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VRay Exterior Lighting & Rendering

The Easy Steps to Realistic Render.

In this video tutorial I’m going to show you my Step-By-Step method for setting up an Exterior Scene – which will display your Architecture in the most Brilliant way by using 3DsMax, VRay & Photoshop. We are going to concentrate on the most important thing – balancing the all the aspects of light in the scene. After setting up a VRay camera and choosing the right angle we start balancing the light:

  1. Ambiance light of the scene by using HDRI Map
  2. Placing VRay Sun and matching it to Environment
  3. Adding artificial lights and populating them organically
  4. Creating landscape lighting by choosing the right IES
  5. At the end – Quick post work tricks for getting it Right!

If you follow these steps right you’ll get any image to look amazing. This stuff is the first step to Photo-realistic Render with VRay – Make sure you render it with OverrideMtl and VRayEdgeTex to get fast results and concentrate on what’s important – BALANCING THE LIGHT!

Setting Up HDRI and Camera

For the purpose of lighting our exterior scene, I’ll be using this house model with a light grey Override Mtl with dark grey VRayEdgeTex. The vegetation has been kept to a minimum for fast test renders. Getting the perfect light balance will ensure that our materials and the final scene look amazing from the start. The rendering settings are pretty basic for testing the lighting of our scene.

The first thing we need to do is add a VRay Dome light with and HDRI sky map. In this tutorial I’ve used one of Peter Guthrie’s excellent HDRI maps. Other alternatives include HDRI-Hub and Viz-People. The most important point while choosing HDRI maps is the exposure range. The higher the range, which is measured in f-stops, the better the lighting it provides. Assign the sky map to the texture slot of the Dome light. In the current setup the sun is placed at the back of the house and so we’ll get soft ambient lighting.

The placement of the VRay physical camera is also an important step of this process. I’ve placed it in front of the house at a slight angle to the right. The height is close to that of a person, while I’ve set the focal length to a wider 30mm value. Strike a balance between the sky and the foreground in the camera frame so that none overpowers the other. The vertical and horizontal tilt settings can be creatively used to give the house some character and composition. Since this is a twilight HDRI, the ISO for the camera has been doubled and thus illuminates the scene better.

I’ve also added a bit of lens distortion to the VRay physical camera for getting that subtle realism. It might not change the scene much, but it has more to do with the feeling of the image.

Check out my Tutorial on HDRI for getting a better grasp over using the VRay Dome light.

Placing the VRay Sun

We can place an additional Vray Sun as the exterior light to complement our HDRI setup. Align the position of the Vray Sun close to the sun in the Dome light. This can be done by placing a new camera facing towards the sun and rendering both the lights separately and then drawing a comparison. We’ll set the size multiplier of the VRay Sun to 6 and intensity to 0.5. This will add some nice soft shadows to our scene. Long angled shadows are important for any scene because they provide a depth cue to the viewer. With the HDRI and VRay Sun combined, we’re ready to take a test render.

Oh, and adding a VRay infinite plane is a good idea for getting a proper horizon line.

Adding Interior Lights

Before we begin adding lights to our interior, we need to exclude our glass objects from the override material. The trick to adding interior lights is in adding them one by one and doing region renders. A warm yellowish light for the rooms will work best for this dusk setting. I’ve placed a basic invisible area light on the ceiling for the room illumination. I’ve also varied the intensities of both the rooms with values of 50 and 65 for a natural feel.

Next up we’ll add a couple of similar lights over our entrance doors. Vary the intensity and color of these lights a bit.

I’ve added lights at the edges of the stairs and the ceiling folds as well to accentuate the character of the house. Further up we’ll add some IES lights to our landscape.

Lighting the Landscape

The landscape can be lit using the VRay IES lights. These are a special type of lights that simulate real world lighting fixtures using .ies files. Search the internet and you’ll find dozens of free IES files published by lighting companies. The most common use of these is for creating spotlights with a natural falloff. I’ve placed a few of these lights next to the boundary wall with an orange color and a high power value. These are just instances as they normally don’t need to change that much.

The lights are angled upwards and give nice shadowy detail to the boundary wall. These are great for lighting outside vegetation as a decorative effect.

Post Processing Tricks

After bringing the rendered image into Photoshop, I like to basic S-Curves adjustment to start with. I’ve followed it up with some Color Balance to make the midtones yellowish and the shadows and highlights bluish. It’s a trial and error process while you’re experimenting with the tonality of the image. Add some Contrast and Levels adjustment too for making the image appealing. Try to make sure you don’t shift the white balance too much.

I’ve noticed that by adding a black/white adjustment I can quickly compare the colored and monotone versions of the image. This helps in getting an idea of what pops out in the scene.

You can get creative by painting some white glow over the windows and blending them softly with the scene. This can make the windows themselves look a bit washed out. So to compensate for this, I’ve added a 50% gray fill layer with an Overlay blending mode. By using the burn tool over the windows, I can now retrieve the contrast to that area again. Similarly you can use the dodge tool to lighten certain areas that may be too dark.

Hope you found this tutorial on Exterior lighting and rendering helpful.

Here you can find the 3DsMax 2012 Scene File – DUPLEX SAMPLE HDRI

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