Step-by-step guide to the making of a “digital
watercolor” architectural rendering in Photoshop
Wireframe view of 3-d model
Built in Sketchup and Autocad, each ﬂoor was constructed on a “layer = material”
basis in separate ﬁles to more easily incorporate design changes. All ﬁles were then
compiled in one model ﬁle in 3D Studio MAX for rendering.
Rendered with the Maxwell plug-in. Background masked out in Photoshop.
Rendered as a separate image ﬁle from Maxwell – the ability to select by object or
material within Photoshop is a huge timesaver. Note the colors here correspond to the
wireframe view from earlier.
Background building inserted
The neighboring building to the right was cut out from the base render and put on a
separate layer to control its opacity throughout the design process.
Photoshop ﬁlters applied
A custom combination of smart blur, ﬁnd edges and watercolor ﬁlters applied to base
render layer. A copy is made to control the strength of each effect, but this can also be
accomplished via Smart Filters. Background building “ﬁltered” separately.
Sky and background added
A mix of site photos and a painted sky create the backdrop. Filters are applied to these
items as needed to ensure continuity with rendered buildings. Atmospheric
perspective is added with layers set to Normal, Overlay and Color blending modes to
get the right effect.
Imagery and glows are added to the glass in both buildings. Street level windows
reﬂect the expected retail mix of ski apparel and restaurants. Residential imagery
used above. Glows are created in a random pattern using the dodge tool.
Adjustment to wood siding
Quick adjustment requested by client to color of the siding. Using the selection sets
created in the initial render, this change is easily accommodated.
Street trees added
Winter trees are added per landscape plan along both streets. Slight “artistic license”
is made with their placement to ensure visibility of drop-off area mid-block.
A minimum of cars were requested to maintain pedestrian quality of scene. Careful
masking of the red car was necessary to help explain the separation between
marquee and retail shops beyond.
As with the trees and shops, the people should reﬂect the time of year as well as the
time of day in the scene. The bench in the lower right was rendered separately and
inserted into the middle of the people set.
Close-up of people
Filters are applied to the entourage as well so they blend in with the building as much
as possible. Additionally, most of the people are at 80-90% opacity to aid in the
The foreground car was rendered separately so it could be scaled and moved within to
scene as necessary to minimize view blockage. A snow-covered winter tree helps to
frame the right side of the image.
More glows on building
A subtle new color wash applied to the sun side of the building helps to vignette the
edges and bring out some highlights on the building.
The scene is ﬂattened, and a gentle smart blur ﬁlter is applied to the entire image to
soften everything up, and once again assist in unifying the entourage. The effect can
be masked out selectively as needed.
First layer of textures added
Scanned watercolor paper set on top of the ﬂattened image in Overlay blending mode.
The scan is adjusted so the brightness level is centered at 50% to ensure the effect is
not too strong.
Slight adjustment to curves to increase contrast and new “sketch lines” are added to
the peaks. One more texture layer is applied as a pattern layer style to control its
strength. Signage is added to the marquee, and weʼre done!
Client: Callison Architecture
Entourage assistance: Lucid Arts
ASAI Award of Excellence winner, 2009
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