An unofficial CarraraCafe manual for the upcoming LuxusCore plugin for Carrara, that brings GPU accelerated rendering and realtime render preview into Carrara. It is updated frequently, so check back often.
If you have any questions or something to add, check the end of the manual for links to the forum.
Table of Contents 1. What is LuxusCore? (Updated 2016-01-23) 2. Beta installation for Windows x64, free (Updated 2017-01-28) 3. First simple project, rendering and video demo (Updated 2017-02-15) 4. Shaders (Updated 2017-02-15)
5. Lights (Updated 2017-02-14)
6. Cameras (Updated 2017-01-30) 7. FAQ (Updated 2017-01-28) 8. Example LuxusCore renders 9. Animation (Updated 2016-01-23) 10. Benchmarks (Updated 2015-09-04) 11. Settings to use in the Config Settings: PathOCL, BiaspathOCL, Realtime, EXR/HDR and multipass images (Updated 2016-01-23) 12. GUI (Updated 2016-01-23)
14. Release notes (Updated 2017-01-28)
1. What is LuxusCore? LuxusCore is based in the LuxCore render engine of the upcoming Luxrender 2.0 (not released at the time of writing) and is a Carrara plugin with a built-in render engine.
LuxusCore supports GPU accelerated rendering and Interactive Photorealistic Rendering (IPR) inside Carrara.
It works on both AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards using the OpenCL language, so you need to have updated graphics drivers.
More about supported graphics cards can be found in the LuxCore wiki here.
Also runs on CPU which supports more functions than GPU only.
Important new features for Carrara users that are now integrated into Carrara: GPU rendering, Unbiased rendering, HDR/EXR with multipass rendering.
Note 1: Path may be different if you installed Carrara elsewhere. Note 2: LuxRender is not needed, unlike Luxus for Carrara. LuxusCore works both with a clean installation of Carrara and also if you already have the older Luxus plugin installed.
3.1 First simple project and IPR rendering Download the simple test scene and load it in Carrara, press Edit/LuxCore IPR and you should be seeing this:
The very first time you may get the same configuration dialog as when choosing Edit -> LuxCore Config where you choose GPU or CPU rendering and the method for rendering. The screenshot shows the recommended settings for GPU acceleration, all graphics cards are selected, the CPU is not:
3.1 First simple project and rendering
Start Carrara and load a default scene to quickly check that LuxusCore is working:
File -> Open Preset -> Global Illumination -> Skylight
Edit -> LuxCore IPR
Now the IPR render window should open and the realtime GPU preview rendering should be running.
Now delete the default scene light and add a LuxusCore light: Insert -> LuxCore Sun-Sky. Uncheck “Do Sun” and to run the same type of scene as the preset, but using LuxCore setting instead.
In the Render Room, you can choose Rendering -> Renderer -> Photorealistic -> Luxcore via Luxus to get the full render options.
3.2 Luxuscore Youtube video demonstration by Spheric Labs
A video showing the first version of LuxusCore in Carrara and the new IPR window that supports the realtime rendering workflow with quick changes to the scene, lights and shaders/materials. Some basic shader modifications are shown too. Posted in the end of December 2014 by the LuxusCore developer Spheric Labs.
As you can see from the Render Room above, the native Carrara render on the left has a Glossy material. In the current version of LuxusCore this is not automatically translated.
A workaround is to build the shader as a new LuxusCore material in the Carrara shader room.
A general overview of the Luxcore materials can be found in the Luxrender wiki, well worth reading since physically based materials are very different from the Carrara shaders used by the Carrara internal rendering engine.
Simple glass material example in Carrara LuxusCore.
4.2 Transparency shader
Transparency with LuxusCore materials, for example eye-lashes:
> LuxCore Mix
>> LuxCore Null
>> LuxCore Matte or whatever material you desire
>> Amount is 0.0 for Null, 1.0 for Matte, or put a carrara texture map in there for something like eyelashes.
(You can swap the order of Null and Matte if you want 1.0 for fully transparent.)
4.3 Emission shader Should be as simple as turning up the power on the emissive channel, but here is a matte material that is emissive.
Its not very powerful, so if you have a sun in the scene, you might not be able to even see it emit light. http://sphericlabs.com/preview/Emissive.zip
A screenshot of the Carrara shading room, showing another example of the emission shader in LuxusCore:
4.4 Car paint shader The shader for the car below, used this shader:
> LuxCore Mix
>> LuxCore Car paint
>> LuxCore Mirror
>> Amount : 25
Joe Pingleton experimented using Lux mix shaders to combine the surface with a mirror so that he could adjust the reflections.
4.5 Texture shaders Here are 2 simple examples from SphericLabs showing the support for textures in both PNG and TIFF format:
5. Lights Lights are available in the Insert menu, grouped with the other lights.
The Luxrender wiki has some good info on different types of lights in Luxrender in general and is worth reading.
5.1 Infinite and Sun-Sky
Currently available are LuxCore Infinite and LuxCore Sun-Sky.
LuxCore Infinite supports HDRI images in EXR format, so you need to browse for them. Carrara includes a few HDRI files, DAZ3D store has several HDRI store items and there are several free HDRI files here.
