Friday, 13 May 2011

Crazy golf- rendering tests!

EDIT: Blogger seems to have been experiencing some problems recently, and for some strange reason my latest post no longer exists! I am reposting it here, though it is likely some of you will have already seen it. I have no idea how a published post came to be nonexistent after having been online for hours!

Original post:

The last couple of days, I have taken a short break from the modelling process to turn my attention to lighting and rendering. Admittedly, this was because I saw friends' work that had very nice lighting, which in turn made me realise I knew very little about it! So, eager to fill that void in my Maya knowledge, I have been busy with tutorials and experimenting with a wealth of functions in the program.

I have said in a previous post how it seems my tree model is too complex for Maya to run smoothly. Unfortunately, I encountered similar problems with the sky and clouds I made recently (which I have not detailed in a post as of yet since they are no longer a part of my animation). I therefore needed a far less expensive (in terms of rendering time) technique to achieve my desired sky.

I had been rendering my scenes using Maya software, and thought the results were nice. But when looking in detail at the rendering process, I was introduced to mental ray. If you are sitting there asking who mental ray is, you may be disappointed to find that I am not referring to a lunatic called Raymond. No, this is another rendering software within Maya- which makes the default renderer look awful by comparison.

Silliness aside, the image below should illustrate my point. This was my initial Maya software render to test the clouds and atmosphere:

As you can see, this Maya rendering is pretty basic, giving the models and textures an unnatural and somewhat cartoonish contrast. Mental ray on the other hand was capable of creating a phenomenally realistic soft lighting, complimenting the models and their background. See the results for yourself below! 

I am truthfully astonished by the quality of these renders- I certainly did not expect them to be so realistic, and I am immensely satisfied with the result so far (the course is yet to be finished). Even the trees look amazing despite being 2D images! The sky and lighting were created by the software with an option called 'create a physical sun and sky'. Here, by adjusting rotations and translations for the 'sun' (light source), you can change the time of day! 

You can see I have tried a wide range of lighting angles to see which works best, but in all honesty I am finding it very difficult to choose between those I like the most. Ultimately, my choice will likely be made out of necessity as opposed to my own real preference, since there are a few issues impacting my decision here. Naturally, I cannot have the course too dark since nothing will be properly visible. Secondly, I need to be careful with the shadow direction- I am not making the entire golfer, so must avoid any lighting where his/her whole shadow would be seen. Lastly (and most importantly), I must strike a good balance between the visuals and the render time for the frames. The darker frames above (with the sun setting) generally took the longest, whereas the brighter midday ones were pretty quick. The images demonstrate render times ranging from 14 seconds to 34 seconds, the latter being impractical.  Of course, if I have the time then I will be able to choose more freely, but so far this project has been a lot of very time-consuming work. It all seems to depend on just how fast the deadline approaches!

All in all, I feel a lot more confident with rendering within Maya now, and look forward to creating the remainder of my set pieces before beginning the animating process. Check back in a few days for the fourth installment of my 'building the scene' series!

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