In this tutorial I am going to show you how I did the picture. I will not go into step by step details and I assume that you are familiar with the basics of 3D Studio MAX. This tutorial describes modeling, lighting, texturing and post production of the scene...I prefer to do my scenes in this order because I find it much easier to setup materials with lighting present, because materials tend to look different in material editor than in scene with lights. Maybe this is not the optimal way, but it works for me, and you should try to find what suits you the best because that is the only way to raise your productivity.
Enough said, let's get to business:
Geometry in the scene is quite simple
Are just editable meshes with meshsmooth, there really isn't much philosophy in creating those. To put a chain in desired position I manually positioned every single link until I was satisfied with the result. By doing so I could easily create certain amount of randomness that contributed to a much more "real” feeling of the chain. I could have also used Path Deform plugin, but I found it unsuitable for my current need because it would bend chain links and make them curvy which would produce an unnatural effect.
Leaves and petals
Are again simple meshsmoothed boxes. The only thing where you should pay attention is adding folds (details give the image a "real” feeling and I would suggest that you carefully observe things around you and see how much irregularities there are in organic things). I added folds using a "soft selection” tool of the edit mesh modifier (which I added AFTER the meshsmooth). Simply select a row of vertices, adjust the falloff and then move them up or down until you create a nice fold. Just be careful not to derange the smoothness of the mesh (if you do disturb the mesh, you can add another meshsmooth, but then number of polygons would drastically increase and so would rendering time and memory usage, so try to keep it as smooth as possible).
With all the modeling finished this is how the scene looks
Ha! Pretty poor :) well, didn't I tell you geometry was simple...lighting, textures and post production is what will give this particular image a real atmosphere. Let's try to make things a little better. For the lighting of the scene I used Brazil r/s (but any other shader such as MentalRay, V-ray...etc, would do the trick, I just got used to Brazil) and Brazil lights. Two of them from the side of the scene, both casting area shadows. There is also Sky Light enabled as well as Indirect Illumination (‘Luma server' rollout):
The reason why I used two lights is the fact that I wanted to achieve certain amount of contrast (try to avoid creating "flat” and "washed out” images if your going for a non CG look). First light (lower intensity) illuminates the greater part of the scene and the second (higher intensity) only the very left part of the image producing an illusion of a intensive light source but not affecting the flower itself. See light attenuation and intensity setup on images below:
Really useful option which you should use when setting up lights (when you don't need a lot of details) is Image Antialiasing under ‘Image sampling' rollout. Try to lower values and see how noticeably faster scene renders, and you still can see whether you are on the right way with lighting or not. Another timesaver is a ‘shade rate' option (under ‘luma server' rollout). Lower values mean lower quality of shadows and faster rendering, so it is up to you to make a compromise that suits your needs. My advice is to keep it all the time pretty low and just raise it in final rendering if necessary (for this picture I used -4, -4 values for min/max even for a final rendering).
This is what we get if we hit render again:
(Notice that I also modified camera position in order to achieve more "dramatic” look.).