uses sketchup to do his modelling... and blows away most people, regardless of what software they use.

all modelled in sketchup

Jun 22, 12 8:21 pm

I know from the firms I worked for, most firms implemented rhino and then rendered it in Vray but in 3dmax. The only reason because VRAY in Max is very powerful and lets you control certain aspect which gives a hyper real picture. 

The only reason sketchup is looked down upon because certain functions are more unnecessarily complicated in sketchup when you compare it to max or rhino. Example the command Lathe or Revolve.

So in the end i would say learn rhino or max and you will be in safe zone and learn to render in Vray or Maxwell

Just my 2 cent from working for all the firms in the past years

Jun 22, 12 9:29 pm

Another vote for rhino + external render program here. I particularly like the combination of rhino and cinema 4d/vray (similar to max, but better rhino integration- there is a good plugin to sync models between rhino and cinema 4d)- which I believe is also cheaper then 3ds max alone.

Jun 23, 12 12:02 am
i r giv up

C4D is pretty great. I learned how to model with that, before heading over to architecture school and having rhino drilled into my head.

I have yet to see an american firm actually use it though. Coop Himmelblau was using it for a lot of the ECB renderings if I recall correctly.



accesskb, i don't mean to be a dick when i say this, but those aren't really that great. i've seen a lot better produced in a day just from the renderjockeys at the firm i work at. he has a ton of issues with his bump maps, and there's a lot of missing forms in those models.

Jun 23, 12 11:46 am

For design:
Processing + Rhino and various plugins
Still use Maya for select operations

For production:
Revit and Generative Components


I'm pretty schizophrenic with software, yet still avoid sketchup.

Jun 23, 12 12:51 pm

i r give up... lets see some images of sketchup modelling done by the renderjockeys you know.  talk is over-rated

Jun 23, 12 5:07 pm

accesskb- I don't think he was referring to them doing better sletchup renderings.


I do most of my 3d modeling in autocad 3d(since 2006).Is autocad 3d comparable to the best model making(not rendering)software, or should I learn  Rhino?

Jun 24, 12 3:59 am

@ industrial-landscapedesign, I have done a bit of modelling in autocad and if you have experience there, rhino should be quite easy to pick up- very similar commands and logic- except one billion (yes, It's been measured) times easier to model in Rhino imho. Draft in autocad by all means, but then export the .dwg into rhino and go from there.

Jun 24, 12 5:47 am

Can someone who models in 3ds max give a brief run down of the work flow? I mean... how do you get accurate, precise, measurements in that thing? Or even better, modifying something to precise dimensions? My take was that the program is mostly meant for animation studios who make polygonal characters where everything is done by proportion. 

Sketchup, Rhino, and Revit are great because you can model precisely with dimensions, because they're based on CAD. 

3ds Max on the other hand... not so sure...

Full disclaimer: I do all my rendering in 3ds max.

Jun 24, 12 4:59 pm

for precision in 3dmax, you have 3d snap, 2.5d snap, and 2d snap.  also if you hit f12 you should get a box where you can type numbers, such as dimensions, relative to current position or the world ucs.

Jun 24, 12 10:00 pm

hey thanks I'll try that F12 thing next time

Jun 26, 12 12:47 am
le bossman

anyone have any thoughts on the difference between flamingo and maxwell?  we are currently producing 3d models in both rhino and sketchup.  we are attracted to maxwell because it appears to have the plugins to create photorealistic renderings in both programs.  we are upgrading our seat of rhino and are considering getting it without flamingo and just getting maxwell

Feb 4, 13 6:51 pm

Lance : why don't you just model on rhino or revit or the likes for accuracy and use max for rendering only?  

Feb 5, 13 1:55 am

I like SketchUp. Calling it software 'for dummies' is somewhat naive, especially when considering the large numbers of respected architects using it in their offices. It is fairly quick and intuitive for a lot of designers. I've gotten pretty decent renderings exporting to Thea Render from SketchUp (pretty much everything in my profile). The biggest issue I've run into with it is that it tends to get sluggish with high-poly models.

With that said, if I had cash to throw around I would buy a license for Vray for Sketchup. As far as rendering engines go, I think it is the best for architectural visualization.

For production, Revit is amazing. Its native rendering functions however are tough to compare to something like Vray.

Feb 5, 13 10:44 am

Im afraid to say, Sketchup IS software for dummies. i'd like to know the names of the "respected" architects who use it in their offices. I have seen large corporate firms also use sketchup, but would not use the term "respected" while describing most of them. They use it, because its cheap, and that all they care about.

Modeling in Rhino (if you use AutoCAD, its a breeze to learn and WAY more powerful than sketchup) and Rendering in Max+Vray is our weapon of choice. Some of our renderers use C4D with files exported out of Rhino and its given wonderful results.

Feb 6, 13 12:09 am

While I agree sketchup isn't great for anything but basic work, plenty of good architects do use it fairly exclusively, I suspect because of cost.

Andrew Maynard is a sketchup masochist:

And Sean Godsell also uses sketchup for his 3d work.

Large firms I am not sure of however...

Feb 6, 13 12:33 am

@sameolddoctor - The office I currently work for uses it.

In the past few months I've been in the offices of Robert AM Stern and WXY Architects and have seen SketchUp models open on various work stations. Roger Ferris + Partners has some nice renderings from SketchUp on their web site. Maybe people aren't always using it for the presentation quality renderings you see displayed on web sites, but plenty of good architects are using it schematically along the way,

Feb 6, 13 10:14 am

Nick, the office you currently work for has some beautiful work. I think you would like using Rhino a lot more though - give it a try! Also, for smaller scale work, sketchup works just fine, but when you talk about larger models with many elements, repetitive or not, sketchup starts to be inadequate, if only because the program is not optimized to work on such large files.

I was just working on a project where someone modeled the whole thing in sketchup, making it a 300mb file. It literally took 2 hours to just open the file!

Feb 6, 13 3:57 pm

I definitely agree that high poly models can drag down the work flow in SketchUp. The key is only modeling what you really need to. At a schematic level, I haven't really had issues with getting poly counts that SketchUp can't handle. In any case, I hope to play with a Rhino / Vray combo at some point. It's a bit of a tough sell when you're working in a small residential practice where the output we get now via SketchUp receives positive responses from our clients.

Feb 6, 13 5:49 pm

I neve understood the fascination with sketchup, other then the fact it is free. It is unintuitive, a pain to do simple things as you are limited with the amount of controls. Yes you can show things people did in sketchup that are amazing, but it is certainly would have been far easier to have done it in with either rhino, 3ds max or maya. Once I learned rhino, I never returned to sketchup and dread thinking of it.

Feb 8, 13 4:45 pm

How much do Visualization Specialists make in San Francisco? What about job security as a visualization specialist? What about work pressure?

Feb 8, 13 6:08 pm

If anyone knows a good programmer there may be a market for model conversion from virtual worlds. I have built models in Second Life very quickly and easily with the mouse only interface. There are many free ones there or you can buy them as well at very low inworld cost. 265L = $1USD approx. Many of the best buildings sell for less than 2500L = less than $10USD. The XML can be exported with all the shapes, sizes, textures, etc. The drawback is that I don't think there is software to convert them for import to any 3D modeling program. The copyrights are also protected from export. This means that in order to export all parts and textures need to be created by the exporter. Textures are uploaded at max 1024x1024px  from hard drives. Whoever uploads the texture is considered the creator of it in world. is online sales you can search and view without logging in. Prices are shown in both currencies above. A good programmer could probably write software to convert their plain text XML to an import format such as .obj etc.

Feb 14, 13 6:57 pm

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