How to add people to 3d renderings

Although architectural photographers make incredible efforts to shoot their photos without people in their “scenes”, in the architectural visualization industry everybody adds them to make the renderings look more natural, alive and to give it a better sense of scale, especially for exterior renderings.
However, blending people in renderings and make them look like they “are there” can prove to be a difficult task.

Choosing the right cutouts
Before starting the blending process it is crucial that you choose the cutouts that are right for your scene.
-if you have an overcast illumination you can not blend cutouts of people that have been photographed on a bright sunny day. They will have highlights and shadows on them, and they won’t look good no matter how much you tweak them in photoshop.
-find cutouts of people that were photographed from a similar angle. Imagine trying to integrate cutouts that were shot from an aerial view into a street view rendering.
-last but not least, try to find photos of people that have been shot next to a location that is somewhat similar to the one in your rendering. For example, if you are rendering a business center, you need photos of business men, dressed in suites, carrying laptops, etc.
(this one was a little obvious, but still worth mentioning).

Nothing can destroy a rendering like people that are not at the right scale.  In street view renderings, the scale can be estimated a little easier by placing the people next to elements such as cars, doors, etc. In aerial views though, this can be a little more difficult.
Here is a tip that I almost always use to get the scale right:
When rendering, place cylinders at desired heights (1.70m-1.80m) where you will need to integrate people in post processing. This can help you a lot with the next step as well (shadow direction and sharpness)

1)    Direction
If you used the tip with the cylinder mentioned above, you won’t have any problems getting this one right. It is very important that the “faked” shadows cast by the people in the scene follow the same direction as other rendered elements. If you haven’t used cylinders, look at lighting posts, fences or other similar elements to see the direction of the shadow.
2)    Sharpness and intensity
Another really important step to keep in mind; If you rendering is shot at 12 o’clock your shadows will be sharp. By comparison, if it is a late afternoon rendering, the shadows will be less sharp and less intense.
However, don’t forget that even at mid day, the shadows are never 100% sharp, as mentioned in “4 tips for better architectural renderings

The process of actually “painting” the shadow in photoshop is quite simple. First, make 2 duplicates of the cutout you need to blend in, and drag them bellow it in the layers stack.
Use rotate, scale and skew until you have the desired shape, size and direction (like in the screen capture bellow).

Hide the one at the bottom of stack for now, and select the other one. Desaturate it and adjust the brightness and contrast until it is completely black. Add a very subtle Gaussian blur, just to “break” the edges a little. Change the blending mode to “multiply” and the opacity to 50-60%. Now hide this layer, since you’re going to work on the other one a bit.

Unhide the other one at the bottom of the stack, desaturate it as well and make it completely black. Add a more intense Gaussian blur (depending on the overall illumination in your scene) and change the blending mode to multiplier and opacity to about 70%.

Unhide the upper layer, and using a very soft eraser brush, gently delete the parts that are further from the point where the shadow meets the “object” (in our case the feet of the person blended in).

Adjust the opacities of these 2 layers until you get the desired results.

If you have an overcast illumination, you would have to manually paint the shadows, using soft brushes.
(And don’t forget to remove the shadow of the cylinder using the clone stamp tool)

1)    Color match and saturation
If you do a simple test and make everything grayscale you will notice that everything blends together much better. That is because most of the times the colors of the cutouts have different levels of saturation than the rendering. If you have a shade of red in the cutout, and another shade of red in the rendering, check the rgb coordinates (or cmyk) of the last one and try to adjust the color balance of the cutout to match those coordinates as close as possible.
A somewhat safer way would be to choose cutouts that are colored in more “neutral” shades (beige, gray, brown, etc).

2)    Contrast
Match the brightness and contrast of the cutouts to the nearby elements in the scene. Objects that are closer to the camera and exposed to direct illumination have a higher contrast than the ones in the background or in shade..

3)    Color harmony
One last thing that I try to take into consideration is color harmony. If the general color scheme of the rendering is based on shades of greens and browns, for example, I avoid using bright orange, red or other vibrant colors for the cutouts. Although this has practically nothing to do with what happens in real life, in a 3d rendering, if you don’t consider it, the people may draw too much attention.

General tips
-Don’t place just individual images of people. People also hang out in groups of 2-3 or 4, so do that as well
-Don’t place the people too close to the camera, and more importantly try not to have them look directly at the camera.
-Carefully choose the placement of the people so that they won’t mask important parts of the rendering. Remember that the main “actor” in your scene is the building you are trying to showcase; the people are just details you use to make it more “alive”.

  1. pep says:

    As always very useful tut, thanks for sharing!!

    best regards

  2. Katia says:

    Nice post! Where can I find jpgs of people to insert into my 3d renderings? Any ideas? Thanks!

  3. If you checkout my latest post about textures (
    you will see a link to vyonyx website where you can find some nice people cutouts:

    Hope that helps.

  4. Hina says:

    How I can use cut out people in 3ds max that it looks like real people.
    Actually I first time know about cut out people or tree texture so,
    I don’t have any idea about how to use & where to use .

    Please can you give me information about this


  5. Nobody really do 3D people models in renderings. All are PS works. Am i right?

  6. zarost says:

    @vTrend: Not really. There are 3D models of people in some scenes, but without good photorealism. However there is a way of combining 3D model of people with textures of people which look really great on final render. There are examples in evermotion models. Placing people this way eliminates PS postprocessing in case of people (scale, shadows etc.)

  7. @zarost – Thanks for the input.

    @vTrend – As zarost said above, in some situations 3d people look much better. You won’t have to tweak the way they are affected by light in Photoshop; it saves a lot of time and they look much better.

    However, I would never recommend them for close ups. No matter how well they are made, most of them still have an “android” look.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>