5.2 Spot, bulb and distant lights
Carrara’s own spot, bulb, and distant lights are currently translated into LuxCore.
Although it looks like it is not responding to changes during an IPR render. You will have to stop and start the render to reflect changes.
5.3 Mesh lights
Mesh lights have to be done via the Luxuscore materials and work great. Make anything a LuxCore Matte material and turn up the power on the Emission channel. Here is a screenshot. As a heads up if you make a plane and make it emit, it will emit out of one side of the plane, not both. See also the shaders/materials chapter.
6. Cameras Environment camera (panorama) was just added to the development builds in late 2016, Luxuscore does not support environment cameras yet.
Q: How can I check if my computer supports LuxusCore GPU rendering? A1: A good test is running the LuxMark V3 benchmark, if all 3 scenes can be rendered, then LuxuxCore should work in Carrara too. Get LuxMark V3.1 here. A2: NVIDIA drivers are more unstable than AMD, for example on NVIDIA GeForce 680M, driver version 353.30 does not work. Roll back to 347.09 for both LuxMark and LuxusCore Carrara to work.
Q: There is a graphics glitch or black screen or wrong colors/shaders, what can I try to change that may help? A0. Try the Luxmark benchmark to verify that your graphics card and driver are working correctly. Download and run LuxMark 3.1, all 3 tests should work. A1. Uncheck the Biased option in Edit/LuxCore Config menu. A2: Try the CPU renderer that is supposed to be more stable first. In the Edit/LuxusCore Config, select CPU/Path, if that still fails, try CPU/Bidir for complex scenes (interiors). More info about the settings is available in the LuxRender wiki here. A3: Try the following config in the render room “Config Settings” box: renderengine.type = “PATHOCL” opencl.platform.index = “-1” opencl.cpu.use = 0 opencl.gpu.use = 1 opencl.gpu.workgroup.size = “64” accelerator.instances.enable = “0” opencl.kernel.options = “-cl-fast-relaxed-math -cl-mad-enable -cl-no-signed-zeros”
To render with both CPU and CPU change the opencl.cpu.use value to 1.
Also try to remove the last line (opencl.kernel.options = “-cl-fast-relaxed-math -cl-mad-enable -cl-no-signed-zeros”) which does speed up rendering (30% for NVIDIA, 3% for AMD in LuxMark V3.1), at the cost of some compatibility (crashes). A4: LuxCore uses accelerators, these speed up ray casting and figuring out what rays hit and where. The default is for LuxCore to choose the accelerator:
accelerator.type = AUTO
Try these in the config settings: accelerator.type = BVH accelerator.type = MBVH accelerator.type = QBVH accelerator.type = MQBVH More about accelerators in the Luxrender FAQ. A5: Try the simple test scene and the simple spot light test scene. A6: Usual error related to a missing dll can be figured out by using dependency walker. Caution, it is an advanced tool that can give errors when there are none, but it does give us clues as to what is going on. So go get dependency walker, http://www.dependencywalker.com/ . I assume you want the x64 version. Extract it and run it. Drag your LuxusCore.mcx file onto the dependency walker window. It will take a little while and then produce something like the image shown. By default it expands the dependency tree, we only want to see one level deep so close them all so it looks like the images shown.
One image is correct and all dependant dlls were found, the other has a yellow quesion mark next to OpenCL.DLL. OpenCL.DLL is missing in that case
Q: What rendering engine is LuxusCore for Carrara running? A: LuxusCore is using PATHOCL that can run on GPU or CPU. The Feb 2015 version also has: Light and Bidirectional for CPU rendering.
The available render engines in the full LuxCore: * LIGHTCPU: * PATHOCL: * PATHCPU: * BIDIRCPU: * BIDIRHYBRID: * CBIDIRHYBRID: * BIDIRVMCPU: * RTPATHOCL: * PATHHYBRID: * BIASPATHCPU: * BIASPATHOCL: * RTBIASPATHOCL:
Q: Does replicated replications work? A: Yes, check the test render by SphericLabs below:
Q: What does the “bias” options do? A: Check this Luxrender forum post for more details and renders. A2: Currently seems to be broken since it is in development, uncheck the option in Edit/LuxCore Config menu.
Q: What Carrara shaders are translated into LuxCore shaders? A: Translation of Carrara shaders is certainly limited. Right now it simply looks at the values of the standard multichanel shader and does a guess. It can certainly be improved. Also, internally saved textures will not work at all at this time.
Q: What are the known limitations/problems with LuxusCore? A: Luxuscore plugin: Can’t use Carrara plants objects or terrain shaders. A2: Luxcore engine: Portals are not implemented.
Q: What happens if I use a graphics card with 2GB RAM and another with 4GB RAM? A: Each graphics card needs its own copy of data to render. So if you have a 2GB card and a 4GB card, then you are limited to 2GB if you want to render with both.
Tip: Use only the 4GB card for complex scenes with lots of textures. You can check memory consumption with GPU-Z from here.
Q: How do you set the camera? As in Exposure, White Balance, Depth of Field and Tone Mapping. A: It can be done via the config settings, DOF would be via the scene settings. It will be exposed in a nice UI later.
