When working on an architectural visualization project, an architect and a 3D rendering contractor have to understand each other perfectly. This will ensure that the entire task flows smoothly and both parties have the same vision of the expected outcome. But sometimes the architects struggle to understand 3D rendering terminology used by CG artists. Even if the latter try to avoid professional slang when communicating with customers, they still have to explain 3D-related terms but in other words. Which can take an excessive amount of time and slow down the work progress. 

As a professional CGI company, we always strive to make communication with our studio as easy and effective as possible for architects. For this, we have already delved into architectural rendering process so that our customers could understand the stages of a 3D visualization project. This time, we prepared a glossary of 3D rendering terminology that can help to speak the same language with 3D artists. So, join us and discover 33 terms any architect should know to seamlessly communicate with 3D visualization contractors!

#1. CG rendering/3D visualization

The primary term in our terminology list is 3D rendering or 3D visualization. It is the process of turning 3D models and scenes into 2D imagery on a computer. 3D rendering allows for presenting the final results of architectural projects that do not exist in the real world yet.

#2.  CG render

A 3D render is the result of a 3D visualization process, which comes in the form of 2D imagery. 3D renders are divided into two types they can be photoreal or feature non-photorealistic elements.

#3. 3D modeling

3D modeling means creating a three-dimensional model of an object within digital space using special software. Seasoned 3D artists can create 3D models of both real and fictional objects. 

#4. Architectural 3D model

A CG Render of a Business Center in the Downtown

An architectural 3D model is the result of the aforementioned process — a three-dimensional representation of a future object. Architects use 3D models when exhibiting their designs to prospective clients or investors. A 3D model can be displayed as 2D imagery created through 3D rendering, as a simulation on a computer, or it can be 3D printed as a physical prototype.

#5. CG animation

In architectural 3D rendering terminology, 3D animation is a photoreal movie that shows the future design in motion. To create a 3D video, it is required to make tens of still 3D renders first. Then, these images are combined in a particular order to simulate movement.

#6. Level-of-detail

In 3D rendering terminology, level-of-detail (LOD) is a technique that means that the 3D objects that are closer to the virtual camera are rendered in more detail than those located far from it. This method is used to optimize the 3D visualization process by decreasing the workload on rendering pipeline.

#7. Lighting

Commercial 3D Visualization of a Factory

Lighting can make or break any render since it ensures photoreal look of a CG visual and plays a huge role in establishing the atmosphere of a scene. Modern 3D software allows for setting any kind of lighting accurately. For instance, the well-known Maya 3D software offers six different types of lights: ambient, area, directional, volume, point, and spot.

#8. Low-poly modeling

To understand this important term from our 3D rendering terminology guide, we first need to know what 3D models are made of. So, they consist of polygons small triangular surfaces with 3 points. These tiny “building blocks” form polygon meshes that define the shape of a 3D object. Low poly modeling is creating 3D objects with a mesh consisting of a relatively small number of polygons. 

#9. High-poly modeling

Respectively, high-poly modeling stands for creating 3D models with a mesh with many polygons. This method allows for the displaying of an object with much more precision. High-poly modeling requires significantly more time than low-poly — but it provides more realistic and detailed visuals.

#10. 3DS Max

Our 3D rendering terminology guide would have been incomplete without this point. Autodesk 3DS Max, usually called simply “Max” by those who work with it, is the professional 3D computer graphics program. It is widely used in architectural 3D modeling and visualization. The first version of Max was created back in 1996. The program is compatible with Microsoft Windows operating systems only. Autodesk 3DS Max is available in both professional and student versions. The latter is free to use for educational purposes.

#11. Corona

Corona is a high-performance software developed for photorealistic rendering. It was originally created as a student project in Prague in 2009 and is currently owned by the Chaos Group. Corona can work along with Autodesk 3DS Max, as well as Cinema 4D.

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#12. V-Ray

Another offering by the Chaos Group and an important point in our terminology list, V-Ray is a rendering software that works as a plug-in for Autodesk 3ds Max and Cinema 4D. It is also compatible with SketchUp, Rhino, Maya, and TrueSpace7. The first version of V-Ray was released in 2000. V-Ray has proven itself well in architectural rendering, thanks to its good correlation of computation speed and image quality.

 #13. ZBrush

ZBrush is another software definitely worth mentioning in our 3D rendering terminology guide. It is a 3D modeling tool famous for its capability to digitally recreate the process of sculpting. The software is used for the creation of outstandingly detailed 3D models with more than 40 million polygons. ZBrush is a great choice for modeling organic shapes.

#14. Material

An essential aspect of 3D visualization is simulating various real-life materials on the surfaces of objects on a computer screen. Having a wide collection of CG materials is vital for any 3D artist to create photoreal imagery. The artists create materials on their own and also use online libraries for finding the right options. 

#15. Photorealism

A CG Render Showing a Modern Dining Spot

As an art genre, photorealism is defined as a type of art in which an artist examines a photo and then recreate it using another graphic media. In architectural rendering terminology, however, this term is used to characterize pictures of future designs that look so realistic that one cannot tell it from real photographs. To master the art of photorealism, 3D artists have to work hard and gain serious experience.

#16. 3D rendering style

3D imagery can be made in different styles. There are watercolor and other stylized visualizations, as well as semi-realistic and photoreal ones. If the image requires a real-life feel, the photorealistic style is the way to go. 

