It's always sunny in CG land

Why is the weather such an underused tool?

As artists, we have some powerful tools at our fingertips and it’s hard not to feel a little power-mad sometimes. We create buildings out of thin air, decide what time of day it is, and populate these worlds with a lucky chosen few. You can depend on one factor remaining constant though, it will usually be sunny. Clouds still exist in our lands, but not those big ugly grey ones, we only allow airbrushed and manicured fluffy white ones instead.

It’s clear why this is the case, everyone would like a bit more sunshine in their life, and it’s a common marketing tool to help ‘sell the dream’. But when we are trying to achieve realism and authenticity, is it not counter-intuitive to portray our cities as persistently sun-baked havens? Especially when sunshine comes with it’s own detrimental quality, the shadow. Rather than being the focal point of our image, our building can quickly become a nuisance, obstructing the landscape from natural light.

“By playing with the seasons we can depict living, breathing places.”

Sunshine can also have a potentially harmful impact on our interior images, after all, who wants to stay in when it’s so bloody nice outside! This is where ‘bad’ weather can come into its own, a spot of rain in our images can help highlight one of the fundamental purposes of a building, shelter. Instead of bringing the outside in and removing the boundary between apartment and environment, we can achieve an element of separation, of privacy, and home.

Winter-themed renders are particularly effective, as evident in Victor Larsson’s Scandinavian Villa. It’s an image that evokes imagery of campfires and the lighting doesn’t look artificial in this instance, the interior space emits a natural warmth, drawing you in. It’s a sanctuary, protecting you from harsh cold of the outdoors.

If a fresh blanket of untrodden snow seems a little too fantastical, then why not a downpour of rain? Just like our primped and preened clouds, puddles can be attractive too! For exterior shots, mirror-like puddles can have many uses. They can reflect attractive elements of what we are illustrating back to the camera, or they can help blend the ground with the sky, hiding it from view and shifting the attention of the audience to what we want them to look at.

By playing with the seasons we can more easily avoid the trap of our images looking like unattainable utopias, and instead depict the living, breathing places that they are. If photography can be dark and moody, with deep blacks and burnt colours, then why can’t CG? Inclement weather can be beautiful, we just have to be a little more daring.


Alex Farrell

Date published

17 July 2014