Create a ballerina loft interior with 3ds Max – chapter 2: lighting & materials


After completing the modeling to a satisfying level, I focused more on lighting and materials. As I already showed, I started the lighting tests even before completing the model because it helps create the general feel, and is the part I enjoy the most, but in which I have the least theoretical knowledge. I always work intuitively with lighting no matter the software.

Step 01: HDRI environment changes

Lighting was the most engaging and challenging aspect. I changed it dozens of times over the course of the project trying multiple HDRI images, sun positions and settings until I had a result that I was satisfied with.

Quick render tests for the light setup moving the sun and HDRI trying to create different design of the shadows on the walls and floor

Step 02: Lighting setup 1

Initially, I went for a very high sun and an HDRI composed of two images plus an extra light just for the corner with the sink. Also, I’ve used a model of a tree just outside the windows to cast more natural shadows.

Print screen from the scene in 3ds Max showing the sun and one version of an HDRI that I’ve put together in Photoshop with a sky and the skyline of the city

Step 03: Lighting setup 2

For the final lighting setup I only used the sun visible directly, the HDRI for the environment, and the artificial lights from the lamps. I used a view from Tallin, Estonia for the outside view on visibility override only, the reflections and refractions from the HDRI, and direct light from the sun.

This is the final light setup – simplified, keeping only the sun lower and more directional and using an HDRI from

Step 04: Creating custom materials in Corona Render

Up to that point my main rendering engine was V-Ray, but for this image I wanted to use Corona Render, so I needed to learn a lot about materials while experimenting with them. Back then there was no preset material library in Corona, so I looked for support on the Corona forums and, to learn how to make my own.

custom, materials, corona render,

A few material samples from the scene exemplifying material creation

Step 05: Continuing with custom materials creation

As a personal preference, I use the compact material editor. Shown here is an example of one of the white wood materials in the scene. For each object, I created a custom material.

This is a typical example of a composite material using a mixed material on the diffuse slot, maps for reflection, refraction, and a normal map for the bump

Step 06: Other material examples

The metal material for coins were also quite challenging, but I downloaded similar materials and learned how they were made, then created my own version.

Paint material using an opacity map then the coin material creation shown step by step

Step 07: Frosted windows material

Another challenging issue I had was to create the windows and glass surfaces look realistic, so I had many trial and error attempts to obtain the frosted window effect. I painted 14 different opacity/reflection maps in Photoshop to create a randomized natural appearance.

The glass layered material for the windows after many attempts to get it right

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