Graduated filter in 3dsmax

Hopefully one day Corona will have the option to add linear and radial graduated filters in the frame buffer, in addition to the new and improved vignetting that is on it's way. Until then, I've been experimenting with making a 'real' virtual linear grad that sits in front of your camera lens.

A Closer Look

Increasingly we are finding, particularly with residential marketing images, that the requirement for the so called 'vignette' is becoming a major part of our workflow.  These more detailed images started to gain increasing popularity in 3d several years ago with the advent of more accurate and easier photographic control in render engines including depth of field and bokeh providing increased photographic realism.  Often by the time the project is released it is these more ambiguous detailed vignettes which constitute the bulk of the marketing material taking precedence in some cases over the originally commissioned 'main view' of a space.

This will come as no surprise to anyone in the 3d or photography industries who understand that an image which evokes a feeling of a space rather than a complete illustration of the reality is going to be far more seductive to prospective purchasers at a glance.

This is intended as a short description of our general approach to the vignette and some examples of how it is successfully adopted in other industries such as food photography, automotive, furniture etc.

I generally like to start by thinking of the following things:

1. Subject

Identify the subject of the image.  Rather than with a general view which may be trying to illustrate the entire space a vignette is usually about focusing on a detail and using the surrounding imagery to provide atmosphere and framing.  

The examples above are from our Renzo Piano project in Miami Beach, Eighty Seven Park in which we used the specified Byredo products as the focus in the bathrooms whilst making sure we gave a hint of the most salient features of the space.  In this case, freestanding bath, shower enclosure, terrace and ocean view. 

2. Camera lens

Typically needs to be longer than for a general view.  30-40mm may be normal for a general interior view.  70-100mm would be more typical for a vignette.

35mm lens main view

200mm lens vignette

3. Depth of Field

Greater depth of field creates greater focus.  A shallower focal plane controlled by having a wider aperture can be used to create blurred elements in the foreground as framing devices or a kind of natural vignette.  Blurred background objects can provide a feeling of space, light and depth without actually describing or revealing the space fully.

In this instance Bertrand Benoit rather cleverly uses DOF and the chair itself to simaltaniously create an up close material and tonal quality of the mid-ground subject whilst providing a natural framing element.

The example above by urban photographer Jeff Krol illustrates an extreme use of DOF and bokeh which shows how, with a very limited amount of actual information in an image, a detailed story can be told but with a sufficient amount of ambiguity that the viewer must fill in the gaps.  A bike (probably a bmx) on a stand or leaning against a kerb in an urban environment at night...perhaps?  

4. Lighting

This is is of course a key component of any image.  When considering a detailed view it is often preferable to relight the space specifically for that image so that you can easily manipulate the light balance to draw focus to the subject matter.  In the example below there are three ies spot lights and a plane light with a basic Corona volume materiel to provide volumetric lighting effects and lens effects in the frame buffer

70mm lens

150mm lens

5. Non-standard Camera Angles

Sometimes more obscure camera angles may work with vignettes which would normally be avoided in classic architectural photography such as three point perspectives, fish eye distortion or even roll on the camera orientation.  

I always liked these two images produced years ago by Guthers of an expanded mesh which he had created with a displacement map.  In the daytime image the focus is the reflection of the sun peeping out from behind a cloud.  In the dusk alternative, with the same camera position and lens, the focus is shifted to the inside of the space by lighting alone. 

The above image of the Carey House by Henry Goss Architects shows how a three point downward looking perspective with a fish eye lens and natural vignetting with geometry and light has been used to create quite a focused but illustrative image. 

Below are a few examples of how vignettes are commonly used in different industries, for example:



Note the incredibly shallow focal plane.


Nice motion blur and highlights on the water droplets 

These furniture examples are all from Bertrand Benoit who has to be the all time master of furniture CGI vignettes. 

Finally, below is a basic camera setup in Corona for 3ds Max illustrating just how simple it now is to get some great effects with minimal effort.  This is just a box with a few basic props, a few ies spot lights and a Corona Volume Material used in the global slot under the Scene tab in render settings.  I use a max Physical Camera with a CoronaCameraMod but some people still like the Vray physical camera in the studio.  There are a few ways of setting the DOF up but I like to do it this by enabling the DOF in the physical camera and then overiding the focus in the mod.  Interestingly the physical camera DOF overides the DOF in the Corona render settings meaning one less box to check.  Sure people do this differently but this way works for me. 

150mm lens, 10 minute 2k render with denoising straight out of the frame buffer

Visualisation & Construction Procurement

Our work during the past two years has been varied and numerous. Although we still love to get involved with the little gems like individual houses and small cultural projects which we can really get our creative teeth into, the reality of working with some of the 'starchitects' with whom we have had the privilege of working has inevitably resulted in larger scale, more commercial projects.

The complexities of working within a team on these larger scale projects can be formidable and some people in the office who, for example don't have an architectural background, regularly query where particular information or feedback is coming from or who is ultimately responsible for decision making in a given situation.  This post is intended as a basic diagrammatic explanation of where the visualisation team fits in with the general procurement of a building project and the various contractual chains and roles and responsibilities which result.

