The Easy Environments series for Daz Studio and Poser combines high-res Skyboxes (6x 4096×4096) or Skyspheres (12.000×6000) with terrains fit for close range shots.
Below you`ll find some tip and tricks for working with those sets.
Table of content
1) Skybox Introduction
2) Working with Skyboxes
4) Skysphere HDR Iray Rendering
5) Easy Environments -Lighting
6) Easy Environments -Cameras
7) Easy Environments: Winter
8) Easy Environments: Mountain Trail
9) Easy Environments: Greenlands
10) Easy Environments: Eternal Sands
11) Easy Environments: Road to Hell
12) Easy Environments: Top of the World
13) Easy Environments: The Rock
14) Easy Environments: Outback
15) Easy Environments: Oasis
16) Easy Environments: Autumn
17) Easy Environments: Snowy Mountains
18) Easy Environments: Hell
19) Easy Environments: Tree of Life / First Light
For those who have never heard of skyboxes before, it`s a similar thing like a skydome (more common with DS/Poser), but has the shape of a cube and seamlessly covers your whole scene.
Skybox from outside
Since all skyboxes on the Easy Environments series can be loaded alone (without the terrain) it`s very easy to use them for other scenes as well. It`s a great solution for more open settings, which require the lower parts of the scene to be covered.
Greenlands Skybox with a part from “FM Planetarium”
Working with skyboxes is as easy as it comes, load it, render it. 😉
However, you have some options to change the appearance.
You can move, scale or rotate the box, all of it will change the parts your camera frames, and thus change the general look a bit.
The color and brightness of the skybox is defined by it`s ambient color. In most cases the default ambient color will be a pure white.
Reduce the ambient color along the greyscale to darken the skybox, or even use colors to give it a tint. Results will vary, but I find it worth experimenting.
Winter with a soft red color tone (skybox ambience & lighting)
At least relative size.
Be it a skybox or a skydome, the closer you get to the rim the more distortion you will see.
Now imagine the skybox as a cube of 10x10x10 and move the camera by 9. You are now close to the rim and it will look ugly.
Make the skybox 100x100x100 and move the cam by 9 …you are still far off the rim and everything is fine.
I chose the skybox size for the easy environment sets in a way that allows you quite some camera movement, but also within the limits of Poser`s preset overview render distance, which is quite short. I think you`ll rarely run into distortion, but if you build a really huge scene you might want to consider scaling the skyboxes up.
On a sidenote, I also added a morph to the skyboxes, which allows you to turn them into a more spherical shape, or the opposite (whatever that is called). It`s more a fun thing, but you can give it a try, and sometimes it may even be useful.
Snowy Mountains is the first set of the Easy Environments series to feature a skysphere instead of the skyboxes used by previous sets.
This is not to be mistaken for a dome, the sphere covers the whole scene top to bottom, just like the skyboxes you are probably used to.
In general it`s mostly a change for technical reasons, in terms of quality and comfort of use you shouldn`t notice any difference.
The scale of the sphere has less impact on the appearance than it is the case with boxes.
In order to stay within the limits of Poser`s camera range preset I scaled it slightly smaller than the later skyboxes.
If you need more room for objects you can easily scale it up. Actually the preload has it at only 5% of it`s original scale.
One small advantage compared to the skyboxes is that even on relatively small scales the sphere is less likely to show perspective distortion.
Personally I also find it easier to handle a single texture for adjustments like contrast, brightness, etc..
As for painting additional elements onto the texture in 2D applications, around the horizon it is easy, but in order to paint the top/bottom regions it would be better to use a 3D application.
Another benefit of the change to spheres is the compatibility to the Iray render “dome” new to Daz Studio 4.8, and the HDR capability that comes with it.
Daz Studio 4.8 (currently in beta) introduces Nvidia Iray rendering, which basicly has a skysphere (oddly tagged as “dome”) built-in.
The spherical sky textures can be applied to that dome as “Environment Map”, you do that directly in the rendering tab. Make sure not to have a physical skysphere or skybox in your scene in order to see it.
The following infos are based on my early tests with Iray during beta, it`s all very new to me, so take it with a grain of salt.
