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3D Rendering, Perception, Goethe


The Romantics artificially embellished light and colour to convey emotion in their artworks. Light and colour were used to ignite a sense of enchantment and to stir an emotional response from the viewer. 3D software operates within this established visual tradition: current digital artistic representation involves a similarly embellished reality. This is a testament to what we continually want to see and how we would like to be visually entertained and informed, and physically based 3D renderer Arnold provides the tools for this continuation. Inherent in the world’s most-used 3D rendering programme Arnold are light and surface attributes which have been programmed to be adjustable to achieve myriad visual results. These attributes, however, have a history rooted in computer graphics’ plight for realism by abiding by the laws of optics and physics in their creation. However, these tools were designed with an arbitrarily chosen set of limits: arbitrary in the sense that these limits define a range of possibility to be used conveniently by the artist rather than by necessity or intrinsic nature.

Johann Goethe (b. 1749), a Romantic poet, was critical of how light and colour were used by his artistic peers. He was dissatisfied by the embellishment of light and colour in paintings, and endeavoured to know exactly what was happening when he looked at things. Goethe conducted a series of experiments on light and colour, which resulted in his book Theory of Colours (1810, trans. Charles Eastlake, 1840).

In my study, using Theory of Colours as a guideline, I have recreated fifty of Goethe’s experiments in 3D. I explore the fundamentals of Arnold as it was created, revealing the benchmark of current achievable 3D realism. Ten of these experiments are discussed in this paper. These experiments, in my judgment, are more applicable to the scope of phenomena replicable with a renderer, and scale the vast number of Goethe’s experiments in Theory of Colours to a reasonable set of testable conditions. The human perception of reality is the baseline against which rendering qualities must be judged, and Goethe’s experiments are replicable.

As an instructor of 3D rendering, I aim to instill in my students the knowledge gained from this study, with the intention to empower the students with their own rendering so that they may make informed, predictable decisions.


Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design (FAAD)

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Original Publication Citation

Wehrle, K. (2020) The 3D Acid Test: Perceptual Attributes vs Renderable Elements [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Sheridan College.