Today I’m going to be reviewing 5 books that I’ve found most helpful when it comes to improving my skills as a rendering artist. If you’re new here, I’m an industrial designer-turned 3D artist and when I can, I enjoy helping others improve their rendering skills.
I have found five books that have helped me build a solid foundation of knowledge that takes most of the guesswork out of using rendering software. This is key, because it allows me to focus on things like storytelling, composition, mood and lighting rather than being bogged down by technical details.
And if you’re not so into reading… I’ve recorded a video below going through my recommendations.
P.s. All the links listed in this article are affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission from Amazon if you make a purchase after clicking the link.
1. Light for Visual Artists second edition
The first book is called Light for Visual Artists, Second Edition. This is the first book I recommend to anyone who’s early in their rendering journey and wants to improve their renderings right away. This book is well-written, easy to read full of pictures and diagrams which serve as great visual aids.
This book is written with artists in mind and focuses on explaining how light is used to tell stories, evoke emotion, and how it behaves. The goal of this book is for you to be able to quickly and intuitively use light to create stronger pieces of art. This is super-important for any 3d artist. KeyShot is the rendering software I use most frequently. It uses physically-accurate lighting and offers image-based and physical light support. Once you’ve read and understood this book, creating the lighting effects you see in your head is easy to do in a program like KeyShot.
As you can see on the graph at the bottom of this article, it’s not complex, it focuses on light exclusively and it doesn’t dive too deep into each principal which keeps it from becoming too long of a read. It’s highly-relevant to rendering and pretty inexpensive, which means I give it a good value score of 4 out of 5. Highly-recommended.
2. Digital Lighting and Rendering
The second book is called Digital Lighting and Rendering. This is the second book I recommend to anyone getting into rendering. Now, this book is five years old, which means they may be printing an updated version soon, but I found this one to still be relevant and useful. Unlike the previous book, this one is specifically all about rendering and is extremely relevant and very thorough. If you can only buy one book from this list, this is the one I recommend.
The tips and methods described in this book are more traditional and will be most familiar to users of programs like 3D Studio Max or Blender, but of course, the same principals apply to other software. This book gets a bit more detailed and complex than the previous one and comes in at more than twice the page count.
Overall, I think this book offers outstanding value and I bought my copy used to save some cash. And while we’re talking about this book, the same authors wrote a companion book called Digital Modeling, which I’ll link up too. It’s a great value book as well and focuses on all facets of 3D modeling. I’m counting Digital Modeling as book number 3.
As you look at the at the bottom of the article, you can see the stats bump up on this book and it’s a bit more of a well-rounded resource.
3. Digital Modeling first edition
Similar to the book above, I have pretty much the same things to say about this book, except for it being all about 3D modeling. Why include a book on modeling? Because if you don’t have a good model, your rendering won’t look great. This book focuses on traditional polygon-based modeling and is a bit dated. That said, it’s a good companion book to this list and I feel it’s an appropriate recommendation. If you’re strictly a CAD user (as opposed to polygonal modeling), then probably best to skip this book since it won’t be as relevant to you.
4. Light: Science and Magic fifth edition
The fourth book on this list Light: Science and Magic Fifth Edition. Here’s another book dedicated to lighting. Light is a pretty complex subject and can be written about differently depending on the audience. This book is all about light and it’s written by and for photographers. Why would I recommend a photography book for artists trying to improve their rendering skills? Well, think of your rendering software as a digital camera and your rendering the digital image or photo you’re creating. When the goal of many render artists is to achieve realism, emulating photography is a great way to do this. The same principals that make a good photo make a great rendering.
This book is different from the first book on our list in that it goes much deeper into the subjects. It’s got an emphasis on physical lights, lenses and photography equipment, much of which can be simulated in 3D rendering programs. Now, as I recall, this book is not the most well-written with many grammatical and editing errors, which is weird because it’s the fifth edition. If you can see past this flaw, I think you’ll get great value out of this book.
5. Real-Time Rendering fourth edition
Finally, book number five. The rendering bible. This is the book I referenced a while back in a video and afterward, I have lots of direct messages and comments asking about what book I was referencing. Coming in at a whopping 1049 pages, I give you, Real-time Rendering fourth edition. This book has about 300 pages of bibliography and index. It’s a monster.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m smarter than I am. I don’t understand a lot of this book. It’s actually a text book for those looking to write rendering applications. There’s lots of physics and programming documentation that I have to skip over. The book is like, 4 inches thick, with tiny text and is printed on super-thin bible paper. Not to mention, it’s a very expensive book. So, why on earth would I recommend it?
Well, as far as I know, it’s the most comprehensive book on the topic. The newest version was published in 2018 as well, so it’s updated with most of the newest facts and technology. When I can’t find answers to something online, I turn to this book. It’s got visual aids and diagrams that sometimes do a good job of explaining a theory or principal. Though, the actual print quality of the images is pretty terrible, which is unfortunate. With the cost of this book being what it is, I would expect higher quality printing and paper. I’d rather spend more money on a quality book than a lot of money on one that’s questionable in quality.
That said, this book is a wealth of knowledge and very helpful and something that I am proud to have on my book shelf. Sometimes, I’ll open it up and read a few pages just to take a break from work.
Well, there you have it. My top five book recommendations for anyone looking to get better at rendering or as a 3D artist. Here’s the summary.
- Light for Visual Artists second edition – ‘Budget-friendly option for beginners’
- Digital Lighting and Rendering fourth edition – ‘Best value all-around book for 3d artists’
- Digital Modeling – ‘Aging, but foundational knowledge focused on polygonal modeling’
- Light Science and Magic fifth edition – ‘A deep dive on using light in photography’
- Real-time Rendering fourth edition – ‘The holy grail technical reference for all things rendering’
Until next time, happy rendering!
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