(3ds) Mental Ray Self illumination

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  06 June 2012
(3ds) Mental Ray Self illumination

I at this point I have A MONTH ! worth's of time, on the dime, trying to figure this out. At this point I am giving up almost. If anyone can help, I'd own that man or woman a hamburger!


A. Self Illumination (as light source)
A.2 The mortal, unforgivable sin of wanting to make a long CURVED self illumated object which can't be faked with a photometric light with "show light object" enabled! The terminity, I know!

1. Use max Arch&Design mat,... self illum enabled, mat effects FG enabled,... FG + quality render settings, mrExposure controls, (also tested some obscure alternative means of generating luminous values from mat's but these didn't work either so I wont cover them) all the basic set up steps = very very very bad quality illumination even at insane quality settings. 1/2 ok requires long render times, still not good even then. Blotchy noisy, light leaks all over. Will not put food on my table if it came down to it ;TLDR.

2. So instead I read about mia_light_surface shader. Word is it will help with self illuminated objects, but wont cast light. Ok, think, at least get part of the problem solved. Figure out how to fake the light casting later.

B. mia light surface shader

1. IS HIDDEN FOR SOME INCOMPREHENSIBLE REASON! Since several versions ago. /whyyou.jpg

2. So I have to modify the mental ray ini to unhide it.

3. STILL HIDDEN. Do not see it in shader list. Yes, I checked permissions, other OS silliness etc. etc.

4. Refuse to drop everything I'm doing to switch careers to render engineer to get this to work.

C. Current situation

1. Mental ray is used, and it is a good render. Certainly, someone at some point, since, 1986, has made a workable straighforward self illuminated object with MR, in 3ds max.HOW?

2. At this point I suppose they have done so via arcane pagan magic or animal sacrifices to the render gods cause I not only have not even the semblence of a clue as to how to do so, apparently NO ONE ELSE does either as I've spent 30+ days already of scrouing the web to find that there is zero disclousre as to the straightforward 1,2,3 steps of how to make a working self illuminated object. Every last thing I come across, including books, about MR all seem to skip or be skimpy on self illumination! as if somehow that were some small unessential detail. Am I going insane here? Is this a conspiracy? Office ceiling ligths? Bathroom lights? Neon? There has to be at least a single MR render with these ?

So, conclusion = TLDR; help!

How to do a working self illuminated object in MR?


Vray. 1. Enable 2. Create object 3.Create Vray object light 4. Attach to object 5. Enable FG. 6. Increase quality settings. 7. Hit render button. Wham, Bamm. Done. Thank you Maam'.

At this time I have NOT ONCE been able to get a single, working, good looking, self illuminated object in MR or at a reasonable render time for even a 1/2 bad one. Period.

Just to clarify, the issue I'm having is not just getting an object to self illuminate itself, but that it, well, works as a light and illuminates the scene ( walls )without looking completely horrible.

MentalRay PR/Marketing,... you listening ?

We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.

Last edited by WazaR : 06 June 2012 at 11:47 PM.
  06 June 2012
And for you future lost souls ( you'll know what I'm talking about);

So, apparently, where you read that you have to add a # in front of the hidden,... they mean to ALL the hidden's in the ini. Sherlock Homles is a nobody compared to the beasts who can guess this on their own! lol...

Still wont help,... much. :(

But it's progress at the very least.
We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.
  06 June 2012
Well, that's it. /nothingtodohere.jpg

For the sake of any other artists searching the internet in desperation I'll leave this helpful compilation behind.

1. Use another Renderer.
2. Render engineers are rare and needed. Opportunity ?

-ok, now for actually helpful tips, should save much hair pulling, short hand, cause by the time you read this you'll know what the context is-

Self Illumination in Mental Ray for 3ds max for the rest of us.

Couple approaches.

