Exterior Scenes in 3d Max

5. Render Setting For Final Image

For a final render image at 4000 pixel, we change the setting so that it is higher than before to bring more quality to the image.

For GI method, we used Irradiance map for Primary bounces and Light cache for Secondary bounces at a high setting.

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We chose Adaptive QMC for Image sampler and Michell - Netravali for Antialiasing filter.

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For post work, we also rendered out the VrayReflection pass, VraySpecular pass and VrayZDepth pass (you can add these passes by going to Render Elements and click the Add button).

6. Post Work

We use Photoshop for post work. Level adjustments and Color Balance are used to improve the contrast and color for the image.

A real sky background is added for more realism.

Reflection and Specular passes are used to add more reflection and highlight for the image to provide more realistic effects.

We also render out a Vray Dirtpass render so we can use it in Photoshop to boost the shadow.

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Some close-up details:

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And there it is. We get the lighting as we wanted. It is quite simple as you can see, but it sure is full of challenges to get the right look for the final image. I hope you will get other ideas in lighting an exterior scene as well.


Rendering and Post
1. Introduction

Before we began work on the L5 project, we spent quite a bit of time trying to find the right look for the imagery we were going to produce. The art direction was influenced heavily by the work of photographer Julius Shulman, the American architectural photographer best known for his work featuring icons of modernism like Pierre Koenig's Case Study #22 in Los Angeles. We also wanted to accentuate the location of the project by really playing up the desert setting of Las Vegas, particularly the way that light interacts with spaces. We settled on something akin to the bleach bypass look of film for the stylized look, pushing the contrast and tonality in the image.

2. Getting Started

When it came time to render this scene we had to make some decisions:

a. File format - a few versions back Photoshop introduced the ability to work with high dynamic range images (HDR or EXR). 3D Studio MAX allows you to save images as EXR. The VRay rendering engine also allows you to save VRay Image Files (vrimg) which can be converted to EXR's. High dynamic range files give you the ability to work in a higher bit depth and with better color precision. Having this ability gives you a much broader range of possibilities when post-processing your image. We used MAX's EXR format for this rendering.

b. Render Elements - Rendering to elements lets you separate information in the rendering into individual image files. These are very useful when doing post-processing in Photoshop. Render elements render "for free", meaning they don't add any additional time to a rendering, so we always opt to include a number of them with our renders - even if we don't end up using them. The usual suspects are below. For more info on using render elements with VRay go here:

Render elements with VRay

I. VRayDiffuseFilter
II. VRayGlobalIllumination
III. VRayLighting
IV. VRayReflection
V. VRayRefraction
VI. VRayShadow
VII. VRaySpecular
VIII. VRayZDepth

3. Occlusion Pass / VRay Dirt

the occlusion pass has become ubiquitous in CG over the last few years. We use it to achieve a number of different effects, but mostly it helps to enhance shading around the edges of your scene. We use both the Occlusion shader in MentalRay, as well as the VRayDirt shader in VRay. For this scene we went with VrayDirt. For an in-depth explanation of how this shader works go here:

VrayDirt explanation

See fig 01 for our settings used in this particular instance. Note the "Subdivs" value, which was purposely kept low to produce a noisier result resembling actual dirt. Because occlusion passes have little color information we typically save them as either Targas or TIFF's.

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[Fig 1]

4. Mattes

mattes quickly become your best friend when doing a lot of post or "paint" work in Photoshop. They render quickly (for the most part) so here again we usually create a list of objects that we're planning on affecting in one way or another during the post process. Usually the most prevalent surfaces/objects get their own mattes automatically: glass, walls, floor surfaces, etc. For this process we create a copy of our working file so that we can apply the appropriate materials to render our mattes. There are always two materials we create:

a. Solid self-illuminated white - see fig 02
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[Fig 2]

b. Matte - using the VRayMtlWrapper material - see fig 03
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[Fig 3]

The solid self-illuminated white material is applied to the object(s) you want to isolate, while the Matte material is applied to the objects you want to (you guessed it) matte out. We typically save matte render files as 16-bit Targa files (TGA) - see fig 04 for the Targa Image Control settings to use.

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[Fig 4]

5. Assembly in Photoshop

a. Base render
i. Because our image rendered as a 32-bit EXR there are a limited amount of adjustments that can be made - one of them being tweaking the Exposure. See fig 05 for accessing the Exposure control in Photoshop. We adjust only the Gamma to 1.60 - see fig 06.

