December 2012 LightWave Power Artist Mitja Briščak visualizes architecture in realistic ways
Posted: Wed 19 Dec 2012
As a young boy, Mitja Briščak sat transfixed watching Jumanji, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, and other CG blockbuster movies. His passion for feature film animation intensified when he came across a computer magazine that gave a behind-the scenes-look at how CG movies are made, including 3D character rigging, modeling, wire removal, and other magic tricks of animation. He dreamed of one day working for feature film animation and effects companies like Pixar or ILM.
Now 26 years old, Mitja has come to terms with the reality that he won’t be animating jungle animals stampeding through a town or blood-thirsty dinosaurs stalking innocent theme park visitors anytime soon because he lives in Trieste, Italy, far from the Pixar’s of the world.
A beautiful seaport near Venice in the northeastern corner of Italy, Trieste is renowned for a different art form—architecture. Mitja’s Italian province, Friuli-Venezia Giulia or Fr.V.G., is rich with magnificent cathedrals, castles, churches, and a grand Piazza. Even the government buildings, like City Hall, are architectural marvels.
A passion for places
To preserve this architectural history and heritage, any entity proposing to do construction work—be it a new build, modification, or restoration within certain protected zones—must show government officials what the finished building will look like to obtain the necessary legal authorizations. So Mitja is now following another passion of his, architectural visualization, using LightWave 3D to illustrate what the buildings will actually look like when finished to help local architects and builders comply with legal regulations.
“While architectural visualization does not generally involve much in the way of 3D animation, it poses its own unique set of technical challenges. The biggest challenge in ‘archviz’ is achieving illustrations with exceptional detail, even photorealism, that conveys what exterior, interiors, and landscapes will look like when they’re finished,” said Mitja, whose full name is Mitja (MEE-tiya) Briščak. His architectural visualization also includes walk-throughs of virtual buildings, trees blowing in the wind, people walking in the scene, and more.
“When I work with architects, I need to translate their plans, blueprints, and vision into a detailed illustration they can show permit authorities to move the project forward,” Mitja added. While the law doesn’t specify any particular level of image quality or require interior views of buildings, Mitja has found that there are considerable benefits to making the illustrations as detailed and appealing as possible.
“Not only are high-quality exterior renders more effective at the permit stage, these exteriors along with interiors can be used for marketing purposes, such as running advertisements and enticing prospective buyers,” Mitja said. “The better the image, the happier the architect, and the happier the end client.”
Living the archviz life
In his day job, Mitja works for a construction company in Trieste as a 3D artist dedicated to the work of creating architectural visualizations for their building trade-clients. But in his youthful exuberance, he’s also exploring ways to take his craft to the next level—launching his own archviz venture—a more practical dream he hopes he will reach.
Most of the buildings Mitja illustrates are residential, not industrial. While they’re stills, the finished renders have a rich three-dimensional quality. “When people look at these exterior renders, the ‘wow effect’ often stems from the photorealism of the landscape and environment surrounding the buildings,” Mitja said. “LightWave tools make it possible to recreate a forest, lawn, or stones using actual geometry and precise creative control. You could never achieve such a high degree of detail and realism with less sophisticated tools no matter how hard you tried.”
One such tool in the LightWave toolbox is Instancing, which allows Mitja to essentially clone a tree, blade of grass, leaf, or any object as many times as necessary in a very efficient, painless way. “’Plain textures, clipmaps, or other basic tools can’t give you the same result Instancing can,” Mitja said. “Finally things have changed with Instancing. This long-awaited feature has literally saved my sleep! You just choose what you want to clone, how many clones you need, and where they need to go and you’re done. You also have control over the lighting, perspective, and other attributes of each individually cloned element.”
After studying photographs, architectural plans, and concept drawings, Mitja begins by 3D modeling the building, starting with the supporting structures, like walls, roofs, chimneys, and anything else that defines the basic shape. The next step is to embellish this basic 3D structure with doors, windows, and other elements like landscaping.
“One of the most critical steps in the process is global illumination (GI), which encompasses ambient, backdrop, luminous, and realistic lighting effects,” Mitja said. “Before I tackle surfacing or setting up the textures, I look at many references, including photographs, to analyze the materials, surfaces, and environment. I need to really understand the nature and texture of the materials and how they are reflecting and behaving in certain lighting conditions before I can recreate that real environment in the digital world.”
Lighting tools, such as radiosity—which defines the way light bounces off surfaces and objects within the scene—are pressed into service on every project Mitja does. While he’s very satisfied with the lighting tools within LightWave, he often uses third-party plug-ins like Denis Pontonnier's Sunsky environment and light plug-in for LightWave 3D. In particular, Sunsky enables Mitja to create realistic daylight skies, sunspots, atmospherics, and other types of global illumination.
Together with LightWave’s powerful renderer, Mitja can experiment with the interplay of all types of lighting on every surface and scene. He then fine-tunes the image until he gets the look he wants without wasting time. “I run the Sunsky plugin, make some adjustments to the default and anti-aliasing settings, and hit F9 [to start the rendering],” Mitja said. “Setting up GI is an issue no more because of all the experience I’ve gathered along the way and the exceptional ease, quality, and speed of LightWave’s rendering engine.”
Comforts of home
Interior views show every perspective of the room, and exterior views often compare the way the place looks in daylight as well as illuminated by artificial lighting at night. Within the room, Mitja incorporates every detail—the sunlight pouring in and reflecting on a TV screen, light and shadows across the furniture and carpet, reflections in the mirror, a shiny hardwood floor leading across the room and continuing into an adjacent but unseen room, and indoor trees against a picture window overlooking lush outdoor trees.
“LightWave is very easy and intuitive to set-up quickly,” Mitja said. “With the right settings, you get very nice, high-quality results in a very short amount of time. With LightWave, you really are only limited by your imagination.”
After he prepares the standard illustrations that architects and builders need to obtain legal authorizations, Mitja often takes those same projects and embellishes them with creative enhancements that would be overkill for the permitting process.
He experiments with different angles or views, changes the lighting for a different time of day, rearranges the 3D furniture, and any other changes he’d like to see. Mitja explains, “In the post process, I take the raw render and some additional layers or render passes from the render engine [z-buffer, reflection layers, shadow layers, etc] and then combine them in Photoshop.”
“I then add finishing touches and effects to obtain the final image,” he said. “Also, I often prepare custom textures in Photoshop using some reference images I find, then I throw them into LightWave and apply them to the surface.” When he lets his creative juices just flow, the finished pieces become part of his personal portfolio.
Although he has found a rewarding outlet for creative and artistic expression, Mitja hasn’t let go of his boyhood dream to work for a visual effects/movie house like Pixar or ILM. “Right now, I have to stay realistic,” Mitja said, “But if someone offers me a good job making CG movies in America, I’m there tomorrow.”