Raphael Rau is a 3D artist based in Germany, specialized in 3D photorealistic renderings.
He is also a speaker for 3D events, where he talks about CGi photorealism with enthousiasm. Furthermore, you’ll see that softwares and rendering engines make it easier for anyone to get better realistic results, but if you want to get to the next level with greater renderings, you’ll need to become a photographer and look at your environment in a different way.
Raphael Rau works on a variety of subjects, and he likes to challenge himself on new works, switching from a Sci-Fi component to a pan, to a glass full of ice, always with a sense of realism and aestheticism.
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Raphael Rau – Digital portrait of a photorealistic 3D artist
Hello Raphael. Can you describe yourself for the readers?
Hi, my name is Raphael Rau, I am a 4D generalist with a slight bias towards texturing, shading, lighting and rendering. I am based in my own small office in Ludwigsburg, Germany.
In terms of education there is not much to tell. I have graduated from school with a middle mature and later then finished a technical diploma as well as a degree in graphic design. I was interested in 3D very early on and therefore spend a lot of my spare time at the computer. I think the Pentium 2 was just released at the time I gained interest in PSs. But back then, I could not really afford any modern PC. So I worked with one that was given to us by a friend of my mother. It had a glorious 25 MHz Intel 286 processor. I modded it with some scrap parts, as a 24bit color GPU that I picked up at the electronic scrapyard. Those were the times.
The cool thing was that I spend so much time doing 3D that, when I finished school, it was not really hard for me to find a job, because I was already halfway sufficient in what I was doing!
Design school then helped me to refine my sense for esthetic in layout, framing and general design. Although, it had nothing to do with 3D as it was a more traditional oriented design school. And so was I on a good path to become a 3D artist.
Can you tell us more about your clients and which projects you mostly work on? in which areas?
I do not care about the prestige and client name or working for big clients that much. What I am after is a good relationship with the people I work with. So you know them and trust them, and therefore work feels harmonious. This makes working so much more fun.
So in terms of clients, I have a network of people where a lot of my work is coming from. Some are studios, some are just fellow 3D artist that outsource smaller projects or tasks to me.
I worked in game cinematics every now and then for some time, but now I sort of settled down and got myself a small office here in Ludwigsburg.
The projects I work on mostly are visualisation jobs as well as commercials. Sometimes, they are bigger jobs that run a couple of months. For example, commercial animations for medical equipment manufacturers. But then, there are times when I work purely as a shading artist only doing shading on different electronic products as Laptops and Phones, and then hand them off to more talented people to be animated, lit and rendered.
So in general if you ask me, what I would classify myself at the moment, I would say I am a 3D generalist with strong interest in texturing / shading working in Product-Viz and Commercials.
I know your works based on Sci-Fi objects, which are really really great and realistic. But I also discovered that you have other 3D photorealistic renderings like a pan, a cocktail glass and more in your portfolio. Do you like to challenge yourself on a variety of subjects and technics?
First of all thank you for your nice words. I do not know where that came from, but I was always impressed with realistic looking representations of our environment. Back in school when we went to the library (yes back in the dark ages, where there was no Internet), I would often go for the picture books of the old greek and renaissance masters and search for the most life like paintings and marvel at their fidelity and glory.
When I noticed that 3D was a great tool to realize my own ideas in a way that would be perceived by others as realistic, I jumped on that wagon and never let go. So in that sense this same motivation kept me going and also keeps me going until today.
Generally that interest is also the driver for the challenging myself to do different subjects. Because they of course have all different visual focal points. But I allow myself to drift. Maybe more than I should and let me be impressed by the small things of life, like your mentioned cocktail glass that I randomly see somewhere, or some still lifes that I see in a exhibition, or some Sci FI work I see from any of those great artists as Giger, or more temporary Aaron Beck, Ash Thorp, Cornelius Dämmrich and of course many more.
So it seems like I am challenging myself when it comes to techniques, that results in a realistic representation of a certain object or a scene. I know that there are a lot of other styles and directions that are definitely worth exploring, but it’s not my main interest right now.