#17. Textures

In 3D rendering terminology, texture is a raster graphics applied to a surface of a three-dimensional object. Texturing is needed for simulating colors and relief on a 3D model.

#18. Reflection

A CG Render of a Cozy Villa Design

In 3D rendering, achieving photorealism requires showing reflections on glass and other reflective surfaces. To do this, 3D artists use ray tracing technique. There are various types of reflections in 3D renderings, such as glossy, blurry, polished, and metallic.

#19. Rendering pipeline

An essential point in this CGI terminology guide, a rendering pipeline is a sequence of steps required for a graphics system to render a 3D scene into a 2D visual. The whole process depends largely on the type of software, hardware, and characteristics of the expected outcome. That is why a rendering pipeline can differ greatly depending on the project and equipment used.

#20. 3D sculpting

In the real world, artists shape sculptures using materials such as clay or stone. In the digital environment, a 3D artist can do basically the same thing using a 3D sculpting software. With the help of special programs like ZBrush, it is possible to pull apart, bring together, smoothen 3D objects to create intricate forms and organic curves.

#21. Soft and hard shadows

There are two types of shadows used in 3D renderings — hard and soft ones. Hard shadows look crisp and have sharp edges, while soft ones are not so distinct and have blurry edges. Hard shadows are produced by small light sources and direct light, and soft shadows are typical for indirect lighting and relatively large sources of it. Masterful usage of soft shadows is crucial for achieving photorealistic effect. 

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#22. Wireframe 3D modeling

This term from our 3D rendering terminology guide is not very well-known. So what is a 3D wireframe model? It is exactly what the name suggests — a representation of a “skeleton” of an object. 3D wireframe modeling helps show the underlying design structure of objects and clearly understand their dimensions.

#23. Interior rendering

A CG Render Showing a Hall in a Luxury Hotel

Interior renderings are 3D visuals that show the future building from the inside. Such imagery showcases the layout as well as design solutions — overall style, selected materials, furniture & decor pieces, etc. When examining 3D interior renderings, the viewers can evaluate both the functionality and aesthetic appeal of a space.

#24. Exterior rendering

In CG artists’ professional terminology, exterior rendering stands for a visual that shows the object from the outside. With the help of such a 3D visualization, the audience can examine thoroughly a building’s external design — its facade, roof, walls, entrance. What is more, exterior rendering allows for seeing the house’s surroundings.

#25. 3D flythrough/3D walkthrough

3D flythrough and 3D walkthrough are two types of 3D architectural animation. The main difference between them is the point of view from which the spaces are shown. 3D walkthrough showcases the design on a human eye level, while a 3D flythrough animation demonstrates the scene from a bird’s eye view. A walkthrough animation is a great choice for an interior design presentation. As for flythrough video, it can be used to show the building’ exterior and surrounding area from above. Oftentimes, both types are combined in 3D animations.

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#26. Floor plan 

In  3D rendering terminology, a 3D floor plan is a picture showing a building’s layout in section from a bird’s eye view. 3D floors plan feature furniture, decor, and other elements of the interior design. This kind of 3D rendering is great for showing the relative position of rooms in a house or apartment.

#27. 360° Panoramas

A 360° panorama allows viewers of a 3D architectural presentation to examine a large area in all directions. This helps to get a full understanding of a project.

#28. Virtual tours

A 3D virtual tour is one of the most fascinating kinds of presentation materials in our CGI terminology list. This is an interactive presentation that can show all parts of the space from any angle, making the audience feel like they are walking through the presented property. When taking a 3D tour, the viewers can use a mouse or a touchpad to choose a direction and proceed to any part of a house they want to explore. 3D tours also allow for zooming objects to see them in more detail.

#29. Grayscale 3D render

In 3D professionals’ terminology, grayscale 3D render is a rendering without textures and lighting applied. It is used to show the bare bones of design. Grayscale renders are useful when it is needed to concentrate on the shape, size, and relative position of the objects within a future property without any distractions.

#30. Post-production

3D Visualization of a Large Business Center

In 3D rendering terminology, post-production is the stage when the final output is tweaked and refined to perfection. For this, 3D artists use special software like Adobe After Effects. During the post-production stage, it is possible to correct colors, hues, saturation, glows, apply special visual effects, add figures of people, animals, cars, and more. 

#31. CGI

CGI expands to computer-generated imagery. It can be still or moving visuals made with the help of 3D computer graphics. CGI is widely used for presentations of architectural designs that are yet to be built.

#32. CAD

CAD expands to computer-aided design. In architecture, it is when computers are utilized for designing an architectural project. Numerous CAD programs are widely used by architects, engineers, and designers. The most popular ones are AutoCAD, Revit, SketchUp, and 3ds Max. 

#33. High resolution (high-res) and low resolution (low-res)

In 3D rendering, the resolution of images is vital. They can be either high-res or low-res. High-resolution images have more pixels per inch than low-resolution ones. Images with less than 300 PPI are considered as low-resolution. For building design presentation, high res is the way to go, because it allows seeing details of a structure clearly.

We hope that this brief yet extensive guide on 3D rendering terminology will be of use to architects who work with CGI studios. It covers the basic terms of 3D modeling and rendering, the main options of software used in the process, and types of CG materials by which a design can be displayed to the audience.

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Catherine Paul
Content Writer, Editor at ArchiCGI

Catherine is a content writer and editor. In her articles, she explains how CGI is transforming the world of architecture and design. Outside of office, she enjoys yoga, travelling, and watching horrors.