Steven Carroll breaks down the processes for lighting and rendering his image Cave Eggs using mental ray in Maya
My goal is to try and keep this tutorial very straight-forward for quick and easy reference. I will show you the techniques I used to light my scene ‘Cave Eggs' and briefly cover the scene set-up. Next, I will discuss the types of lights used in my scene, and how to get the best use out of them. Lastly, I will teach you basic rendering with mental ray and post-processing in Photoshop.
Create a scene
The first thing you will need to do is make a few props, but if you have a scene already, go ahead and skip this step. Since this is a lighting demo, I kept my objects pretty simple. I created only 2 assets, making sure to keep all the viewing angles interesting and also unique enough so that they don't appear too repetitive from being cloned around the scene a lot. Both assets are using 2k Diffuse, Normal and Spec maps using a standard blinn shader.
Once you have your props created, play around with building a scene. When you're satisfied with the look, move on to the next step.
Adding environment fog
This will help give your scene depth, mood, and atmosphere.
Open your render settings. Render Using > Maya Software. Click the Maya Software tab and locate the Render Options drop-down menu. In the Post-Processing sub-heading is environment fog. Simply click the box with the arrow to the right and you've done it! (See the red highlights in the image below).
An ambient light (default name: envFogLight) will be added to your scene with a fog material that is attached to it (default name: envFogMaterial(envFog)) (See the yellow highlight in the image below).
You may notice that your scene in the viewport will get brighter and washed out when the ambient light is placed. That may be annoying when trying to work around the scene, so I turn my ambient light intensity to 0 while I'm working in it. Just be sure to turn the intensity back to 1.0 when you're ready to render! (See the green highlights in the image below).
Follow the settings to begin adding your environment fog
Editing environment fog
When editing your environment fog, you will want to make a lot of iterations very quickly. Go into your Render Settings again, and Render Using > Mental Ray. Head over to the Quality Tab and where it says Quality Presets, select Preview (see the red highlights in the image below).
Additionally, render your preview small to save more time. I rendered at 600 x 338 and each render was about 15 seconds using IPR rendering and mental ray (see the yellow highlights in the image below).
: You can also render your environment fog tests using Maya Software rendering for significantly faster renders, but keep in mind there will be a slight variation to color, fog thickness and distance when you switch to render in mental ray.
In this scene, I used a simple fog. When using this fog type, you only need to worry about a few things (see the green highlight in the image below). Go ahead and play around with these sliders until you achieve a result you like.
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Adjusting the fog settings to create the right atmosphere