BTN 5.17.24 — Render Network Showcase: Bobby Stafford

Render Network
8 min readMay 17, 2024
Render Network user Bobby Stafford shares a behind-the-scenes look at his practice

Renowned for his artistry that blends technical expertise with a bold and creative approach, Bobby Stafford has developed a unique style drawing on his extensive experience in architecture and planning and a passion for photography. Combining motion graphics with principles of architectural visualization and photographic composition, Bobby has uniquely honed his skills in lighting, texturing, animating, building environments, modeling, and rendering into an iconic style.

In this new entry in the Render Network spotlight series, we asked Bobby questions about his journey, creative process, perspective on the future of immersive 3D art, and use of the Render Network. Let’s dive in!

How does photography help you as a 3D Generalist?

Bobby’s passion for Photography plays a crucial role in how he composes and colors 3D scenes. He believes that mastering single frames, like compelling stills, makes transitioning to animation easier. Understanding focal length, aperture, and exposure in real-world photography is essential for creating specific “feels” in 3D renders. Carrying a camera everywhere has taught Bobby the importance of micro adjustments in camera settings which can be mirrored in post-processing techniques like color, contrast, and lighting — a process he described.

“Photography plays the largest role in informing how I compose and color my 3D scenes. I remember being told that you have to master a single frame before you start composing videos, and it’s exactly the same with animation. If you can make compelling stills, then rendering 24 frames a second will be a way easier transition. Playing around with focal length, aperture, and exposure and seeing how it completely alters the feel of a scene is essential to 3D. Getting a handle on this with a physical camera in the real world is an incredibly important tool to making renders have a specific “feel.” Plus, it’s always a good idea to go outside and touch grass every now and again.”

Previously, you have done extensive work in architectural visualization, working with software like Revit and AutoCAD. Where do you see this going in the future with more immersive rendering technologies?

Bobby’s background in architecture led him to gravitate towards new forms of virtual visualization. He highlights the crucial role of 3D rendering in architectural workflows:

“Rendering stills plays a huge role in conveying design decisions to anyone not in the architecture field, like city officials. No one can visualize how a building will look or how a room will feel based on hundreds of construction drawings and mood boards, but a rendered image is immediately relatable and starts a conversation.”

To enhance this, Bobby began placing people directly into models with VR renders and cheap Google Cardboard devices to better convey his vision. Though this was 10-years ago with rudimentary technology, he notes that it’s continually improving and is now much better at pre-visualizing multi-million dollar projects before they break ground.

Looking to the future, Bobby sees immense potential in more immersive rendering technologies to revolutionize architectural workflows.

You have worked and researched VR — what do you think is the future of VR with new devices like Apple Vision Pro?

“I may be in the minority, but I believe that some form of mixed reality headset is the next ‘iPhone’ level product adoption. We may be a few years off from the tech reaching a reasonable size and price, but I see a world where TVs, computer monitors, and phone screens are all replaced with a single VR/AR headset. I can imagine being able to walk into a completely blank room and being able to populate an entire wall as a TV, change the color of your bedroom instantly, place animations as a piece of art on any wall you want, or create games that interact with your environment. I truly think it will be an entirely new design field that we 3D designers will be essential to populating.”

At the end of 2023, you won a render challenge for a project called the “Yule Log” that you worked on and off on for 3-years. What significance does ‘Yule Log’ hold for you?

“I’ve been posting to Clinton Jones’s weekly render challenges (off and on) for years and this was my first official win. As a mainly self-taught artist, this was one of the biggest pieces of validation I could have received. It really proved to myself that I actually have been progressing over the years.

For a lot of young designers, it’s hard to tell if what you’re making qualifies as “good,” especially when comparing yourself to all the artists you see on social media. We often compare views or likes as a metric for how worthy we are, but some advice that really helped me is to never compare yourself to others, only compare yourself to yourself one second ago.”

Do you have any other specific design principles that you follow during your process?

