This tutorial was written by the amazing Farid Ghanbari and appeared in issue 111 of 3D Artist. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!
This tutorial is about creating an artistic CG image. You will be learning how to simulate real-world perfect lighting with V-Ray. We will use Maya to establish the scene and will then jump to Substance Painter to create detailed texture maps with dust and other effects.
Marvelous Designer has been used a little in order to add a cloth cap to one of our bottles. Finally, we will utilise Photoshop to achieve the desired colour and mood with small touches in post-production.
One of the most challenging things about designing this image is creating a realistic and believable amount of dust on objects. This is where the World Space map in Substance Painter will come in. Making a rat tail with the help of V-Ray Fur is also a bonus.
You will additionally be learning how to add a spider web to your scene with two different methods. Along with a series of lighting tips, you’ll learn what the key light is, why we need it, the purpose of using different types of light in your scene and how to make it eye-catching.
Step 01 – Do some essential research
Before starting the project, we need to spend some time studying art fundamentals, like lighting principals, colour scripts and photography rules. Besides that, gathering the best references that give us some data for developing our project is an essential part of our first step.
Step 02 – Add spice to your raw concept
In this case we are not aiming to create something that is hugely realistic; we want to make it artistic and magical. So, at this level we’ll add some extra spice! For example, how about adding some additional lights that we don’t have in the real world? Or including some levitated grapes in a bottle that have not been affected by gravity? Some of these extra elements will be added during the process, so don’t push yourself trying to finalise it at this level.
Step 03 – Start modelling
After gathering references and creating your own first concept, we can begin to work in Maya. The process of modelling the bottles is pretty quick and easy in this software. Just draw the base curve and hit Revolve in the Surfaces menu. If you’re wondering why we chose curve modelling, it is because we are able to create hundreds of different bottles just by tweaking that same curve.
Step 04 – Set up the camera view
After playing around with object positions and different camera angles, it’s time to choose the camera view and composition we deem most fitting for the scene. This might change as the project goes forward – not too much, usually just some minor adjustments. Finding the best angle can take hours. Pay attention to any points that jump out at you and try to concentrate on the heroes in your scene. Don’t forget to experiment with all the camera parameters besides tilting, panning and zooming, such as angle of view, film gate, camera rolling and focal length. For Bottles of Life I chose a 55mm.
Step 05 – Start lighting with the key light
It would be better to have a schematic look at the result as the project moves forward. So, once we have achieved the first setup for modelling with main objects, we would like to add a key light to see if we should continue with our setup or go down another road. Tweak the lights and try to set up a balance between darkness and light. The key light is the most important one. To focus the eye on the bottles we use a V-Ray Rectangular light in directional mode from the right side.
Step 06 – Add second lights
Once we are happy with the key light, it’s time to focus on the fill lights. Don’t be afraid of adding many lights with different colours to your scene. By adding some warm V-Ray Sphere lights among the bottles you can achieve something attractive and emphasise the bottles’ curvy shapes. Finally, we need to apply a dim Dome light to apply a tinted blue colour over dark shadows.
Step 07 – Shift to Substance Painter
Going back to our initial goals with this particular project – perfect lighting and detailed textures – it’s now time to employ the Swiss Army knife in the 3D texturing software: the great Substance Painter. Start with a simple fill layer for the base colour and then proceed with smart masks. By importing your objects with simple UVs and baking the textures in Substance Painter, you will have immediate access to numerous tools at your disposal, such as brushes, alphas, smart materials and lots of procedural textures.
Step 08 – Create detailed textures
When creating realistic textures, it’s important to not just rely on smart or procedural preprovided nodes. Instead, you should look to include all sorts of man-made imperfections such as footprint effects on dust, wood scratches, dirt or even the remnants of objects absent in your scene that might have been there in the past. There are several brushes and alphas in Substance Painter with many options to help you reach the desired effect on your textures.
Step 09 – Add the dust
There are several magical maps that can help you when working with Substance Painter, of which I found Curvature and Ambient Occlusion to be the most important. You can also use the World Space map to define the top parts of your objects to easily apply the dust effect. After creating a new fill layer as a dust layer and adding your desired smart mask, go to World Space Normal in the smart mask and crack up the top intensity slider to add more dust on your objects for a realistic look.
Step 10 – Export textures from Substance Painter
Once we get satisfying results with all the desired detailed textures, we will bake them in 4K or even 8K for some larger objects. For example, we may need eight tiled UDIM textures for the table in Maya and 8K export from Substance Painter. There are several configurations for different render engines. We need to set V-Ray UDIM for our scene in Maya.
Step 11 – Add spider webs
What better way to capture the mysterious atmosphere of an old and forgotten place than by adding some creepy spider webs? We will use two different techniques for our spider webs: modelling with surface curves and texturing with opacity maps. Thanks to the spider’s web maker script (bolekcg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/spiders-web-maker.html), you can easily define the web between objects with your own preferences. For the opacity of the spider webs, I just used a simple black-and-white texture that I found on Gleb Alexandrov’s website (www.creativeshrimp.com), which was combined with a simple V-Ray material.
Step 12 – Add rat tail details
Well, now that we’ve achieved our fine-detailed models with perfect lights and decent textures, it looks like we’re almost done! What we now want to do is spend additional time adding the final touches. It was at this point that the rat tail was added. This really helps to make your artwork more interesting and just takes a couple of hours to do by applying V-Ray Fur to an extruded curve.
Step 13 – Add plants and mushrooms
Maya Paint Effects is awesome. You don’t need any extra plugins, so simply open up the Visor window, choose your desired plant and start painting. There are a variety of sliders and options available that enable you to define exactly what you need. One of the most useful things about Maya Paint Effects is the history, so you can edit your work easily after painting.
Step 14 – Choose the best render setting
Bottles of Life is going to be rendered in 2,400 res. Since we have many refractions with 4K and 8K textures exported from Substance Painter, it’s really important to have an optimised render setting to save time. Don’t forget to bake Irradiance and Light Cache maps, as these save some serious render time.
Step 15 – Render elements
Why do we need to have the render elements? Again, in order to save precious time. Imagine you have rendered the 4K scene after many hours and you have just figured that there are many reflections on one of the bottles. Or perhaps you are not satisfied with the amount of subsurface scattering for the grapes? If you do not have the render passes you may need to redo your render. Refraction, Reflection, Specular, SSS, Shadows, RawLighting, GI, Diffuse, Ambient Occlusion and the VrayMtlID are the most essential elements here.
Step 16 – Composite
It’s time to head to Photoshop to set up the composition, which means we are at the end of the road! Most of the layers should be blended via Add blend mode, which is Linear Dodge in Photoshop. Set the Ambient Occlusion layer to Multiply and reduce the opacity to get the best look. To be honest, render elements can be set as various blend modes and it’s totally up to you and your artistic style. For example, try to add Refraction set to Screen mode and compare it to the Linear Dodge mode.
Step 17 – Post-production
The post-production process has different meanings for each 3D artist. Some implement many changes to their renders at this stage while others prefer to achieve most of the final result in their 3D program through the render engine. Since we have done many things on the Bottles of Life and are almost happy with the result, we may just need to apply some colour corrections and add a fair amount of fog to the left side where the key light has shined the scene.