View Full Version : Stockholm Apartment

07 July 2010, 08:38 AM
Hello there,
I'm working on my first interior design illustration and i'd be very happy to get some c&c and tips from you guys that have, probably 100% more experience of this than i have.

My reference is a typical 1920ish apartment in south Stockholm (Södermalm) ( with an interior design inspired by Peter Fehrentz ( .

Initially i've just made a typical room that reminds me of an apartment that i used to live in while i was working at Grin, Sthlm.

The first room. Basically learning how to use Mental Ray and materials.

Early 20th century craftsmanship. Heavy, big and with a lot of small straight detailed lines. Of course painted in white ;)

Now to my first question, about global illumination. My Photons seemed to be leaking through the walls so i made some padding. Is this a good way of solving the problem or am i doing something incredibly noobish?

Thanks for your time!

07 July 2010, 03:44 PM
Think i got basic light set up as i want it. I got some strange reflection issues as you can see on the first wip image. They automagically disappeared when i replaced the area light by the windows by... Another identical one... :D
(Look at the red arrows for some inverted reflection action)

It's a bit overexposed, but we'll get to that later. Maybe... I kind of like that new retro look that you see in a lot of design magazines today. Personally i do think that the light is a bit too even? What do you say? It's very CG'ish no?

From now on it's furniture time and fixing some trims. Does anybody know about any good resource sites for free models that doesn't look like "come-help-me-to-die"-models? What's the fuzz in architecture rendering about using other peoples models? Is it like in the games industry, ok as long as no one can see that you stole it?

Cheers and have a lovely weekend!

07 July 2010, 01:27 PM
Hey people,
I've dived into interior design websites today creating a clipboard with the assets i need to build to populate the room. It'll take some time to build this so expect a long list of prop posts...

08 August 2010, 03:05 PM
Hi there,
Sorry for the bad update frequency, i noticed that i need quite some training in Mental Ray materials to pull of a good picture. I start to understand why they have a whole army of people that just create materials and shaders at the big sfx houses :D

I thought that i needed some more lighting training and that it would be quit boring to just look at a list/pic dump of assets so i made a show room.
Please tell me what you think. I'll paste some pics of the wireframe and set up after my two day trip to an old volcano in Hakone (hehe :D:D ), so you can give me some c&c! And maybe some tips and tricks. I really need it m(__)m

Also... Noob question, but what's the best way to reduce the spottiness? Raising the FG quality has a super impact on the render times. Is there a better way?


08 August 2010, 12:09 AM
If your approach is "to do it all in one pass," no matter what tool you use, then I think that you are going to be stuck in the world of lon-n-n-g-g-g render times. But if you can possibly break the task down into composite passes, perhaps not all of which are done using techniques like these, then the world becomes your oyster. Usually it is "some very small thing," like the occasional spots, which deep-sixes a multiple hour render.

(If 99.9% of the work-product is just fine, why throw 100.0% of it away?)

Anyhow... the first renders looked like they were being shot with a huge "fish eye" lens, but the latest one is great fun. (Love the "Thing in the Dark!") Really, the only thing that is "against" the shot is .. as it would be for any real-world photo of the same scene .. the source and the intensity of the light. It's all coming in through the window.

Because of this (and because it strives to actually be as it appears...), it's blowing-out all detail through that window. (And this is a notion that the eye seriously objects to!). It really does not have a chance to illuminate the room in any sort of a "pleasing" way. ("They didn't even have a ghost of a chance... They were dead before they hit the ground ...")

I do not know how this characteristic might be affecting the CG algorithms, but I can surely say that photographic film would be popping with strange artifacts like these. For this very reason: "we wouldn't do it this way." We'd be swearing allegiance to Alfred Hitchcock's acting advice to Ingrid Bergman: "Ingrid, fake it!" After all, there's no law that says that the lighting setup must actually be "as it appears!" The only requirement is that it must plausibly look like "it appears."

I will never forget watching a pro create "a beautiful spring morning in a hotel lobby" ... at two o'clock in the morning on a new-moon night. And, by gawd, when you saw the shot in print in (the center fold of) the magazine, you could not find any inconsistency.

So... if you added some kind of second source of "fill light" (say, an unexplained off-camera interior lamp...), might the scene suddenly look much better? Perhaps the "spots" you are seeing are just some kind of mathematical clipping, and they're really only "a problem" because the whole lighting-situation in this shot is rather extreme (and improbable).

Full disclosure: I know zip about Mental Ray. I don't even work in the CG industry. But I do know something about large-format (film) photography, and therefore I know that "fill flash is Good." This shot would be "damn near impossible" to pull off successfully if the actual lighting setup really was as it appears to be. But, since when is that a requirement? All that one really needs is to produce a picture that looks like the light came from (in this case) just "that window."

