Pushing the Art of Architecture to the Public | RayingLab Special Report

“As long as elegance is preserved, we hope to follow the laws of physics as much as possible, for they are the key to people’s heart.”
visualization studio
Shang Hai, China
In this special, we are privileged to have DingQi Zhou, the founder of RayingLab, joining us today to share his story of creation.
* RayingLab, an architectural visualization studio based in Shanghai. A young and interdisciplinary team that has participated in various projects and cooperated with some pioneering architecture offices.
2021 Li Yang Forest Belvedere Competition © DESHAUS
Rendered in D5 Render(see below for more details)
Tadao Ando’s pure pursuit of spiritual architecture is to build a shelter for the hearts of human beings. Young as Raying is, this team also seeks humanity in its works. “Be it lighting or storytelling, Raying tends to go for fidelity to make works with more empathy. Public is where architectural design belongs. Any unrealistic expression or scene separate from daily life is an impassable wall blocking the public from understanding the designs. ”
To push the art of architecture to the public and connect people to architecture in a poetic way is also one of Raying’s initial aims.
Back in the days when DingQi Zhou was still a student majoring in architecture, there were two things that inspired him to start his own visual effect studio: 1. top visual effect works were mostly from abroad; 2. compositions and lighting on the market were too stereotypical to catch up with the evolving industry, and that’s a real bummer. As a result, Zhou and his fellows of like mind then started Raying studio.
The word “Raying” comes from a graphics term --- Ray-Tracing/RT, which is one of the technical footstone of many 3A games and D5 Render.
“From the name you can see that our aim is clear: we hope to stay as ‘physical’ as possible on condition that the work is elegant. Being in line with the rules of physics will always lead us into people’s heart.”
A Hopeless Dawn
Frank Bramley
“One of my favorite painters Frank Bramley is an expert at combining ambient light and artificial light. He takes the viewers on a ride into the scene with realistic light and shade, and moves them with atmosphere and storytelling. We hope one day we can be able to create works like that.”
Since its inception three years ago, Raying has taken part in quite a few projects including Shen Zhen Conservatory of Music competition (&Vector Architects), Aranya ,Qinhuang Island planning (multiple cooperation), Zhang Jia Gang Art Gallery (&DESHAUS), all of which were centered around storytelling and atmosphere.
         Shen Zhen Conservatory of Music competition ©Vector Architects
Aranya ,Qinhuang Island planning ©Aranya ,QinhuangIsland
Zhang Jia Gang Art Gallery ©DESHAUS
A lot of architectural visualization artists have experience in architecture design and study. Only in this way can they truly understand the meaning carried by the architecture design.
This is the principle Raying has been sticking to. Raying has a core team with less than 10 members, pretty much all of whom are architecture graduates. Most members had working experience in architecture and many of them were capable of architectural photography, programming and game engine. This has enabled Raying to fully comprehend the intentions of architectural designs, build a complex and photoreal environment that viewers can relate to, which helps the work get across to the public.
Some works of Raying
How do architecture giants’ pieces of art get across to the public? How to expose more people to the aesthetic essence of the works? These are the questions Raying has been pondering on from the beginning of the poject --- Chapel of Song.
Chapel of Song ©Spring Woods Town
“I hope the Chapel of Song can be a place for people to feel alive and confirm their existence.”
In Tadao Ando’s works, light arms beauty with a touch of aesthetics, while wind and rain add color to human’s life. Architecture serves as a medium connecting humans to nature, awakening humans to nature’s existence and charm.
To express the work, there are certain requirements to meet regarding details of textures and camera movement. It also expects much of a renderer that fully shows the materials. In this case, a qualified renderer is to ensure that what you see is what you get, everything can be adjusted in real time, and all the details are under control.
At first Raying was using normal DCC software and traditional offline renderer for this project but met with some obstacles as a large number of finished cameras that they spent a month on were abandoned. With only 3 to 4 days for visualization and all their costly efforts in vain (they spent a large sum of money on render farm), the team had ants in their pants.
 The pool scene abandoned during earlier stage
As is known to all, animation is made up of dozens of pictures per second. Even with GPU or even XPU rendering, its costs will be dozens of times that of real-time renderers, especially cost of time. Even when the scenes are all set, cameras and rendering couldn’t make it before the deadline. A breach of contract seemed cut and dried.
In despair, something crossed their mind --- Elizabeth Condo animation, another work of Tadao Ando that CATOPTOGRAM studio rendered with D5.
152 Elizabeth Street Condo  | CATOPTOGRAM Visualization Studio
They also thought of the photorealistic effect of light and shade in the final work, and sharings of CATOPTOGRAM Studio on how to use D5 Render. Plus, Raying itself has actually tried using PBR with D5 in the case of Aranya Mountain Music Hall with OPEN Architects Office: at that time, a special acid washed concrete was needed, but nowhere to be found on the market. After making with Substance, they used tri-planar to cover the surface of concrete in the hall.
D5 Render test image of OPEN Architects Aranya Music Hall
Just when everything seemed doomed to fail, D5 came as a life-saver. The team all started to switch to D5 and to everyone’s surprise, D5’s real-time workflow was way beyond expectation.
“After its upgrade to 2.0, D5 has been greatly improved in GI (global illumination) and Tyndall effect. It also got better with assets(especially vegetations), and other features like Focus on, Weather, Path and its bearing capacity. All of these made it possible for us to render the scenes of Chapel of Song more precisely and physically.”
Finished Video of Chapel of Song
For the architectural animation of Tadao Ando's work, DingQi Zhou wanted a “less is more” style of creation. “We want every scene to be as clean as possible to emphasize a particular highlight: it could be the geometrical composition, light and shade, Tadao’s signature green apple, natural scenery, or even an appealing spirit. We’d like to unveil architecture to the public from details to the whole thing.”
Chapel of Song is the final piece of Tadao Ando’s Chapel quartet, but not his last work in spiritual architecture. It is the same with Raying and D5. Chapel of Song is more like a brand new start for them to convey the art of light and shade with visualizing renderer. From now on, they would speak in a more accessible language to tear down the wall blocking public from comprehending the art.


