Making 3D Visualization Look Natural Is… Hard

“Suspend your intuition for reality for a minute or two.”

That’s essentially what we are asking when we ask someone to watch a civil or transportation visualization we have created. We are trying to get someone else to believe that this particular scene is real- or at least will be real soon.

This is why we add trees. This is why we add clouds. This is why we add textures. If we weren’t trying to achieve the feat of suspending reality intuition then why would we add this stuff? It doesn’t help demonstrate the diverging diamond any better. It doesn’t help the contractor understand the sequencing any clearer.


We add as many real-life elements as possible because we want to make the entire scene feel real. We want to distract the viewer as little as possible. They aren’t watching the clouds (well, hopefully) but the presence of clouds subconsciously tells that same viewer “see, this is just like real life”.

This natural feel, however, is extremely difficult. I enjoy using Lumion because it these natural elements come standard in most situations. The clouds are great. Trees actually move in the breeze. Ceiling fans spin.

But there is still a lot left over for us to manually make natural. It is nice that 3ds Max will allow you to add random traffic (using a plugin, of course) that moves at certain speeds, but it doesn’t mean that those vehicles will turn naturally at the intersection. Traffic, in fact, is one of the most difficult elements to make look natural in transportation visualization. Whether you are manually or automatically generating and animating vehicles, getting them to move and look right is next to impossible.

If you work forever and the cars still don’t look¬†quite¬†right, don’t sweat it. No one elses does either.

The best way to make your scenes look more natural is to practice. This involves producing new, quality work on a consistent basis. This is the fastest way to more natural looking 3D visualization.

But the big secret is that we have the training material in front of us all day, every day. When you are out and about, look around you. How common are contrails in the sky? Would those make some scenes look more natural? What does worn concrete look like vs freshly poured concrete? How often to pedestrians and animals really appear in the real life around city streets?

If you ask yourself these and a thousand other questions every day you will get ever closer to… not perfection, but reality. Because, in reality, that’s what we are shooting for.

Perfection looks fake.

Reality looks real.

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