To start with, using the skysphere .jpg with the Iray dome didn`t give me pleasant results. I tried all settings I thought relevant, but it always looked strangely washed-out. More or less by chance I had a HDR version of the “Snowy Mountains” sky saved, and gave it a try.
After adjusting the intensity preset down to 1 it instantly looked right. This makes me think the whole system is meant to be used with HDR images (probably I am wrong or missed something, time will tell).
Now at this point we have a background which looks pretty much like what we had with skyboxes or skyspheres before, so what`s the point?
The HDR image seems to be capable of accurately lighting the whole scene on it`s own. Sun direction and shadows included.
That`s quite different from the environment based lighting I have seen before, which is rather compareable to ambient light, and requires additional lights.
I suppose this is old news to people who worked with HDR before, but I have to admit I was really impressed.
Here`s a test render I did, with zero light sources in the scene except for the skysphere:
Note how the character casts the shadow in the correct direction. Even more surprising considering the scenery is mostly white.
It`s likely future Easy Environment sets will include a HDR sky as well.
Those things are huge (~200mb), so it`s likely they will be offered as seperate, optional downloads.
For “Snowy Mountains” I added a Render Preset to load it, but as of now I am not certain if that will be the final format.
The lighting provided with the sets is adjusted to fit the scenes, the particularly important part here being the direction of the sun. If you rotate the skybox you should rotate the lighting accordingly.
Daz Studio Tip: Simply drag&drop the lighting onto the skybox (to make the lights childs and the skybox the parent) before rotating the skybox. Now the light will follow any rotations.
Note: The lighting provided with the sets is made for the full scene&skybox preload, on which the skybox may be rotated by default. The skybox-only preload is not rotated, the sun will always be in the “north” . Thus you may have to make adjustments to get the skybox-only preloads and the lighting together.
There are no cameras included with the sets, but I`d like to add a tip or two.
First, I found wide angles (focal length) to work great with those sets. Most of the promo renders use it. It just goes well with landscapes.
DS: select camera > Parameters Tab > Camera > Focal Length. Preset is 65, I liked values of 50 to 55.
Poser: Check “show cameras” in the Hierarchy Tab > select the camera you are using > change “Focal” in the Parameters Tab. The Default values vary depending on the camera, I liked to reduce it by up to 10mm.
Depth of field also goes very well with landscapes, I might do a seperate tutorial on that later if there is interest in it.
Link: Depth of Field Tutorial
Not that much to tell here…
The trees have “cast shadows” off by default, to keep high render speeds. Depending on your camera angle you might want to turn shadows on for some of the trees. On DS this setting is a bit hidden, you find it under Parameters/Display/Rendering (with the tree selected).
On the alternative “natural trail” preload of Winter the trail is made from two materials (nattrail01 & 02). One of them leads south-to-center, the other one center-to-north.
If you want to remove one or both of them just remove the displacement map, and change the diffuse texture to the one used for pure snow (fmwi_snow01).
The set uses displacement maps, so Poser (7) users don`t forget to turn it on in your render settings 😉
I really got nothing substantial to add here, but it seemed weird to leave it out. 😉
Well, I find the small stones on the trail look a bit too dark on the shadow-side, so for the perfect render you might want to adjust the ambience. Or hide them.
That aside everything should be pretty easy to handle.
Oh, and I could add the usual “Poser (7) users turn displacement maps on” info.
Just a small tip in case you want to place architecture on the ground.
If the floor is too bumpy keep in mind you can scale it along the Y-axis to flatten it.
The skybox On Greenlands is scaled rather small, so if you use it for other scenes you might want to scale it up a bit
(eg. for a larger scene like Mountain Trail I used 250%).
Poser: I turned “Visible in Raytracing” off for the natural trail version of the terrain.
This fixed some rendering errors which occured around the displacement map.
Internally (pp2) that value is named “Visible in Reflections”, so once can throw a coin to decide what it really does.
Anyway, I didn`t notice any difference except the render errors being gone. (Edit: I now know it affects self-shadowing, but that doesn`t come into play much on this set)
This is a really dark set. In case you want to brighten it up just use higher values for the lights, particularly the 3 ambient (directional) lights.
