3D Artist

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

Tips & Tutorials
Hussain Almossawi

Learn how to create an interesting and realistic lantern effect


This tutorial was written by the amazing Hussain Almossawi and appeared in issue 111 of 3D Artist. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!

Tools used

V-Ray, 3ds Max, Photoshop

In this tutorial, we will explore how to create interesting and realistic-looking materials using V-Ray, 3ds Max and Photoshop. We will go over some tips and tricks to making a material stand out and look realistic in a scene, and how different materials interacting together can give some very interesting results.

First, we will cover glass and frosted materials, and how we can get a lantern effect without overexposing the materials. We will then look at V-Ray render passes, and how we can utilise some of those passes and composite them together in Photoshop to give more realism and depth in our renders. Finally, we will go over creating a brushed metal material and making sure it feels realistic by preparing the necessary maps for it.

As we walk through the tutorial step by step, I will also share some insights of useful practices that I have found extremely helpful to me over the years when trying to put my material palette together, such as quickly assigning random material to different objects, or being able to visualise how different material combinations would work together in your scene.

To achieve realistic renders, materials are just one part of the formula; great materials along with great lighting, modelling and render setup are what will give you the best results and that magical realism we are after.


Step 01 – Distribute the geometry

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

To start off, we need to understand how a lantern light is constructed, and find ways to mimic its properties. Creating a light inside of a glass material would disperse the light within the boundaries of your object and fill it up, making it feel overexposed. In our example with the pyramid lights, the light feels insulated while still looking as if it’s floating inside, and that was done by creating three objects: the main pyramid (glass), a second pyramid inside the first scaled down to 60% (frosted glass) and a third pyramid inside the second scaled down to 50% (light).

Step 02 – Lantern material properties

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

We will start by looking at the three different materials that give us such a cool light effect when combined together. First the glass; set your Diffuse colour to black, your Reflect to white with Fresnel Reflections checked and Refract to white. The whiter these values, the stronger the reflection and glass transparency will be. Second, the frosted material; copy the glass material, and change the Glossiness value in Refract to 0.7 – the lower the value the more frosted it will look. Finally the light; we will apply a VRayLightMtl with a yellow diffuse colour, making sure the Compensate Camera Exposure is turned on.

Step 03 – Create thickness

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

It is important to note that when working with glass, given that it is a see-through material, you can easily lose some of the qualities that make it look realistic. An important factor is the wall thickness of your model. Without the right wall thickness, you could lose some of the reflections and your material would not act in the right way. So to do that, we will simply go to the Modify panel in 3ds Max, and choose the Shell modifier over each of the pyramids.

Step 04 – Post-production: render passes

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

These are a very powerful tool in V-Ray. For now, we will want to use the V-Ray Denoiser pass. Go to the render settings>Setup>Render Elements and add the V-Ray Denoiser. The way this works is after you start rendering, it will automatically render out the passes for you which you can select from the top-left corner of your render window. In this case, I have used the Refraction and Reflection passes, and composited them on top of my final render in Photoshop to exaggerate and tweak the reflection and refraction values the way I envisioned it to be.

Step 05 – Create realistic depth (AO)

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

Another cool render pass that I strongly encourage you to use is the VRayExtraTex. This will basically generate your Ambient Occlusion pass, which calculates the amount of light that reaches each part of your scene, adding further realism to your renders. To set it up, load that pass in your render elements. Then in its settings below, load a VRayDirt map, setting its Radius value to somewhere between 10 and 20. Once you render the map, take it to Photoshop and overlay it on your final render, setting the blending mode to Multiply.

Step 06 – Floor scratches

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

To add the scratches on the floor, I have used two techniques simultaneously. We will first go to the Reflect section of our floor material, and load a black-and-white scratch texture map – you can easily find free ones online, or photograph your own. This will allow the white areas to be the only areas that reflect light. The second technique is to take your final render into Photoshop and overlay a scratch map on top of it. Set your Opacity to 20% and the blending mode to Multiply. Have fun with the values to match your taste, as each texture map looks and feels different.

Step 07 – Brush metal properties

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

Moving on to our second render, let’s first break down how the brushed metal material was created. We start off with a base metallic material. Set the Diffuse colour to black, Reflect to white with Fresnel Reflections checked, RGlossiness to 0.8 and the Fresnel IOR to 10. Under the BRDF, set the Anisotropy to 0.6. Now we have a metallic material, but to get the details of the brushed metal, we will load a stainless steel texture into both the Displace and RGlossiness maps, at 10% and 25%.

Step 08 – Create specular maps

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

Playing with displacement maps can be a lot of fun, as it gives you quick results on a variation of details by just altering your texture maps. A simple rule of thumb is that black values will displace and deform your object and white values will not, therefore blurring a solid edge will make your displaced objects feel smoother. To create a displacement map, we will take this wood texture as an example, and open it in Photoshop. Go to Filters>3D>Generate Bump Map; you can play with the values and get a live preview of what results that map would give you back in 3ds Max.

Step 09 – Randomise materials

Create realistic materials with V-Ray

Applying materials to all the surrounding boxes and testing out different options could seem like a challenge. Make sure that all the boxes are elements of one object called Background Boxes and apply a Material By Element modifier to it. This will enable you to randomise the materials to all those boxes very easily. To make this work, you need to apply a Multi Sub-Object material to it, which enables you to specify multiple materials. Here I have used a simple shiny white and shiny black plastic material.