Blender as render engine for SU models

I have been looking into the capabilities of Blender for use as a photorealistic renderer for SU models. It’s hard to know how many people are using Blender this way, even if only as a cost-free gateway drug to “proper” render engines. There’s been a lot of discussion about using Blender as an alternative to SU but I’m not up for that.

I don’t suppose I am alone in mainly wanting something that will take an already impressive SU 3D rendered model and jazzing it up with more realistic lighting, without having too steep a learning curve or having to spend hours just to get a slightly better render. It will often be external views which means you can rely on a single light source, the sun.

Blender has a whole host of tools that aren’t necessary for this limited task. You probably don’t need:

  • Abilty to draw inside Blender;

  • Animation;

  • Material editing.

You may just need to be able to import backgrounds, adjust sun and shade settings, camera position, and not much else. If you want to go further, it’s nice to be able to add artificial light sources.

I read that Blender is not really optimized for architectural renders, but I am not sure if that just means it can do lots more many of us don’t need, or whether it means it is much harder to get a result than with other more focused software.

Any views?

@chippwalters made a tutorial a couple of years back on a SU modelling / Blender (EVEE) rendering workflow. I’m not sure if he did one for exteriors, but the one I remember was specifically for architectural interiors:

I have been intending to go that route for a while now, but have been too busy with paid work to overcome the inertia of learning a new workflow… so don’t have any actual experience / expertise with this approach to share.

Blender is not a rendering software, it’s much more.

However, if you’re able to find your way into the tools your exclusively interested in, it has no limitations.

It’s perfectly capable of doing what you want from it and do it faster, with EEVEE or more realistically with Cycles.

You’ll be having a hard time finding your exclusive tools though. For the beginner, doing that in blender is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Yes, and that was a main driver for my post! I have watched a few of the excellent tutorial videos on the Blender website but I began to lose the will to live. So what I was hoping for was someone who already used it for what I described who could say “ignore this set of tools”, “don’t try doing that in Blender”, “here’s a quick and dirty way to render an external view of a building” that kind of thing. I think @JustinTSE may have done one or two tutorials like that. Maybe @chippwalters too?

I don’t render with Blender, but with Thea 4 Sketchup and Twinmotion. I use blender for a few things though and it’s much easier than it seems. There’s a lot of tutorials.

Search for:

  • Build your first shader/material with Blender;
  • Assign material to object in Blender;
  • Setup Sun and Sky in Blender;
  • Render with Cycles;
  • Render with Eevee.

You’ll see that for what you want to do, it will be quite easy.

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I did a simple tutorial on this here -

Part of the problem is how complicated you can make everything.

If you just prep your model in SketchUp, then import to Blender and set everything up, it can be really simple, but once you get into swapping materials or anything like that it can get a lot more complicated.

The way models are created (with vertices, faces, etc) are much more important in Blender because of things like UV mapping. A lot of SketchUp models with poor topology just don’t translate well.

That said, if you develop the technical knowledge of how everything works in Blender, it’s a very powerful tool :slight_smile:

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Justin, I watched that video of yours and very good it was too. But its focus was on interiors and artificial lighting. Now if you could do one by using a building and sunlight…

Yeah this is a bit of a tricky topic to cover in a single video because it requires a lot of understanding both of how SketchUp works, how Blender works, and how moving the geometry back and forth works.

It’s definitely something else I could cover though - I’m assuming you’d be looking for something that really focuses on importing the building to Blender from SketchUp, doing just a bit of cleanup, then quickly applying something like HDRI lighting and exporting a rendered image?

Yes, I was imagining something along those lines. In fact, a lot like your video with the chair but using the outside of a building and using sun for lighting.

Podium has some excellent videos and it might be a better bet than Blender. But as Blender is free, for those of us who only need a more realistic render once in a while, it would be awesome to be able to use it. It is obviously much, much more powerful than the average Sketchupper needs, so I imagine it is manly a question of knowing which tool set to use and how.