Bonus skybox: Keep in mind all “skybox only” preloads load with the sun in the north. So if you want to use it with the included lighting you might want to rotate it accordingly.
Highly recommended: wide camera angles!
I found Poser`s main cam way too narrow for this set, the Dolly cam worked better.
For the promo renders I used values down to 22mm (Poser, Focal) and 45 (DS, Focal Length).
The displacement value on the rock is something you can toy with, I used what I liked best, but higher values can look nice as well.
The main topic for this set is clearly the water, so I will start there.
The tricky part about it is blending it into the skybox. Here is an illustration to show where the water meets the skybox.
I`ve set up the material defaults to work best with rather flat camera angles, because they are most common for character centric-renders.
On steeper camera angles the “blending” will be a lot less convincing with the default settings. Specularity and reflections brighten up the water-geometry, while the water on the skybox remains static (or to be precise, it`s darker towards the center).
Cut short, you will want to adjust the water material.
To get the water darker I found it best to change a couple of values together:
-Darken the diffuse color
-Turn up Glossiness to narrow specularity (=lower highlight_size on Poser) and/or reduce specular intensity.
-Turn down reflections.
Additionally, making the water more transparent can help blending into the skybox.
The opposite approach (more specularity, more reflection) can be used to brighten up the water, eg. usefull for shots towards the sun, where the water in the skybox is touched by sunlight.
Tip: Use “spot rendering” to quickly check your changes.
Note: The lighting also affects the look of the water. If you don`t want to use the included preset lighting you`ll likely have to adjust the water as well.
Skybox size & cameras:
The skybox on this set is bigger than the previous ones, there`s good reason for it, but I doubt anyone cares. 😉
Poser has a very limited default render distance for it`s preview-window, shorter than the skybox scale.
The “yon” value defines the preview distance on cameras. I have added appropriate values to scene and skybox preloads for main, dolly and aux camera, so you don`t have to care about it there. If you switch to a different cam you won`t see the skybox in the preview unless you up the yon value for your camera.
Daz Studio users unfortunately will see the Poser cameras where I changed that value, but they do no harm. Ignore them, delete them, use them…it doesn`t matter.
Tip: Reflections with Daz Studio:
If you want to get stronger reflections on the water you will probably wonder how to do that since it is already set to 100%.
On DS you have that little cog-wheel next to many parameters. If you click it you can turn “limits off”, which will allow you to set values higher than 100%.
What is that water-plane prop good for?:
Let`s say you want to render a scene with a ship in the “skybox-ocean”. If you just put the ship in, it will look as if it was flying over the water.
You can use the water-plane as the “base” to place your ship on, pretty much like it`s done for the rock on the main set.
Render settings with Poser (recent versions):
My version of Poser 10 has massive “gamma correction” on by default, which is weird. Make sure it is turned off, it does wild stuff with reflections.
Render settings general:
Just a small tip most of you will know anyway. Set raytracing to at least 3, better 4.
It`s needed to properly render trasparent&reflective surfaces.
Surprisingly quick for a scene with water, at least for me, maybe because the reflections mostly catch the skybox.
The promo renders I did took about 2 to 4 minutes.
The waves are driven by the displacement map. If you want less of them just reduce the displacement.
On close-ups it can look a bit off (artefacts), which would be an instance where you want to turn it down a bit.
Pretty easy set.
The tree`s leaves are preset to not cast shadows, that`s how the promo images were done as well. It helps to speed up rendering, and I didn`t feel it would be a big loss. Of course you can turn shadows on anytime, might make sense if you render a tree close-up.
As usual with the easy environments, wide camera angles work very nice.
I find the cobble stones a bit hit-or-miss, depending on the angle/lighting. They are a seperate prop, so in case you think they stand out too much just hide or delete them.
As you would expect, this set really works great with the skybox from “Eternal Sands” ( and vice versa).
Water / Reflections
If you want to increase the reflections on the water I recommend to lower the bumpmap-strength rather than upping the reflection strength.
The later is likely to mess up the brightness of the surface, while reducing the bumps just turns it into something more like a mirror.
