After joining Lightmap in late 2017, I was set the challenge of creating a Christmas themed image to be included in the companies Christmas email, which required using software and techniques I was relatively unfamiliar with. I found this project to be very challenging, and I have to admit, it didn’t go exactly to plan. By sharing my progress with you, I hope I can highlight all the challenges I faced, and the solutions I learn along the way to improve my skills as a 3D artist.
I started the project by researching Christmas themed imagery and chose the photo below as my reference so that I could design the components of the image to my own style. I had to decide which software to create my project on, and after recently attending a Cinema 4D event, I decided the software’s functionalities and non-destructive modelling system was an exciting choice for my Christmas project.
I had to discard my initial attempt (shown below) as it lacked realism, character and was undeveloped. This was obviously a frustrating setback but it allowed me to learn from my mistakes in my second render.
After the mistakes I made in the first project, (above) I made the decision to start again, using the same reference image. I did experience more problems, especially when recreating the Snowman and non-symmetrical shape of the snow; however, once I finally had my general shape, it started to come together. I then added characteristics and features to the snowman, including its clothing, hair and Christmas style Jesters hat to resemble the ‘HDR Light Studio’ logo. A significant challenge I found during this project was the creation of hair, a technique I have never experimented with before. This technique required a number of components and settings to be perfect for my image to appear high-quality.
To create the red hair material visible on the hat shown below, I used these tutorials; https://youtu.be/mp-jXKFugGY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0y4VqPAcQIbrushing, then gradually I tweaked the settings to reach the desired effect. Once I was really happy with the outcome, I set out to shape and control the position of the hair, relative to the mesh, as the guides automatically generate outwards, (facing up).
To solve this, I found a useful tutorial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jx2PIo-nsTk, which displayed the hair tools, including brushing and positioning. For example, the below image demonstrates what the hair looked like on the hat before and after brushing, highlighting how much of a difference the effect makes:
I really enjoyed the challenge of generating and rendering the hair as it allowed me to experiment with Octane, and after watching the below tutorial, I learnt that all elements within Cinema 4D are controlled within the hair editor, including colouring. However, in Octane, a separate material node controls the colour and Specular creating an amazingly detailed effect.
The next challenge was to create my materials within Cinema 4D, so I researched a number of tutorials to guide me through this process. I found in Cinema 4D’s materials a ‘Reflectance’ controller which let me add a range of layers to control the Glossy, Specular and Metallic properties of the material within the scene.
Cinema 4D materials
I decided to re-make the textures for Octane using the node editor for my second render as I wanted to learn how to use the render engine, a technique that uses the physical-based render system(PBR), a new but generally simple technique for me to learn. My materials were created in Octane through lots of experimentation, and a number of invaluable tutorials. Using Octane was so beneficial as it displayed the effect each node would have when connected to a controller and model, what nodes to use and where, and, how to input them into the material.
After overcoming the previous challenges, it was finally time to illuminate my project with the help of ‘HDR Light Studio.’ This method lit the image incredibly well but it was not as effective on the hair because it appeared darker than the image. I decided to research how to light the hair and came across this tutorial; hhttps://vimeo.com/34012484,which outlines a physical light is needed alongside an additional hair light tag so that the hair is lit to match the environment.
Once I understood this, I refined the ‘HDR Light Studio’ project to ensure that both renders had a similar lighting set up and an HDRI of a snow scene. I chose white hues to compliment the image, and finally, blue and yellow lights (added by Mark) to provide a mixture of colour tones, shown below:
I tweaked away until I felt the lighting looked great in both Cinema 4D and Octane. I felt ‘HDR Light Studio’ really enhanced my render and I loved adding it to my workflow as it created an environment where my image came to life in a powerful way. The image below captures the amazing difference in quality before and after the use of ‘HDR Light Studio.’
Despite missing my deadline for this particular project, it was a great learning process that taught me a variety of skills whilst using new software packages and features. I definitely created some of my best and worst renders, but learnt some valuable lessons, especially when taking on large images. The most enjoyable part of this project was creating the hair and material development, and I feel this skill will really help my future workflow. The biggest thing I have learnt from this project is to focus my attention on one object at a time, rather than over-complicating an image too soon so that I can use my time more efficiently.