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Linear Workflow - The Whole Shebang!

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(Score 4.68 out of 5 after 22 Votes)
| Comments 9
Date Added: 25th June 2012
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I have seen quite a lot of confusion surrounding linear workflow and 3ds Max. This is understandable, as there are many guides online, some with conflicting information. Another confusing stage is how to composite these renders correctly. That is why I have written this guide. I hope it will explain everything you need to know in order to work in a full linear workflow.

For a fantastic technical breakdown on what a linear workflow actually is and why you should care, read this article by Max Attivo here:

Why use a linear workflow?

Using a linear workflow results in images that better match how the human eye perceives the world. Essentially, using a linear workflow makes it possible to have a more realistic output. As an added benefit in some cases, using a linear workflow can reduce calculations needed for rendering, therefore speeding up your render time. This is accomplished by more accurately displaying light falloff and travel distance, meaning you may not have to increase GI samples or depth to get correct illumination.

So that all sounds great, but how do you do it?

Fig. 01

Part 1: Setting up 3ds Max

Recommended Gamma and LUT Settings (found under Customize > Preferences- > Gamma and LUT) can be seen in Fig.01. Here's a breakdown of the settings:

1. Enable Gamma/LUT Correction: Enabled. This tick box tells 3ds Max to use the Gamma Correction. To work with a correct linear workflow, we want this activated.
2. Gamma: 2.2. This is the display Gamma. It tells 3ds Max what gamma to display for your viewport and in the Render Frame Buffer. You could leave this at 1.0, but by making sure it is set to 2.2, you enable gamma correction as a preview only. In other words, setting this to 2.2 doesn't affect render output. When you save your files, they will still be Gamma 1.0, but you are more easily able to understand what the final color corrected output will look like (Fig.02a - 02b).

Fig.02a - Gamma: 1.0. This shows the gamma of the final output when everything else is set up properly, but can make choosing and adjusting colors and tones difficult.

Fig.02b - Gamma: 2.2. This shows how your final output will look when corrected to a gamma of 2.2, when everything else is also set up correctly. Essentially, this means what you see is what you get.

3. Affect Color Selector and Affect Material Editor: Enabled. When both of these options are enabled, the Gamma setting affects the display of colors on the standard 3ds Max Color Selector, the Object Color dialog and in the Material Editor. This means when selecting colors and viewing materials they will match the final output when it has been corrected to a gamma of 2.2 (Fig.03a - 03d).

Fig.03a - Affect Color Selector: Disabled. Colors are displayed with a gamma of 1.0. This means any color you choose will be brighter than expected when rendered and gamma corrected to 2.2.

continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Robert on Mon, 21 December 2015 12:38pm
If turning on Gamma makes absolutely no difference to the rendered output, as stated, then why turn it on ever, it makes everything go from beautiful to AWFUL... I have read endless tutorials about this in the last 20 years, this was no different. Never does the tutorial match the software, there IS no input and output Gamma option in the Gamma panel in MAX 2014, so how does this help? I appreciate it, but I would even more if it was ever a 1 page step by step without the abstracts...
3dmaxfarsi on Tue, 03 March 2015 3:00pm
excellent tutorial, as always …
Sali on Tue, 10 June 2014 8:45am
I'm looking for explanation about linear workflow from 3ds max goes to AE. And here I am. Thanks for your clear guide. But I want ask, how about setting up gamma on image editor such as Photoshop? Usually we made texture with 3d painting in Photoshop, and still have to adjusting texture color/brightess to get something we want in 3ds max renderer. Big thanks anyway.
Mikhail on Mon, 17 March 2014 11:19pm
well, I can't agree with author about lwf in MRay.. the thing is that you should to turn off the exposure control to get an image without any camera responce. In globals you can use gamma 2.2 in each tab, but save your rendered images with gamma override 1.0 (and no exposure conrols!). Also, you need to be sure to set 32bit(Float) in mrFrame buffer (in this case you will have a correct Z and WPP passes). Also there is a quite long process with images input as a backround plate and\or reflection maps (if you load 32bits HDR images so you should load it with gamma 1.0. If you load LDR images, like jpg and so - load it with gamma 2.2)..
Derek Bentley on Sat, 20 April 2013 4:21pm
Where is Figure 01? It seems to be missing... So we use Gamma 2.2 for Display and 1.0 for output? Does Gamma output affect VRay GI Maps like the Light Cache, and Irradiance Map?
Anlleoking on Thu, 21 March 2013 9:38am
Dear Daniel Dye Thank you for the tutorial.May I translate it to Chinese so people in our country could understand it. I want to post it in my blog with your name.Thank you anyway. Best regards Anlleo King
Demonpepper on Thu, 28 June 2012 7:22am
should we need to calibrate out cpu/monitor before doing this LWF.
Wilsimar on Wed, 27 June 2012 5:26am
thanks. very usefull.
Ruveron Philippe on Tue, 26 June 2012 1:31pm
Very clear and interesting. Thanks for the guide.
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