May
04

In this tutorial we are going to create a serene japanese style 3d image in 3ds Max. We’re going to model a shiny dark pebble stones and create a balanced pile out of them. This is a simple tutorial where emphasis is on the lighting and materials. I am using 3ds Max 2011 but several older versions should work as well.

Step 1 Mental Ray Renderer

We’re going to render the image with 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 3d Stones

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

  • GeoSphere001
    • Radius: 58
    • Segments: 12
    • Geodesic Base Type: Octa
  • GeoSphere002
    • Radius: 44
    • Segments: 12
    • Geodesic Base Type: Octa
  • GeoSphere003
    • Radius: 30
    • Segments: 12
    • Geodesic Base Type: Octa
  • GeoSphere004
    • Radius: 38
    • Segments: 12
    • Geodesic Base Type: Octa
  • GeoSphere005
    • Radius: 14
    • Segments: 12
    • Geodesic Base Type: Octa

Five spheres with varying sizes

Step 3 Scaling the Stones

Go to the front viewport and scale the stones ( Make a selection > Main toolbar > Select and Uniform Scale ) about the Y axis according to the values below. ( While the scale tool is activated, Click and drag from the Y axis of the transform gizmo to scale an object about an Y axis. While scaling, you can see the scaling % in the bottom of the screen. ).

  • GeoSphere001: 21
  • GeoSphere002: 46
  • GeoSphere003: 59
  • GeoSphere004: 15
  • GeoSphere005: no need to scale this one

You don’t have to create exactly the same kind of stones. Feel free to experiment and to be creative.

Effect of the scale operation

Step 4 Deforming with the Noise Modifier

Add Noise modifier, one at a time to each stone except the first one ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Noise ). By right-clicking you can copy and paste modifiers. Apply the following parameters ( Make a selection > Modify panel ) to the Noise modifiers.

  • GeoSphere002
    • Noise
      • Seed: 11
      • Scale: 690
      • Fractal: YES
    • Strength
      • X: 40
      • Y: 40
      • Z: 40
  • GeoSphere003
    • Noise
      • Seed: 11
      • Scale: 700
      • Fractal: YES
    • Strength
      • X: 60
      • Y: 60
      • Z: 60
  • GeoSphere004
    • Noise
      • Seed: 6
      • Scale: 750
      • Fractal: YES
    • Strength
      • X: 40
      • Y: 40
      • Z: 40
  • GeoSphere005
    • Noise
      • Seed: 6
      • Scale: 560
      • Fractal: YES
    • Strength
      • X: 60
      • Y: 60
      • Z: 60

Deforming 3d zen stones with the Noise modifier

( If you need more segments I suggest you add TurboSmooth above the Noise instead of raising the segments value. This method produces smoother surface. )

Step 5 Pile of Japanese 3d Stones

Create a pile of stones balancing on top of each other. It’s a typical arrangement of stones seen in many zen-like photos and illustrations. Move and rotate the stones as you see fit.

Pile of balanced stones in 3ds max

Step 6 The Water Around the Stones

Next we’re going to create a water surface and some ripples around the pebbles to make the scene more interesting. 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: 10000
  • Width: 10000
  • Length Segs: 20
  • Width Segs: 20

Add Edit Poly modifier to the plane ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Edit Poly ) and activate the Polygon sub-object level. Select one polygon approximately in the middle of the plane and delete it ( Press delete in keyboard ). Deactivate the Polygon sub-object level.

Deleting polygon

Step 7 The Ripples Around the Stone

Now we’re going to create a dense mesh for the ripple effect. Create another Plane ( Create panel > Geometry > Standard Primitives > Plane ) in the top viewport and apply the following parameters ( Make a selection > Modify panel ):

  • Length: 500
  • Width: 500
  • Length Segs: 130
  • Width Segs: 130

Place the new plane into the hole of the large plane. Add TurboSmooth modifier ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > TurboSmooth ) and then Ripple modifier to it ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Ripple ). Go to the modify panel and apply the following parameters to the Ripple modifier:

  • Amplitude 1: 2
  • Amplitude 2: 2
  • Wave Length: 25
  • Decay: 0,02

Tip. If you need more polygons to your object you can just increase the iterations value in the Turbosmooth modifier.