Q: What can I do if I run out of GPU memory? A: You can try to consolidate shaders. For example a 2600MB scene can be cut down to 1800MB just by doing this.
Also close any open web browsers to free about 100-300MB of GPU memory.
8. Example LuxusCore renders
In The Shadows by Joe Pingleton
The Opening of Eyes – by Joe Pingleton
Nicole by Joe Pingleton
This was rendered in 2 minutes with only one infinite light and no messing around with the default shaders.
One of the major benefits of LuxusCore and LuxCore, is the possiblity to render high quality animation quickly on a desktop with a fast graphics card or four.
In the Render Room, enter this data in GUI, to get an animation of 25 seconds of rendertime per frame and using the SOBOL sampler for faster rendering: Halt Seconds: 25 Sampler: SOBOL
If you are running a simple scene on a powerful desktop (or want higher quality), like SpericLabs scene with a translation of the box on multiple graphics cards, try these settings for 256 samples per pixel and the better Metropolis sampler: Halt SPP: 256 Sampler: METROPOLIS
The first frame does show some more details, like the number of samples, which is useful the guess the render time, at least 100 samples is a good starting point.
Both rendering to AVI with uncompressed frames and Sequenced PNG files works. Rendering progress is visible, both the rendered frame is seen and the frame counter is visible.
9.1 About Samplers
-Sobol is better than Metropolis when it comes to rather simple lighting, like outdoor sunlight.
-Sobol is “dumber and faster” than Metropolis.
-Metropolis is better in more complex lighting situations (caustics through glass, light through a small window etc.). It is the default sampler for LuxCore.
-More about samplers at the Luxrender wiki.
LuxusCore Carrara Animation Test 04 by Joe Pingleton:
Benchmarks are useful to check if your rig is setup to run properly.
Test scene: 1. SphericLabs simple test scene, get it here: http://sphericlabs.com/scratch/LuxusScene.zip.
Default resolution 640×480 in Render Room. Settings: OpenCL/path/unbiased Results:
CPU Core-17-2700k@4,7GHz (overclocked): 2,0 Ms/s
GPU AMD Radeon 7970 (stock): 8,35Ms/s
GPU AMD Radeon 7970 x3 (stock): 25,0Ms/s (perfect scaling, exactly 3x faster)
GPU NVIDIA GTX970 (stock) 8-9Ms/s
10.2 LuxMark 3.1 benchmark
The official LuxRender benchmark application, LuxMark 3.1 is useful for checking that both hardware and software is running at top speed. Update the video card drivers and get the LuxMark app from here, where you can also check LuxMark scores of other rigs.
11. Settings to use in the Config Settings: PathOCL, BiaspathOCL, Realtime, EXR/HDR and multipass images Some config settings to help speed up rendering / IPR (thanks to Steve), until the GUI is finished.
Also added EXR/HDR and multipass images settings.
11.1 These are for PathOCL.
The settings are entered in the “render room > Luxcore via Luxus > Config Settings”
renderengine.type = “PATHOCL” (sets renderer to PathOCL) path.maxdepth = 3 (sets mamimum path depth. A value of 1 will give direct lighting only. I set to 3 for IPR, and set to 4 (or possibly more, depending on scene) for final render) path.clamping.radiance.maxvalue = 10 (clamping radiance, helps prevent fireflys. Good for indoor scenes, but can cause greyed out image if applied on outside well lit scenes if set as a low value). For indoor scenes, I usually set to 10 (as shown) and adjust as needed.) path.clamping.pdf.value = 0 (This works in oposite to radiance clamping, and will clamp low levels. Good to help prevent noisy shadows, but better set to low value, of as example, 0.1 – 0.5. If set too high, image will be black in many areas.) film.filter.type = “NONE” (if filtering set to “NONE”, rendering will be quicker. Other types are: “GAUSSIAN”, “BOX”, “MITCHELL_SS”, “MITCHELL” and “BLACKMAN-HARRIS” film.filter.width = 2 (value to set for filtering when it is not set to NONE)
11.2 Some settings for BiaspathOCL.
renderengine.type = “BIASPATHOCL” (set to BiaspathOCL) tile.size = 32 (Biaspath renders in buckets/tiles. This setting sets the tiles size. In earlier builds of Luxcore, the size of the tiles could affect render times. That, it as been stated, does not now matter. During testing I have found that making tile size smaller can cause a crash, and making tile size bigger can use a lot more graphics card memory. So would suggest leaving that setting at 32 for now). tile.multipass.enable = 1 (enables (set to “1”) multipass rendering. If set to “0” only one pass made.) tile.multipass.convergencetest.threshold = 0.04 (controls quality of render. Lower values give better quality(less noise). Default = 0.04, which for well lit scenes is probably OK. For scenes with lots of shadows or indoor scenes, it will probably need setting lower. I set usually between 0.1 – 0.2 for final renders. Render will stop when threshold reached) biaspath.sampling.aa.size = 3 (Scene total max aa sampling)
Sampling for materials can be set separately for “diffuse”, “glossy” and “specular”. These settings are for scene defaults:- biaspath.sampling.diffuse.size = 2
biaspath.sampling.glossy.size = 2
biaspath.sampling.specular.size = 1 biaspath.pathdepth.total = 10 (Scene total max path depth)
Path depth is also set separately for “diffuse”, “glossy” and “specular” These settings are for scene defaults:- biaspath.pathdepth.diffuse = 2
biaspath.pathdepth.glossy = 1
biaspath.pathdepth.specular = 2
Note: Path depth default for diffuse is set to “2”. That currently is insufficient to give good indirect lighting(certainly for indoor scenes). I suggest it should be set to at least 3: = biaspath.pathdepth.diffuse = 3)
Clamping can also be set as shown/explained in above post: biaspath.clamping.radiance.maxvalue = 0
biaspath.clamping.pdf.value = 0
11.3 Realtime settings If you are interested in using the realtime LuxCore stuff you can try:
Not much difference, except my machine feels more responsive doing other things. But it freezes Carrara when I stop the IPR.
