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Building reality: A look through the eyes of Minecraft architects

Is this reality… or are we in an ultra-realistic Minecraft world?.. In creative mode, most players stick to making elaborate castles and fantasy structures. But some take a different approach, one that aims to bring our very reality into the blocky landscape – REALISM! Here we’ll hopefully shed some light on this lesser practiced area of creative.

What is realism?

In general, realism involves creating structures that look like they could exist in the real world. These structures can be either replicas of real life, or completely IMAGINARY. Realism can be a LOT of things! To name a few; Skyscrapers, cars, planes, boats, ancient temples, ruined cities, roads, realistic landscapes and homes… Anything from any era (though it’s mainly cities). If it’s real, you can build it and slap “realism” onto its name.

It’s all about creating a special kind of immersion that gives the WOW! effect. The task can be daunting, but with practice great architecture is perfectly feasible inside your world. Don’t give up if you truly aspire to do it!

Oh, tell me why…

“Cool, you spent hours making a McDonalds in-game. Couldn’t you have gone out to the one on the corner of your neighborhood?”

Mainly because it’s impressive! But seriously, imagine taking a low-poly survival game and using it as a canvas to create detailed life-like structures. That’s all these builders are doing – letting their creativity out through voxel art (that is, 3D pixel art). Creating something like that can be challenging, leading to even greater satisfaction and WOW!

Realism can be used to recrease real life and “freeze” it in time. Many realism builders are interested in architecture and design in other areas of their life, or even study architecture at university, hence why they prefer it! It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s perfectly fine. But at least I heard Minecraft is easier than AutoCad, Rhino or 3Ds Max software…

row of apartment blocks realism build

Ok, but HOW?

You’ll find MANY guides and tutorials online, so we’ll briefly cover some tips here before interviewing a few realism builders for their thoughts.

First, the elephant in the room – mods and tools. While you do not need any to build realism, they are a massive help specifically for making grand architecture faster and easier. On the other hand, if you’re just detailing a tiny store or some vehicles, you’ll be fine on your own. Java Edition is the preferred version for Minecraft builders. It is easiest to use and most versatile, with thousands of mods and servers that don’t exist on Bedrock.

Some common third-party mods:

  • World Edit – a household name, with hundreds of world editing commands from basic to advanced, shape generation and painting brushes.
  • VoxelSniper and goBrush – long-range editors for creating and editing terrain.
  • Dynmap – generated a live, interactive 2D/3D map of your world in your browser.
  • Some builders choose to use mods that add new decoration blocks, like DecoCraft or McCrayfish’s Furniture, but the preferred and more impressive way is to build in vanilla!

Common third-party PC software:

  • WorldPainter – the go-to tool for creating whole Minecraft worlds. It’s like Microsoft Paint but for painting custom terrain.
  • MCEdit is a powerful editing program to further modify your worlds.
  • World Machine is an advanced program that can be used for Minecraft terrain.
  • To make your build look more fancy and smooth in pictures, you need to turn to rendering software.
  • Chunky is the simple but effective solution. Blender is the advanced alternative and can be used for more complex effects and lighting setups, and even 360 renders!*
  • Rendering may require a beefier computer and will use up your PC for hours at a time!
portfolio modern mansion

Custom texture packs and shaders:

Texture packs are pretty much a must-have for the most realistic realism! This applies especially to grand ultra-realistic city projects. City themed texture packs add smooth/HD textures, custom blocks like road lines, bricks, tiles and more, and sometimes custom 3D models like a bike.

Shaders are the closest in-game equivalent of a render! Soft lighting, shadows and shiny lights can go a long way! Just don’t give people a completely false idea of what your build is actually like when they see it RAW in-game.

Some building tips…

An interest in architecture and some understanding of how real architecture works is always useful! Realism building requires you to strip back the layers and focus on the foundations of your build – like the structure of a home or the transport network in a city – much like in reality. On the flip side, AESTHETICS are equally important! Here, the rules of design apply, such as depth and detail, color theory, symmetry, scale and more.