“I almost want to say all of them! But the reality is to implement as many as you can for a given piece of work. Sometimes I nail the composition and color grade, but my animation is lacking. I have modeled objects that are ultimately let down by the lighting. The best you can do is learn as many design principles as you can, keep them in your back pocket, and implement them when you think it would work.

Sometimes one design principle completely contradicts another, and you have to ultimately decide which is more important. As long as you have a rolodex you keep adding to, you’ll start to see similar design principles used all over the place.

Also, be open to where you find these design principles. You don’t need to read design books or watch YouTube tutorials to learn about design (though those are great resources). I’ve found myself staring at a tile floor thinking how the heck they messed it up so much and how I would rearrange them. I prefer the dials/button layout in my 2004 car way more than a giant touchscreen in an electric car. Design is everywhere, just keep an eye out.”

Before using Render, what challenges did you face, and how has the Render Network addressed these issues?

“I know there’s a lot of imperfections/artifacts but it was taking 20 min a frame and my computer is 6 years old so what are ya gonna do (put it on instagram where it gets compressed and is too small to see? Yes).”

My first rig I used for rendering was an aggressively average laptop. My next rig had 2 GB of VRAM. I would have killed to have something like the Render Network back then.

Unfortunately, this limited me to rendering out exclusively still images, and even then they had to be pretty basic. I think limitations can lead to more interesting work and force you to be very thoughtful about what you want to be detailed in your scene, but compute power is still the biggest barrier to entry to the CG world.

If I had the Render Network back then, I could have actually set up animations to be rendered in a timely manner. I have missed deadlines because I thought I could render a sequence in time but had to settle for a still image. It’s frustrating to have your computer be your limiting factor in your creativity, but the Render Network alleviates a lot of that pain extremely easily.

Your artwork spans a broad spectrum, from vibrant landscapes to vehicles speeding through neon-lit tunnels. How would you describe your artistic style?

“I struggle with my specific artistic style, to be honest. I would probably have more notoriety if I did have a single style and stuck with it, but I find that to be very stagnant. I feel the itch to learn more techniques rather than get comfortable in a single style. Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t quite found that style that keeps me wanting to iterate upon it. Recently, I have been playing around with 2D shading techniques that I have really been enjoying, akin to the newer cartoon-styled movies and shows that have been getting attention. But next week I might want to go back to my realistic style or neon retro wave work. Who knows! Keep your horizons open. I follow traditional artists, photographers, graphic artists, sculpture artists, musicians, woodworking, and 3D printing. You never know what’s gonna catch your eye and give you a spark of inspiration.”

For less experienced 3D artists, what single resource has been most helpful in advancing your skills?

“YouTube has made it so incredibly easy to jump into any 3D program and start making something. I’m grateful that I live in a time where people aren’t gatekeeping knowledge and are so open to share ideas and technical skills with the world. If I had to go back to school to learn 3D, I simply would not be able to afford it.

When I started, I had to piece together 2–3 tutorial videos to achieve something I was looking for. Now, there are playlists and pages dedicated to learning every part of a program. It’s completely fine to copy tutorials for a while to get a grasp on a program. Once you get that base knowledge down, then you can start creating more original pieces of art.

Bobby’s advice: “Every day it gets a little easier. But you got to do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.’”

How has the Render Network enhanced your workflow, and based on your experience, what advice would you offer to artists thinking about using the Render Network?

“The Render Network has come in and saved my a$$ a couple times. It was really the best option when I was behind on deadlines and needed to turn around animations in a pinch.”

Bobby shared that it would have taken him a couple of days to render projects, leaving him without a computer for other work. He noted that the Render Network can pump out animations rapidly, allowing almost instant viewing of completed sequences. Without Render Network, he would have had to deliver scenes with mistakes that he couldn’t see until rendering was complete. Bobby emphasized that getting a scene to look great is all about making small iterations, and the more iterations, the better the result.

Bobby ended the interview adding urgency to getting started with Render:

“Set up the Render Network on your PC now, so when you’re panicking to get a project across the line, you have the best safety net available at your disposal.”

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