Poser, Gamma Correction
Recent Poser versions have that gamma correction parameter in the render options, older versions don`t.
Thus the set is designed to be rendered with gamma correction off. Reflective surfaces react heavily to it, so if you have it on results will look wrong.
Water and Vegetation are not easy on rendertimes, but Daz Studio deals surprisingly well with it. I got about 10 minutes there with lots of vegetation framed.
Poser however, not so good. For preview renders I strongly suggest to turn shadows off for all the vegetation, and maybe hide the water.
I added a Poser “Test render” preload which you could also use for drafting. It has shadows disabled and the reflections removed from the water.
For final renders I recommend to keep the shading rate at 0.3 or higher. It`s still not exactly fast that way, but my standard 0.2 setting was quite a nightmare.
That said, I am no Poser expert, so maybe there are some settings suited for that kind of scenes I don`t know about. If you have any good tips about that just bring them to the Link: Daz Forum
No special info on this one, it`s pretty straight forward 😉
Ops, I forgot to add something here upon release, or maybe there was nothing special to be mentioned. 😉
Well, Snowy Mountains is the first Easy Environment which uses a “SkySphere” instead of the previously used “SkyBoxes”. You can read up on that above.
Post release the set was updated with an Iray version. Which had a terribly huge HDRI sky. Since I finally found a way to compress those things I`ve submitted a much smaller texture to Daz, I hope they`ll push an update sometimes. (It makes no visual difference but should help in case your system struggled to handle the 200mb monster)
Now this is a happy mood set
This is the first Easy Environment to release in native .duf format for Daz Studio (except for the Snowy Mountains Iray update), so don`t get confused if you don`t find it next to the other sets in the content library.
Working with the Iray version I recommend to use “texture shaded” with no preview lighing in your main viewport until you need to set up fine details. The Iray preview is quite slow (at least on my system) and takes a while to calculate opacity, which makes it hard to see anything.
Also note that you`ll likely want to load both, “Hell Iray” and “Hell Sky Iray”, the later adds the sky to your Render/Environment settings.
To be frank, in most cases I`d prefer the 3Delight version.
Not much to say here, don`t let the lighting preview fool you, Poser(10) seems to have a limit for how many lights it takes into account, so it will look differently in the final render.
The set has two “Ash” objects. “AshesMain” holds ash close to the terrain, “AshesOS” is like a ring around the main area.
If you do renders with a camera pointing from the outside towards the center, that outer ring often adds a nice dirty effect, but could also get in your way. In that case you can simply rotate AshesOS along Y to bring it in a better suited position.
Of course you can also hide/delete both layers anytime if you don`t want the effect.
The shackles are separate objects, not merged to the chains, and have proper centers (pivots) for scaling.
That allows you to scale them to your needs, if you want to remove the shackled angel and place your own characters there.
Unlike most other sets the lighting of the sky is rather diffuse, so imo it`s ok to rotate(Y) it without worry about the lighting. That way you can easily frame the parts of the sky you like best.
As always on those environments, wide camera angles usually give you more spectacular views because they capture more of the sky.
Tree of Life is the second Easy Environments set releasing in native .duf format for Daz Studio, so if you use the content library make sure to browse the native directory.
Compared to most other Easy Environment scenes it`s likely more taxing on your system due to the vegetation. It renders quite fast for me, but might take a while on weaker systems. If need be, you can hide some of the ground vegetation.
Making use of the native format the 3Delight preload is pretty much a ready-to-render scene.
The lighting is now parented to the skysphere, thus rotating the sky automatically rotates the lighting as well, keeping the sun in the right place.
The skysphere-only preload also has the lighting parented, so if you load the sky on any scene the lighting loads with it (I included a lighting-only preload as well, in case you want to use it seperately though).
If you are used to the older sets just keep in mind the lighting is included now, so you don`t end up loading it twice.
If you want to use the First Light sky, remove the original sky and lighting from your scene.
Iray has one scene and one sky preload, since the sky lights the scene there is no additional lighting required.
I recommend to start working in shaded texture mode for better performance, and only switch to the Iray viewport once you have done your basic setup.
Business as usual here. 😉
One scene, one sky, one lighting preload.