Good renders with SoftImage aint so hard after all

I’m going to allow CG back into my life as a hobby and keep up to date with one package other than Modo at least until Modo has a full gamut of features.

My choices are limited by price which basically equates to

  • Blender – opensource and getting stronger year on year but I have no experience with it and I’m not sure how easy it is to use
  • Lightwave 10 – affordable contender but I think it might need additional modules to match other choices available
  • Autodesk SoftImage 2011.5 – hopefully in my price range and I really like the broad range of features and usability of this product
  • Autodesk 3DS Max – very likely out of my price range now. I’m not paying 3 grand again to get back on subscription.
  • Autodesk Maya – don’t even think about it

When I was last toying with CG I’d switched from 3DS Max to SoftImage XSI because 3DS Max was expensive and didn’t seem to be moving on. I have to say that I did like using 3DS Max but SoftImage seemed to be growing rapidly into a serious force.

My main gripe with SoftImage back then was that getting a good render seemed to require a lot of tweaking from the defaults. I’m not even sure I achieved consistent renders before I gave up on the CG dream to focus on my day job and then AutoDesk bought SoftImage XSI so I cancelled my subscription.

Anyhow, having done some research over last few days it looks like SoftImage is still going strong under AutoDesk even though AutoDesk don’t seem to push the product anywhere near as much as Maya and 3DS Max (it’s not a featured product on their site – you have to go look for it). I decided to give SoftImage another go and have put the feelers out to see how much it will cost to reinstate my subscription.

Much to my surprise within a few hours I had a good render setup and an easy way to recreate it based on Final Gathering and Global Illumination. A lot of what I learn last time I tried SoftImage seems to have stuck too so I was soon building on my old knowledge instead of going over old ground. It was good to be back!

Here’s an image I created this weekend using the technique. It’s also the first model I’ve done with an unfolded UV texture map.

The model itself is just a few tweaks to a cube ‘cos the focus was on render settings.

Cliff notes:

  • Adjust Geometry approximation to get catmull-clark subdivision to work
  • Remove all ambient light from materials and the scene
  • Use mental ray and raytracer
  • Add a sky sphere, make it big, give it a light constant colour material – final gathering from the sky will provide all the light.
  • you don’t need any incandescence on materials for this to work.
  • add a ground plane.
  • turn on global illumination and final gathering
  • maybe add ambient occlusion as well? not sure if it’s necessary but the two background cubes in this example used ambient occlusion textures
  • Production render pass should have at least 2 step anti-alias to reduce artifact

I based the technique on some help I found on the internet that was simulating ambient occlusion renders in the days before SoftImage had an Ambient Occlusion texture so it may be that there are even simpler ways to get a good result now.

I was surprised that Final Gathering was the only reason my scene wasn’t pitch black but that could just be a sign that I really don’t know what I’m talking about 🙂




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