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[Fig 5]
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[Fig 6]

ii. Before we can do anything else we have to convert our image to either a 16-bit or 8-bit file - we chose 16-bit so that we could continue working with a maximum amount of color info. See fig 07 for this process. Note that here we can also adjust the Exposure and Gamma like we did in the prior step.

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[Fig 7]

iii. Next we matte out the main render using the main alpha channel.

b. Occlusion/Dirt Map

i. We add the occlusion pass to our scene above the main render pass and use the "Multiply" transfer mode.

ii. You'll notice that the image turns very dark. This is because the Multiply transfer mode in Photoshop uses the color values to affect the image - the darker the Multiplied layer is the darker the overall image will become. In order to control which parts of the occlusion pass affect our main image we do two things.

1. Levels adjustment layer linked only to the occlusion pass. In the levels control we bring up the brights so that the occlusion image goes almost completely white except for the corners and edges of our scene where the "dirt" lives.

2. We also add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer linked to the occlusion pass and use the Colorize feature to add color to it - in this case a pale blue.

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[Fig 8]

iii. As you can see in fig 08 our image now has more definition in and around all the nooks and crannies, as well as a bluish cast to begin implementing the bleach bypass look we were striving for.

c. Render Elements - we usually use these elements in an additive fashion so for this the Screen transfer mode works best - in most other compositing applications Add is a blending mode, but not in Photoshop. We usually use the elements below to accentuate things like reflections, specular highlights and control overall lighting.

I. VRayGlobalIllumination
II. VRayReflection
III. VRaySpecular

d. Paint - paintwork is usually reserved to specific elements within a scene that we need to adjust. In this particular case we tweaked the corrugated metal and glass by slightly augmenting the blue cast on both of these objects being that they are both reflective and as such would be affected by the blue environment. We also had to change to color of the metal railings after the fact due to a client request. These changes are often times easily managed in post with the proper preparation.

I. Corrugated metal

1.Using the proper matte for this object we added a Color Balance adjustment layer to enhance the blue reflection on the metal.

2. We also used some dark yellow brush strokes on a Color Dodge transfer mode to add some highlights where the sun would be hitting the metal.

II. Glass

1. Again using the proper mattes we added a Color Balance to give all the glass a bluish cast.
2. We also separately affected the glass facing the sun by increasing the brightness to enhance the effect on the parts that were being hit with direct sunlight.

e. Global Adjustments - in the case of images that are meant to be heavily stylized, we usually do a good amount of global adjustments once we have all the elements reading the way we want with relation to one another. As mentioned before, for this particular project we were going for a "bleach bypass" film look - for more on this visit:

bleach bypass

The "bleach bypass" process renders images that have reduced saturation and a high level of contrast. To achieve a similar look in post we did the following:

I. Color balance - first we introduced a good amount of warm tones in the shadow and midtone areas of the image using yet another Color Balance adjustment layer - see fig 09.
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[Fig 9]

II. Hue/Saturation - using the Colorize feature in the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer we create a duotone version of the image (blues and blacks). By using the Soft Light transfer mode we are able to blend the blue tinted image with the warmer version. Note that Soft Light will tend to not only brighten bright areas, but also darken shadow areas, so by using the Lightness control in the Hue/Saturation settings you can manage this blending - see fig 10.

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[Fig 10]

III. Overall levels - the image is still a bit dark in fig 11 so we add a Levels adjustment layer to very subtly bring up the light areas of the scene.

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[Fig 11]

IV. Vignetting
- this effect is in real life an optical phenomenon attributed to the physical properties of a camera lens as well as the aperture settings used to shoot photographs. In a lot of cases it is an undesired effect, but sometimes it can be used to draw attention by framing the center of the image - this is what we wanted to achieve with this rendering. You can create this effect a couple of different ways.

1. Using a VRay Physical Camera you can check the Vignetting checkbox and achieve the effect in a realistic way by using the right combination of lenses and f-stop settings - see fig 12.

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[Fig 12]

2. In Photoshop you can control this effect in a much more fluid way by simply painting a halo of any given color (usually a dark gray) around the outer edges of your image. In this case we used the Multiply transfer mode to darken the existing colors of the rendering. We then accentuated the effect by using a Curves adjustment layer with a mask affecting the same outer edges of the image.

And voila, we're done! One of the things you'll notice is that most of the post work on this image was done using adjustment layers. This method is completely non-destructive allowing you to make adjustments every step of the way while also leaving you with the option to go back to original imagery if necessary. It's not quite as well implemented as it is in AfterEffects but with some practice it can be almost as efficient. See fig 13 for the before and after.

Exterior Scenes in 3d Max

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