May
14

In this tutorial we’re going to create an underwater scene in 3ds Max. We’re going to create a deep blue sea with light rays and bubbles. Creating convincing underwater scene is a challenging task and I’m not even trying to create a physically accurate simulation. Rather I’m using my artistic freedom to neglect some real world rules to get the look and feel I’m going for.

Step 1 Mental Ray Renderer

We’re going to render our 3d underwater scene with the Mental Ray. By default 3ds Max uses the Scanline renderer so we have to change that. Change the renderer to Mental Ray ( Rendering > Render Setup… > Common tab > Assign Renderer > Production > Mental Ray Renderer ).

Step 2 The Basic Geometry for the 3D Water

Create a plane ( Create panel > Geometry > Standard Primitives > Plane ) in the top viewport . Modify the plane ( Make a selection > Modify panel ) according to the following parameters :

  • Length: 1000
  • Width: 500
  • Length Segs: 200
  • Width Segs: 200

Plane object in the top viewport

( We need a dense (80k faces) mesh because we’re going to deform it with the displace modifier. )

Step 3 Water Surface with the Displace Modifier

Add Displace modifier to the plane ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Displace ) and apply the following parameters:

  • Displacement
    • Strength: 17
  • Image
    • Map: Noise

Open Material Editor ( Rendering > Material Editor > Compact Material Editor ). Drag and drop the Noise map from the Displace modifier into a material slot in Material Editor and select ‘instance’ when asked. Apply the following parameters to the Noise map:

  • Noise Parameters
    • Noise Type: Turbulence
    • Levels: 10
    • Size: 300

Displacement map settings and effect on the plane

Step 4 Water Material

Now the water geometry is complete so let’s apply a material to it. Open Material Editor ( Press M in keyboard ), click on the second material slot, and create the material:

  1. Click “Get Material” button and select ( doubleclick ) ‘Arch & Design (mi)’ from the list.
  2. Select the water plane and assign the material to it.
  3. Select template from the drop-down list: Water, Reflective Surface
  4. Transparency: 1,0

Mental Ray water material

In the material settings, go to the ‘Advanced Rendering Options’ rollout and set the following parameter:

  • Advanced Trasparency Options
    • Glass / Translucency treat objects as…: Thin-walled (can use single faces)

Finally we’re going to change the bump map settings to get smaller and steeper waves. In material settings, go the ‘Special Purpose Maps’, click on the Ocean shader, and apply the following parameters:

  • Largest: 100
  • Smallest: 1
  • Quantity: 20
  • Steepness: 5

Parameters of the Ocean shader

Step 5 The Environment for Underwater Scene

Since we have highly reflective and refractive material we desperately need effective environment as well. Without environment, the rendered water surface would just appear black. Next we’re going to cheat in 3ds Max. We’re going to create a highly unrealistic environment. However, it just happens to produce the kind of reflections and refractions I’m going for. So let’s create the environment. Go to the environment settings ( Rendering > Environment… ) and apply the following parameters:

  • Background
    • Use Map: YES
    • Environment Map: Gradient Ramp

Open Material Editor ( press M in keyboard ). Drag and drop the Gradient Ramp map from the background settings into a material slot in Material Editor and select ‘instance’ when asked. Apply the following parameters to the Gradient Ramp map:

  • Coordinates rollout
    • Mapping: Spherical Environment
  • Gradient Ramp Parameters rollout
    • Flag #1: Color: RGB 0, 16, 67 Position: 0
    • Flag #2: Color: RGB 189, 225, 240 Position: 100
    • ( delete the middle Flag by right-clicking and selecting ‘delete’ from the menu )
    • Noise
      • Amount: 1
      • Type: Fractal
      • Size: 2
      • Levels: 10
  • Output rollout
    • Output Amount: 3

Environment map parameters

Step 8 Prepare the 3D Underwater Scene for Rendering

Let’s prepare our underwater scene for the first rendering. Create a Target camera ( Create panel > Cameras > Target ) in the top viewport. Right-click on the Perspective view and press C in the keyboard to change it to the Camera view. Create ‘mr Area Spot’ ( Create panel > Lights > Standard > mr Area Spot ) in the front viewport. Move the camera and spotlight around to get something like the picture below.

Camera and spotlight placement

Apply the following parameters to the area spotlight ( Make a selection > Modify panel ):

  • General Parameters
    • Shadows: OFF
  • Intensity/Color/Attenuation
    • Multiplier: 2

Now it’s a good time to make a test render to see how the water looks like.

Water test render

Some kind of watery effect but it doesn’t look much like an underwater scene yet. Let’s add Fog to make all the difference.

