To make a realistic, high quality CGI image, you need everything to be right; a perfect 3D model with realistic shaders/materials that react to light (illuminations and reflections) correctly, with render settings that balance sensible render times with a high image quality. Only when all of those ingredients are working well you can start lighting a shot to a high standard using HDR Light Studio.
Lightmap is often sent 3D scenes by potential customers and asked to light them to demonstrate HDR Light Studio.
The first thing we do when opening a customer’s scene is to use an exterior HDRI map and load this to light the scene. If you surround a 3D scene with a realistic photographically shot exterior HDRI environment, this is a fantastic way to check the rendering and see how the model and shaders are reacting to the lighting and reflections. If the 3D scene looks photo-realistic and you are convinced by the materials, they look believable, this is a great start. We don’t expect the model to look dynamic and beautiful at this stage – the lighting is not being controlled and designed yet. But if the model sits well within that exterior environment and is believable, photographic, then we know that when we start to light the shot using HDR Light Studio then we are going to get great results.
But if the model doesn’t look believable, if the materials look strange and somehow not as intended, fake, cartoony, dead, lifeless – then we have a big problem. There is literally no point in proceeding. Whatever time you spend lighting this shot, the light will not react properly with the shaders and you will not have proper control over the lighting – period. You will waste hours and hours, and get nowhere. The image will never look good. HDR Light Studio is powerful, but can never rescue a scene with shaders that are not responding correctly to light.
In order to create great renders, you really do need to master your 3D rendering software and understand how to make materials that are realistic, that react correctly to light and reflections. These materials need testing using generic HDRI environment maps. Rotate the HDRI map and see how the bright reflections move over your model and create highlights that bring the materials to life.
You need to be very disciplined in your approach. Modelling and Materials are either right or wrong, and your eye will pick this up in an instant. The real art comes in setting up the composition of your shot and designing the lighting.
Also, beware of buying shader libraries as a quick fix, some are great and physically correct (V-Ray’s scanned shaders for example) then others are terrible. There really is no shortcut to gathering the knowledge yourself to master creating shaders to mimic real-world materials. This then gives you the skills to adjust any shader networks to create the exact look you need.
Therefore, when Lightmap is helping potential customers, they sometimes need to improve their knowledge of their rendering software before we can help them with the lighting. HDR Light Studio works with a huge range of 3D software and renderers, and we are not in a position to train people on how to use those tools. Training is a business in itself, and we would need to charge a lot of money to provide this customized training to help clients achieve the quality they are looking for.
So sometimes we have to have difficult conversations with potential customers and suggest they need to understand their 3D software better or they will be disappointed with their purchase of HDR Light Studio. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to creating great images. We suggest only adding HDR Light Studio to your workflow once you have mastered your 3D software to produce images you are happy with using off the shelf HDRI environment lighting. Adding HDR Light Studio will then dramatically speed up your lighting workflow and provide so many more creative lighting techniques to polish your images even further.