I spent an almost fruitless week dorking around in Blender. My goal was to switch from Lightwave to Blender and from Windows to Linux Mint. Well, that was rendered moot. I tried at first playing around with some tutorials about modeling. Modeling wise, Blender ain’t bad. There are tools I have in LW that I wouldn’t in Blender, but I’d have adapted. Then I dove into Cycles, Blender’s realistic render engine. I can’t express enough how much I love that render engine, for the most part. For people who don’t know, “standard” CGI rendering engines are hampered by unrealistic lighting. In CGI, light travels in one direction and hits an object from that direction. Any face going the other direction isn’t lit. Period. This is in contrast to lighting in the real world. In the real world, if you have an object with a light behind it and other objects in front of it, such as furniture, walls, ceiling, etc, light will bounce off of those objects back at the previous object, lighting the “dark” side. Most CGI software has a solution for calculating this light bouncing. In Blender, it’s part of the Cycles render engine. It calculates the light bouncing to create a more realistically lit object and scene. I imported a few of my Lightwave models into Blender which, for the most part, went well. As long as I triangulated my faces with more than 4 sides in Lightwave and applied the Edge Split modifier after import, most everything looked grand. Cycles has wonderful emission materials. However, I ran into issues with applying textures to my imported models. Again, for people who don’t know, this is how textures are applied. There’s a projection setting that tells the image where to go, how to be oriented and, most importantly, how to be mapped to the object. Most software has various options for this. There are four basic types of mapping: plane, cylinder, sphere and cube. They are what they sound like. Plane puts your map “flat” on a surface, where the others wrap it around in the appropriate shape. Then there’s unwrapping, where the map is put on there based on the object’s geometry. This is the most difficult and problematic method. Cycles, meanwhile, only has unwrapping. There are several options to unwrap the object, but they don’t necessarily work like they do in other software. IE: selecting “cylinder” doesn’t wrap the map around the object in the shape of a cylinder like it should. And, there are pretty much no controls over this stuff like you have in a lot of other programs. And, by the way, that’s not just me talking. I took a screen shot of what I was trying to do and a friend who is very proficient in 3DS Max commented on the lack of control. So, after a few days of spending many hours trying to get one simple map onto a nacelle the way it should work and does work in Lightwave, I got mad and gave up. So, for those people who keep saying I should “give Blender another try,” I did. Until they fix the texture mapping in Cycles, I won’t be using it. For the record, the Blender Internal rendering engine has “normal” texture mapping, but it doesn’t apply to Cycles because the material settings are different.
So, where am I going with all of this? Back to the light bounce thing. As I said, Cycles is wonderful at calculating light bounce. Well, Lightwave is professional software, so it naturally has settings that do this as well. Though, unlike Cycles, it’s an option that can be activated in the standard LW rendering engine, not an entirely separate engine. So, things like texture mapping work exactly the same. It’s called Radiosity, which is a very popular way of simulating light bounce. So, I spent last night messing around with Radiosity in Lightwave. I like it a lot. Truespace also had Radiosity, though I never messed with it and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do so in Lightwave.
So, I decided to redo one of my renders with Radiosity enabled. I’m much happier with the results. As you can see, things like the shuttlebay alcove and inboard side of the starboard nacelle on the Scout have a faint light hitting them, which is bouncing off of the hull back at those areas. Areas on the other objects are also lit by the light bouncing, which makes the whole scene look more realistic. Of course, some areas are still very dark, this is due to nothing being there to bounce the rays back. And, for those who are wondering, rendering with Radiosity only took about 5 minutes longer than rendering without, and that was due to the amount of time it took calculating the Radiosity.