Teamwork makes the dream work! Remember, you can collaborate in a team (e.g. servers) to combine your skills, get a wider range of ideas and speed up the building process 🙂

aerial view of coastal city ModernCraft

Plan and get inspired:

Whatever it is that you want to create – do some research on real-world examples and study the architecture of that thing for inspiration. You can use reference images throughout the whole building process to inspire realistic shapes, colors and details in your build.

Choose your materials:

Pick your blocks and colors wisely to imitate the appearance of real-world building materials. However, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try mixing together blocks in unusual ways, such as a red sandstone and acacia plank mix for a detailed wall gradient!

Details bring it to life:

Attention to detail can make or break most builds. Think about the purpose of each space and add details and variations to make the build feel alive and lived-in.

Graffiti on the wall. Banner curtains in the window. Stairs for window sills. Benches and lamps in the street. A few vehicles on the car pack. Plants overgrowing a balcony. Trims and overhangs on buildings. HVAC equipment on a roof. A bit of chaos and randomness…

Nature makes for great and appealing detail at any scale and almost any build! From gardens and greenhouses to interior plant pots, roadside greenery and vines overgrowing a building. Or whole painstakingly designed geometrical landscapes! Also, FOUNTAINS!

mansion screenshot spacious kitchen

Bring detail to interior:

Not everyone likes doing interiors, but unfortunately every single real building has them! Doing interiors forces you to think about the function of the building and the layout inside WHILE you are building up the exterior walls. It automatically adds to the realism. For larger buildings, you should be fine with using World Edit to copy-paste a single furnished floor.

Use a different block for the interior and exterior walls of a building. For example, a colorful terracotta inside, and stone bricks outside. You could also do double-thick floors in multi-story buildings to have a different ceiling and floor. Remember to keep a uniform scale across every building in your world. However, grand places like a palace or the lobby of a hotel should be bigger/taller to enhance the effect.

Wait, WHO AM I? Who are you? What is the meaning of life?

realistic modern mansion on hillside build

“Hi, I’m MegaMinerDL. I’ve been using creative mode since 2018 and have always preferred cities and the realism side of things. Nowadays I focus on commission work centering on everything modern – buildings, roads, vehicles.

“My tips: Seriously, join a creative server. Plotworlds or large-scale creative projects. Watch how others build and learn from their techniques. Ask for feedback, tips and help with commands. Collaborate and experiment. Look up reference pictures – I prefer real-life images instead of existing Minecraft builds so I don’t end up being forced to copy the specific way someone chose to build something.

Feel free to follow tutorials – I remember my early days of Keralis tutorials. But to truly improve, you need to move on from the tutorials and apply what you learnt on your own. Otherwise, the problem is that you’ll end up being a skilled copy-cat. Everyone can copy, not everyone can build. Not without experience.”


looking towards a marina minimal building

“Hey, I am a Minecraft “architect” and my IGN is KingRooster121. I was asked how realistic building works for me. One thing I would say is it took years to just understand that you have to use more than just the core blocks we always use for builds. Mixing the colors and the shapes, trying to capture that “realistic” vibe, you will not get it 1st try, trust me. Getting into it, you really need to step back, breathe and ask questions, for example, seeing what works in the real world. Studying the outside world and understanding how things work and why things are where they are is a key component to making a realistic build, think about the foundation. How many windows there should be, is the bathroom shaded and covered enough, is everything in line, does my build have enough greenery, consistent color pallets etc- all things that come into play while making a realistic build in Minecraft. It’s not that it’s difficult, but it’s not difficult either. The simple answer is it requires more effort in thinking… instead of just doing it the regular ways.”


moderncraft pier top view colorful

“I’m CapnMatt5443. I got into realistic building by creating buildings that I had been to in my childhood; Hotels, beach houses, etc. Eventually, as I began to put more effort into building, I noticed that my memory alone could only take me so far. What most improved my building was having picture/video references and experimenting with different blocks. Google Earth and street view specifically helped me a lot with visualization when trying to build. I also got out of my comfort zone and referenced tutorials if i needed to. With the limitations of the game, I had to find creative ways to add details and create the perception of texture and depth.”

I hope you learnt something! All builders interviewed are part of the ModernCraft project.

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