Effect of the Ripple modifier in 3d max

Step 8 Prepare the Scene for Rendering

Let’s prepare the scene for rendering:

  • Place the pebbles into the center of the ripple.
  • 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.
  • Move the pebbles and the camera around to get something like pictures below.

camera placement

Hit render ( Main toolbar > Render Production ) and you should see something like the picture below.

balanced stones

The colors of the objects don’t matter because we’re going to create materials for them.

Step 9 Material for the 3D Zen Stones

Press M in keyboard to open Material Editor ( Rendering > Material Editor > Compact Material Editor ) and create the material for the stones:

  1. Click ‘Get Material’ button and select ( doubleclick ) ‘Arch & Design (mi)’ from the material list.
  2. Select all the stones and assign the material to them.
  3. Reflectivity: 0,6
  4. Glossiness: 0,1 ( very blurry reflections )
  5. Glossy Samples: 16 ( quality of the blurry reflections )
  6. Add ‘Composite’ as diffuse color map ( Composite map is a container that lets you combine several maps as layers )
  7. Add Smoke map to the first layer of the Composite Map ( large scale details )Size: 40# Iterations: 20Color #1: black ( RGB 0, 0, 0 )

    Color #2: dark gray ( RGB 15, 15, 15 )

  8. Add second layer to the Composite map. Change the blending mode of the second layer to Addition. Add Speckle map to the second layer ( small scale details )Size: 0,2Color #1: dark gray ( RGB 10, 10, 10 )Color #2: black ( RGB 0, 0, 0 )

Material for japanese 3d stones

Step 10 Water Material

Select a new slot in the Material Editor and create the water material:

  1. Click ‘Get Material’ button and select ( doubleclick ) ‘Arch & Design (mi)’ from the list.
  2. Select both water planes and assign the material to them.
  3. Select template from the drop-down list: Water, Reflective Surface.
  4. Turn Bump map off ( we’re going to create calm water with just the ripple effect so we don’t need any additional waves ).

Arch & Design water material without waves

Now materials are ready. However, there’s no point in rendering the scene now because everything we have is almost black. Let’s create illumination and environment first.

Step 11 Illumination and Environment

We’re going to illuminate the scene with the Daylight system and use Mental Ray’s physical sky as environment map. Daylight is a system that mimics a real world sun. Create the Daylight system ( Create panel > Systems > Daylight ) in the top viewport. A new dialog appears. 3ds Max suggests that you use mr Photographic Exposure Control with EV=15. Just click YES. ( If the dialog doesn’t appear, apply the setting manually ( Rendering > Exposure Control )). Select the daylight, go to the modify panel, and apply the following parameters:

  • Daylight Parameters
    • Sunlight: mr Sun
    • Skylight: mr Sky(A new dialog appears. 3ds Max suggests that you use mr Physical Sky. Just click YES. If the dialog doesn’t appear, apply the setting manually ( Rendering > Environment… > Common Parameters > Background > Environment Map ))
    • Position: Manual ( this setting allows us to place the sun manually, instead of using a real world location and time )

Place the daylight according to the picture below.

Placing the daylight

Render your scene to see something like the picture below.

3d zen stones

Let’s examine our 3d zen render for a while. There are several problems that need to be addressed.

  • The whole image is very dark
  • Some ground can be seen in the horizon
  • The bluish coloring isn’t appealing

( Note that these are artistic observations and your taste might be different. Feel free to experiment. )

Step 12 Tuning the Settings for Better Impact

Select the Daylight, go to the modify panel, and apply the following parameters:

  • mr Sun Basic Parameters
    • Multiplier: 10 ( really strong sunlight )
    • Shadows
      • Softness: 20 ( softens the edges of the shadows )
  • mr Sky Parameters
    • Multiplier: 5 ( brightens the sky )
  • my Sky Advanced Parameters
    • Horizon
      • Height: -0,1 ( lowers the horizon )

Render the scene to see the effect of these adjustments.

3d zen stone in the water

Look closely and you’ll see the color variations in the stones. Smoke map produces the large scale variations and Speckle map produces the small scale variations.

Personally I think that black and white image works better in this case. Let’s go to the mr Photographic Exposure Control settings ( Rendering > Exposure Control > mr Photographic Exposure Control ) to make the image black and white:

  • Image Control
    • Color Saturation: 0 ( saturation of the colors of the whole image )

Render your scene to see the image in black and white.

3d zen

Step 20 Render the Final Japanese 3d Zen Image

If you look closely you’ll see some jagged edges. 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. )

japanese pebbles in 3d

Render the image and you’re done. That’s it for today. Let’s continue in the comments!

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