11.4 EXR/HDR and multi-pass image export You will need to put something like the following in the config section: batch.periodicsave=15 film.outputs.1.type=RGB film.outputs.1.filename=image.exr
This means every 15 seconds write an RGB image with filename image.exr. The file will apear in the extension folder. You can specify a path such as C:/Users/Spheric/Documents/image.exr
You could also do stuff like write an HDR and a tonemapped png with batch.periodicsave=15 film.outputs.1.type=RGB film.outputs.1.filename=image.hdr film.outputs.2.type=RGB_TONEMAPPED film.outputs.2.filename=image.png
12. GUI (Beta 2015-Nov release) -It is minimalistic. More will come.
-Sampler and Accelerator are usually best to leave at AUTO. METROPOLIS for indoor scenes. SOBOL for animations.
-Halt time is in seconds. Halt SPP is Samples Per Pixel and then the rendering will stop. 100 would be on the low end, 1000 can take a while.
-ToneMapper. AUTOLINEAR is best for previewing and before final lighting is done. You will never get a bright image or a dark image.
-ToneMapper. LINEAR has one adjustment, scale. Lower is darker, Higher is brighter. We may need to add more decimal places to go very low.
-ToneMapper. LuxLinear is an ISO, Shutter, FStop paradigm for how bright things should be. Sensitivity(ISO), Exposure(Shutter speed), and FStop.
-ToneMapper. Reinhard02 is a nonlinear tonemapper. Google LuxRender Reinhard for an explanation.
-Gamma. You can adjust it, but 2.2 is usually what people leave this at. 1.8 is the other commonly used value here.
-Lens Radius(in meters) is how large the Lens is. A larger lens will have more depth of field effect. 0.5 is very blurry.
-Focal Distance(in meters) is where the focus for depth of field effects is.
-Config Settings and Scene Settings are for things not supported in the Render Settings UI yet. There are many.
Carrara hair is supported by LuxusCore from November 2015.
LuxusCore will look for a LuxCore material in the Tip Color slot of the hair shader See image. Also, emissive hair is kind of trippy.
14. Release notes
-Glossy Translucent Material working
-Updated LuxCore to include improvements in last 2 months done by LuxCore developers. For example less memory usage for textures.
-Global shader should now work.
-Camera can roll and bank.
– Updated LuxCore
– Fixed a hang on close.
– Internal LuxCore updated to latest source.
– GlossyCoating Material.
– Removed fresnelname as it offers nothing that metal2 presets does not already provide.
– Added fresnelsopra and fresnelluxpop
– Fixed fresnelcolor to not crash
-Another build that now supports Carrara Hair.
-Another build with some improvements to the render settings UI.
-New build. It never times out.
If you have anything to add, please post in the Carrara Forums, DAZ3D forums or comment here and we will add it to the manual.
As some of you may know Carrara Cafe was recently hacked.
We have recovered from the crash, however there are still some glitches that are being worked on.
Unfortunately the back up file that I have is a little bit old one so we lost few new posts in few places as well as some members might need to create new accounts.
It is also strongly recommended to change log-in passwords to everyone. Please do change your password to new ones before Monday.
Attention! New users, please hold on on registering new accounts, were are looking into how to resolve some lost data and we might need to reset entire website again which might lead to loss of new registrations. Gives us couple of days before registering to Carrara Cafe.
Fenric has created for us a very powerful animation automation tool with the Carrara ERC plug-in. As such there are some great advanced examples available on the Internet that at first make it appear very daunting. However, the core concept of ERC is very simple; thing A moves thing B or more accurately thing A controls/modifies thing B. ERC is basically acting like the string between a puppet and its human master.
In the Carrara world the master can be anything that can be animated using the keyframe sequencer. For example this could be the arm of an evil sorcerer in our scene. The puppet can be, once again, anything that can be animated using the sequencer. In our first example let’s say the puppet is a chair in our scene. I can use ERC to magically levitate the chair whenever our character raises his arm (yes, this is a truly evil sorcerer). To do this I would simply connect our string (ERC) from the shoulder rotation of our sorcerer to the Z-axis position of the chair. Now whenever our evil sorcerer raises his arm, our chair flies up into the air and off our screen. Not exactly what we had in mind; we were going for some low altitude levitation. To fix this, ERC allows us to do some fancy things with our string. It allows us to change the degree by which the arm movement changes the chair movement. So we can tell ERC that we want our arm to move the chair only a small fraction of how much it was moving it before, even though our arm movement will remain exactly the same.