08 August 2010, 03:45 PM
Haha, your comment made my day :D
You are very correct in what you say about the lighting situation. So when I came back from my vacation yesterday I started to dig in on lighting. But...
It's getting really late now for a proper post so I'll save the pics and explanations for tomorrow (everything for the suspense).

Last. Please, I really want to see that picture "A beautiful spring morning in a hotel lobby". Coming with references like that and not showing them's like holding candy in front of a kid!

08 August 2010, 01:04 PM
Good afternoon,
So what i did with the last shot was actually, just as sundialsvc4 said, ignoring the physics and logic between light and camera. Now, what i should have done is what i tell everyone else to do, to use reference. Embarrassing. So i took my SLR and grabbed some shots of my apartment when it was lit similarly to what i want to picture with the render. Here is the results (raw from the camera):

Lightsource: Skylight
Camera: 1/20 sec at f / 6.3, ISO 400

Lightsource: Skylight and sun
Camera: 1/20 sec at f / 6.3, ISO 400

Lightsource: Skylight and sun
Camera: 1/200 sec at f / 6.3, ISO 400

So how did i fix my scene? (This will get technical)

First of all i needed to fix the light issue. The exposure was way to bright and unnatural with very high and strange values in the light parameters, so i tried to make it a bit more manageable. The mia_exposure_photographic contains a value that's called "cm2_factor". This is an important value. 0 means that it will use "fake" measurements for the tone mapping (exposure control). That will render the ISO, shutter speed and aperture obsolete and get you straight into digital automagic. Nothing wrong with that, but i love cameras so i want to work with something that represents real ones. That also makes it possible to take accurate ref shots ;)
If you set the value to 1 you will get a physically "true" camera. Now this will make your scene very very dark if you work with mia_physical_sky with it's default values. To solve this simply go to your physical sky node and raise the RGB conversion to 0.318 0.318 0.318. Now you have a working tone mapper and physical sky.
The light from the sky wasn't really casting enough light into the scene. That was because the photons didn't actually find their way into the scene. To solve that i used Mental Rays sky portal. Sky portals are like a "door" for the photons. They tell them where to travel and do their magic. So instead of just having them trace outside the scene trying to find a way in, they are nicely shuffled through the defined portals, lowering the rendering times and increasing the visual result.
The spottyness. Ok, this one is just about optimization and, unfortunately, increasing the FG quality. Though you can lower it again if you play around with the "Point interpolation" value. That makes the spots "melt" together. You'll loose some detail but gain in smoothness and render time.

This is a shot with the sky and sun as the only light source. If we compare this render to the ref picture, the same settings in the 3d camera as the real one. Fortunately we get the same results:

In this shot i added two soft boxes. Or in the the 3d world, area lights. These works like real world strobe lights with diffusers on (do a google search on "soft box" for more info about that). One of them is directed against the lower left corner to pick up the floor light and disperse it into the room evenly. The second one is a bit bigger, directed straight into the scene on the opposite side from the windows. It is a bit diffuser and it's job is to thin out the shadows a bit.

Now this is all good and dandy. I working lighting. Yay! But the picture is not really interesting. The first one is a bit moody, but it doesn't look like a real apartment. I needed more light. So i added more windows (sorry, the wip monster has nowhere to hide anymore :( ):

For those of you who read this looong post, thank you and hope that it helps you a bit!


08 August 2010, 03:36 PM
I felt that i somewhat understand how to light these kind of scenes with FG so i tried with another technology, Irradiance particles. And i'm happy i did it.
For the same, or actually better results, my render times dropped to almost half of what they used to be with FG and GI.

At the first glimpse there are three very important sliders, one under the Importons tab and two under the Irradiance Particles tab. The one under the Importons tab is "Density". This one is expensive. Actually the default value of 1 seems to be way over the top, especially for test renders. I started with 0.1 and ended up on 0.4.
The two under the Irradiance Particles tab is "Rays" and "Indirect passes". "Rays" works directly with "Density". A high value in "Rays" gives you a smoother render and it's a lot faster to smooth things out with "Rays" than with "Density". The second value is "Indirect passes". This is basically what it says, it makes light bounce around. And i guess the higher the number the more it bounces.

Test renders with Irradiance Particles:

More of this on Monday!
Over and out

08 August 2010, 12:07 AM
This is looking really nice, you've captured the feeling of an old swedish apartment quite well. Feels very cold though, almost like a sunny winter day. I think it's down to the blue tones in the reflection on the right as well as the slightly blown out white sun. It's only really warm in a small area on the left, near the chair. If this is what you're going for, great!

Completely OT: How did you end up in Japan, going from Grin?

