Real-time rendering …

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Making decision-making quicker and easier is one of the most important challenges that 3D visualization technologies will have to face in the coming years. If “once upon a time” a simple image was enough to communicate a product, to persist in reasoning in this perspective precludes many possibilities offered by the real-time rendering technologies of a project, a product, an organized set of data to be displayed.


Real-time rendering is the concrete implementation of what is expressed by the words themselves: images or animations rendered at such a speed that the fact that the computer is actually taking time to calculate them is imperceptible to the end-user. This is a fundamental characteristic as far as interactive content is concerned. Video games, for obvious reasons, have used this type of technology for many years. Today these tools have also been made “friendly” for other applications, enabling an ever wider range of industries to offer interactive experiences to their stakeholders.


For many years, the development of 3D content in real time, as we mentioned, was the exclusive domain of video game productions. It was a high-end pipeline, according to the parameters of the Media and Entertainment business. In other words, such content was out of the reach of most both because of high cost and because of the skills necessary to use the software created to implement it.

The real-time production workflow will revolutionize the pipelines of the major Animation and VFX studios. The demonstration is given by Adam, short film produced and made with Unity 3D by the South African company Oats Studios, owned by the director Neil Blomkamp. In the detailed “making of Adam”, VFX supervisor Chris Harvey specifies how the use of real-time technologies enabled the reduction of production times by 60% compared to what would have been possible with traditional workflows. Such numbers can translate into a potential cost reduction which, for projects of this kind, is equivalent to millions of dollars.

In the past the graphics engines equipped with real-time rendering technology were extremely complex, but today the times have definitely changed. At the time of writing, even a small development team can achieve results that were unthinkable until only a short time ago thanks to 3D real-time applications whose interface is increasingly flexible and whose tools reserved for developers are increasingly scalable. This is demonstrated by the fact that 3D software born for video games, like Unreal Engine or Unity 3D, have been progressively made more user-friendly, to the point that, nowadays, they are used to develop applications that go well beyond the video game field.

A game engine used to produce a triple A video game can be used to make a walkthrough for architecture as well as a product configurator. The same technology can become the basis for different applications as it allows the production of interactive content which is what they need.

The large demand for online content has further expanded the variety of technologies with the development of specific solutions for the web to create applications that can be used directly in internet browsers without having to download third-party plugins and software. Today, frameworks that are also quite different from each other, like Blend4Web, Verge3D, Babylon.js or A-frame allow you to create experiences based on 3D environments and models implemented in native web technologies that can support real-time rendering like WebGL, WebVR, WebAudio and many others.

The creative possibilities are therefore significantly increased thanks to the plurality of technologies currently on the launch pad. Skills will increasingly make the difference: which technologies to use in order to offer the best possible solution to specific needs in terms of quality, timing and cost of implementation.


In addition to the ability of ensuring interaction, 3D technologies can produce higher quality renderings. If photorealism, until yesterday, was a result that could require hours of calculation for a single image, today the road maps are aiming at reaching 30 frames per second. Another result that until some time ago seemed out of reach is about to be progressively achieved. Skills will increasingly make the difference.

To have a concrete perception we suggest the vision of Reflections, a demo developed by ILMxLAB, the division of Industrial Light & Magic dedicated to the development of entertainment content through new 3D technologies. Completely created with Unreal Engine 4 and presented at the 2018 Game Development Conference, Reflections has captured the attention of the 3D community because it used ray tracing rendering technology in real time. Unlike the advanced rasterization rendering mode, typical of real-time engines, the ray tracing calculation method is able to simulate a quantity and a quality of advanced effects (reflections, refractions, shadows, ambient occlusion, etc.) in a physically accurate way, achieving the greatest possible level of realism.

The core of the technology behind real-time ray tracing is found in NVIDIA RTX, seen in action at the tech demo presented at the 2018 GDC. The incredible film that follows was made in collaboration with Remedy Entertainment.


To find out how real-time rendering can decisively support the decision-making processes, we refer you to an upcoming article “… for real-time decisions“.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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Francesco La Trofa

Architect and journalist with 20 years’ experience in 3D technologies.
Consultant to public entities and 3D businesses for aspects relating to design and communications.
Head of editorial content at and co-founder of Digital Drawing Days, the only event of its kind in Italy.
Actively involved in research and teaching at Milan Polytechnic.
Edits 3D STORIES for Protocube Reply.