An architectural rendering.Pickpik
The line between a render and a photographed image is has become more and more blurred. Computer rendering capabilities are extending beyond what we once thought was possible.
For example, take a look at the Instagram photo below. It's not a photograph, it's a computer-generated model that has been rendered in Autodesk Arnold and Maya.
While not directly engineering-related, it should give you some pause to realize just how good computer rendering capabilities have gotten. In fact, many of the product pictures you see in marketing brochures or across the web probably aren’t pictures at all, they are digital renderings of complex designs.
This brings us to the engineering realm...
How renderings affect engineering
In a world of steadily improving rapid prototyping and fabrication processes, the ability for an engineer to see their design, in reality, is growing easier. For most of the history of engineers and craftsmen visualizing a design in its fullest sense didn’t happen for others until the product was assembled – only the engineer with the idea could visualize a design in its full specter natively.
This problem of restricted vision of a product’s actualization in the design process was one that has always been overcome with sketching. Eventually, our sketching abilities improved and turned digital, making even the least artistic engineer an inspired creator. When CAD entered the marketplace, it was rudimentary at best. Even with its drawbacks, it soon rocketed past the point that any hand sketching techniques could keep up with. As visual processing power increased in the 1990s and early 2000s, virtual renderings of products became more common.
The problem with renderings for most of their life has been that they aren’t easy to make. CAD and rendering tools were often very separate programs. Their capabilities rarely overlapped, and the people who worked on each rarely met. An engineer who wanted to develop a rendering had to send his final design off to someone possibly a little more artistically minded and someone who was an expert in a respective rendering software.
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Stepping back for a moment, we need to realize something. Engineers have always designed products. Whether it be the new theater for Shakespeare’s premiere play in years past or the new Samsung phone, engineers design things for other people to use.
This means that engineering has always inherently required some form of marketing. Engineers can design a product that works all day long, but if it isn’t visually stimulating, consumers won’t want to use it.
Drawing up this idea into the modern era, the ability to make our designs look beautiful before they are ever created is now more possible than ever.
Rendering and CAD tools
Rendering tools are now fully integrated into CAD programs. Engineers can render a completed looking product before any of the fine unseen details are worked out. Modern CAD capabilities have made the rendering, design, and engineering processes virtually synonymous. What used to take companies weeks and hefty sums of money can now be done completely in-house by the engineers on staff. While some engineers may not appreciate the possibility of extra work, it has only given us more power to create and influence.
Nearly every company, major to minor, used to outsource their renderings to specialized firms – much like how many companies still deal with their graphic designs today. Other than saving companies money and giving more power to the design engineer, renderings have enabled product development timelines to shift in line with the “I want it now” fast-paced consumer culture of the present.
Since visually accurate and believable renderings of products can be produced at the beginning of the design process, marketing teams have freedom to plan releases when they want, not just when the engineers are ready. For all practical purposes, once a design is finalized from a visual perspective, a company can release compelling renderings of the product to the public – even when none of the more refined engineering is completed.
For example, take a look at the interior design and architecture photo below. It's a rendering.
Engineers, architects, those who make things, other-worldly renderings are now capable of being made on a normal desktop and it's changing the way we can make things. If your mind is already blown by the two renderings included in this article, take this "Fake or photo" quiz to be blown away at what is actually a computer-generated image.
As engineers in the modern world, we have to understand the need to be able to demonstrate our products visually as soon as available. The integration of CAD and rendering tools has made it easy to engineer and design at the same time. For most modern CAD products, renderings are automatically updated when a design is changed in the CAD software, making the life of the engineer even easier.
Renderings are only going to become more important to the modern engineer. Understanding the visual tools available to you as an engineer will only make you more valuable.