But wouldn’t it be simpler to just animate the arm and then separately animate the chair? Probably, but it made for a good example. One of the real indispensabilities of ERC is in the animation of things that are associated with each other on a repetitive basis. Let’s look at a face for example. When we move something on our face it typically causes other parts of our face to move as well. When I raise my eyebrows I get big wrinkles on my forehead. When I smile, same thing, my eyes wrinkle. Unfortunately I find this association to be far more desirable on my 3D characters than on myself and while I can’t do anything about me, I can use ERC to emulate these associated facial movements on my Daz characters.
For a basic implementation I like to add forehead wrinkles and a slight top eyelid movement driven by the eyebrow keyframe animation. (ERC enhancement on the left)
I also add cheek puff (under eye wrinkling), eye squinting and ear movement driven by the smile keyframe animation. (ERC enhancement on the left)
Daz characters have an abundance of morph parameters that can control virtually all aspects of the face allowing us to get very detailed with our automated animations by setting up an ERC modifier to control anything we want; from anything we want.
Additionally, because Carrara shaders can be animated, we can create an effect that mimics fine wrinkles on our characters face. We could setup a face bump map using the regular bump map and a second bump map with additional wrinkle lines and then use an ERC modifier to mix between the two as our controlling parameter (mouth movement) changes.
Carrara has a vast array of little check boxes and fields to fill in that help us to have things animate on their own with just a little input from us. All over the place the Carrara interface is checking to see if we need some automatic animation assistance, and I think that’s very cool, indeed! In this article I wanted to instead demonstrate my simple method of character animation. There are many techniques to animating characters and I’ve read instructions about quite a few of them from text books to online tutorials and even a few videos on the subject. The method I ended up becoming the most comfortable with is most similar to the text book, but likely has a bit of other sources mixed in as well. All in all, I don’t really think that it’s the studying that makes us better at animation, but the practice. Not to belittle education mind you. Not even close. It’s the study that gives us knowledge and inspiration – a good idea of where to begin with great advice on how we need to interact in between and performing counter balance motions, weight distributions. But nothing can actually make that stuff happen for you. In order to make it happen, you actually need to advance that timeline and make a move! So let’s get started. CLICK TO KEEP READING
Truly optimizing is, by definition, uniquely different from one individual’s needs to the next. We all have different tastes and goals which leads to different scene setups with lighting and rendering – even render engine considerations. Purchasing optimization files, like shaders, is a great way to learn a good many ways that Pro Carrara users use to optimize their files. Tim Payne optimizes skies in a way that would take me quite some time and a whole pile of headaches and wasted test renders to get similar results from. The solution? I bought Tim’s Skies and used them as my initial starting points, and now I know enough to simply start from scratch, all on my own. Whether or not this is true for the next person, it paves way to my point. From purchasing Tim Payne’s skies I now have a much better understanding and base of inspiration of what the realistic sky editor is capable of. I used Tim as an example, but I have purchased many other products from other artists over the years, and have learned from every one of them.
Carrara comes loaded with a good selection of examples, where no additional purchases are necessary to learn a wide variety of techniques which can help you in many situations. Lighting, Scenery, Skies, Models, Modifiers, etc., which are a wonderful way to learn. Load one up and look at how it’s set up. I find this particularly useful for shaders.
The included shaders have some really well thought out ways to achieve a certain look. Do keep in mind, however, that shaders work with lights and render settings to produce their appearance. What works in some scenes may not be the best in another. I’ve created a generic scene which is set up with my favored method of lighting, test render settings and resolution, and saved the scene where it’s easy to grab in the browser at start up. This scene is empty of everything except the lighting and any helpers that I want included, and is very helpful for me in setting up my shaders the way I need them to work. Of course, lighting often changes on each scene – but I have a fairly consistent look and feel to my scenes in this way. This method is mostly useful for outdoor scenes, since most interiors are calling out their own needs where lighting is concerned. So I also have another scene using a simple three-point lighting setup specifically for testing shaders. Since I have adopted my own, standard techniques for lighting, my shaders have been working very well in most of the situations I put them through.
Lights in the scene are not always enough, though. Some shaders, like White Gold, Gold, Chrome, and many others, rely on reflections of scene elements to achieve their appearance. Be mindful of this, as they will not look correct at all in an otherwise empty scene. This is where the use of spherical background or HDR background images can help without adding architecture to the scene. In nearly the same way, the Bi-Gradient Background feature provides surrounding color to assist with reflections and so forth. When Global Illumination or even just Indirect Lighting are used, these backgrounds also contribute to lighting. So I have several other preset scenes using those.