1. Can you introduce the workflow of the “Chapel of Song” project?

Raying: Let’s start with the production workflow of a high-quality architecture animation. It includes 4 aspects:
Writing the script for animation
Preparation of models and materials
Making of the scenes
Rendering and post-production
All can be done with the help of D5 in a way where we get what we see.
For the script, due to some temporary changes, we rearranged the cameras in D5. After saving those as files, we started our production. Such procedures left out the process of storyboarding, which would have been impossible to attain before. What’s more, if we are to negotiate with party A from non-art major, it can be easier when we have finished scenes and materials to quickly get our intentions across.
I think it’s safe to say D5 is used as a storyboard during stage of script. Every camera is named as “camera number- camera movement- content description- keyframe interval”.
The first version of storyboard that was abandoned
Using D5 to check the scenes with landscapes and materials
Final story script and naming conventions
For models, we built the basic landscapes and building models, arranged some furniture models in DCC. VRay materials were also set. D5 could identify most of the VR materials and that’s the most appealing part to us.
With D5’s efficient converter, we exported a full 25 square kilometers of mountains and architecture into D5, and there were up to 50 million faces, but still it was working smoothly with real-time adjustment and lighting preview. That was a huge optimization for video memory, and as a witness of its several versions, we are surprised by its improvement, thus leaving the vegetation to be scattered in D5 with brush.
D5 model bearing, picture above shows 1/5 of the whole scene
For scenes and environment, D5 came with a nice scatter and brush tool. If the density is set properly, several square kilometers of high-qualify, high-density vegetations can be created without affecting FPS and operations, greatly improving interactiveness. Vegetation path tool is also upgraded in version2.0, creating a better experience.
D5 vegetation mapping, picture above shows 1/5 of the whole scene
When it comes to rendering, D5 is prompt. Compared with traditional renderers that take ten-odd minutes for one frame, D5 takes less than 10 seconds per frame with 2k resolution. That has allowed us to finish low definition samples two days ahead of deadline, discuss the details with party A, and then spend the last day modifying, rendering and editing. This couldn’t have been possible without a real-time renderer in our workflow. D5’s render queue also helped a lot, for it supports long-time automatic output.
D5 Render Queue