” The first thing that I was into artistically was photography “
As a 3D artist, I’ve been fascinated very soon by photorealism. In my eyes, tricking the eye is a satisfaction and a real technical challenge. Despite the constant improvement of 3D softwares and rendering engines, it seems to me that photorealism requires a deep knowledge for the artist, especially with the management of light and the camera settings. What is your feeling on this subject?
In the last 10 years, it has been definitely gotten a lot easier to produce photoreal, or close to photoreal results. And also the workflows to get there have improved a lot.
When I started 3D, it would have been unthinkable that someone would do daily renders on the basis we see right now all over the social media. Of course, with all the advancements as an artist, there is still some knowledge and skills you have to bring to the table to pull it of. What helped me a lot, and what I always recommend people to do (if they not already doing it) is looking into photography.
The first thing that I was into artistically (before computers and 3D) was photography. I was, as I am now with renderers, very technically interested and wanted to know every aspect of it. From film sensitivity, grain, aperture, lens choice etc. And it taught me so much and was, without knowing it, the ideal foundation for my later 3D work.
Speaking of 3d rendering engines, I noticed that you had gone from Vray to Octane. Did you feel a noticeable difference in your work and its final result?
Yes I am using Octane nowadays mostly. But I also use other render engines as Redshift, Corona, Cycles, Maxwell etc…
Besides your question, I personally think that people see the choice of render engine way to religiously. It’s a tool. And being flexible there is a good thing. It’s at least 75% the artist that makes the artwork. The renderer only works as good as the one that inputs the commands.
But back to topic.
I was working a really long time with both Vray and Octane. So I made my decision dependent to the project needs whether I chose one over the other. And I still do the same today. With a bigger portfolio of renderers to back me up.
What Octane allowed me to do was getting a lot faster feedback on my renders. This is of course the best way to improve. If you have fast feedbacks, you can then improve upon your shaders, lighting etc…
Back when I started using Octane (must have been around 2011) , I had to use the standalone because back then there were no plugins and the standalone was the only way to access the renderer. But all the inconvenience dealing with the somewhat tedious import export process of the scenes was worth it, when I saw the speed at what it was rendering. I was using a GTX 580 with 1.250 MB of Vram at the time (The GPU still has a place of honor on my shelf). And it was blazingly fast compared to my Pentium 4, 1 core hyperthreading processor. Again, those were the times 😉
So I finally left Vray behind as the C4D version in particular had not implemented GPU rendering and other considerable important features. And coming from photography, I did not mind the “drawbacks” that Octane had that made it hard to fake stuff, because I was not really interested in faking. I was interested in reproducing reality.
” Photorealism (…) teaches you to really see things
and how to look at them”
Ian Spriggs said here that photorealism was a way for him to get to know what make us human. What is your goal when you want to achieve photorealism?
That’s really philosophical and I like it a lot.
What photorealism is for me is a teacher. It teaches you to really see things and how to look at them. Not just seeing the shape of it but also think about it, while you seeing it.
You really have to look closely and question what you are seeing and then, if you a nerd like me, split it up into lighting and shading components and think about the settings you would use to recreate that material / object / scene.
Over the years I have acquired a certain mindset about physics of light. So if I see something that does not fit in that rule-set I get excited, because it potentially means there´s something to learn.
I can see that this sounds pretty geeky. But I am thankful that I can follow that interests me and even make a living out of it! It’s fantastic!
You’re a speaker in 3D events, and you’re an expert in photorealism. Why are you interested in that particular subject?
I can’t really answer you that question with a short sentence. I can’t even answer it for myself. I am just fascinated by it. By all the aspects that topic covers technical and philosophical. And I really love the technical background knowledge.
This topic is so vast that you can dig really deep and never reach the bottom. That can be frightening, especially if you are beginner, but also reassuring. Because you know that you never run out of stuff to learn!
