What IS Rendering?

If you have even just a little bit of experience with or knowledge of video or 3D/animation production, you are familiar with the process of rendering.

I have had some exposure of and experience with rendering recently, but the more I work with After Effects and render out footage the more I wanted to better understand what exactly  is happening when I wait for hours for the footage to fully render.  I did a little bit of research and I what I found certainly helped me to better understand this whole process.

The process of rendering is by far the most technically complex aspect of 3D production, but like many complicated processes, I find it easy to comprehend in the context of an analogy:  just like a [film] photographer must develop and print photos before they can be viewed, graphic designers that work in the 3D realm must also ‘develop’ their footage before it can be viewed.

When a designer works on a 3D scene, the model they are working on is actually a mathematical representation of points and surfaces.  The term rendering refers to the calculations that are performed by a 3D software package’s render engine to translate the scene from a mathematical configuration to a finalized 2D image.  During this entire process, the scene’s spatial, textural, and lighting information are combined to determine the color value of each pixel in the flattened image.

How the computer mathematically does all this work is truthfully beyond the power of my brain to comprehend, but without getting into extreme detail (as well as delving into things I don’t even understand), this is how rendering works!  I find it fascinating that our computers and the programs that we use every day are able to accomplish these complicated tasks.  I also love that I don’t have to fully comprehend everything that goes into making the rendering process work, but I am still able to use and benefit from it!