I’ve been itching to finally say something about this one. If a 3D rendering looks life-like, most likely it has this phenomenon somewhere in the rendering. Chromatic Aberration (CA) occurs any time light refracts from a lens in such a way to disperse colors. This is most obvious in high contrast areas like the image below.
Photograph of Disney Concert Hall
You can simulate this effect in max 2008 with mental ray by using the mia_lens_bokeh shader, and an image map with red, green and blue. Plug the image map into the custom bokeh map. The downside to using an image map is that it really slows down the Arch / DOF Bokeh shader. You will also have to change the samples from 4 to at least 8. I typically use a minimum of 64 samples for my final renders. Note that DOF is what causes CA, so you have to have some blur to get this effect…even if it’s a very small amount.
These were some tests I did to compare a rendering with and without CA. The difference is very small, but it makes it that much closer to what a camera is really doing.
There are also ways to do this in Photoshop after rendering. Plug-ins like PTLens are great at creating or fixing CA.