Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells


The architectural visualisation industry is always on the move. Firms and artists are always looking for the next step in realism and new ways to impress clients. But Simon Howells has taken a different approach to archviz. Instead of looking to the newest tools and trends, Simon focuses on quality to create some pretty incredible renderings for his collaborators.

 However, a focus on quality doesn't always come easy when render times grow exponentially as clients request changes and variations on projects. So today, we hear from Simon about his approach to visualisation and how he uses our render farm to meet deadlines and overcome the difficulties of rendering large projects.

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells

Simon is a freelance artist producing architecture and product visualisations based out of Sydney, Australia, where he lives with his wife Karen and their dog Roscoe. Simon started out his career as a furniture maker living in London. His entry into visualisation was born out of a desire to visualise his own designs but soon grew into a career itself after graduation from the University of Hertfordshire in 2009 with a Master of Arts degree in 3D Digital Animation.

"[After college] I started working for Random42, a medical animation company in London, where I stayed for five years. Since then, I have been in ArchViz. My main service is Architectural Visualisation with a cross-over into interior design-based product visualisation."

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells

In December of 2019, Simon went fully independent only to be hit with COVID lockdown and cancelled projects a couple of months into freelancing. He described the experience as extremely difficult yet confidence-filling.

"...the work I had lined up immediately evaporated the moment the COVID lockdowns hit, which left my wife and I struggling to make ends meet. But with her ability to feed us both on $AUD40 per week and with a couple of loyal clients managing to stay afloat, we survived. Although it was extremely difficult, having made it through something like that fills me with confidence that being the captain of my own ship is definitely worth the sacrifice of a secure salary."

GarageFarm for complex surfaces

Simon usually relies on his own system to render his work but turns to GarageFarm’s cloud render service when deadlines or project requirements demand a more robust rendering solution. 

“Typically, I have enough render power to meet my needs. Being a solo artist, I can usually work during the day and render during the night, but when I have jobs that have multiple variations or the client needs a tight turnaround, I render on the farm, which is invaluable. The first time I used GarageFarm was on a job involving a large number of colour variations. 

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells
Image credit: Cameron Design House

Before using GarageFarm, Simon had used other online rendering services to fill the gaps but was never satisfied with the support or rendering experience other farms had to offer. For freelance artists like Simon, a smooth rendering experience with top-notch support is important so that they can turn around and provide top-notch, timely work for their clients.

“The technical support is [GarageFarm’s] stand-out component. I’ve been doing 3D work for long enough that I know my way around a scene, so when there is a problem, it’s usually either an obvious lack of attention on my part or a technical problem at the other end. On the few occasions where I have had a problem, the support staff have been very quick and knowledgeable, either pointing out my glaring mistake or finding and fixing the technical issue.”

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells
Image credit: Cameron Design House

“I was originally using Rebus farm which was fine…but no more than that. Then there was a problem with my scenes not initiating on their farm when they had previously been rendering fine. I went back and forth with the support staff for days, always with their assumption being that the problem was at my end until, eventually, they went quiet without the problem being resolved. Needing the job finished, I searched for alternatives, and GarageFarm was the first one I tried, and I haven’t looked back.

Simon Howells X Cameron Design House

Simon’s latest project for Cameron Design House demonstrates how render farms like GarageFarm play a key role in the workflow for artists like Simon. He was tasked with creating visualisations and product renderings of the firm’s latest sculptured light piece. This meant that he needed a way to quickly produce not only one set of deliverables but many variations and three animations that demonstrated the range of colours the product was available.

“The client's brief was to show their full range of colours available in a consistent and photo-real series of images, both in on and off states, for use in marketing and on their website.”

In the end, there were 312 animation frames that, according to Simon, would have taken roughly 580 hours to render locally. On GarageFarm’s servers, the task took fourteen.

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells
Image credit: Cameron Design House

Simon used 3ds Max, and Corona renderer for the project. The need for photorealism and the complex interplay of the hand-blown glass and light refractions of the light sculpture meant that Simon had to plan to use a cloud render service from the beginning.

“…the combination of blurry refractions and subsurface scattering meant the render times were pretty high and not ideal for multiple variations and animations. The use of a farm was always an inevitability; even then, I had to make trade-offs between render time and render noise to keep the job within budget.”

Refractive surfaces are known to be one of the most challenging kinds of surfaces to render for their tendency to generate lots of noise. For projects with these kinds of surfaces, render farms are often the only realistic option for rendering the final project.

Archviz, furniture, and the future

Lights, surfaces, & rendering with Simon Howells
Cameron Design House

Simon isn’t one to jump at the first new trend in the archviz industry, but like many of us, the constant improvement in interactive rendering tools has allowed him to visualise work quickly. Tools like Corona and V-ray are now integral to his workflow. 

“I’m not normally one for keeping an eye out for the next big thing, but what has helped my workflow a huge amount is a rapid improvement in the last few years of interactive rendering in Corona and VR.”

Simon is currently working on a number of large architectural projects in the Sydney area and is hoping to continue his work while also developing more time for his other passion, furniture making.

Be sure to follow Simon on Instagram @simonphowells and visit his website to see more of his work.

If you’re looking for a way to speed up your own project timelines, signup here to receive $25 of free render credits towards your first cloud rendering project.

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