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Pre-rendered background technical question

Oct 28, 2017
14,601
#1
I have a maybe basic / dumb question about some PS1 era pre-rendered backgrounds. AFAIK, the process is done as a way to render things in advance that the console in question wouldn't have the capability to render in real time. My question is, is there something about the pre-rendering process (maybe having to do with the lighting?) that gives it some kind of unique look? In other words, if you did have a console capable of running a given pre-rendered background totally in real time, from the objects to the lighting, would it look the exact same or is something altered in the pre-rendering process?

e: Forget FFIX (thanks post 5)

To make the thread less boring:






























 
Last edited:
Oct 25, 2017
9,185
France
#5
For FFIX, the initial 3D render is just a basis that 2D matte artists then painted over to produce the final background. It's NOT just a 3D prerendered picture.
 
Oct 25, 2017
1,543
#6
A lot of this is just how rendering worked in the 90s. You could probably write shaders to make it look like that, yeah.
 

Bit_Reactor

Banned
Member
Apr 9, 2019
152
#10
It's also usually a combination of older graphics + dated lighting engines + compression.

It's why I like to think when I look at the skin and characters in FFXII's prerendered scenes while they're "technically" better than the gameplay I don't really enjoy them or they look weird due to the normal gameplay having a sort of "filter" on it. Sort of like CRT stuff.

It's interesting though I had no idea FFIX was painted over like that. One of my favorite games of all time and still learning new things about it.
 
Mar 12, 2019
151
#11
Aliasing, texture filtering and lighting would be handled differently in a real time setting, not to mention camera movement actually displaying parallax naturally. It wouldn't look exactly the same without some deliberate tricks to make it do so.
 
Dec 28, 2017
7,160
#12
My question is, is there something about the pre-rendering process (maybe having to do with the lighting?) that gives it some kind of unique look?
Early to late 90s CG in general was lacking general rendering features that we have today.

For example....

  • No ambient occulusion
  • Phong shading
  • Ambient lighting is a solid value
  • No reflections, only specular highlights
  • Over reliance on subdivision modelling and smoothing
  • Use of bump maps instead of normal maps
That's pretty much it. You could achieve this look in real-time now but it definitely would have been a feat back then.







 
Oct 29, 2017
5,087
#13
A lot of it also has to do with the fact it's usually a fixed camera, the main thing is with pre rendered not only did it let them have more detail and things in the image but they controlled "how" you saw the image because of the fixed position, so when it came to the light, shadowing, and the overall "artistic' design they knew exactly how it was going to look and could play into that over what you might get if you made it real time 3d and allowed the player more control over the camera and such. It'd be hard for them to take that image into 3d and then to make the "lighting" and everyone 1:1, it's a lot easier to do it the pre rendered way.

There was a trade off though, with pre rendered you weren't usually able to interact with things within that pre rendered background, among other trade offs.

However when it comes to the detail, I don't even think some modern high end pc's could handle some of them, especially with the lighting and details they had.
 
Oct 27, 2017
967
#15
If it was really merely pre-rendered, you could certainly achieve that look today in real-time by replicating the features (or lack thereof) that vestan has pointed out. However, I believe that a good bunch of these were either first pre-rendered, then painted over or completely painted from scratch with no 3D rendering involved. That kind of look would be more difficult to replicate in real-time, maybe even impossible currently.
 
#16
I imagine there would also be a bunch of post-processing on the pre-rendered image to make it fit any technical limitations (e.g. color palette) and artistic requirements (e.g. the 3D models have to look like they "fit" with the background).
 
OP
OP
signal
Oct 28, 2017
14,601
#17
Early to late 90s CG in general was lacking general rendering features that we have today.

For example....

  • No ambient occulusion
  • Phong shading
  • Ambient lighting is a solid value
  • No reflections, only specular highlights
  • Over reliance on subdivision modelling and smoothing
  • Use of bump maps instead of normal maps
That's pretty much it. You could achieve this look in real-time now but it definitely would have been a feat back then.







If it was really merely pre-rendered, you could certainly achieve that look today in real-time by replicating the features (or lack thereof) that vestan has pointed out. However, I believe that a good bunch of these were either first pre-rendered, then painted over or completely painted from scratch with no 3D rendering involved. That kind of look would be more difficult to replicate in real-time, maybe even impossible currently.
Are these that similar? Maybe isolated images like this are typically much more simplistic so I never thought they were similar to more complex backgrounds.
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,048
#21
The pre rendered images in PS1 games were just how CG rendering in 90s worked. They weren't doing ray traced lighting and reflections back then, which is why they looked the way they did.

Even when rendering offline here were limits to what you could draw and have it rendered offline due to the time it took for computers of those days to render and obviously game developers didn't have access to render farms like Pixar had so their output looked worse than Pixar.

If you wanted to make a game look like that in real time you just have to use some really old 90s technique that are incredibly outdated by today's standard since even in real time.
 
Oct 30, 2017
458
#24
If I remember correctly a game called Nocturne had cg backgrounds that were affected by the protagonist flashlight... and I was amazed by it back in the day.


Also the Alone in the Dark the New Nightmare did it too.
 
Oct 29, 2017
981
#25
Early to late 90s CG in general was lacking general rendering features that we have today.

