This tutorial was written by the amazing Rakan Khamash and appeared in issue 106 of 3D Artist. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!
In this tutorial you’ll learn how to create a simple kitchen scene based on different references. You will have a better understanding of how to set up materials and shaders for different types of surfaces (wood, metals, plastics and so on) and create lighting setups. We will then prepare your render passes for final post work in Photoshop. I like to use Modo for arch vis because of how easy and fast you can get feedback on all aspects (modelling, lighting, rendering, shading) and apply textures. Getting live feedback while editing all the channels really helps with achieving the final quality faster and with minimum iterations. For this render I used physically based shaders to achieve a realistic output. At first I wanted to do a nice sunny day, but as I progressed with the project I ended up giving it an atmospheric/foggy mood. I used Google and Pinterest to gather my references; it is very important to get a good collection before starting.
Step 01 – Room blockout
Let’s start with creating the basic shape of the kitchen. This step is important because everything will be added to this blockout. Feel free to explore shapes or be inspired by existing references; in my case I was inspired by an image showing a cool window design. At first I did the window, then I started building around it. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t worry too much about the back space of the kitchen, so I put all my focus on this front window area. I wanted to model everything from scratch just as an exercise and tried to keep the models low/med res – nothing super highly detailed, so I just cleaned the topo and created simple UVs for the required parts.
Step 02 – Add props
Now that we have the main space ready, we can start by filling it up with props. It’s certainly worth exploring images to find a style you like, as it will help you with designing all the props. I collected a lot of references and then filled the scene using simple modelling techniques (extrude, bevel and edge slice). I created a new scene and modelled each prop separately, then I just imported it to the main scene and placed it where I thought it looked appealing. I also sent it to a couple of friends asking what they felt was missing in the scene. It’s good to get a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work sometimes, as they can often spot something you missed or got used to after working on the project for a long time. I did not model everything in one day, I just did what I could in my free hours.
Step 03 – Materials and shaders
In this step we’ll set up the materials and shaders for each part. For some parts I used texture images and assigned to Diffuse/Bump/Roughness, and for some I used Modo’s built-in Noise. As you can see here for example, the floor material has three texture maps, each assigned to its channel. I used Cubic Project for UVs and the Shader type is set to Physically Based for all of the materials in the scene. Light plays a big part at this stage – you need a good light setup for the materials to look nice and vice versa. For most of the textures I used nothing but Modo’s shader, playing with the Diffuse Color/Roughness/Reflection as the main parameters.
Step 04 – Lights
Now you set the mood for your scene. Each light setup is different depending on the style you are going for. I added one directional light as the main sunlight and blurred the shadow sharpness by two per cent, so the shadows were not super sharp. Each window had one area light with slightly blue tones. For the sunlight I added one-face polygons and assigned the Tree alpha texture as STENCIL so that the shadows coming from the window were scattered, not just a simple line. This helps to give your scene a more realistic feel and not a super-clean CG render, because in most real-life cases shadows are scattered and not so sharp.
Step 05 – Render settings and passes
Everything is now ready to be rendered, so just set up the render settings and add the passes you need. I usually export Final Color, Output, Alpha, Surface ID, Ambient Occlusion and Depth to have some control with the post work in Photoshop. Adding render outputs is simple, just click on Add Layer>Render Outputs and select what you need. Understanding render outputs really helps boost your final image, because you don’t use the same passes for all the renders you do. For each render you figure out what it needs in post and, depending on that, you know what passes you should render.
Step 06 – Post-process
I import all my passes into Photoshop and start to boost the image, fixing anything I don’t like – for example, removing noise and adding the background. Using the Material ID pass I can easily isolate objects and edit their Curves, Brightness and colour value. Using the AO pass I gave the corners more depth, which helps to make each object pop out. For a more stylised look you can change the shadow colour in the AO. For close-ups and micro shots I use the Depth pass as a mask and apply the Lens Blur in Photoshop. I also use Color Balance and Hue/Sat after I’m done with all my layer editing. This helps me make everything blend together and focus on the highlights and mood. It’s also good to keep in mind which colours work best together.