Step 9 Underwater Fog

Go to the Atmosphere settings ( Rendering > Environment… > Atmosphere ) and add the Fog:

  1. Click ‘Add…’ button, select ‘Fog’ from the list and click ‘OK’.
  2. Use Map: YES
  3. Environment Color Map: Gradient Ramp
  4. Open Material Editor ( Press M in keyboard ). Drag and drop the Gradient Ramp map from the Fog settings into a material slot in the Material Editor and select ‘instance’ when asked.
  5. Mapping: Screen
  6. Angle W: 90
  7. Flag #1: Color: RGB 0, 11, 45 Position: 0
  8. Flag #2: Color: RGB 70, 144, 255 Position: 100( delete the middle Flag by right-clicking and selecting ‘delete’ from the menu )
  9. Output Amount: 1,5

Settings for underwater fog

Before we render, let’s adjust environment ranges. Select the camera, go to the modify panel, and apply the following settings:

  • Parameters
    • Environment Ranges
      • Show: YES
      • Near Range: 200
      • Far Range: 810

Now we see the environment range in the viewport. It’s the area between beige and brown line. The fog will appear between these lines. By default the density of the fog is 0% at near range and 100% at far range. Adjust the values or camera position if necessary.

Scene with environmental ranges

Render the scene and you should get something like the picture below. Fog works well in underwater scenes. This time it serves two purposes. It fades the water edge to the background and creates the nice blue gradient color.

You could also try different camera angles to get different kind of water surface.

Basic 3d underwater scene

Step 10 Underwater Light Rays

And of course we’re going to create some light rays to enhance the mood of our underwater scene. Go back to the Atmosphere settings ( Rendering > Environment… > Atmosphere ) and add Volume light effect:

  1. Click ‘Add…’ button, select ‘Volume Light’ from the list and click ‘OK’.
  2. Click ‘Pick Light’ and click on the area spot we created earlier
  3. Density: 7

default volume light settings

If you are not familiar with volume lights, I suggest you render now to see how the effect looks by default (so far we’ve just increased the density a little). The next step is going to have a dramatic effect to the volume light. We’re going to use projector map to block most of the light and to use attenuation to fade the light to the background. Select the area spot, go to the modify panel and apply the following parameters:

  • Intensity/Color/Attenuation
    • Color: RGB 32, 137, 255
    • Far Attenuation
      • Use: YES ( Now you can see the attenuation ranges appearing as lens-shaped sections of the cone )
      • Start: 430 ( Sets the distance at which the light begins to fade out. )
      • End: 650 ( Sets the distance at which the light has faded to zero. )
  • Advanced Effects
      • Projector Map
      • Map: Noise

Open Material Editor ( Press M in keyboard ), drag and drop the Noise map from the projector map slot into a material slot in the Material Editor, and select ‘instance’ when asked. Apply the following parameters to the Noise map:

  • Coordinates
    • Source: Explicit Map Channel
  • Noise Parameters
    • Noise Type: Turbulence
    • Levels: 10
    • Size: 0,05
    • Low: 0,35 ( Decrease this if you need more rays and increase this if you need less rays. )

Light rays with projector map

Render your underwater scene to see the light rays.

3d underwater

Step 11 Underwater Bubbles

Our unrealistic environment might not be perfect for underwater bubbles but let’s see how they look anyway. Create a particle cloud in the left viewport ( Create panel > Geometry > Particle Systems > PCloud ). Select the particle cloud, go to the modify panel and apply the following settings:

  • Basic Parameters
    • Display Icon
      • Rad/len: 230
      • Width: 700
      • Height: 480
  • Particle Generation
    • Particle Quantity
      • Use total: 1000
    • Particle Timing
      • Emit Start: -10
    • Particle Size
      • Particle Size: 1,5
      • Variation: 100
      • Grow for: 0
      • Fade for: 0
  • Particle Type
    • Standard Particles: Sphere

Place the particle cloud so that it fills the view underwater. ( You can also change the size of the emitter if necessary. )

As a final thing we’re going to use a glass material for the bubbles. Press M in keyboard to open the Material editor, select a material slot, and create the material:

  1. Click ‘Get Material’ button and select ( doubleclick ) ‘Arch & Design (mi)’ from the list.
  2. Select the particle cloud and assign the material to it.
  3. Select template from the drop-down list: Glass (Solid Geometry).

Arch & Design glass material

Render the scene to see the bubbles. Some bubbles look ok while some look too bright. Furthermore, these bubbles are perfect spheres so they are not really realistic as underwater bubbles, but at least they are fast and easy to create!

3d underwater scene

Step 12 The Final Render of the 3D Underwater Scene

If you look closely you’ll see some jagged edges in the bubbles. Let’s adjust the sampling settings to get a more polished render. Go to the render setup and increase antialiasing quality by increasing Mental Ray’s sampling values ( Rendering > Render setup… > Renderer > Sampling Quality ):

  • Samples per pixel
    • Minimum: 4
    • Maximum: 64
  • Filter
    • Type: Mitchell ( For most scenes the Mitchell filter gives the best results. )

Beware, rendering time might be an issue with all these effects and sampling settings (about 1½h with quad core 2,33GHz Q8200). Render your scene to see the final image. I did some adjusting in Photoshop as well:

  • Contrast: +80
  • I removed a few overly bright bubbles from the lower left corner

Underwater scene

That’s it. Happy rendering!

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