This article has a goal to help you solve some of the more basic aspects of tweaking existing shaders to appear in the scene the way you want them to. While it mostly focuses on character shaders, what is said here also applies to all shaders in Carrara. I plan to get much further in depth with shaders in future articles and, perhaps some tutorials. But do take it upon yourself to explore the drop-down options available to shader channels when ever you have time to just experiment and learn. Carrara truly is set up to help you create nearly any look without even using texture maps at all, remaining completely procedural, while also offering the tools necessary to paint your own texture maps too! All of this takes practice and patience, however, which is why I feel that many people whom might give up on Carrara simply haven’t given themselves enough time to get used to all that it has to offer. So I like to write helpful tips and tricks, like this, to help Carrara users get up and running quickly – solving some of the most immediate issues that we face right up front. The rest comes with time and practice.
The Power of Carrara Shaders – The Texture Room
When we purchase items made directly for use in Carrara they should come with optimized shaders, where applicable. But, what about products made for other software applications, like Poser, DAZ Studio, or even something else? This is where you will be more apt to notice something strange going on. True, many of the newer products come with shader settings (for the other apps) that already agree fairly well with Carrara’s render engine, and can be used straight ‘out of the box’. Other times you need to make some changes to get reasonable renders. This is not a malfunction or a bug, but rather the difference between how each app looks at material settings compared to lighting and finally, rendering. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common shader issues when importing DAZ or Poser figures.
Specular Highlights – Poser and DS use different methodology when displaying specular settings compared to how this is handled in Carrara. Because of this, maps used for specular placement (Specular Maps) do not load in automatically when loading in a figure from the runtime or content libraries. This is an important bit of information to know, and to get used to correcting. After all, when an artist goes through all of the work to meticulously create a map to control the specular (“Highlight” in Carrara) highs and lows of the figure, to leave it out of use could be cheating yourself of some great, professional optimization assistance. To include it we need to understand a bit more about how Carrara uses this information. Like other apps, the lighter the image gets, the more highlights are applied. The artist will, therefore, use a map of dark to light gray-scale to make more noticeable areas that should stand out and back off to dark where they shouldn’t. In Carrara we combine this information with the ‘Shininess’ channel to interpret what happens to the light when it lands on areas set to be highlighted. To help illustrate this, I’ll use a 1 – 100 slider in both Highlight and Shininess channels in Carrara, rather than using a specular map in the Highlight.
When Highlight is set to zero there will be no highlight, so the shininess channel will have no effect, as there will be no highlighting to work with. On the other end of the spectrum, setting Highlight to 100 will give full highlight to the object as white. It is also important to understand that highlights may also include colors, if you wish. Now it is up to Shininess to determine how this works against the angles of incoming light. When Shininess is set to zero the light will spread evenly across the surface. Remember this: the lower the Shininess value, the smoother the spread of light will be. Higher values ‘tighten’ the angle of light spread to create more of a ‘shine’, but increasing this too much can remove the effect of highlighting altogether, too, as the angle become too small for the eye to see. This also depends upon how sensitive your render accuracy settings are set. Lower resolution renders might loose any shininess over 20 or 30, for example. So for a high sheen on a lower resolution render, values between 15 and 25 will ‘shine’ the highlight setting closely along the edge of the shape according to how the light hits it. So special highlight settings can also be used to show wet and dry areas on the same figure. Lighter Highlight areas will allow Shininess to create a wet look, where black will appear dry, no matter what. So you can use maps or other Carrara shader functions to make drops or streaks of water on an otherwise dry surface. That all being said, let’s have a more practical look at this.
When I mentioned artists creating specular maps earlier, I was thinking mostly of character products. Most texture/shape packs come with a full set of image maps: Color, Specular, and Bump. Some include more as well, but for now we’re only concerned with these three. If this product is some kind of scaly creature, whose scales are hard and glossy with a fleshy, tough skin underneath, I would expect to see a specular map with brighter regions for each scale and the areas where the skin might show through will be darker, with more fluctuations in brightness at those darker levels to help highlight the texture of the skin itself. This would likely be very similar to the bump map, as the scales would need to be elevated above the skin. Bump maps work the same way. Brighter is higher, darker means lower. This is why some artists might find that the bump map works well for a specular map, rather than having the extra maps. In this example, since the scales are said to be hard and glossy, we’ll want the map to use brighter shades where the scales are, making them look somewhat wet or glossy when used as the specular map. If the bump is high enough, we might get decent results even at a lower shininess value. But since we wanted gloss, I would start my shininess setting at 16 or 18 and tweak the value from there. Note that maps used in the highlight channel might add too much specular highlight for what we want, yet the difference in highs and lows still need to be maintained by the map. Lowering the brightness of the map itself, in the highlight channel, can correct this.
Let’s look at human skin. When skin is dry, with no added help from lotions or makeup, it has a very even spread when it comes to interactions with light. Being somewhat translucent, we could really get into detail with this – and we certainly shall in a future article, perhaps. But for simplicity, let’s just assume that we want to make the person look believable without getting too heavily engrossed in all of the many ways that you could really tweak the skin for incredibly high realism. We were looking at Highlight and Shininess. These two channels can go very far in helping to make great looking skin.
