Producing images and videos has long ceased to be the preserve of photographers and film-makers alone. Silvan Zuppiger invites us behind the scenes for a look at his work and talks to us about rendering and how it has opened up different ways of visually representing objects.
Mr Zuppiger, what does rendering mean and how does it work?
Primarily it means a lot of work in front of a screen (he says with a grin). Essentially I’m a virtual photographer and film-maker, but the difference is that I create my subjects and lighting effects in 3D first, before I press the button to photograph or film them. The rendering itself is basically the final result of lots of work on the 3D model.
You produce images and product videos for us using this technique – what data and information do you need to make a video in this way?
To create the product images and atmosphere I first need an idea, a storyboard, which defines the environment in which the product is to be shown. Then I build a 1:1 scale 3D model based on this idea, for example a kitchen scene. Once I have received the construction data for the appliances, I use reference photos to add in real material characteristics, then I build the appliances into the kitchen scene and render the whole thing. So for me to do a good job of rendering I need reference photos, information on materials, construction data, screens for the displays and information on the functions and characteristics of the appliances.
That sounds really interesting, but also quite time consuming. How long does it take to make a video lasting about a minute?
That depends on the complexity of the scene and the product, but usually production would take three to four weeks. The whole process involves drawing up the storyboard, creating or changing the scene, adding in the material characteristics, tracking shots, testing the materials and light, producing the first cut as a screen capture or low res, right up to the finished product.
When you were producing the video for our side-by-side fridge, for example, what was the biggest challenge?
The details. The fridge is open and lots of food can be seen, so that took up a lot of production time. For something like broccoli or a tube of mustard to look real, we need as much information as possible on its composition and characteristics, just the same as for an appliance.
Is it possible to see the difference between a 3D rendered video and a filmed video?
That depends on how good the rendering is, i.e. how much time is spent on it. With rendering, the reaction time for corrections is a bit different to that in real film production, because you can’t immediately look at the scene you’ve just shot. The most difficult things to render are objects that move organically like people, animals and plants. These are usually the first indication that something has been rendered, which is why Hollywood films often use a combination of 3D animations and real film footage.
Moving objects are difficult to capture – but is rendering perfect for everything else?
Definitely. The advantages are hard to ignore: cheaper production, plenty of variety, lots of flexibility in terms of materials and colours, and of course it’s easy to make changes – for example I can put new appliances into a V-ZUG kitchen without having to do a new studio setup.
This technology fascinates me. What fascinates you personally about your job?
The creativity and the opportunity to create something that doesn’t yet exist but which other people will love. The most exciting and yet at the same time the most challenging aspect of my job is the variety of tasks I have to complete, because I’m often the photographer, lighting technician, set designer and interior designer in one. Another particularly pleasing aspect of the job is when you are suddenly there in a finished set which you constructed as a 3D model months beforehand and it looks exactly as you had visualized it.
Where do you think this technology will go in the future and have any new trends already begun?
Virtual reality is definitely the biggest trend at the moment. With the help of 360 degree imaging you can not only see your home on the screen, but also experience it in a completely different way. In the near future, interactively accessible environments will become even more popular, and in the case of V-ZUG maybe we’ll soon have appliances that can be operated interactively (he laughs).
Thank you for the interview!