2. Can you share with us some other projects done with D5?

Raying: There was another animation for the 2021 Li Yang Forest Belvedere Competition that we made for Deshaus. When we were assigned the project, we had only three to four days. The belvedere was in a forest with complex vegetations. There was a highway and high-speed railway crossing the area parallel to each other. As the committee put it, it is a two-way-in-the-green area, and you can see in the picture below how they parallel to each other.
We finished the processing of GIS data with Grasshopper, and mapped the designed road to the terrain mesh. After the architecture was arranged and processed in DCC, we only had less than 2 days left for rendering.
2021 Li Yang Forest Belvedere Competition “two-way-in-the-green park” ©Deshaus
Research on vegetation and photographs of Yan Shan Park in Li Yang
Visualizing the vegetation in D5
The first thing to do was do some research and set the vegetation. After learning about the local plants and trees, we restored some of the vegetation on the hills according to the photographs with the help of D5 vegetation asset library.
Camera and train animation set in D5
Then we set the cameras mainly focusing on displaying the quiet natural surroundings. Meanwhile, the cameras were also aimed at unfolding the relationship between highway, high-speed railway and the green park, so as to fit the work for the competition.
Besides, we spent a day planning the animation of trains and characters. We see it as necessary to spend more than 1/3 of the total time on creative planning.
Pondering over light &shade and the atmosphere in D5
Finally, we carefully adjusted the light and shade for each camera, and set the time mostly at dusk, when we can use the shades cast by mountains and plants to create a large amount of dark areas. That helps set off the main body of the picture, and viewers get to lay their eyes on the picture longer.
Final tuning in D5
At last, we did some simple rendering and editing. There wasn’t much time left for post-production, but even LUT and toning were available in D5. What you see at the beginning of this blog is the final output.
With D5 Render, it is possible to finish a fairly high-quality animation with fine modifiability within 2 to 3 days. D5 guarantees a high rate of successful finished film.

3.How long did it take you to grasp D5 Render? Any tips on using the software to share?

Raying: Learning D5 takes almost no time. The UI is designed in a simple and accessible way. Specially designed to serve architectural visualization and ray tracing, D5 simplified the complex parameters, which can be seen as an art of software design.
Our team got to produce a high-quality work the day after we got the hang of it, so this software should be a friend to all the architects. It is safe to say that the lighting inside D5 already has a high “physical” starting point. With a little asset management, all you have to do is create.
When it comes to using D5, I believe DCC modeling standards(whether in Rhino or 3Ds Max) are crucial. After all, D5 is based on a real-time engine, so it is a must to have some knowledge of graphics. At least you should know things like surface orientation, normal maps, smoothing group, polygon reduction, Z-fighting, G-buffer, Shader... These will help you make better use of the software.

4.Can you share with us some websites for better architectural instincts and aesthetics?

Raying: As far as architectural visualization is concerned, the most used asset libraries would be Megascan and Poliigon, which is no news. Artist blogs like Artstaion and Behance are also worth a view.
You can also learn some skills from cases on outstanding visualization companies like play-time, mir, Beauty&TheBit, TheBoundary, TWRW, Brick, SAN, MOREFX and BASE, etc.
Visiting photographers’ websites is another wise option for you since photography is often taken as a source of inspiration.
Practically, you can just take a camera with you everywhere you go and keep taking pictures from morning to evening. In this way, you get to know the physics rules from feeling the lighting and air at different times and latitudes. The real world is to you what models are to painters.
Last but not least, try to visualize these scenes you captured in the software, which quickly takes your aesthetics to another level.
Interviewee: RayingLab
Arranged and posted by: D5