Cheat. Apply any old self illum. Place light inside, which wont cast shadows on self illum object. Play with mat options. Not to bad if works. Note; you can make photometric lights show their light in light props. Be creative with mixes of lights and mat properties to get them to match light object intended. Not realistic, but close. Wont always work (curved self illum objects )

The "offical"; Arch & Design Mat (mia_material). Enable Self Illum. Set color/temp. Important, Illuminate scene. Ask if you can cheat it instead ? Try to cheat first, if not enable. Will contribute to FG of scene. This mat applied to object will make it self illuminate, optionally illuminate scene with FG contribution. Will have to do EXTENSIVE tweaking of FG settings in render ( need to have FG enabled to see FG mat lighting in render panel) Might work, likely wont. Especially true when dealing with objects next to object / tight occlusions Lots of errors. Very unreliable. Best hope is for extremely long renders and heavy post work. Will have to look out for issues with Arch&Design glossy settings for reflections of self illumination, will need to be high. Old FG point interpolation helps in case of leak problems. /shrugs dont ask me why the old system is better. Very very very very slow. If you are getting paid, then it just will not be workable. Just use another renderer, or hand paint the lighting, I'm serious. [edit: update; FG multiplier pumps stronger FG cast rays, which may or my not help depending on sample settings. Worth a look]

OLD! Architectural Material. Note; this is NOT! Arch & Design Use self illumination tab, crank it up. Miiiiiggggghhhhtttt work. Sometimes. Very very buggy, not really supported in MR, expect weird things, but again, it might work on some cases. IF it works, quality is usually better than Arch& Design. Does not play nice with reflections. Helps with light leak problems.

Standard 3dsmax Material. Use output shader. Then put a color shader under it (checker) Pump up output. It's more stable version of the the Arch mat, very close to Arch&Design, but not as realistic. Few options. Less buggy. Less diffuse. More "affectable" by FG sample tweaking. All things being equal probably your best last hope for something moderately workable.

mia_ligh_surface = god mode difficulty First... open " architectural_max.mi " find ALL ["hidden"] and REPLACE ALL with [# "hidden"]. Save, watch out for silly premisson problems. Now, apply material (A&D preferred) apply light surface shader to applicable channel (color/diffuse for instance)... now increase intensity, enable lights, FG contribution ( similar to A&D "Illuminate scene" option) enable use light... now... the light,.... lots of options here, but, try this make it low intensity, no cast shadows, put some distance away from self illum object, will work as kind of ambient light. now,... play with FG settings, use FG point interpolation, presto,... soft self illuminated light that spills out if covered. Acceptable. Not realistic but works is fast, has the style you want. Very relative on scene. Need to experiment on this. Soooooommmeee vague support in "additional help" Otherwise you are on your own. Browser tabs are your friend.

To all this you have to keep in mind mrPhotographic exposure. Makes a big difference, lots of options and variables to test, but can be helpful. Try "non-physically based lighting" !! Big help, sometimes. Which brings me to;

Glare. Camera output shader. This will "blow out" hot brights. While might scene wrong, its actually realistic, like, in reality, and will help fix "aliasing" problem with brights which is a whole other thread! Very important to not miss this.

infinite difficulty = hand paint lights maps, like the total boss/baller you are. Hey, you laugh, but when you need bacon on the table the next day no exceptions, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Again, unless you are in film, or are an engineer who can write shaders, or have a team who can, you are better served by simply using another renderer. Any. Mental Ray is very powerful, and good, in particular when needing to be impeccably "physically accurate", in the right hands, with a budget for development, but its not a last minute "save the bell" hope for the single non-tech art guy up late at night. Be warned.

Hope this shorthand helps. I will see to it to write up a more detailed guide given time, to help everyone else out facing the same problems as there is 0% "big picture" solution level documentation out there.

/Good night
We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.

Last edited by WazaR : 06 June 2012 at 04:07 AM.
  06 June 2012
Well, self-illuminated material isn't a good idea if you're trying to light a scene. In the one scene I'm working with I've got a TV screen, in my tests I had increased the multiplier for FG quite a bit (along with adjusting the exposure) which made the effect much more visible and wasn't messy, that's with like the Medium FG setting.
However the rest of the scene is all photometric lights so if there were any issue with the self-illumination lighting then you wouldn't be able to notice.
The Z-Axis
  06 June 2012
First and foremost, dude,... awesome work, you're a legend.

As per your point;

Yes, in a typical, and in my particular, scenario, you would mostly have photometric lights,... and have a, or a few "hero" self illum's, or maybe some "flavor" self ilum's in background.

Attempting to light a scene solo with SI's in mental ray will not work. Period. It's good you point that out, I 'missed that detail.

It's good to mention the exposure settings, they cannot be emphasized enough. I think I mentioned that playing with both exposure and glare can help considerably, mostly because they can hide the FG points,... which... ok... "works",... but,... the question is that that's kindof self defeating vis a vis why are you rendering with GI system at all if you're just cheating big time. But ya, the trick is to just get so much SI, and then find ways of "hiding" or diffusing it down. There's a lot of cheating you can do, but if you are talking about long thine curved wall hugging and quasi occluded SL object, you are...