08 August 2010, 04:42 PM
Thanks Urgaffel!
Very good points. It actually does look like the windows reflect white snow and sky. I'm only trying to get a feeling for MR at this point so i haven't worked on the lighting or mood yet. You gave me a good idea! Would be nice to set it in wintertime. Or to make renders for every season.

I met a japanese girl and fell in love. As easy as that ;)

08 August 2010, 03:08 PM
Hey there,
I've been working a bit on the creative part of the room, the interior design. I choose New English as style guide, since i haven't seen much cg of that yet.

I plan to add a couple of light curtains, maybe flowing a bit in the wind from an open window, to soften down the sun highlights and add some movement into the scene. I will also add some books and magazines, maybe a fruit or two and some more green. The roof needs some fixes. Maybe some classic white paint ornament left overs from the 20's.
The rug is going to get another pass also. As it is now it's too perfect to be photo real.

The texture on the chair is a bit too cg/gameish? What do you think?

C&C is as always more than welcome. Thanks!


08 August 2010, 06:16 AM
Long time no see. I've been a bit too busy to work on personal stuff lately, but now it's time for an update.

I'm a bit stuck on the final image and could really need some c&c to make it better!

In the wireframes you see the placement of the lights. There are three main lights, the two windows and the sun, and one indirect light coming from the hallway.


08 August 2010, 06:19 AM
Some details for consideration :)

08 August 2010, 10:09 PM
Dude, that's looking fantastic!

09 September 2010, 03:09 PM
I'm out of my cave again. *wave*

Thx stuh505 :)

I've been finishing a night version of the same shot. Importons work beautifully together with FG! The render time is just under two hours on an iMac.

Have a good night!

09 September 2010, 05:06 AM
Really nice looking render! I'm just curious; how much did you do in post? Could you throw up images of before and after post?

09 September 2010, 06:11 PM
You might want to consider adjusting the shading on the chair to the right a bit, of all of the elements it stand out as not being quite right. This could be due to some type of ambient occlusion on top of it, or maybe the shader itself, the rest looks amazing, so natural for a render.

09 September 2010, 03:20 PM
Hi guys, thx for the comments.
I agree on the chair and i'll fix it as soon as i get some time over. It was the first object i built for the scene thinking that like in games every object should have it's own baked occlusion and normal map... :D Well, never got to the normal map but...

Here's a pre post picture for you sir,

When i look at it again i might have gone a bit over the top with the contrast in the pic. What do you think?


09 September 2010, 07:27 PM
Shadows are much better on the chair :D. Do you plan on making thins renderable for a game? That would be very interesting. I know how a mental ray lightmap could be extracted for objects as images, and if the lighting and occlusions and fg or gi or w/e you used were baked or layered together on the normal mapped low-poly versions of the geometry, could someone take a room like this and make it renderable in a game?
This forum is supposed to be for you and here I am asking questions :p , but I'd really appreciate some insight from someone with a formal education and experience working on projects.

10 October 2010, 02:58 PM
Hey Gilded, thx for your comments,
It could be used for a game definitely, though the reflections and shadows would be of a much lower quality if you wanted to create a dynamic scene. If you want a static scene you don't even need normal maps since a modern up to date engine could easily push around a million polygons only shaded with diffuse textures and a light map.
There are loads of different workflows when it comes to rendering and using lightmaps. Quite a lot of engines have their own built in light map renderers that supports both radiosity and ambient occlusion and some engines are streamlined to work directly with an external renderer.
The light map workflow in Maya is quite simple. Basically, create a new uv map for each object (for testing, select all objects, do an automatic mapping and make sure you have the "assign to new UV set" option checked in the auto mapping dialog). After that you add all the objects to a render layer and batch bake them to a texture. Connect the light map to a layered texture, with the objects diffuse in the lower slot. There are detailed info about that in the Maya manual. Or if you want a more in depth explanation send me a PM (i could write at least ten pages about this)!

I don't plan to export this for a game since i just wanted something for my rendering portfolio while learning MR. I got some very ambitious plans for an other game piece though :o


10 October 2010, 04:48 PM
Hmm, given that it's now nighttime outside, the scene looks way too well lit. From the visible light sources I can see many areas of the room that should be almost in complete shadow but look as though they are receiving direct lighting. Did you scatter a bunch of invisible lights around in here?

10 October 2010, 12:45 PM
Thanks for the response Cronium! It's really interesting stuff :D. I get what you're saying except for batch baking the objects to a texture on it's own render layer. Is there a render layer type just for lightmaps that works with mental ray? I know mental ray has special nodes that can be used to withdraw a ligthmap of an object as well, so I'm curious what the difference would be. I haven't done much work with lightmaps so I'm kind of new to this :P.