For example....

  • No ambient occulusion
  • Phong shading
  • Ambient lighting is a solid value
  • No reflections, only specular highlights
  • Over reliance on subdivision modelling and smoothing
  • Use of bump maps instead of normal maps
That's pretty much it. You could achieve this look in real-time now but it definitely would have been a feat back then.
Yes, these are the kind of technical details that I think helped achieve the look. Is the example video you posted doing this, because it still looks too good. It would be interesting to see what a modern scene rendered today would look like with all of today's features compared with the same scene but following those restrictions.
 
Oct 28, 2017
1,116
#26
If I remember correctly a game called Nocturne had cg backgrounds that were affected by the protagonist flashlight... and I was amazed by it back in the day.


Also the Alone in the Dark the New Nightmare did it too.
Remember reading about it back then.

I do not know how their version worked, but simplest way is to have basic deferred lighting with premade G-Buffer which you light normally.
We had small test with simple bitmaps which kinda worked. (Math or images were bad so the result wasn't that good.)

Now a days there are huge amounts of fun tricks one could do and add lighting to the scene and combine elements.
 
Last edited:
Oct 27, 2017
381
#27
I was reading just recently that 1080 Snowboarding's character select screen used a pre-rendered skybox with a depth buffer to allow it to occlude realtime geometry, which I thought was a neat trick.
 
Mar 28, 2018
72
#28
Early to late 90s CG in general was lacking...
  • No ambient occulusion
  • Phong shading
  • Ambient lighting is a solid value
  • No reflections, only specular highlights
  • Over reliance on subdivision modelling and smoothing
  • Use of bump maps instead of normal maps
If I was going to guess, most 90s CG (not realtime) was probably Ray traced, wasn't it? They'd get things like normal maps and reflections for free.

It just took days to render.
 
Dec 28, 2017
7,160
#33
Are these that similar? Maybe isolated images like this are typically much more simplistic so I never thought they were similar to more complex backgrounds.
To be fair, I'm mainly talking from the perspective of games like Resident Evil 2, Myst, Grim Fandango etc which attempt to go for a more realistic art style.

Pretty sure most FF pre-rendered backgrounds are actually retouched/reworked as a final matte painting (to give it that 3D look despite obviously not being 3D).

Here's an example of what I mean






I know Ragnar Tornquist mentioned that for The Longest Journey, they used a 3D render as a base but completely painted over it in Photoshop for the final thing.



Furthermore, the FFIX artbook has lots of detailed drawings of the backgrounds so I'm convinced they were painted over too with 3D used as a base to give it that iconic look.



I mean you could probably pull off this effect in real-time nowadays with some shaders and post-processing tricks but this is definitely a painting.

You then cut up the background into tiles and assign each a draw order, they then dynamically adjust so the player can move in front of and behind certain objects. You could probably use something like a linear depth buffer today though, as it is way more flexible of a method and less tedious.



 
Last edited:
Oct 25, 2017
17,030
#34
If I was going to guess, most 90s CG (not realtime) was probably Ray traced, wasn't it? They'd get things like normal maps and reflections for free.

It just took days to render.
No. That would be too expensive for these devs I think. And normal mapping isn't a RT effect
 
Oct 25, 2017
9,581
#35
Early to late 90s CG in general was lacking general rendering features that we have today.

For example....

  • No ambient occulusion
  • Phong shading
  • Ambient lighting is a solid value
  • No reflections, only specular highlights
  • Over reliance on subdivision modelling and smoothing
  • Use of bump maps instead of normal maps
That's pretty much it. You could achieve this look in real-time now but it definitely would have been a feat back then.







I want to go back to the simpler time when these were cutting edge. Stunning.
 
#40
I think it is just the tech & style of the time, but combined with compression and the ability to make 2d touch-ups for the end product.
There's just such a difference with what you can achieve in fixed camera environments as well.

Great pre-rendered backgrounds also demand a certain amount of non-realism in my opinion too. You need to make the walking paths clear to the eye as well as where you can exit on the screen. If you look at all the game screenshots, they tend to have very bright and consistently lit floors with unnaturally dark doorways. Meticulous framing/composition and all those other demands unique to game art might be contributing to what registers as a unique atmosphere to you.
 
Oct 27, 2017
454
Europe
#45
The unique look usually comes from unintended limitations and side effects, not from artist's vision. In theory, the goal of pre-rendered backgrounds is to look exactly like rendered in real-time.

Since games combine pre-rendered 2d backgrounds with 3d models on top, the most distinct look comes from different styles and rendering techniques. Backgrounds are rendered using high quality rendering engines that cannot run realtime, so 3d models on top may have a different look due to missing effects.
Another noticeable artifact is resolution mismatch, where background is not the same pixel density as dynamic items.

If we had hardware that would be able to render everything, nobody would use pre-rendered backgrounds as they are very limiting and mostly used because of performance issues.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,004
#50
It's a combination of a few things:
  • The unique framing of the shots from angles that you rarely see anymore since the standardization of third-person, freely controllable cameras that center around the character.
  • That distinctive 90's CGI look that evokes nostalgia
  • The fact that these CG renders were lovingly painted over for the final product that you see in the game. That finishing touch adds so much more detail and lends everything a very warm, handcrafted feel.