How low can you go? Matching render to preview, simplified settings for lighting, materials, etc


I’m presenting some complex visual concepts, but to pull them off in a workable timeframe, I need to strip every other part of the process to it’s simplest and easiest to achieve form.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has input on any of the following:

  1. Lighting I’m going as simple as I can here. I was using just the default lighting (no lights added), but I was getting some deep shadows on renders. Couldn’t work out how to get rid of them, so for the time being, I’ve added a single light that is essentially attached to the camera with an infinite falloff.

  2. Materials: Fortunately, a flat cartoonish look works well for what I’m doing, so most materials are nothing but a color and some specularity. I’m assuming specularity is much faster to render than actual reflections. It’s a bit problematic with the light attached to the camera as anything facing directly has glare. Maybe I could fix this by just offsetting the tracking light? Maybe even get rid of the light?

Some materials do have images applied in color texture, and some have video. They need it, though, so for now, I’ve just disabled the video on preview.

  1. Renders: The previews generally look fine. The only extra I think I’ll need is anti-aliasing as I have a lot of moving line art. I’ve got all the other goodies disabled, but it’s still too slow (MacPro 2008 / R20 / 980Ti). All my previous experiments with dialing in shadows, reflections, ambient occlusion and thee rest indicate they’re just not worth the time (to dial in or to render) for what I’m doing right now. Frankly, in the interest of time at this point, I’d like to skip the process of checking renders entirely.

Sol… What exactly needs to be changed in render settings to just match them exactly to what I’m already seeing in preview? (aside from anti-aliasing and proper UHD output.) Since I’m already happy with what I’m seeing, I’d prefer to just keep that, speed up the output, and not have to keep checking if there are discrepancies.

Any input on any of the above, or any other tips on the general theme appreciated.


I guess the core question boils down to this: Is it just common sense about sticking to the basics in the render, sticking with basic specularity as opposed to reflections, sticking to basic materials, etc…

… or is there something beyond that that can be done to more closely (if not exactly) match the render output to the preview such that it’s not necessary to keep checking render since I know from preview how it will turn out.

I understand this is not ideal for all sorts of other purposes, but if you’re intentionally limiting material choices, etc for a basic and consistent look that works fine in the preview…


If you want a flat look w/out shadows then you can generally turn off all the material channels except Luminance.

This approach renders very fast and you can control the look. This can definitely give you a simple, flat and controlled look. Inherently you won’t get shadows on objects with such materials.

EJ does a lot of work like this…and has tuts explaining this workflow… at

He also sells a set of pre-built materials to accelerate working like this.


If you want to match the viewport look, do a hardware render.

For a PBR-style viewport render you can get pixelberg. It’s very cheap.

For a more stylized look you use a matcap-style material using the art shader. They render in the viewport exactly as they do in the final render.


I’ve only glanced at PBR a couple of times, but was under the impression it existed to create higher quality real world look which didn’t seem to jive with my cartoonish vibe or need for speed. Have I missed something significant on the “realtime” end of PBR?

I probably should have mentioned I’m on an 8 core 2008 cheesegrater Mac with a single 980 Ti installed…

Not particularly familiar with matcap (played with zbrush a bit, but that’s it.)

I like the stylized thing, but after a few hours messing with the cell shader in c4d, it seemed to be just slowing things down too much… to the point where I’ve considered rendering out in whichever way is quickest for c4d, and applying cell shading afterwards in After Effects. I’ve already done some tests running c4d output through some Photoshop filters and actions to get a bit closer to classic cell animation look, and add a bit of grunge.

I’ve created all materials myself. Most of them are literally just a color (or possibly image), and some basic specularity. All other channels are unchecked. I’m not clear why luminance would be the only one I’d want active. Some reason to be using that rather than color?

Watching linked tut in a minute.


For an “instant” cartoonish look, go with the art shader then.

You only need to make one “shaded ball” picture with the look you’re after (hand drawn or flat colours…), put it in the art shader in the luminance channel and that’s it.

It’s the same principle as matcaps in Zbrush, with the whole look of a material “baked” in (so no need for real lighting). You can orient the “shaded sphere picture” to simulate the light coming from one side or the other., if you have black outlines on your sphere, so will your model etc…

You can fake outlines, gradients, flats, shadows, hatches etc… with it.

I only mentionned PBR shader like pixelbeg if you want to do a more realistic, yet still realtime, render.


14 tutorials later:

Apparently I didn’t realize how much prep some of the looks require… with custom materials, lighting, etc. I was hoping to be able to decide at the end if I wanted to flatten it out further, etc.

I had seen a couple tuts and spent a little time with sketch and toon, but that was just using it as render setting. I don’t recall working with the art shader.

Of all the styles I’ve seen, what I think I like best is the tri-shaded cel shading with hard jump to the darkest color, and a fade with the other 2… along with pretty beefy lines for all phong breaks, intersections, outlines, etc. Also interested to see how it would look using gradients instead of solid colors in luminance.

I’d have to run a test in one of the more orgainic scenes with moving character and various squishy bits to make sure it’s possible to dial in good classic line art look without getting the kind of jumpy lines AE’s cel shader inevitably produced.

One thing I’m not seeing in any of the tuts, and that I think is probably possible, though it’s a bit muddled with some settings in materials, some in render, etc: What I really want is whatever is most striking / engaging that can be done in short order… but maybe what’s most striking is a combination of looks. Is it possible without breaking out and combining multipe renders in post to have a 3d animatec character interacting in a 2d word where they all exist in the same project, but are split out according to materials, light assignments, etc?


You can find ready made comic or toon “matcaps” examples for Zbrush or C4D, they work exactly the same, it’s just a bitmap in the right shader slot. Here :


Will look into the matcaps.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of having a central color / specularity 3d character interacting in a cel shaded world. Sort of a bizarro Roger Rabbit. It’s certainly something you don’t see every day.

Trying to think through the workflow from materials to post… can that be done in a single render? If so, are there reasons I hadn’t even thought to ask about why it might be a bad idea?


BTW… those eyedesyn tuts are super helpful. I had seen a couple before (and maybe a couple of the AE ones), but had never gone through his whole channel.

Still undecided about whether I want to commit all my materials and workflow, to a flatter look on current project, but today I’m doing logo design in c4d which I hadn’t even thought about before, but makes lots of sense after his vids.


Yes, EJ (eyedesyn)has done a super job forging a niche within the larger 3d world…a niche that happens to hit a sweet spot in today’s design world.