Rendering a studio style render
The concept is really simple. Every rendering software has the ability to make objects by generating GI, just make as many objects as you want and think of them as your light sources in your own studio. You can put standard lights in instead of objects as well, but objects are usually easier to change their shapes and looks, and you can give them the same GI material or change each object is properties separately. You can also make the same results using lights, but I find it easier to do with objects since we are going to copy/duplicate them a lot. One thing to mention is that bigger objects will generate more GI than smaller ones by default in VRay, Also, objects lighting effects will decrease when it's far away and will increase when it's close (Decay).
Now after you have made giant boxes, spheres, cylinders and what ever you think would be suitable for lights in a studio simply give them a GI material, (sometimes a properly placed single box can be enough for a great render). You need to play with the GI material settings until you are happy, for my final results I used a VRayLightMtl with a multiplier of 3 and gradient ramps for the texture of the giant boxes, plus different material settings for the sphere and other objects. The images show the results obtained from different GI and object reflections.
The first one is with the standard giant box on top of the car, the second is with 3 thinner boxes placed around the car. Try playing around with different layouts.
The final one is with multiple giant thin boxes and a lot of small spheres scattered around randomly and some spheres organised as if they where lights on top of the car and a few cylinder with less GI multiplier. I also made the scattered spheres have different colours.
Now if you hit render and still didn't like the results you could try adding a few lights, it doesn't matter much if they are vray lights or std max lights. It might be partially caused by the decay property of the objects and the fact that the shadows will be softer than what you want if you have too many GI objects.
To make the image more interesting you could add an HDRI with a subtle effect to give the feeling of a busy background, which adds to the realism, but you have to make it very subtle so that you can barely notice it, so that it doesn't take over the reflections you worked so hard to get.
Final scene screenshot.
Now for rendering a car in a scene:
It's all the same basics (a good environment with a lighting system that's consistent with it).
You can basically just put an HDRI to be used for the reflection environment and sky light, but the shadows will be too soft if you depend on the HDRI alone. So, you can just put light sources similar to the HDRI has to supplement it. Basically, an omni or vray light placed in the scene to supplement the sun in the HDRI image.
For positioning light you can just put the HDRI image, as visible in the viewport (just click alt+b and place it there for instance) and To get the exact position of the light as the sun in the HDRI, to give you more powerful lightning and sharper shadows, use a test sphere.
Just place a reflecting sphere and the HDRI as background, render an image, and you will see the light isn't exactly positioned to be instead of the sun in the HDRI, so move the light until you have the exact position of the light as the sun.
Now after you have the light positioned of the sun and HDRI, start playing with the parameters until you have something you like. Add a few lights if you need to complete it .lighting in some of the dark areas which increasing the GI would be costly to reach (for example, underneath the car, or if you wanted to increase the lightning in front of the car, just place a light in front of it).
Try to add object to your scene for reflections. If you have the time and thought the HDRI wasn't enough at one area (or if you are sick like me)
You could do as I do and add a few lowpoly cars which I have from an old project, as if they are travelling at the bridge scene to add tiny reflections. When placing the HDRI I liked the lighting effect given by a particular one for my bridge scene, but the reflections weren't as great as I wanted them to be, so I made a plane object and gave it a new Vray GI material (vraylightmtl), and the texture map for it was another HDRI. I liked its reflection, just as the image, and I was very careful where to place it so I can get it to reflect on the car body, (you can give it red material for example just to see how its reflecting then give it the texture back).
Unfortunately, in max or vray it's still not featured to get strong lights to reflect and show rays which would help increase the realism, but for now you can try to add it in later post work.
Although the principle for rendering a car in a scene or as a studio render are simple but what makes the difference is each little parameter you need to just keep comparing the renders you have with a real photo with similar conditions to compare and fix what ever you think makes the image look unrealistic.
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