Making Of 'Control Panel'
This image was inspired by a reference photo I found on the internet. I was tired of the restrictions of game creation (which is my day job) and wanted to make something small and interesting. I'm interested in lighting and texturing so this was the most enjoyable part of this project.
The whole image took about a week to make during my lunch hours, and was created using 3ds Max 2009 and rendered using Mental Ray. Textures and post work were done using Photoshop CS3. I hope you enjoy this little tutorial.
The scene is reasonably simple and modeling didn't take too long. The shelf and walls were created using a simple plane and extruded edges to create the detail. The holes in the shelf were made using Booleans to carve them out - a little tidy-up was needed to create a nicer curve around the edges. The buttons were cylinders extruded and beveled to create the desired shape. Every object in the scene was created using these techniques; I didn't want to over complicate the modeling phase as I wanted to concentrate on the lighting, texturing and rendering of this project. Here is a wire frame render of the scene (Fig.01).
I decided to move on to the lighting at this point to establish the mood I wanted to set. This would help with the texturing later on.
I find the trick with lighting is to keep it simple. With this in mind, I only used three lights for the whole scene. I used MR Area Omni lights; this would give me the feathered shadows I wanted. Here is my lighting rig with the settings I used for the lights (Fig.02), and here is a clay render showing just the lighting (Fig.03). Please note this is not the finished lighting setup; I wanted to create the mood first using lighting, which would be further tweaked after the materials and textures were created.
I used Mental Ray's Arch & Design material system for this project, as they are very good at metal materials. The Arch and Design materials have some good preset settings to create all sorts of realistic materials and are a good starting point to create your custom setups. I also used a HDR image in the reflection map slot. This helped a lot in achieving a realistic metal look instead of relying only on the environment reflections. Here is an example of the Diffuse, Specular and Bump maps I used (Fig.04), and here is the material setup I used for these textures (Fig.05).
Because the materials are quite complex and took a long time to render, I set my render tests to a very low quality. This is good practice anyway and will speed up your workflow. The last thing you want to be doing is waiting around for test renders! I used the default Draft settings for the tests and kept the render size down. Once I was happy with my render and the lighting, and the texturing looked reasonable, I moved onto a larger render.
This render had slightly increased settings, such as bounce and Final Gather rays cast. Once this was completed and I was happy with the result I added some render elements to help me in the post-production stage of this project.
I rendered out two elements as well as my final render image. I then imported these elements into Photoshop to help me polish the image and get it finalized. You may find that you don't need to use some of the render elements you create, but it's always good practice to have them saved just in case you need them.
Here are the render elements I used:
- Beauty Render - This is the actual render from Max
- Shadows - This is a render of the shadows in your image. You can use this to adjust the shadows and add more depth to an image
- ZDepth - This is a render of the depth in your image; you will be given a black and white gradient render - white being closest to you and black furthest away
With all the elements set up, I moved on to my full-sized 100% quality render. You must be sure you're happy with all your tests before you do this as your PC will be rendering for quite some time. I think the render time for my full image was about 45 hours straight (it's a good job I have a laptop!). Here are the settings I used for the final render (Fig.06), and here is the final render from Max (Fig.07).
Post - Production
With the final render done and all the render elements saved, it was time to open up Photoshop!
I consider the render out of Max to be just the start of the final stage. It would be very difficult and time-consuming to get a good result directly from the Max renderer, so I used Photoshop to do color correction, adjust brightness and contrast, add atmospheric effects, and depth of field. All these corrections can be done in Max, but like I said, it would take a lot of time and test renders to get a decent result and is just not worth it - Photoshop will give you much more freedom and control over your image.
I started by adjusting the levels to bring out the dark values. I then adjusted the Color Balance to achieve the desired effect, which in this case was photo realism. I wanted a warmer feel compared to the original render so I added more red; this helped to bring out the rust. Using the shadows element render I set the layer to Multiply and adjusted the Opacity to get a good result.
I then added depth of field using the ZDepth element; this stage was quite important to get right because it added so much to the photo realism look that I wanted to achieve. Photoshop CS3 has a very good Lens Blur Filter effect which adds nice little details that you get from photography, such as noise and hexagonal shapes created by blurred specular highlights. So, using the ZDepth image, I copied and pasted it into the Alpha channel of the Photoshop layer and applied a Lens Blur Filter. Here are the settings I used for the filter (Fig.08). As you can see, it's quite a powerful filter!
Now for the lens flare! I know it's often considered a cheap and tacky addition to any image, but if used correctly - and in moderation - it can add a lot to your image! In a new layer I added a 105mm Prime Lens Flare in the top right corner. I think it's the circular discs that get positioned across the screen that cheapen the image, so I erased those to about 20%. The main focus was to get a strong glare from the window.
I added a small amount of noise to the whole image to give it that "photographed" feel. I then gave it one last adjustment pass of Levels, Curves and color correction to achieve my final image (Fig.09).
So that's it! I hope my descriptions have been easy to follow and have given you a helpful insight into how I created this image. It was a pleasure making this image and making of. Any questions please get in touch. Thank you!