During this exterior lighting series I will be covering the techniques I used to create various time and weather conditions using 3DS Max and the Mental Ray renderer. I will be concentrating on describing my lighting methods rather than any modelling or texturing that may need to be done. I have created as much of the image as I can in Max; leaving Photoshop 'polish' to a bare minimum to achieve the final result.
For this first chapter, I will be covering setting up a foggy and damp night time atmosphere with the intention of making the viewer climb into the image and want to explore the environment. What's up those stairs? Is there anyone in the houses? What's behind that door? What's the story here? I hope you enjoy reading my tutorial and learn something you can apply to your own work.
Identifying light sources
Here is the raw image (Fig.01).
I've highlighted the possible light sources that can be used. The most obvious of these is the lantern illuminating the street but I also want the moonlight to cascade down the stairs and spill through the archway. There are also the many windows and doors that I can use to add life to the image.
The archway and stairs are central to this image; if lit correctly they can add depth and help to make the viewer want to 'climb' into the image as I described earlier. In contrast with a daylight scene, the shadows in this scene should be very soft so I used MR-Area Omni lights to light the entire scene.
The weather conditions (a foggy evening) also generate their own light so I had to take care not to wash the image out. However I used the fog to my advantage, creating further depth; light disperses through the fog creating a glowing effect, enhancing the mysterious look I wanted to achieve. At this stage, however I needed to concentrate on simply getting the lighting right. I will return to how I created the foggy look later in the tutorial.
Setup draft render
When lighting any image, you can't expect to achieve the final result first time. In anticipation of a lot of 'tweaking', I did many test renders. As this could potentially be very time-consuming, I setup the renderer to a draft setting so it speeded up the render times to a more workable rate. Firstly I assigned Mental Ray as the renderer and used these settings for draft renders (Fig.02).
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