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Last week I posted some images on my Facebook page that were created for a competition our office was pursuing. I thought it would be interesting this week to break down the images and show the progression of post processing used to achieve the final composition. The steps outlined below are a cleaned-up version of the process that I used to better explain the overarching workflow.  For example, the color overlays in Step 5 are shown grouped together as if they were all applied in one step. However,  I probably applied 3 or 4 different color overlays at different times of the process when I was experimenting with different lighting styles.  While the steps below outline the foundation, it still very much remains an iterative process of trial and error as well as revisiting different steps for refinement.

The competition encompassed a huge site, so one of our strategies was to illustrate multiple vignettes throughout the design. Because the scope of the project was so big, we were not able to detail out every building and landscaping feature. This meant a lot of time would be spent in Photoshop to add another level of refinement and detail. 


The process began with a simple Kerkythea rendering.  Because the vignettes were focused on small areas of the model, I was able to delete most of the geometry that wasn’t in view to help shorten the rendering time. The water couldn’t have been easier to create. On the Kerkythea website, there is a free water materials pack that you can download and import into Kerkythea. Once the model is opened in Kerkythea, you can select the Sketchup water material and replace it with one of the water bump maps from the water materials pack.

2. SKY

I try to insert the sky as soon as possible once I'm in Photoshop because the sky defines the mood of the rendering from which the other Photoshop elements build off of. I normally don't use such graphically strong skies, but in this case it just seemed to work so I went with it. 


I like to follow the insertion of the sky with the insertion of grass. Something so simple as Photoshopped grass seems to transform the illustration and remove the "computer generated" look. From here, it is much easier for me to envision how to bring in the remaining landscape elements. 


Our 3-D model used very simple trees to help keep the file size down. At the same time, the simple tree place holders make it much easier for locating the placement of the Photoshopped trees as well as inserting them to the correct scale. I strategically placed a few trees to help frame the architecture and help direct the eye across the illustration. I also placed plants along the bank to create a cleaner edge as well as take advantage of the reflections. Note that all of the inserted trees were duplicated, flipped, and smudged to be used as reflections in the water.


You may have noticed that up until now, the image was reading extremely dark and cold. An easy solution to bring in warmth is with color overlays. I didn't want to over power the image with the warm tones, so I focused the color on the horizon and over the architecture. The top image is showing the painted in color before its layer blend mode was set to "Overlay", while the image below shows the layer set to "Overlay". There was a lot of trial and error and adjusting of the hue before I arrived at this color. While I am only showing one color above, I also used multiple color overlays around the trees and sky. At this point, I have a pretty good understanding of where the illustration is going and what the final look will be.


The landscaping is reading well, but the architecture itself still seems a little lifeless. With the brush tool, I painted in light to give the illusion that the building was lit from the inside. The goal here was to use the light to my advantage and provide a better understanding of the form. Again, I made sure to reflect the light in the water as well.


I usually save the Photoshopped people, boats and other supporting elements to the end. I didn't spend much time in this step, but these items are crucial in establishing a sense of scale and again adds life to the illustration.

8. HDR

I could have probably stopped at the last step, but I thought I would do a little more experimenting. Every once in a while, I like to test out some HDR techniques that bring out detail such as in the stone and water reflections. Typically used in photography, these techniques have been yielding some interesting results when I apply them to my renderings. 

The competiton that the above images were used in is now complete and was a collaboration between Paul Lukez Architecture, Carol Johnson Associates, and Green Design Union. Video editing was by Silverscape. You can check out our final video submission of the completed design HERE



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Reader Comments (34)

Nice image, but i feel like it's a little oversaturated.

November 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRazvan

nice work Alex..

November 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYura

hi alex thank you for this usefull and complete tuterial plz share more interior ty.

November 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermehdi

there is a particular reason because I love your blog: when I started going to the architecture school we did drawings in china ink with rapidograph pens and there was still some professor requiring the use of graphos pen, more difficult to use. One of the highlights of the year was the visit to the exhibition of drawings for degree thesis, where we could closely observe large colored drawing colured with pastel or watercolor. With these techniques, the craftsmanship level was very high, and in design offices it was possible to distinguish the drawn executor also without signature.
After few years came cad and render step closer to reality and more and more expensive about computers resources. But the major drawback was to produce images that looks like to each other, even if produced by different people and far between.
Today I do not mind about architecture but I really appreciate your techniques which favor the use of tools (such as the thirty years ago drawings) are extremely expressive and powerful without being produced by the NASA computer center.
Thanks for sharing.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterstef@no

I usually appreciate your work, but I agree with Razvan, this is over-saturated. The visual effects overpower the architecture, which is somewhat clumsy

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhinchcliffe

Ravzan & Hinchcliffee -

your faces are oversaturated...

I would love to visit your blog, see your tutorials and renderings, and images you've spent hours on.

