Part 4 - Lighting and Rendering
Lighting is a really important step in the whole process. Many times, we setup lights fast but we have to understand that lighting can change the scene look for the better or for the worse according to the configuration we chose. I usually work a lot in lighting setup, making tons of render tests to get a good scene lighting.
In this project, I setup the scene with two lighting configurations: the first one is oriented to get a still image, with high quality output, using advanced render features like GI, radiosity, and so on.
The second configuration is for a simple 100/150 frames animation with lower quality than the first one, using 3DSMax standard lighting because those advanced rendering features consume a lot of time, not compatible (at least for me) with an animation with those characteristics.
The first configuration is really simple. I just located a soft yellow target direct light as the sun, with a multiplier slightly over 1.0, and I increased the shadow map to 1024. The higher the shadow map size, the higher the shadows quality.
No more lights objects were necessary. I used specific features of the render engine (global illumination, radiosity, caustics, indirect lighting, etc.) for that shot.
For the final render I used V-RAY (free version). I set a value of 0.7 for the skylight to light the shadow areas, with a soft light blue tint. I didn't use a higher value to keep the contrast between light and shadow zones in the picture.
I activated "Indirect Illumination" too. With these features, objects reflect light affecting the sorrounding space, increasing the realism. Indirect illumination is based in a variable called: bouncing (related to the concept of "color bleeding"). The higher the bounce value is, the more interaction between an object with its sorroundings will be. The options on the right were used to get the final image.
I set the max value for the image sampling to 3, so I got a good antialiasing result. I chose the adaptive subdivision method, which is the faster one.
With these features, filling the scene with lighting you achieve more realism in this way than using standard lighting, but these advanced render engines have a disadvantage: They are very time-consuming. If you are not familiar to them, you waste a lot of time testing, to get the right look you're looking for. In adittion, this kind of renderer usually has many adds like special lights, shadow maps and materials, for specific reasons, as reflection, refraction, sub-surface light scattering, caustics effects and many more. I usually play around with the pre-defined settings, modifying some values in the workflow.
The result I got in the final image was quite right, though I had some problems with reflection and refraction in the window panels. It was because I couldn't use the V-Ray shadows because I had no enough memory in my system to render with this kind of shadows. I had to fix that in post production.
The second version of the lighting configuration is aimed at getting a simple animation where a camera moves through the scene in a straight line for 100/150 frames. The frame number required a fast rendering process, so advanced features for rendering were rejected. I created a main light source (sun) with a soft yellow light with a multiplier value of 1.2.
To fill the scene, and mainly the shadow areas, with soft light creating a sensation of Global Illumination, I put an array of twenty-seven lights with low value (0.025) in the inner space of the model. I set soft shadows (shadow map) with a high sample range to blur the edges.
This "home-made" way to fake skylight, produces interesting results when you can't use advanced lighting because different reasons (time, for example). I render this way a 640 x 480 test in 11 minutes whereas the same shot using GI with a decent quality takes at least 1 hour. You can see the difference in the flash movie on the right. Drag the red arrow at the bottom of the image to see the difference in the shading of both images.
That's it. Once that I set all parameters... Render.
After a couple of hours the final image was ready. I did some color adjustments (hue/saturation) to desaturate a little the image and get an old look.
The whole project took me a couple of months (working only on weekends) to finish. The scene has over 600 objects, 60 materials, 99 bitmap textures and some procedural maps. Almost all bitmaps are from 3DTotal Textures CD's. The final image (800 x 800 resolution tooks 3 hours 42 minutes with V-Ray free).
I hope this tutorial will be useful for you. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, just send me a mail. I'll be glad to answer you.
Finally, I want to thank Lilian who helped me with the translation; to my father for his useful advices; to Marcos for his critical eye; to Mario for "taking care" of my renderings, all the members of my family and to "the marine" Gastón, for his suggestions.
Thanks a lot guys and cheers!