The software I use for creating my images is DAZ Studio, a free software from DAZ3D that works spectacularly well if you know what your doing. The problem is that their documentation is not that great (which is typical with free software), so it becomes increasingly difficult to hunt down issues and fix them. And when a typical high quality render takes 1-6 hours, it can be frustrating to say the least.
Studio has two different rendering engines – that is to say, two different software engines that take all the data from your composed 3D file and calculate surface types, incoming light, light absorption, redirection, translucency and the like, then spit out a picture based on all those parameters.
The standard, quick and clean engine is 3Delight, which has been part of Studio from the very beginning. It’s fast on modern processors, but can take a lot of work to get to look the way they should when it comes to model textures. A metal or leather texture can take a lot of tweaking, as can hair and skin. Overall you get a pretty good ‘cartoony’ look from the engine.
The alternative and more powerful engine is the Iray engine, which uses much more powerful calculations combined with preset variables for surfaces to create a much more realistic looking render. Now, more realistic output means you need more realistic input, and lighting can be a big issue. Like a real camera, if you don’t have enough light you will get grainy output, but finding the right balance of light and lens settings can be cumbersome. You not only need to account for things like the actual scene lighting (which can now also include ’emissive objects’), but you also need to worry about things like lens ISO, F Stop, shutter speed, etc. If you don’t know a lot about how those work (which I don’t) you can end up with crap:
In the preceding image you can see the obvious bump in quality both in the characters and the scene, but there still persists this horrible grainy look that I cannot seem to get rid of, no matter how much light I add (you CAN add too much lighting and wash out the scene, which this is actually close to doing if you look at the girls faces), and no matter how much you adjust lens settings. The GREAT benefit to Iray, however, is material presets. The presets have been painstakingly configured to be highly representative of what they are meant to be. Brushed steel looks fantastic. Leather is very realistic and glass or transparent materials have realistic reflection and refraction.
I still have a lot of learning to do with Studio, but you can see that some of the older renders I have done look really good, but with more complicated objects and lightning in the scene the requirements of understanding how they all interact increases as well! Check back later for more updates!