Fitting Your Design Into Environment


Getting Started

To do this tutorial, use one of the Rhino files with your 3D compositions. For background images, you can use anything that you find online, or -if you’re in a hurry or just don’t care- you can use this one (click to open the entire image, then download it):


Cropping The Background Photo

Before you go further, you need to crop your background photo to the same proportion that your render image will have. So if you -for example- want to render a 1080x1080px image, then you should crop the image using 1:1 ratio. If you want a 1200x800px image, the ratio should be 3:2 (or 12:8 if you’re not keen on math). Whatever you do, make sure that you use “Ratio” option in Photoshop’s Crop option and NOT WxH Resolution.

Here’s the gist of it:


1- Select Crop Tool
2- Select Ratio then write down the ratio (proportion) you are after. 
3- Move the cropping handles to get the composition you like. You will see the resulting image size in pixels. You want to make sure that this never goes smaller than your rendering (otherwise your background will end up blurry compared to your rendering).

Setting The Correct Perspective

Seeing The Background In Rhino Viewport

In order to be able to nicely adjust the perspective of our 3D camera to fit the perspective of the background image, we will do the following:


The image will now appear in the back of the viewport.
That image will fit exactly the visible part of the viewport, without distortion, if we have a Safe Frame on (Windows only) or if we manually set the viewport size to fit the proportion of our render image (workaround for Mac). Otherwise, if we see an image stretched, it will be very difficult to set the perspective correctly.

Setting The Correct Perspective

As always, in order to set the perspective correctly, first we need to understand the perspective correctly. A lecture from Architectural Expression will help, so go back and read it, particularly this part that explains how all the converging line of horizontal objects interesct along the horizon:


Download Lecture: Linear Perspective (14.3Mb .pdf)

What the above image means in the context of our 3D model is that we should set the camera in such way that the lines that are horizontal on the model (ie. lines between floors and walls) all converge on the horizon line of the photo. 

Here are a couple of bad examples:


In the first photo, perspective lines (yellow) converge above the horizon of the photo (blue). In the second photo, they converge below it.

A good example:


This takes practice, and it’s not always easy to see the converging lines. Luckily, we can use a little helper to see where the horizon of our 3d camera is:

Using Ground Plane To “Visualize Horizon”

Rhino for Windows has a little helpful tool called “Ground Plane”. When you turn it on, it will basically create a huuuuuuge plane, usually on the ground level (z coordinate = 0), but you can also change the height at which you create the plane (ie. if you are “standing” on a second floor, you may move the ground floor up to the height of your floor).

The great thing about the horizon plane (which here I made green so you could see it better) is that you can simply try to align the edge of the ground plane with the horizon on a photo and you can be sure you’ve done fairly good perspective match:


If you have a Mac, you probably don’t have this option, but no need to panic: you simply create a plane manually. Make sure it’s huuuge, meaning if your building is around 10-20m big, the plane should be at least 200m or even more. Position your plane at z=0 (if you are supposed to be “standing on the ground”) or at the height of your floor (if your camera simulates someone standing on one of the upper floors).

After you match perspective hide or delete the plane as you will not need it.

Rendering The Cut-Out Image

After we set the perspective, the only thing we need to do is do such a render that will have a “transparent” background: meaning that our building will be cut-out so that we can easily put layers behind it in Photoshop.

Rendering With Background Image

First, if we simply want to render while showing our background image, we do this:
Render Settings > Background > Turn ON Wallpaper


This will let you see the background image (which Rhino calls “Wallpaper”) in the rendering:


It’s good for testing purposes, but this image will still not be useful in Photoshop because if we save it and open it, we have both our building and the background in the same layer – so we need to cut out our building manually if we want to put stuff behind it (usually just the background photo is not good enough and we want to add more things behind our building).

Rendering With Transparent Background

Therefore, if we want to have our building cut-out automatically by Rhino, we need to make a rendering with transparent background. Which is as easy as:

Render Settings > Background > Turn ON Transparent Background


If we render again, we will see that our background photo disappeared, but the great thing is that if we click on a little “alpha” button (greek alpha letter), we will see that we have a very nice white cut-out of our building against the background:


If we click on “alpha” button and see everything white, that means that we forgot to turn on transparent background.

Save A Transparent Image As .png!

The only thing left to do is Rhino is save our rendering.
However, if we want to save transparent image, we should not use .jpg, because that image format does not contain the information about which parts of the imageshould be transparent.

Instead, every time you need to save a transparent image, save it as a .png file.

If we did everything correctly, when we open that .png file in Photoshop, we should see that our layer has transparency (chequered texture):


Now entire Rhino workflow in a video (except the part about using Ground plane, which is a workaround I just invented):

Compositing In Photoshop

Inserting The Background Behind Our Rendering

Once we have our rendering with transparent background in Photoshop, we simply copy and paste our background photo into the same image, as we did with inserting any other content into our photos.

Just make sure to drag the layer background image below the layer of our rendering in the Layers palette:


Finally you will most likely need to use Free Transform to resize back the background layer to the size of your rendering. Pro tip: you can also do this accurately by resizing the background image (using Image Size) to the rendering size before you copy paste.

Using Layer Mask To Hide Parts Of The Rendering

Most often, parts of our renderings should be hidden behind the elements in our background photo (ie. hidden behind the bushes, trees, parts of the building, or cars in the foreground, etc…). As always (and as we did before) we should:\

If you don’t understand what Layer Mask is, either go back to our  A2 Photoshop tutorials, or search Google for more detailed information (or both).


Using Brushes That Look Like “Vegetation”

We can use Paint Brush tool using a number of very different brush shape (called Brush Preset); some of them will leave a hard trace like a pencil on paper, some will leave soft “air-brush” effect. And some of them may look just like patches of grass or leaves.

We will use those to paint out the brushes and grass and tree in our Layer Mask:


More info: Basic Guide To Brushes In Photoshop

Here’s how this works all in the video:


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