The new Max 6 version has some sort of a Tree generator coming as a standard package. It really saved me from a lot of trouble. The trees are parametric and come in different shapes and sizes: from oakes to bushes.
Modeling the objects in the background is nothing more then making a number of splines and applying a bevel modifier(using a simple extrude would have left me with objects with sharp edges which would have diminished the realism of the scene). I wanted to add some wear and tear to them, small cracks, deffects etc, but given the fact that they were background objects lazyness won and I quit ;)
Getting back to texturing the trees, I modified the default material using some leaves textures and bark. Again, using SSS would have tripled the rendertimes and it would have been pointless as my intention was to do a paintover in photoshop.
The problem I run into every time I use VRay displacement is that it darkens my object a lot and I end up having to crank up the lights to lighten the object but make sure it doesn't burn-out the rest of my objects...
The volumetric light is pretty straight-forward if you render it with scanline. The trick with VRay is that the volumetric light doesn't cast any shadows so you must fool the eye a little. For this purpose I created a gradient map(circular one) and gave it a strong noise like in the image to the left.
I cloned that light and really turned it's intensity down. After that I just use that gradient map in the Advanced Effects/Projector map, and after turning on Volume light in the Enviroment panel I selected the second light as it will be the one that's gonna be used for the volume light effect.
The volumetric light was rendered in a different pass and composited in Photoshop with a Soft Light layer transffer.
The final composition. Here are some main steps: first the atmosphere, fog, volumetric lights, the cascade and steam.
The next step was introducing some elements to fill in the blanks and balance the composition: a forrest that was the result of a number of reference photos put together. I just color corrected it and fit it there. I also felt the need to have a building of some sort in the background to give some meaning to the whole picture (if not I would have had a whole lot of questions like: Ok... so where does that bridge lead??? PS. To Avalon right? :D
I attached the textures used for the smoke and waterfall generated in particle illusion (really helpful or else I would have had to find real photos and mask them - Particle illusion exports alpha channel.)
In the end I rendered out two different light setups in Max, one lighter and one darker which I composed in Photoshop using my artistic sixth sense :)
The final touch-ups consisted in putting some emphasis on the depth effect (fog, progressive desaturation, low contrast farther from the camera, etc) and adding some contrat to the sky where I felt it needed some help and that about wraps it up :)
Many thanx to Azra for his translation and supporting me ;)