Anyway, there are some really interesting possibilities. I'm surprised games don't render like cgi yet :P, or at least are developed more closely off of high quality cgi renders.

As far as your scene goes, I think some bump or a normal map could help get rid of the slight bit of a cg feel to certain surfaces, especially the hard, white ones. The room has an ambient brightness to it, but there isn't a source that suggests that, and if there is a source the lighting is very uniform (since it's night and the lighting within the room is all artificial).

Thanks again for the responses (sorry if I can't help you too much, but I guess thats a compliment to the quality of your work :P) and good job on your scene!

10 October 2010, 02:38 AM
Wow, I'm really impressed by the progress, looks very good and it's not often I see good MR interiors. I too work with MR but in XSI and have done some commissioned interiors but not this detailed. I'm particularily inrerested in how you went about the braided boxes under the table and drawer at the windows. Are they fully 3D or some kind of displacement or normal-mapped? Funny thing is I was just thinking about how to make one the other day.

Also the curtains and the lamp on the left have some nice translucencies. The curtains are they in one translucent material with a transparency map and bump? and how well does the photons propagate trough the translucent objects? Did you make them transparent to photons?

On another note, so you really are living in Tokyo, man am I jealous or what haha. How do you manage, I looked into your website, are you guys getting a lot of freelance jobs there, and did you three guys just move there and set it up and got it running.

10 October 2010, 05:53 AM
Hey guys, thank you for your comments! Sorry for taking ages to reply. It's been a killer two weeks.

I agree with you on the light. I think I overdone it a bit with the fill lighs. There are two diffusers (area lights) that fills up the shadows, just like you would in a photo shoot of an interior.

But, as in real life, it's easy to go too hard on the visibility and forget about the cosyness.
I'm not really sure about the bump though. Usually too much bump make it look more cg than before. It's usually the lighting that does the trick. I think that if I fix the lighting, the contrast will go up a bit and make the bump more visible.

About why games don't look like renders. It's usually a memory issue. The single most important part of any picture, apart from the motif, is imho the lighting. To achieve realistic lighting you need to use either lightmaps or real time lights. With today's hardware 100% realistic real time lighting is impossible, it would be like asking Mental Ray or any other render to produce a nice render 60times per second. Therefore a combination of prerendered lightmaps and 1-3 (if it's a normal ps3/xbox-engine) realtime lights are used in 90% of the really good looking games. Lightmaps are just like your usual ambient occlusion+FG map baked into a UVset shared by all the static objects in the level and the bigger the maps, the crispier the lighting. The only problem is that a 2048*2048 weights 2.66mb and that needs to be streamed into your video memory faster than you traverse the two (or so) rooms they are lighting. For dynamic objects you also need to stream in ibl's for the ambient lighting (usually very small 16*16px-32*32px angular/cross maps). This plus the textures for all the objects and characters (diffuse, normal, specular, gloss, illumination etc.) must be fit into the 256mb video memory for ps3 and the 512mb for the xbox360. It's a horrible optimization process I tell you x(
Then you need anti aliasing for nice smooth edges. And that's render heavy!
Some game companies does a dynastic job putting it all together though. I recommend Uncharted2, Killzone2 and Heavy Rain for some really good stylized realism!

I also found a great video tutorial for you on lightmaps:

It's for Maya but if you're using 3ds I still think that you can learn from it. Also test his 3dfx shader. It's very nice!

About Tokyo :D
I didn't really choose Japan, I just happened to end up here to be with my wife. And I'm not sorry for it, Tokyo is a great place! :)
The reasons for starting Shapefarm were mostly because my wife usually works weekends so I want to be able to decide my own schedule. The other reason is that Japanese game companies are very strict and controlled from the top. That doesn't rime well with my creative philosophy... ;)
I met the other guys and they joined in as they thought it was a good idea being their own boss. But it's not easy. We started of looking for game clients but as the cheap workforce in China produces okay results for half the price and the economic crisis happened we went from games and the studios crippled economies to a safer and more stable industry, architecture and advertisement. And in architecture/interior design I found my true passion!

I'm of to Tokyo Design week tomorrow if any reader is interested in joining for a coffee/beer/chat. I'll be there every day so just send me a PM or mail!

And a big thanks again for the comments, they're all very useful!

Have a nice day!

10 October 2010, 03:41 PM
Jelo, i forgot to answer you technical questions! Sry.
The braided box i the easiest solution possible, just a picture mapped on a box with a hint of bump map ;)
The curtains was a bit more difficult. The setting that gave me the look that i wanted was the glossiness value in Refractions (not reflections). So it's basically a white material with transparency (translucency), an additional cut out transparency for the pattern and finally some tweaking the balance between glossy refractions and the amount of transparency vs translucency. I can send you the material if you want?


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