Hopefully this thread can be archived and save the poor art guy wrestling with Mr SI objects a bit of pain.
We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.

Last edited by WazaR : 06 June 2012 at 04:24 AM.
  06 June 2012
Yeah, I'm thinking I need to save and get a Vray license, I've had too much trouble with MR and trying to get the quality I need.

Also, thanks, but how am I a legend? I mean I think I have pretty good skills but all that I've really put on the internet is my Serenity obsession to show what I do, which isn't bad but there's some way more amazing stuff out there. (I do intend to do a big update to it though!)
The Z-Axis
  06 June 2012
Just a figure of speech.

Yaaaaaa... Vray just works. If beacon was the on line, I'd go with Vray, hands down, every time.

But, be warned;

1. It's materials are not that good
2. IF you are a total bada$$ render TD, you'll be pulling your hair out at how inaccessible Vray core "under the hood" is and making the same frustrated posts in CGtalk about it like I am.
3. When the job calls for 100% flawless impeccable prefect no exceptions physically accurate renders Vray falls short, and has few advanced options to tweak.
4. It is expensive $$ vs Mr which is free (sorta)
5. Very weak exposure controls.
6. Few options "when things go wrong", however uncommon that is. You are pretty much stuck with the solve you get.

So ya, the problems, I, and most people have with Mr is mostly due to user error, the point of course, being that Mr is very dense, inaccessible and obscure for outsiders, particularly if you are not a shader code monkey, which engenders a situation where Mr is just not compatible with the work process of most of it's lower end userbase (me included). Getting something to work in it really is as close to feeling like a wizzard as you will ever get IRL, whereas Vray ( +Brazil, FinalRender, etc. etc. ) seems to just work, bamm right out of the box, in a way like what most users expect an art tool would work.

So it's kinda of a balance in regards to what you are after and how much time you have available. From my experience, for the single art guy, or small creative crew light on coding/TD resources, the safe bet is any other renderer. If you are rolling some serious bank intellectual resource wise, and love to get your hands dirty coding, and are after absolute flawlessness, Mr and/or Renderman is the way to go.
We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.
  06 June 2012
Hi Wazar,

DarthViper are right, the A&D Selfillumination is not the best solution. It gives Mesh-Light in mental ray, but not for 3dsmax User, only for Maya or XSI.

This can help... use importon + Final Gather. Look here: http://www.infinity-vision.de/blog/blog_importon

hot chip
  06 June 2012
Also, make sure that noise filtering is turned off in the FG settings. This will actually work

pretty well with the A&D mat's self illumination. You will need decent settings, but shouldnt be real bad.

TD Animagic Productions
  06 June 2012


Another inexplicably hidden feature in Mr.

Really guys, hidden? Whyu.jpg ??

This, almost by itself, is why I have such an easier time in VRay.

It's awesome that I actuary ran across your blog! in my scouring over the internet and here you are posting, it's like, I feel like I'm not alone lol... Why a renderer is deployed such that I have to resort to blogs to get to the point where it's working the way I want, at all, is beyond me.

Your help is immensely appreciated.

Will try out noise settings.

Yeah, I mean, thing is the light surface shader "fix" is a hack, but it's getting what I need so far, which really shouldn't be the case.

If I could get this with the A&D mat in a robust consistent predictable way, I'd much rather prefer that.
We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.
  06 June 2012
I agree, I think MR is more accurate if you can get it to work, but it's things like the GI that are extremely difficult to get the right settings along with all the little quirks that make it hard to work with. Plus things like DOF or motion blur are ridiculously slow.
The Z-Axis
  06 June 2012
DOF ya,... motion blur not... that bad. Beside you can just use vector and blur in post...

Personally, I am partial to FinalRender, but it's the rare project I can work with it.

These new generation brute force renderers now though will make all this bs "settings" a thing of the past. I can't wait.
We are all immortal, it is just that some of us choose to lead shorter lives.
  06 June 2012
Yeah, I wish it were faster to work with iRay, don't have to spend the time to figure out settings but takes a day to get a final image so no way to get anything done if you need a render within a day. At least on my system, but my GPU isn't too good on this system.
The Z-Axis
  06 June 2012
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