Highlight – If your character product came with a Specular map, you’ll want to use it in the highlight channel. Depending upon how bright the image is, we might have to turn the brightness down, which is done within the highlight channel, itself, just under the image thumbnail. The optional method that I prefer most of the time is to use “Operations > Multiply” in the highlight channel with Source 1 as the specular image map and a 1 – 100 value slider for Source 2, and use the slider to darken the map. 0 being black and 100 being white – full brightness. Same thing – just another method of looking at it. Also, it can be much easier if you keep your shader windows in ‘window’ mode instead of full screen – as the value to the right of the brightness slider of an image will often be hidden from view without expanding it larger.
Shininess – Before adjusting the brightness of the Highlight channel too much, let’s set a good, even spread of light using the shininess channel. Zero is a great place to start for this. If you are using a bump map and/or specular map that are supposed to show off specific details, you could try raising this value to 2, 4 or even 6 or 7, but the figure will begin to take on a more wet or moist appearance with higher levels. This is where it becomes important to practice patience and test render different combinations of levels between these two channels.
Bump – This value also plays differently depending upon the overall resolution of detail you’re using in your render settings. If your figure seems to look fuzzy, it is often due to too high of a bump value compared to your render resolution. This can cause black artifacts in the render which can usually be fixed either by increasing accuracy, anti-aliasing, and/or resolution settings or by lowering the Bump value in the shader.
There must be an easier way!
Sometimes we’re not looking for spectacular realism, close-up, intense appearances – but just want the thing to look good without fuss. It has become fairly standard to crank the highlight and shininess channels down to zero. This has the immediate effect of removing a ‘plastic’ look from the object, making it have no highlights on a dry surface – relying only on lights and shadows to give natural highlights. Since most models – especially people – have many material zones to adjust, this can become tedious and time-consuming. This never bothers me – as I love messing with shaders. There’s also the ability to go: Edit > Remove Unused Masters > Consolidate Duplicate Shaders, which makes for fewer shaders to adjust by merging all identical shaders into just one, and discarding those that are no longer used as a result.
A very popular solution is to use any of Fenric’s helper plugins dedicated to mass shader correction. He even has one that automates the entire solution I’ve just mentioned above to any model in your scene. On that note, of all of the plugins I’ve purchased from Fenric (and I own almost all of them), I find myself using them constantly. They have simply become Carrara features to me.
Victoria 4 and Michael 4
Generation 4 figures came with material settings applied to answer to the way they initially loaded within Poser. Without digging into the ‘why’ of it, I simply assumed that it had something to do with the use of negative lights that Poser applied as default. At any rate, their materials included a blue color chip multiplied with the color (texture) maps for the skin. To correct this in Carrara, simply drag the texture map out of the Multiply nest directly onto the color channel. This will remove the multiplier as well as the blue color chip. Again, Fenric has an automated answer for this in his plugins collection.
There are many other channels in these shaders
Carrara’s Texture room provides a lifetime of practice towards making materials look exactly the way you want them to look, and behave as you would expect them to against light and anything else in your scene. Although these topics go vastly beyond the scope of this, ‘Getting Started’ style of article, I’d like to at least mention that it will be very much worth your while to practice in the Texture room. With the plethora of shader examples provided in the Native Content, Carrara certainly gives you many built in tutorials on how to tweak on these channels and make some spectacular results. In exploring a preset shader for its secrets, I like to look at everything – especially keeping an eye out for functions that I’ve never used, or are set up differently than my normal setup. Then I open that branch of the shader and explore away, adding useful knowledge, in most cases, that I can apply on my own when building my own shaders. That said, I urge you to look into all of the power that Carrara gives your appearances in the Texture room. It’s a vast place of endless possibilities.
So I have to do this every time?
A great habit to get yourself into is to save your optimized figures to your browser window. I have written a short article in the DAZ 3D Carrara Discussion forum, Your Carrara Browser, regarding setting up your own, custom categories within the browser. I use this method to save all of my assets so that I can call upon them at a moments notice. Further, you can even save different versions that include special features, render settings, lighting, effects, etc., to speed up repetitive actions in your endeavors. Since I save so many things in this way, I prefer to use “Local” settings, to keep my file sizes low. If you store all of the textures with each file, your drive will fill up fast, but you can load those files into Carrara without the original files.
When it comes to Genesis, saving an optimized version has the affect of bypassing any new shapes that you purchase after the save. In other words, your Carrara-saved-Genesis will not include shape sliders that were added to Genesis after you’ve saved that instance to Carrara. Since you’ve already optimized this version, you might be fine with that. But what if you bought the new shapes (like expressions) for use with that character? In Carrara, we can save out different aspects of changes we’ve made to Genesis. Let’s tackle these one at a time.
Shaders – Beyond just Genesis, it’s easy to save the entire list of shaders from one specific model, for use in applying it to the same model later. This is essential when you need to update the base figure of a character, as in this example. Using the “Shaders” portion of the browser, and the browser category methods discussed in my Your Carrara Browser article, simply select “Actor” on Genesis and enter the Texture room. Now drag the large multi-colored ball at the top of the shaders list into an appropriate category in the browser and, of course, give it a memorable (or identifiable) name. You’ve just saved a Multi Shader file. It can also be very useful to save individual shader files for specific domains for later use. This can allow you to use carefully crafted shader settings on a figure or model that differs from the original model that your new Multi Shader will not apply properly to. Even though the mapping will likely be altogether different, the settings may be of great value, leaving you only to replace the texture maps within the shader. I do this quite often to save time in getting shaders made quickly without sacrifice.