There are of course many other ways that visualisers may be appointed in different situation and  different sectors but this is generally how The Boundary operate in architectural visualisaion 

The diagram above illustrates one way that we have previously been appoted in the US. Branding and creative agencies sometimes act as lead consultants in the production and coordination of the graphic assets including branding identity, CGI's, photography, film etc. They are appointed directly by the developer or client who may be acting in a different capacity such as an overall project manager or client's technical representative and they in turn appoint all the sub-consultants. The branding agency is therefore the client of the CGI company in effect.  This means that all instructions should ultimately come from them directly and everything issued should go to them.  Invoices are addressed to them and damages are recovered from them in the event of something going wrong.

Sub sub consultants/contractors are often appointed by the CGI company directly to contribute to specialist parts of the production process including furniture modellers, vegetation modellers, fluid simulation experts, 3d tracking specialists, photographers etc. 

The second route is to be directly appointed by the developer who is commissioning the building project.  This is probably the most common model and is often preferable to the first example by virtue of it's simplicity. The branding team in this instance may still have some kind of overall creative strategy which can serve as a graphic brief informing the output of the images, film etc. More direct contact with the developer is usually beneficial as it removes one link in the contractual chain and reduces the possibility for poorly interpreted instructions and general misinformation.  

in all these examples it is of course possible and indeed necessary to communicate with the rest of the design team from the architects and interior designers to the branding agencies and film companies to ensure full coordination between all parties.  

The first two examples assumed that the CGI company was appointed to produce marketing material for the purposes of publicity and ultimately sales.  Although this is a large part of our work, it is not the only point at which visualisation is required when considering the overall procurement of a construction project.  

Architectural visualisaiton can also play a key role in architectural competitions, design development, planning and general publicity.  In these cases it is often the architects who appoint the CGI team.  As is illustrated above the architects may also retain the CGI team for the marketing phase if they have already established a working and contractual relationship in which case the developer need not enter into a separate contract with the CGI company which is sometimes preferable for larger organisations who have many appointments to manage.

Another option which is essentially a consolidated variation of the first example is where the creative / branding agency incorporates all of the specialist skills within the single company to provide all of the requisite graphic elements for the marketing process including, branding and identity, web design, printed media, CGI, animation, film etc.  These 'all in one' companies can provide an attractive option for the developer who wants a one stop shop (comparable to turnkey design and build contracting in constriction).  However, with the ever increasing specialisation of computer based graphic industries including the burgeoning VR world it seems increasingly unlikely that this model will be able to compete in the upper echelons of the industry indefinitely where affiliated studios constituting 'best in class' in their respective industries may form relationships or partnering charters to provide a developer with a similarly robust and consolidated package but ensuring greater quality and flexibility.

There are of course many other ways that these structures can work.  This simply representst a few examples of what we have experienced over the years. All a little dry perhaps but I hope this is of some use particularly to those starting out on their own in the industry.

The Boundary Corona Interview

Some of you may have already seen this but here is the interview we did with the Corona Renderer guys last year.  Pretty lengthy! So much so that they split it in two. Mostly about The Boundary in general and also about how we use Corona in our workflow.  Hope it's interesting.

Low-Tech Low-Fog

We've recently resolved to do weekly seminars in the office with a view to pooling and sharing knowledge that the various super talented people here have.  Some are more blog worthy than others but it seems logical to post some of them here which may be of interest. 

Low fog in Corona was this morning's seminar.  We use the Corona volume material in almost every scene to some degree even if almost imperceptibly to give a slight background haze as always appears in reality on even the clearest of days. 

For a general volume material tutorial check out Corona's volumetric fog tutorial which is really clear.

This post is more to do with how you can use volume materials in different ways to generate very quick and simple atmospheric effects without resorting to more technical simulation techniques such as FumeFX. (although this dancing amphibious hominid is pretty cool) 

Here are a few basic examples which were generated using PG Skies test scene. One with a Corona Sun / Sky system and the other with PG Skies 1714.  A great sky incidentally as it is one which although having been shot in Moroccan Desert works equally well for warm summer scenes and cold winter scenes.

Here are a few more examples of the fog with different lighting conditions and with a lower more zoomed in camera. 

Basic volume material set up below:  I typically use an absorption colour value of around 220 and a scattering colour of roughly the same.  Single bounce only is much faster and makes very little difference to the result. 

All you need to do then is apply the volume material to a piece of geometry which will act as your fog or cloud.  Below is an example of a basic object with multiple noise modifiers applied of varying scales and strengths.  Basically play around with the noise parameters to achieve different effects.  Rough steamy fog or smooth low fog. 

It may look nothing like fog with a default material at this stage by the way

One important thing to remember is not to overlap the fog objects as this can result in dark patches at the intersections where the fog has not been correctly calculated rather like co-planar surfaces with transparent materials. 

It is also important for the geometry to be complete, i.e. no missing polys as the volume material is not distributed throughout the geometry but gives this effect when viewed from the outside.  With this in mind the camera must always be outside of the fog object.