If your are on Mac (there is a SKP import plug-in for Blender on Windows only), there is a possibility to import perfectly using 3DS format.

You have to take care about scale settings and uncheck (I think) “looking for image” and “read keyframe” options.

3DS file format is probably an experimental script, that you get if you use alpha version under development.

Blender is a nice solution, for rendering from SketchUp, it is a high quality solution. Yesterday I produce several images for clients, and it was great. Image that I don’t show here. Instead of my work, you can see test example fast to set. For the record I use the water solution for a swimming pool option yesterday.
In nexts month, you will get “asset” function (a library) that help you a lot for rendering, because you may keep easily your shader solutions.

There is new interesting improvements in alpha version under development, for light and volumetric effect with light :

That’s great advice. I wonder how long you have been learning Blender and how long it takes you to produce output that is client-ready?

It’s interesting that you include two renders of the Barcelona pavilion. Looks like the exact same model used to illustrate Podium!

It took me about 1 year to learn how to model and render in Blender. Just for the rendering part it would have been about 2 months (but 6 full days a week, sometimes 10 hours a day). So it does take a while, but it’s certainly possible to get fantastic exterior shots, I think the whole ‘Blender is not as good at exterior work’ is more from the 2.79 days and now we are on 2.93 with many new features like enhanced sun etc.

I didn’t take any specific exterior tutorials I just learnt how to use it overall and now I can use that knowledge for exterior. I did have a lot of time on my hands due to Covid and not having to work so I chalked up almost 3000 hours :sweat_smile: but now I am very proficient there isn’t much I could not make.

The models above are all Blender This model is straight from SketchUp and rendered very quickly in about an hour (adding materials and rendering).

I can’t show any of my architectural exterior stuff as it’s all work related. But it’s similar to what you will see in Corona, Vray etc.

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That’s really handy to know. I think it knocks Blender out of the park for me. For someone who just needs the occasional output that is a bit better than what SU does out of the box, I can’t justify a learning curve that steep. I suspect I will just have to decide between not having the facility or spending a bit on something like Podium that does seem to produce useful output fairly simply.

Yeah it was certainly a time sink, for me it was needed as my main focus was modeling and animation, even if you just focus on rendering it will be a few months and a lot of hours,

Maybe look at Unreal Engine & Twinmotion. The learning curve for Unreal is much less (you can have a good hold of it after a weekend) and for Twinmotion is non-existent but I believe it’s not free anymore. @JustinTSE has quite a lot of tutorials that will get you setup (I think). If not the official Unreal ones are free and good.

Twinmotion is £468 which is to much for the very occasional use I might make of it. I might take a look at TE though, so thanks for the suggestion.

For me, it take a long time, several month, because I learned very slowly, spending a few minutes a day to test a function. I think in 1 to 2 hours I could teach the equivalent of a month or two. When you know a few principles, Blender is not difficult.

I get a rendering quite quickly. Once the model has been imported, a few minutes of adjustments are enough (I get the textures from SketchUp using the 3DS format). This will be improved with new asset manager in next months.

Barcelona Pavilion is a great 3D model for learning rendering or testing rendering software. It’s easy because there are a lot of effects that you can get without difficulties.

In Blender, you can create 3D volumetric clouds… :grinning:

… it is incredible…

You may see example of “real” 3d clouds rendering test

If you have a Nvidia RTX GPU you could try D5 render community edition. It’s free.

Unreal is also free but I think it still has somewhat of a learning curve.

Kerkythea is still around, I think, and it should still be free. It’s where I learnt about rendering.

I’ve got a bunch for Twinmotion.

Not too many for Unreal Engine yet - if I go down that road, it would likely be its own channel. Unreal is just so…big. There’s a lot of foundation that you have to learn to really utilize that program, but I have high hopes for the Twinmotion/Unreal Engine Bridge

I think the hobby version of Twilight Render is still free to download as well