To install the above saved Multi Shader set to another Genesis figure, simply drag the saved shader file to the multi-colored ball – just the reverse of how we saved it. Notice at this point that Carrara assigns a separate shader to each domain, even if those shaders are identical. So our next stop is to go back to the Assembly Room and Edit > Remove Unused Masters > Consolidate Duplicate Shaders. That way if we make changes to the torso shader, for example, the same changes will occur across all domains that use that map. Some might argue that you might, sometime, wish to have those as separate shaders. I’m here to tell ya, It’ll save you much more in resources to can them now. To make a new one, simply go to the shaders tab. Select the one you wish to have a second copy of, and duplicate it (Ctrl D/Cmd D).
Shaders and Lighting
As I’ve hinted to earlier, shaders interact with scene lighting and your render settings. Because of this, it’s always good to adopt a good base understanding of how you light and render your scenes. I completely understand that it is often the case that all of these things can change with the flow of imagination or job requirement. But if you are already familiar with your own method for lighting and rendering – the techniques you use most often – it’s going to be easier to get consistent results from your shaders if they’re set up in consistent conditions. Saving lighting rigs is easy and it can be highly efficient when you’re setting up brand new scenes. Here’s an example of how it worked for me over the past few years.
I noticed that, every time I would load a new Poser or DS content product into Carrara, that I really needed to set up every shader. Not everyone may be like this, but it is one of the very first things I do when adding a new piece from a runtime. Although I already have a good idea of how to make my shader settings work with how I light scenes, I still need to light the scene anyways, so that should really be part of this process as well. Since I truly believe what I’ve just said about consistency, I have a base scene file that I almost always start with when making an outdoor scene. So before I even load in the new content, I’ve already started my fresh new scene not from the file menu, but by clicking on a saved file in my browser. The one with the background landscape and the lights. The lights and background already set at a bare minimum. I can faithfully adjust my shaders and check my work in the process. By adopting this method I am able to optimize several scenes in one sitting – depending upon the complexity of the scene.
What about indoor lighting? I still hold to the idea that adopting an early method is the best way to go for any scene. When I create a new indoor scene, I use my base preset that has nothing but the default light, a target helper, a main camera with the production frame on, and all of my render setting the way I like them. Now I load in the interior content and arrange it and then immediately consolidate the duplicate shaders. I change the default light into a bulb with an area of effect at between 30 and 60, depending upon the size of the area, with a fairly high falloff and drag it into the scenery model somewhere. I’ll set the color and brightness to how I’d like the mood of the place to be and then duplicate that light and place them around where it feels fitting for the environment. Sometimes I turn up the Scene Ambient to a basic color chip with a somewhat dark, low saturation color at a value of 5 to 10, again depending upon the situation, just to make for fast stark shadow reduction. Many others will have their own favored starting method. The very next thing I do, if I didn’t already, is to find the folder where all of the textures for the product are stored and look for maps that are meant for the glow channel. These are usually easy to find, marked with some sort of suffix to give away their use. Some products don’t need them as the entire glowing bit has its own shading domain. I like to look anyways – because it’s good to know what maps you have to work with. Characters, for instance, contain Specular highlight maps that we can use in the Highlight channel, and so on. other times there may be other options for colors and such. I like to know where all of my resources are found. So now I go through and adjust my shaders, one by one.
The time comes when we read some cool new article or post or see an inspiring video that causes us to rethink how our scenes look and feel. But we have already adopted an entirely different lighting model and set up all of our shaders to that! Okay, true. You have just optimized your shaders to a specific lighting scheme. But what about when these things change? It’s not going to be a really big deal. In most cases, you’ll find that, unless you’re going for an entirely different render engine, you’re going to be fine. As you change the lighting scheme, this new scheme will show on the shaders you’ve made and chances are that you’ll like it. If there are changes to be made, they’ll likely be nearly the same for all of those which need changing.
► Working with ContentSome notes that I jotted down to answer some commonly asked questions regarding content within Carrara. This article does have some useful links in it including one of my favorite shader tutorials for characters within Carrara, by Indigone. A more updated article regarding Content in Carrara can be found here at the Cafe – What Content can I use in Carrara?.
A brief word about how I juggle the creation of my own meager, yet somewhat epic in scale, production in Carrara
Amidst the darkness of reality arose a hero lost in his own imagination. Together, he and his fascinations protect what little light remains and strive to make it brighter….
One thing that I really love to do when I’m at a computer is to animate 3d scenes. This includes the modeling, mapping, texturing, lighting, layout… I enjoy pretty much all of it. But when I begin to tackle the notion of making my own movie, I come to the brutal conclusion that I really cannot do it all. At least that’s what the reality was when I first took on this idea. During my quest in this I’ve taken up a habit of watching all of the Disc 2 special features that come with movies – especially watching for their production footage on special effects and animation. It was interesting to learn that the near one minute shot of Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker in the lava pit cost over 70,000 man hours to make – just that one scene! Very interesting stuff. It really helps to bring about an understanding of what sort of goals to set if one does wish to do it all by ones self.