Editor's Note: Thanks to the team at Maxwell Render for interviewing 3D artist Mikael Pettersson about his move from 2D to 3D art. The interview is followed by a case study of how he used Maxwell Render, Autodesk Maya and ZBrush to create his image "Lost Wooden Toy."
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Maxwell Render Team: Please tell us a little bit about yourself as a 3D artist. As a photographer, what brought you to the 3D world?
Mikael Pettersson: I have been a professional photographer for 9 years, and I’ve seen much of the work we used to do turn into 3D. I guess the IKEA catalogs were the last step that got me to learn 3D myself. I work a lot with products and interiors as a photographer so I felt that I had to learn this to secure my business in the future. I have been studying 3D for only 2 years now so this really proves 3D can benefit from many skills you may already have. The “Lost Wooden Toy” image was actually my first final render that does not count as a test.
Maxwell Render Team: What photography techniques do you find useful in 3D in general and in Maxwell in particular?
Mikael Pettersson: I love the freedom 3D gives you. You can basically create anything from scratch with a decent budget at home. All that I’ve learned about the camera settings, lighting and post production in Photoshop was transferable to 3D. I’m still learning the software and specific 3D workflows, but when I master those, I can use 3D as an extension of my creativity. I love the fact that I can create studio and environmental lighting just as I would in real life. I’ve even tested some jewelry lighting set-ups in 3D and transferred those to photography. The Maxwell Multilight feature gives me similar images I use for compositing my photography work. Any photographer will value greatly this feature.
Maxwell Render Team: Please tell us a little bit about the project. What was the goal?
Mikael Pettersson: My Lost Wooden Toy project started when I was learning grass and scattering in Maya. My goal was to create enough variety in the scene and make it as photorealistic as I could, given the resources that I currently have. I added the toy to create more of a story. I’m currently satisfied with my grass skills and next I’m focusing on creating high quality trees.
Maxwell Render Team: Where was Maxwell Render used exactly?
Mikael Pettersson: Maxwell was first used to light the scene. I used a simple version of the scene to create the initial mood with light. At this point I used only the basic material. A preview of the light was done live in the FIRE viewport. Then all the materials were created in Maxwell. I used mostly photos from my own archive except for the wood texture of the toy (Archmodels) and the pink flowers (Xfrog). I found great help in the Maxwell material database and took many pre-made materials and converted them into my own with the textures I needed. For the final render, I used the Multilight feature and made the final adjustments in Photoshop to get the lighting ratios just right. I used masks to tweak certain parts.
Maxwell Render Team: Why did you decide to use Maxwell Render (in conjunction with Maya/ZBrush)?
Mikael Pettersson: I use Maxwell for the realism and the photography-friendly workflow. I first learned Mental Ray in Maya, but found Maxwell to be much simpler to use with less tweaking. And with Maxwell, I don’t even have to worry about a linear workflow. Most of the time it only takes a few minutes to do the test renders I need, and for the final renders I leave it on overnight. Maxwell has also been very stable.
Maxwell Render Team: Do you use other 3D programs also?
Mikael Pettersson: I use Maya as my main workhorse for setting up scenes and modeling. ZBrush is mostly used for texturing and map creation in my workflow. Then I use many Archmodels and Xfrog models for my project just to save some time. Xfrog and Archmodels do not come with Maxwell materials, but when you create a few base materials, they are easy to modify for every model separately just by changing the textures.
Maxwell Render Team: How did you teach yourself how to use Maxwell?
Mikael Pettersson: The best way to learn Maxwell is to look at the online documentation. I watched some tutorials on YouTube and Digital Tutors just the get a basic grasp. After that you can pretty much start working.
Maxwell Render Team:What Maxwell myths & misconceptions have you discovered and what surprised you about rendering with Maxwell?
Mikael Pettersson: There’s a lot of discussion online about the render speed of Maxwell. I’m not really concerned about that as I don’t animate, and if I did, I would use a farm. It’s actually quite fast to use because the set-up is so fast.
Maxwell Render Team: Are you pleased with the final results?
Mikael Pettersson: I’m really happy with the results for Lost Wooden Toy. The mood of the lighting is something I use for much of my photography work as well, so I was happy to be able to create it in 3D. There are of course some things you don’t notice that I missed, such as the jaggy grass that twirls around the nose of the toy, but overall I got what I wanted. The spiral on the eye of the toy is also poorly bump mapped but I guess that’s only visible on a larger render.
Maxwell Render Team: What would you say to those who are contemplating trying Maxwell?
Mikael Pettersson: Maxwell is well worth a try as you get going with it so quickly. Just use the ready-made materials and you can start rendering decent images within a day. Just make sure you can handle the manual settings of a camera.
Maxwell Render Team: How do you think Maxwell Render could be improved or what would you like to see implemented into future versions of the program?
Mikael Pettersson: Maxwell would really benefit from more advanced scattering capabilities. I would like to see scattering that takes intersecting geometry into account. There should also be a feature to select multiple objects that are afterwards scattered in a random order (plants, rocks, water drops etc).
Maxwell Render Team: What are your future plans and ambitions in the 3D world?
Mikael Pettersson: My future ambitions in the 3D world are to get my skills to a high enough level that I can simply use 3D in my every day work. I will be doing product renders and interior visualizations for clients next year and see where it goes from there.
MAKING OF - Workflow
I started with the creation of different grass presets in Maya with paint effects. Paint effects gave me the option to avoid intersecting geometry that was important in this close-up. I then modeled and placed some rocks, branches and the toy into my scene and used “make collide” in the paint effects settings to avoid my grass intersecting with the geometry in my scene.
The wooden toy is from Archmodels and the clovers with flowers are Xfrog. For scattering the rocks, fallen leafs, and clovers, I used the polypaint plugin for Maya.
I used a basic grass material for all the grass and only changed the textures. Most of the textures I scanned at home and just cut them out. I made many different maps (scratches and dirt) for the toy in ZBrush.
Lighting was a combination of Maxwell sky and sun with added fill light from the front and a warmer background light. For the warm glow in the back, I used a simple emitting plane with a warmer tone. As an extra touch, I added three small spots around the toy to have more creative freedom when compositing the final image in Photoshop.
My camera was set at 35mm, f 5.6 with a shutter speed of 300. I locked the main render camera down and used a second camera in Maya. My second camera that I use for scene set-up is always a pinhole camera so that I get everything in focus. I used a 35mm lens that give the scene greater depth. A 100mm lens would have compressed the scene too much and this is actually something you can try out live in the FIRE viewport.
5. Render set up:
I rendered the final scene in 3000x1687px with a sampling level of 30 and the render time set at 400 just to have a nice over-the-night render which was more than enough. I did not need to render separate channels as Multilight gave me enough flexibility with the blended modes in Photoshop.
6. Post Production:
Post production was really a matter of combining the Multilight layers in Photoshop. All the layers were blended together with the screen-blend mode. I added some local contrast with masking in different layers set to “overlay” in Photoshop. I darkened the front of the image and made the image lighter at the back to enhance the visual depth. I removed some noise in Photoshop as well.
7. Final/Additional comments:
I’m running a few years old 27” iMac with 3.4ghz i7, 16gb ram and AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics card.