The main aim for me is to have the lighting and the shapes working together to lead the eye of the viewer into the image. I usually try to lead the eye to a point of interest or key area. In this scene, I've tried to make a center of interest at the bottom left of the blackboard, and used light and the angles in the layout of the shapes to point the eye towards this area.
Part 2: Refining the Models
For this scene I keep the modeling fairly simple and use basic poly modeling and subdivision techniques. I want to be able to quickly add a lot of objects into the room so I try to avoid complex models and sculpts, and instead go for a clean, cartoony look.
Most of the objects in the scene start life as a simple primitive and are extruded/cut into rough shapes, and then smoothed and refined with the Edge Loop tool.
To tell the story of the scene and add some personality, I want to make sure I capture the feel of a lived in, actively used space. A lot of this can be done by adding some clutter to the scene and paying attention to how smaller objects are placed.
I find the trick is to think of little stories or scenarios that might take place in your environment and to imagine how real people would use and place the props that you have in the scene. The aim is to add a bit of natural chaos in the placement of the objects.
One strategy that works well in this situation is to make sets of objects that can be duplicated and reused to quickly build up clutter in the room. For example, the toy bricks I have in my scene are modeled very quickly from a beveled cube and several beveled cylinders. These can be scaled to different sizes, given different colors and then used in groups to add some clutter around the room (Fig.08). I use similar sets for the toys, paints, crayons and other art materials, so that the scene soon becomes much busier and has a bit more character (Fig.09).
While working on the objects and clutter I also usually start some early texturing work by blocking in diffuse colors on some objects, as it makes sense to do this before duplicating and placing these objects. However, I prefer to leave the majority of the texturing and shading work until after I've been able to finalize the lighting setup, so I'll touch more on this part of the project later.
Part 3: Final Lighting
Now the room is modeled and filled with clutter, I want to move on to finalizing the lighting setup that I'll be rendering the scene with.
For my lighting I want to capture the realism that we'd expect from real sunlight, but I don't want to be constrained artistically by simulating real life exactly. This is why I find it useful to do a basic lighting pass first and work out what I want from the lighting in terms of composition and color.
To help with the realism, I want to work in linear space. If you are unfamiliar with Linear Workflow (LWF), the basic idea is to counteract the fact that your monitor has a limited range and doesn't show you the lighting information as the renderer sees it. Lights may appear to fall off too quickly or you may end up increasing intensities of light higher than they should be to get the sort of decay you want, which can lead to unnatural results.
This subject is covered really thoroughly in many great tutorials available online, and I don't want to go too far into technical details here, but I'll explain the steps I like to use to get into linear space as I talk about the lighting setup.
MR Physical Sun and Sky
For this scene, I use MR Physical Sun and Sky, which is designed to simulate realistic outdoor lighting, and is geared towards linear lighting workflows and energy conserving materials. This will form an excellent base, as I'll be using this type of shader later on.
To create the nodes, I open the Render Settings window and under the Indirect Lighting tab, click on the Create button next to Physical Sun and Sky.
A criticism I often hear of MR Physical Sun and Sky is that while it is great for realistic or architectural renders, it is a bit limiting artistically and not as suitable for a cartoony scene such as this one. This is where the lighting work done earlier in the block out stage comes in handy. I have already established a lighting base, so I can use the benefits of the realism that Physical Sun and Sky offers, while making sure to stick to my desired art direction by tweaking certain values and colors.
Once I have created the Physical Sun and Sky, a number of nodes are created in the scene. There's a directional light named sunDirection, which is used to tell mental ray the angle that we want the sun, an mental ray environment to represent the sky, and an exposure node that is automatically connected to all non-orthographic cameras you have in the scene.
The first thing I do is to copy the X,Y and Z rotation values of the Maya directional light used in the lighting block-out onto the new sunDirection created for the mental ray Sun and Sky. Changing the Sun angle will automatically change the Sky Environment in this system to give a realistic sky light for the time of day that corresponds to the sun angle I have set (Fig.10).