Below is a view port screen grab of the fog object in the PG Skies scene. Note that the camera is just outside the fog object. 

The density of the fog can be adjusted by the absorption distance.  Higher values for a less dense fog, lower values for greater density.  See examples below. 

The final thing to mention is that the apparent density of the fog is dictated by the angle of the sun striking it relative to the position of the camera.  If the sun is coming straight into the camera the fog will appear more dense as in reality.  Sometimes if there is no sun the fog may appear less visible.  This is where Emission can be useful.  Rather than increasing the density of the fog by reducing the absorption distance it is possible to add a sort of self illumination with Emission Distance.  This is set to 255 (white) by default.  The distance usually has to be quite high to avoid a glowing cloud!   See examples below.

So, might seem a little old school and a bit of a hack but it's proved really effective and super quick in many situations recently.  Hope it helps. 

The Boundary Summer 2016

We posted this on Facebook a while back I believe but with winter taking hold in earnest during the past few weeks I think it bares repetition as a means of inspiration remembering that summer will come again! 

Black Friday

It's been a while coming but we have finally converted the Boundary Scene 01 to Corona.  As it took so long we have included a new HDRI and set the scene up as a day shot with one of my favourite PG Skies 1714.  The previous 1953 Vray dusk setup has also been converted with all the lights in the scene.  Simply swap out the HDRi and turn on the lights. 

This and all other scenes on The Boundary Store are discounted by 50% from now until the end of Monday 28th November.  Enjoy! 

The Boundary Store

Discount Code: BLACK50


The Boundary Scene 03 update

Since the release of The Boundary Scene 03 on the Boundary Store, we have had a few queries about the 2013 max versions not having cameras in. Many apologies for this, we had back saved from max 2016 failing to remember that physical cameras don't exist in max 2013.  We have remade the cameras with normal max target cameras and added skew modifiers to approximate the horizontal and vertical shift.  All seems to work now.

All existing costumers should receive an email with a new download link.


The Boundary Film 2016

For those of you not fortunate enough to attend the State of Art Academy Day 7 in Venice earlier this month, here is a short film which we finished off our presentation with.   A compilation of some of the things we have been up to over the past two years.  Not all hard work ;)




The Boundary Scene 03

Following on from State of Art Academy's amazing Academy Day 07, as promised here is The Boundary Scene 03 which features a simple studio with the spherical environment used in our 70 Vestry project.  This scene is set up for Corona and Vray in 3ds max 2013 and 2016.  All those who were at the Academy day and got the discount code can download for free for the next week ending Friday 21st October end of the day.  Enjoy!

Tips and tricks: Corona LightMixer

Simon just posted a nice round up on his blog of a new Corona Renderer feature called LightMixer which we thought we would share here.

Hi guys,

This time it’s really worth it to download the latest daily build of Corona Renderer. Recently the gents behind it introduced an awesome feature called LightMixer. Up until now similar stuff was only available in Maxwell and Fryrender (is that still being developed?!), but right now everyone will have access to this incredible thing. Below you’ll find a short how-to and you’ll also find my notes to that video right underneath.
Ok, based on this video I’m sure you already have a pretty good idea about how this works, but just in case I’ll do a small run down.

What is it? Basically Corona LightMixer allows you to control the power of your light sources straight in the frame buffer. It works with both interactive and “regular” rendering so it can be pretty useful.

How it works? Looking at the video above I’m sure you’ve already noticed that it’s basically a render pass, very similar to VrayLightSelect, but one that allows you to control it’s multiplier straight in the framebuffer, instead creating a need to comp it in postproduction.

To get LightMixer working you have to create a new CShading_LightSelect pass, scroll down and add all the light sources that you want to control in this particular group, to the Light Select Render Element list by pressing “+” and selecting each light individually.

IMPORTANT! LightSelect pass does not care about instances. If you have 100 lights that are all instanced, you have to select all of them.

The amazing thing is that LightMixer also allows you to change the color of your light sources, but in the end, and this is an important one, you have to remember that this is just a postproduction gimmick, basically combining together different LightSelect passes like you would in photoshop, it won’t change anything in your scene, which means that as soon as you’ll reset your frame buffer to defaults or merge those lights into a new scene, you’ll have to go through that entire process once again.

Jobs at The Boundary

A quick reminder that we are always on the lookout for suitable people to join our team here at The Boundary. Send us an email with a CV and portfolio to

All levels of experience will be considered, enthusiasm to do great work is the most important attribute.

You should be eligible to work in the UK.

Expanding The Boundary

Join us at The Boundary!

We are looking for talented, creative and motivated 3d artists to join our expanding team.

Applicants from a 3d viz background should have a strong interest in architecture and photography and be keen to develop new skills in line with the ever evolving requirements of the industry.

Applicants from an architecture background should be familiar with 3ds Max and rendering and be keen to work on projects with the world's most celebrated architects.

Full time position. No freelancers or agencies. Applicants must be legally employable in the UK and be available to work with the team at our North London studio. 

Please send a CV and portfolio to