for Architectural Graphics
by James J. Lemon
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I was overjoyed and honored to get the opportunity to write a short article about the artwork I have been making. Recently I have been trying to explore the capabilities of Corel's Bryce 5 (tm). Although this experimentation has produced a variety of different styles on varied subject matter, some of the higher rated and most commented ones seem to involve images of fantastic or more real architecture.
The Motivation
It seems to me, I have always been interested in architecture and rendering. I can't remember not being fascinated with buildings, bridges and such.
The Tools
Some of the tools are obvious: A Mac G4 867MHz. PhotoShop, and Bryce for starters. A digital camera, the Nikon CoolPix 995 seems more than adequate. A scanner, new this year, the Epson 2450. An Epson 1280 13"x19" printer makes exquisite output. Sometimes the use of Corel's Painter 7 is a nice addition, but this tends to overlap with PhotoShop. Illustrator is nice but not really required for most of this work. There's more but I'm guessing this setup could be amassed for around $5000. Also, most of these techniques would be similar in almost any low-cost 3D programs. If you are new, I heartily recommend Bryce, it has a shallow learning curve - I was using it right away - but the curve seems to have no upper bound. It is going on about 10 years now, and I'm just getting good, and realize it may be another 10 to exhaust the options. By then I'm sure there will be many more options!

The Techniques
Technique Zero: Composition
The eye of a Western person (accustomed to reading left-to-right) will in a general way, meander from top left to bottom right, or so the theory goes. Somewhere along the way, I want to make the eye pause and hover. That's it! The eye wants "excitement" which can be found in several ways, such as movement, volumetric shape, contrast, detail or the lack of it. I try to exploit as many of these as possible, make you feel that you can step right into the space I've created for you, and to feel somehow comfortable in there. All to make the original point, a believably ornate entrance gate.
These attributes are like the notes on some 3D organ that can create smooth or cacaphonous notes, depending on the score. There's a place for the contrabassoon and for the violin. One of my earlier models used a distorted lens and much like an M. C. Escher lithograph, was successful in providing the "notes" mentioned, but when you stepped back you saw a larger fallacy. Nevertheless the rules aren't violated by Escher, you can feel comfortable in parts of the image, but the higher brain rejects the idea or seems befuddled, and to me, this makes M. C. Escher's work shine. Even if the image is itself new or old, from any culture, the playing of these graphic notes can be used to roughly grade graphic "music" into classes and subclasses. The final grade is achieved with successful application of the test, "Does it do what it purports to do?".
There are many possible means to these ends, and I have by no means exhausted even the short list. How do you get started? Usually I try to "call the shot", by which I mean that I try to envision a result or sub-result as completely as possible, then go try to make it. Following are several more detailed examinations of solutions I have found.
Techniques 1: Making a Wrought-Iron gate
I wanted to make a nice entryway, the kind you see in older urban areas such as in Europe. But first I would need the gate. It would be the "Hero Object" of the scene. I wanted a kind of wrought-iron gate, like you might see at an entrance. I had a rough idea of a composition to focus attention on the gate, give it scale, make it contrast and to provide a "mark" against a receding "field", and make it appear as real as possible.
Part 1: The Gate
There would have been many ways to make one, but I chose the "symmetrical lattice" object in Bryce. These have the property of being a symmetrical height-field, where we can control a height grid by painting a gray scale image. Where we paint white or lighter colors, the surface bulges up, and black or darker bulges it down. In photoshop I made anew 512x512 square gray scale image, filled with a black background. In pure white I made a pattern of circles so that they nested together the way I wanted. Defining this as a "custom pattern", it then filled a 1024x1024 document and thus repeated four times. I flipped the quadrants until they were symmetrical, then cut away (or painted with black) to round off the top. Then, in levels of gray, I made some details such as the plates where the hinges and doorhandles would later attach. This was saved as the "Ornate Gate" height map. For all of this I could have used the unsymmetrical height field, but the symmetrical choice allowed me to ignore worries about the camera being in front of or behind the gate. I could also have built it up from primitives like tori and square bars, but that would be tedious and the file would be huge and unwieldy - don't go there - from experience, believe me.
Ornate gate pattern
In Bryce I made a lattice object and mapped the image onto it, assigned a metallic texture, and the gate itself was ready. But it still was just a gate, floating in space. Time to start building!
Ornate gate symmetrical lattice
Gate in a round building
Part 2: The Surrounding Environment
Construction of the rest of the building around the gate was done mainly with simple geometric primitives, some in boolean combinations such as openings for windows and doors. and some nice textures I obtained from the excellent collection. Bryce trees were thrown in and adjusted, and then finally the last adjustments to lighting and final camera tweaking before the final rendering. Most of the lighting and camera placement is done during the construction as many test renders are required after major additions or revisions to the geometry.
Intermediate render
Intermediate render
It's often after the first larger render is going, that I come back and check to see how it looks. Sometimes there's the horrible discovery that something's amiss, such as a beam that awkwardly protrudes through a brick wall or some such problem becomes evident. Usually I halt the render, fix the problem and then start over. Sometimes (ha!) it's weeks later and there it is, some subtle but egregious error. That's why an important part of the technique is profligate use of CDROM backups with all of the intermediate files and such saved intact. These often come in handy much later, for example, the gate itself is a piece I have re-used.
Part 3: WrapUp the Render!
Final render
Now you can see that none of this is particularly difficult, but it helps to have a clear goal, break the problem down and apply the right tool to the job. As I look at this image today, I feel it was successful in establishing the intended mood, largely because of the placement and color of the lights, and how they interact with the textures. The top view shows that it's like the Hollywood stage set, there's nothing behind the walls you can see. Note the subtle dappled texture from light going through the trees. There are invisible light sources throughout, for example a yellowish one right above the gate, and the bluish one just on the other side lighting up the inside of the round turret. I was blind to the unsightly "waistline" in the Bryce trees and didn't notice until someone pointed it out, now I can't look without seeing it. I would have pushed the trees down some more, but it was too late, I had already started the next model!