Scale Figures in Architectural Renderings

Google still says I’m in the millennial generation, but I sound like an old-fuddy-duddy1 when I reference my days in school. Nevertheless, back when I was in school: we had to tediously Photoshop our own scale figures.

Humans in architectural renderings are essential to show scale, activity, and usability of spaces. Depending on the graphic intent of renderings, different scale figures could be used. Again, back when I was in school, many people would use “ghosted” figures of people. However, with advanced photo-realistic renderings – mystical entities wandering around your images often made your museum project appear to be an enchanted mausoleum.

Therefore, I would tediously begin each semester photographing people on the street. Sitting. Hurriedly walking to class. Leisurely leaving class while talking on their cell phone. Hurriedly leaving class while pretending to talk on their cell phone just so they don’t have to interact with other students on campus.

I would also scour the internet for non-wedding photographers who published high-quality images I could download and Photoshop to be used as scale figures. However, Photoshopping backgrounds out of images took a lot of time. You have to use a masking region and delicately separate the person’s hair from the background. Maybe even re-drawing in hair follicles. While delicately feathering the edges to ensure the person would seamlessly integrate into your new renderings.

Every semester usually began with these high ambitions, but I usually would only get 1 human scale figure Photoshopped. Typically a cheesy high-school graduation picture of a kid posing in front of white background with an argyle-sweater vest, because the background was easiest to crop out. But then my museum project’s rendering would have an 18-year-old lying on his side, with his arm propping up his smiling head, in the middle of the concrete floor for no apparent reason.

One would assume with the advancement of photo-realistic renderings in architectural illustrations, that this need for scale figures would have been fulfilled by some company on the internet. There were millions of animated .gifs. Dozens of photo stock image websites. But no reliable resource that had the background removed from images. Until one day there was a shared folder with dozens of scale figure images. I think my brother actually paid a couple hundred dollars for these images. I really can’t remember. All I know is that in the days of shared music, LimeWire, and (still) legal BitTorrent frenzy – everything was free. And soon everyone within the confines of Cheever Hall began using these scale figures.

The only problem was, these humans appeared to have been photographed in the 1980’s. I don’t know if someone had scanned in old slides of people with leg-warmers and large hoop earrings, or if they used the first digital camera with their Macintosh II to create the images, but all of the people looked like this:

Most of these scale figures were suitable if I were designing an outdated Postmodern building. However, I live in Montana. Where all of the school site visits were in the cold-ass winter, with snow. So the girl with shorts and her Starter jacket wrapped around her waist would be even more out of context than the smiling high-school graduation kid lying in the snow – at least he was wearing an Argyle sweater-vest.

All of the people in the shared folder were photographed during the summer. Therefore, every student’s renderings all included the only guy wearing a jacket. Yes. This guy!

Fortunately, since my days in school several invaluable resources have been created to obtain free scale figures for architectural renderings without the use of LimeWire.


Skalgubbar was created by Teodor Javanaud Emdén from Sweden. Google translates Skalgubbar to mean Shell Figures in English. However, instead of a website filled with crustaceans and Jonathan – the World’s Oldest Tortoise, Skalgubbar was the first and best website with quality cut-out images. After experiencing the same frustrations I had with finding images of people for architectural renderings, Teodor began his own website with images of himself and his friends.

It’s actually incredible how many large architectural offices use Skalgubbar images within their renderings. Teodor is currently working for BIG. And they use a surprisingly large number of Teodor’s images. I imagine Bjarke Ingels was like, “Let’s not get another lawsuit for illegally using unlicensed copies of software, and just hire Teodor so we can use all of his images without any chance of repercussion.”

Skalgubbar saves the day for BIG’s Serpentine Gallery rendering. (Image stolen copied from Teodor’s website at

Skalgubbar saves the day for BIG’s Serpentine Gallery rendering. (Image stolen copied from Teodor’s website)

Ultimately, if you are searching for a rendering with a Swedish person playing ping-pong while riding a fixie bicycle – Skalgubbar is your best resource.


Nonscandinavia is a completely not-for-profit project out of the Columbia University GSAPP student group A-Frame. Nonscandinavia is a free, open-source, online database of PNG images, dedicated to increasing diversity in architectural representation, and is widely used within GSAPP.

The project was framed as a counterpart to Skalgubbar, after A-Frame grew tired of seeing student work sited in the South Bronx populated by wealthy young people entirely unreflective of the area’s true demographics.

Apparently A-Frame became fatigued by Teodor’s scant hipster mustache the same way I grew tired of the 1980’s guy in the suit jacket. However, while I am an advocate for Nonscandinavia I have subtle hesitations about their name. Why do you hate Teodor and fixie bicycles? Teodor created his website after he encountered the same problems I did, and was the first to freely offer his own Photoshopped cut-out images.

And maybe it’s just me wanting to be politically correct on the interwebs. But is the phrase Non-Scandinavia NOT demeaning because Americans predominantly consist of Caucasian people with European heritages? If his name was Téodoro and he was from Mexico, I feel like 80% of the hispanic community, and 100% of liberals would be upset about the title NONMEXICO.

However, this project has progressed rapidly and is, probably, my number one resource for images.


If your project is based in South or Central America, check out the great images at escalatina. Or if you want images of a Latin American parade of people in lucho libre costumes for your South American Fusion Restaurant then this will be an invaluable resource.

This website is the Latin American counterpoint to Teodor’s fun Swedish imagery. However, their cut-out Photoshop skills are consistently quite good, and who doesn’t want an alpaca in their renderings?

Just Nøt The Same

Again. Another great resource that represents more diversity by acknowledging the minority population.2

Urban environments, and all environments, need to accurately represent the demographic which the architecture inhabits. Therefore, no Teodor. No ping-pong Tables. No people holding wine glasses with their pinky fingers extended. No people playing ping-pong while drinking wine.


Kaleidoscope claims to “challenge the dominance of gendernormativity, ableism and race-blindness in architectural drawings by diversifying the population of represented peoples in renderings.”

I don’t know what that means, but I’m assuming they could’ve just said, “Images without Teodor.”

A couple Polish dudes2 created, you have to register on the site, but can freely download (with a daily limit) most images. All of the other cutout sites listed are completely free – as they probably don’t want to infringe upon copyright laws by not obtaining permission to use street people in renderings. I’m sure this website is completely legal, but then again LimeWire and BitTorrents might still exist in the country of Poland.

And if you want one more cut-out person – you can download this crappy-resolution image of me squinting. Free for both both student and commercial usage without restrictions.

Happy Renderings!




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1 Yes, I realize that is a term used by people who suck on Werthers® Original Butterscotch Candies and leave their cup of teeth around the house.
2 Or the population Donald Trump refers to as “living in the inner city.”
3 Or if you speak Polish, a couple ‘kolesie’.


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