What I am always hoping giving seminars and lectures it, that the audience is as fascinated by it as I am. Because I can well imagine, that someone that is not in to that to deeply might find it to technical and boring after some time 🙂
Germany is very well represented on 3D with guys like you, Cornelius Dämmrich or Christian Behrendt, and a lot more I’m sure 🙂 You have top notch artists that do impressive artworks, and Maxon is also from Germany. Seriously: what is your secret? 🙂
Hmmmm. It might look like Germany has a lot of great artists, and while it definitely has, I am always wondering the same about great artists in France, Russia, Korea etc. It might be something on the lines of “the grass is always greener on the other side” that is going on here 🙂
And for those who do just want the secret ingredient: It’s the Water… jep, definitely the good German tap water 😉
If you haven’t done 3D, would you have preferred to become a photographer or a painter?
I guess I unknowingly already hinted at that earlier. While I admire painters and their way with the brush, I definitely would have become a photographer. And while I am not a professional photographer I still have a photography section on my site.
The funny thing is that no one ever talks about that. For the people I am the 3D dude, that makes realistic renders of objects and small scenes with Octane. And I am totally OK with that.
Can you tell us some achievements you are particularly proud of? And why?
I achieved: Being able to make a living with what I like doing.
Why I am proud of this: I have the feeling is a huge privilege and not a lot of people can say that!
I achieved: Working in a foreign country (France, Italy, Netherlands, UK)
Why I am proud of this: People liked my work and invited me over to work there.
I achieved: That A lot of people know my work and some can even recall my name
Why I am proud of this: I never would have dreamed that this could happen to a average guy like me. Doing small spare time scenes.
I guess it’s more because of my consistency rather because of any mind blowing artworks.
I achieved: Becoming a beta tester for Maxon.
Why I am proud of this: Because I was trying for about 10 years without success. And finally, a couple of years ago, Simon Fiedler (a friend and great 3D artist) made it possible.
Do you have artists that you admire and who inspired you?
Who doesn’t? I have a ton of them. Some I mentioned before: Old Masters as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Da Vinci.
I admire famous artists as M. C. Escher. Because he did the most incredible “renderings” with his pencils. HR Giger fos his nightmarish and sexually offputting creations. The team of the Bauhaus Movement and the “form follows function” approach.
One love of my life is film. And so a lot of artists I really adore are really capable directors and their teams such as Stanley Kubrick, Hayao Miyazaki, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuarón, Denis Villeneuve and many more.
To those who would love to create works like yours, what advice could you give them?
Always use a (real worlds) reference. You can´t create realism (or learn it), if you are not using something real references!
Be patient and do not give up: I have seen so many people invest time in 3D just to notice that its a lot of work and then gave up.
If you really want to do it, you have to invest in it. It might be really upsetting not getting the results that you want in the beginning. But I always say it takes 2-3 Years of intense learning (and often failing) to become halfway decent in 3D. If you are faster, then congratulations, you are a genius*
Learn the whole process. Only knowing how to shade is a good start, but if you also know how to model, UV-Unwrap, texture, render, (animate, cut if its an animation) and do post work, then you can make sure your renders could look their best. Its a ton of work getting to know all that and doing all that on a project. But if you are really into it, you will find that its worth it at the end.
*note that you might be subject to the Dunning–Kruger effect 😀
Furthermore, do you have any resources to advise beginners?
You can imagine, I get this question a lot. So I have a 3D_Basics.txt file with links that I can paste in mails and on media sites when such questions come up. I will just paste it in here. Hopefully it’s not too long 😀
Basic Explanations and Render Knowledge
The Guerrilla CG Project
PBR Materials I
PBR Materials II
C4D Modeling UV Unwrapping Stuff
One last secret on photorealism that you would not have given before?
There is no photorealism, we are living in a simulation. It’s just electrical signals interpreted by your brain (BDA: you’re right Raphael, we’re in the Matrix)
On a more serious note. That´s a hard question with all the seminars I have given and all the tips I have told… I am going with something easy that I definitely have told before: Knowing all about photorealism is just half of it. Practice, workflow and skill is the other half. You can be the greatest physician and know all about it and still suck as an artist!
Anything else to add to this interview?
As Steve Jobs put it: Stay Hungry Stay Foolish!
That´s all Folks!
Thanks for your time again Raphael Rau for this great interview! 🙂
See more of Raphael Rau works on:
Personal Website: www.silverwing-vfx.de/