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HDRI and Caustics for the Beginner

By Rick Timmons
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Date Added: 16th June 2009
Software used:
3ds Max
579_tid_pix_022.jpg
This tutorial was designed with the 3D novice in mind, and for that matter, anyone above that level. We'll be creating and adjusting everything from scratch, this tutorial will hardly yield any graphics you're going to win any awards or other accolades for but it will will show you a cool technique. I will be using Max 6, the first release of the software to feature the Splutterfish HDRI I/O plugin. For those using version 4 or 5 of Max you'll need to download the free plugin (HDRI version 1.0.1) from the Splutterfish website: http://www.splutterfish.com/

You will also need a .hdr file, which is available to download from Paul Debevec's website: www.debevec.org/Probes/
The probe I'll be using for this tutorial will be the grace_probe.hdr

For those interested in furthering their knowledge of the subject of HDRI, you may want to spend some extra time at Paul's website, he's a pure genius in this area. Also Splutterfish has invaluable information on this subject and is well worth delving deeper into. But for now, let's get busy... there's a lot of work ahead of us.

Step 1 : Setting Up - With everything you need downloaded and setup, create a new directory in the Max Scenes directory and label it HDRI. Into this directory, you'll want to copy your downloaded .hdr file. The materials used for our objects will be created by us as we move through each step.

Step 2 : Creation of the Geometry - Let's first reset Max: File-Reset-click OK. Next, let's setup our units to Generic if not already set: Customize-Units Setup-Click the Generic Units option button-Click OK. See image to the right.

The first object will be our ground plane. From the top viewport, Geometry-Plane and scroll out a plane near the center, set its size to 200 units square and stay with the default values for the other parameters. The second, third and fourth objects will be simple spheres, each with a diameter of 4. Click Create-Geometry-Sphere and scroll three of them onto Plane01.

579_tid_pix_001.jpg
Set Sphere01 to the NW of the grid center, Sphere02 to the NE and Sphere03 to the SE. Set the diameter of each to 4 and leave all the other parametric values to their defaults. Our fifth and final object will be a GeoSphere, Geometry-GeoSphere with a diameter of 4 placed to the SW of the grid center. Uncheck Smooth in the Parameters list. We uncheck Smooth for the GeoSphere because we want sharp edges on it. From the top viewport, your scene should look similar to the image to the right.

Don't worry if it looks sloppy at this point, we'll be repositioning the objects in a few moments to their proper places, the important thing is that the objects be set to the parametric values described above.

579_tid_pix_002.jpg


Step 3: Camera and Light - Our scene will have a single target camera and a single MentalRay area spot.We want to place our light and camera to give a good view of the four shadow fields and those areas immediately around the objects where reflected/refracted photons will illuminate. Let's set our camera first. Still in the top viewport, click Create-Cameras-Target, then click south of the four objects and drag the target to just north of them. Under the Parameters rollout of the Modify panel, set the camera lens to 40mm. Then our light, click Create-Lights-MR Area Spot, then click to the east of the four objects and drag the target to the west of them. Under the Spotlight parameters rollout of the Modify panel, adjust the hotspot/Beam to 42 and the Falloff/Field to 55. See image to the right:

579_tid_pix_003.jpg
Step 4: Positioning of our Objects, Camera and Light - Max provides a means of precisely positioning objects called the Coordinate Display, see below.

579_tid_pix_004.jpg


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