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Old 01-28-2009, 05:34 PM
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DoMiNo DoMiNo is offline
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Step 4: Surfacing

This is the hardest step to get motivated for, because depending on how intricately-surfaced your design is, you will likely spend a lot of time just looking at it and contemplating how you will do it. I always use a relatively basic side reflection as my starting point. My renders are pretty simplistic in the sense that I don’t really use any “real” reflections (terrain, sky, etc.). Still, it’s helpful to look at actual photos of cars (especially in studio settings) to see how the reflections look on different body panels and at different angles.

Select the area you want to work in (in this case, along the side of the car); once you have the basic shape of your reflection drawn with the path tool, right click and choose “make selection”; this will allow you to work within those boundaries, no matter the layer.

The color of a car will never be “flat”, and it’s important to counter your light reflections with some dark spots as well. I select the base “color” layer, and then use the burn tool to darken this area before painting on a reflection; this just helps add a little more dimension in places. Note: when you’re using the burn and dodge tools, be aware that there are settings for “shadows, midtones, and highlights.” These options have a very big effect on the result of the burn tool, and depending on the color (with cool tones like blue it’s less of a problem) you’ll need to play around with these settings as well as the “exposure” which regulates the intensity of the burn or dodge. (I usually set exposure rather low, so I can use finer gradations).

Once you’re satisfied with your work on the base (“Color”) layer, retain the selection but open a new layer (just above the base layer) for your reflection. Using a large brush (set “hardness” to 0% and “opacity” to something low, like 15 or 20%), carefully paint in your reflection. The advantage of setting the opacity low is that it will allow you to make much subtler gradations by going over an area several times. Remember, you can always erase, as well.

Repeat this step for all surfaces. Like I said, it takes a while and chances are you will not always be satisfied with your work, so it’s extremely important that each reflection (i.e. each surface) have its OWN LAYER. Be mindful of convex/concave surfaces and the way light will hit them. My renders have pretty undefined light sources; you may want to be more accurate.

For reference, this is how my base “Color” layer looks after all of my shading.

And this is how it looks with the reflections overlaying the color.

Sorry if I had to simplify that particular step; feel free to let me know if it is unclear.

Step 5: Interior and Glass

Create a new layer above your “Glass” layer (the see-through layer). Using your path tool, draw out reflections over the glass areas.

Right-click > “Make selection”, then follow the same process you would use were you making a reflection on the body: use the burn tool on the glass layer and the paintbrush on its own layer. You can judge how bright you want the reflection, but remember that you can easily adjust the opacity and fill of each layer whenever you want to (i.e. to fade something that seems too bright) by drawing down opacity or fill on the “Layers” tab. Repeat process for side window.

Step 6: Detail work

Your car should really be coming together; by now it should look relatively 3D, and it’s time for the little details that will really make it pop.

Lines: (credit to Mr. Burns for turning me on to this method!) Using the path tool—on a NEW LAYER which should be above the sketch layer—draw out lines to accentuate certain surfaces, the way light would catch on a crease or the edge of a panel. With the path tool still selected, right-click and choose “stroke path”. There will be an option to “simulate pressure”, this is what allows you to make smoothly tapered lines. You will need to use a small brush at about 75-80% opacity, with hardness set low (I prefer maybe 25 or 30%); you can adjust the taper of the lines by selecting the brush properties, “shape dynamics,” and adjusting the “minimum diameter”. Play around with this to get the effect you like best; sometimes you’ll want thicker lines, other times you will want them very thin. It depends on the surface.

Silver/chrome surfaces: Remember, there are reflections on metal parts, too. Using a combination of the burn and dodge tools you can create a very easy metallic effect; you will need to be very careful in your selections. Chrome will have sharper reflections that will require selections with the path tool. Brushed metal will have softer reflections, which can be achieved simply by using the dodge and burn tools. You’re just trying to add a little bit of dimension and realism here; I typically don’t spend much time fussing with this step.

Lights: You’ve likely noticed that I tend to do LED/neon effect lights most often, so I’ll include that step in this tutorial. Create new layers for each type of light (i.e. headlights, tail lights, turn signals). Using the path tool, create the shape of the light you desire. For headlights, fill with white. For signals or rear lights, fill with a yellow or bright gold/orange. Then select “Layer” > “Layer Style” > “Outer Glow”. You can adjust the color of the glow, intensity of the glow, as well as the size/spread of the glow (too little and it won’t be noticeable, too much and the shape of the light will be too blurred). I typically prefer an ice blue color for the glow of the headlamps; for signals, an orange slightly darker than that of the fill color.

Using the eraser you can also create patterns in the lights (like the turn signal in the front intake on this render). Simply draw a line across it with the path tool, right-click > “Stroke path” using the eraser instead of the paintbrush (make sure it is a small, sharp eraser, only a few pixels wide with “hardness” and “opacity” set at 100% so it is very clear). Again, this is something fun to play around with, if not really necessary.

Mesh grilles: this is another little detail that adds realism and is very simple but not always necessary. I usually search photo sites like for hi-res pics of cars with Mesh grilles, which I copy and paste into a PS document. This particular example is taken from the Seat Bocanegra concept. I just copied the image, opened it in PS, clipped the mesh portion I wanted, and stuck it in my render. Pretty easy!

Now with these details in place, our car is looking a little more realistic. In fact, it’s just about finished. But there are a couple of little things you can do if you want to make it really polished.

Simply using the path tool I created some bars across the grille and shaded them a bit with the burn tool. Then I added a Silvia emblem (found it online) with a very slight shadow effect. Beveled “Nissan” text (“Layer” > “Layer Style” > “Bevel and Emboss”) was added to the front bumper as well as to the emblem/exit vent on the front quarter panel. And to set off the wheels I made a new layer, used the path tool to make crescent-shaped reflection above and below the wheels, then filled them with a low-flow brush (in white or light gray paint). Then I used the path tool and a small, sharp eraser to make a very basic “tread pattern.”

Finally, there are the dots. Another optional addition, and another that Mr. Burns suggested (thanks!). These are simply glints of light that impart a little more of a vibrant, lifelike appearance to the entire render. Just use a soft brush (“hardness” set to 0%) and set opacity fairly low. Dab a few times at spots where the light catches points or surface/panel intersections or simply where you feel there would be a particularly bright reflection (hard to explain, but you get the drift). It’s really easy to go overboard with these…I find I use them much more sparingly now, but when utilized appropriately the effect is terrific.

So technically, aside from the wheels (which I will get to in my next post), we’re finished! For my contest entry I simply duplicated the Background layer and filled it with gray, then went over it a bit with the burn and dodge tools for the effect you see below. Added some text and a logo and voila! The car is rendered!


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