What is your link?

...oh wait.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteryourface

exelente trabajo, que percepción y que buen aporte para nosotros tus aprendices fieles, sigue ilustrandonos con tu genial habilidad! saludos

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

This is just awesome.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjftolmie

It's called constructive criticism "yourface", it's meant to help not hurt. I design, teach, and produce the same work that Alex does at a much higher rate. His office pushes the over-saturated look for whatever reason.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhinchcliffe

Hi Alex, does Kerkythea renders the image with a transparente background, like V-ray does? If not, how is your method to aply the image of the sky? Thanks for all these tutorials.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruno Perdig√£o

hi alex,
before you render the image in kerkythea, is that the model you built in sketchup?

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkira

I really appreciate your effort, but there are so many things wrong with this making of.
Seriously, the way you applied that yellow overlay is very nebbish and the color palette just doesn't work!
There are still a few good tips that one (very n00b) could pick up from it, but overall it is still very subpar.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay

Thanks for the comment. I would respond by saying that if your are looking for photo realistic rendering tutorials, this site isn't for you. A simple google search can find you and unlimited amount of those sites. This site is focused on experimentation and testing out different ideas and workflows. These workflows may not all be perfect, but the idea is to put this information out there so that others can build off of it, improve it, or at the very least, start thinking differently about architecture representation.

November 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterALEX HOGREFE

Well said Alex!!! :)

November 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZohaa

Alex, it's got nothing to do with photorealistic rendering.

I'm talking about post-production 'dos' and 'don'ts' and the fact that there are too many 'don'ts' in your workflow. In fact, the very same 'don'ts' we've been seeing for the last couple of years. You could easily shuffle all your renders that no one would notice. That's the problem. There was no improvement. It's a shame 'cause you got the basics and could 'easily' take a giant leap forward, unfortunately you're repeating the same mistakes over 'n' over again and going nowhere!

I'm not a hater (quite the opposite in fact), just thought someone should tell you this, 'cause you might not see it...

November 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay

@Jay, then you should come up with your own tutorials.

@Alex, most of us really appreciate your work and certainly are grateful.

November 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjuancamiloarq

Hi mate....I'm big fan of your tutorials, I used some of them in my portfolio and they work perfect. One question, how did you do the interior light in the building?

Talking about lights, do you have any tutorial about doing car lights in movement for a night scene for example?

Well, keep like this mate, you are helping a lot of us with your tutorials.


November 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro


Maybe you should go back and learn some elementary school grammar before you start bashing the skills of others.

Also, anyone can go online and say this or that is wrong. But the fact that you post negative comments on Alex's own site (a site that does nothing but shares excellent skills to the world I should add) is shameful and disgusting. Why don't you start you own site and explain to all of us what the 'right' way to do everything is, rather than just blabbing on about everything you claim to know?

November 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

thanks alex you are great man to share your ideas!


November 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterREY

Thank you alex
your idea is always amazing

November 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterwakobe

clean tutorial, lovely result - love the way you take a basic sketchup-look to a whole other level.
Do you have any tips/ workflow for the architectural light inside the building?

(very off topic, but i have to mention it: those misc handdrawings in the 'about-section' are superb.)

November 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterD.

Quick question Alex, what exactly are your duties at the firm, and what do you get done in a typical workday?


November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Beautiful work. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterToby Robb

In all honesty, Jay's got a point.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLucas

hi alex,
how to create a realistic interior light in step 6? very nice retouch : )

December 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermek

Hey alex thanx for your great work. Can you put a video tutorial for this post processing rendering edit? It should be much better for me and us to learn more :)

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterwaffle

Alex, thank you for all the time you put into this! It is so kind.

December 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohannaK

Alex, your renders are perfect!
Jay, you are just disgusting.

December 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmerson Sheik

This is incredible work! The tutorial is very useful too. It pains me to hear the rude comments... Our profession breeds critics... and sometimes assholes.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnrai

Really great tutorials.
That's what I confused for centuries!

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterQuanzi

Hello Alex!

I wonder how you create those realistic water in Kerkythea. Perhaps some tutorial on how to create realistic water?

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHatim

Where do you get your trees and flowers that you use in the landscape, they look real, I have a hard time finding plants that i can actually use to not take away from the rendering. Great work, this looks amazing.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

Love this very much but for those of with little or no photoshop experience it is quite difficult if not impossible to follow or replicate. Can the tutorial be repeated in a step by step format.

March 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOlugboji Akinlolu

@Olugboji: nearly every step has a link in the description that you can click on which takes you to one of Alex's tutorials corresponding to that step. This is an example of a workflow that utilizes several of his techniques.

If I were you, I would click on the "tutorials" link at the top of the page and go through a couple of his photoshop post-processing tutorials. You will quickly gain a better grasp of the software.

April 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

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