Monday, 16 September 2013

3ds max: Essential tips & tricks for Vray and mental ray

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The above image borders were extended by 2000 pixels (in width) to each side using the “Overscan” script

Also, check my New Book: 3D Photorealistic Rendering: Interiors & Exteriors with V-Ray and 3ds Max

Extending the camera viewport borders (vertically, horizontally or both) without affecting the camera’s original perspective

There will be times when clients will ask users to revisit old projects, with the purpose to redesign and/or re-render an existing camera view.

When re-rendering an existing camera view, the client may also require users to include more of the 3D scene in the same shot; preferably without affecting the perspective (e.g. almost like extending the borders of a PSD canvas).

In real technical terms such requirement is impossible to achieve, as it defies the physics of any real camera.

Having said that, that’s often what’s required from most users: To do the impossible.     

Until recently, many well-known studios (including myself) would “achieve” the above mentioned request by first decreasing the original FOV of the camera in order to cover new areas of the 3D scene; followed by increasing the original render output size (pixels) many times over in order to compensate for the reduced FOV values. 

The above described process was clearly a “workaround” to meet the client’s request…until I was introduced to an ingenious script called “Overscan”.

The script was created by Martin ( at , to solve the tedious “workaround” described earlier.

The script only works with standard 3ds Max cameras.
It’s also recommended to save the current 3D scene under a different name prior to using this script, as a precautionary measure. 
To implement the script, users are simply required to do the following:
1- Download the script from the above mentioned link.
2-Open the 3Ds Max file, followed by dragging and dropping the script from the folder, directly onto your camera viewport.
3-The script's dialog box should pop up immediately, with the original output image size dimensions. 


The “New Width” and the “New Height” functions allow users to input new dimension values.
The “rel” button locks the original proportion dimensions, so that new added values will always be in proportion to the “Old size” dimensions.
The “Apply Overcan” button updates the camera with the new dimensions entered in the “New Width” and the “New Height” name field. If the “Copy camera” function is enabled, a new camera will be created and named accordingly.
The “Update” button updates the “Old size” dimensions with the new ones entered.

In the figure below, the height of the image output was changed from the original 3000 pixels, to 5000 pixels, without affecting the perspective.

A new camera was also created automatically, by simply enabling the “Copy camera” function and clicking on the “Apply Overscan” button. 


Since the original script was created for standard 3ds Max cameras only; users with a Vray physical camera in the scene, should do the following:

1- First open your VRay Max scene and go to the VRay camera viewport.

2- Press “P” from your keyboard to turn the current Vray camera viewport into a “Perspective” one.

3-Next, press “Ctrl+C” from your keyboard to automatically create a 3ds Max standard camera.

4- A new camera should be created automatically. Next, follow the steps covered earlier to apply the “Overscan” script.

5- Once satisfied with your new camera settings and the output dimensions, run a script to convert the 3ds Max standard camera into a Vray physical camera.

The script I often use is called “MaxCam_To_PhysCam_1.4_proc”. And can be downloaded from the following location:

To run the script, simply do the following:

1- After downloading and unzipping the file, simply click on the “MaxScript” main toolbar.

2-On its dropdown list, choose to “Run Script”.

3- The “Choose Editor File” dialog should appear.

4- Locate and open the “MaxCam_To_PhysCam_1.4_proc” from the list.

5- The “Physcam Converter V1.4” dialog should appear. Select the relevant camera(s) from the scene, and click on the “Convert Camera(s)” button.

A new Vray physical camera should be created, named accordingly and selected automatically.

To view the newly created camera, simply press “C” on the keyboard. Alternatively, simply right click on the camera name situated on the top left corner of the camera viewport, and choose the relevant camera.

6- Finally, copy the Vray exposure parameters from the original camera settings onto the newly created one. 

Overriding useless Backburner errors 
Most users would agree that, more often than not, the Backburner can be “spot on” when pinpointing valuable errors in the render(s). However, there are times when it can also be an utter nuisance and ultimately prevent users from meeting their looming deadlines.  

Very recently, I was involved in a project that was an absolute joy from the word “go”…until my beloved Backburner began reporting useless errors.

Some of the messages read the following: “3dsmax adapter error: AutodeskMaxDesign 14.12 reported error:JPEG- Memory Error”.

 And also: “3dsmax adapter error: AutodeskMaxDesign 14.12 reported error: “…jpeg—Failed to allocate filter tables for this bitmap…”.

The frustration was that, all bitmaps bigger than 1500 pixels were proxied in the scene. Furthermore, the Backburner would render the entire frame with its elements perfectly; followed by re-rendering it over and over again, due to the above mentioned errors. 

After few Google searches on the subject, I quickly realized that this was clearly a problem that had many professionals pulling their hair out (if any left) so far.

I nearly threw in the towel on this one... until - Jordan Barlow ( came up with an ingenious way to override this niggling “bug”. 

Please do the following to emulate his approach: 

1- Open the “Backburner Manager” dialog first, followed by clicking on the “Edit” toolbar, and choosing the “General settings” option from the dropdown list.

2- The “Backburner Manager General properties” dialog should appear promptly.  In the “General” group, enable the “Use Task Error Limit Max Errors Per Task” function, and set it to 1.

This action will limit the amount of times (1) the Backburner will continue to mistakenly try to solve (re-rendering) an error that doesn’t exist, or an error that’s Not affecting any aspect of the render(s). 

Create and snap a grid helper perfectly to any given geometry and/or spline, in any angle
Ever wondered how to create/snap a grid perfectly to any geometry/spline regardless of its position/rotation or angle in a 3D scene?

While this subject was covered to some extent in my latestbook, I have never addressed this specific issue before.

To address the above mentioned issue, users should simply resort to a script called “Create_Grid_At_Object_Pivot”.

The name of its creator is (assuming). 

Furthermore, to create the above mentioned script one has to do the following:

1-In 3ds Max, click on the MaxScript button from the main toolbar, and choose the New Script option.

A new Script dialog should open.

2- In this blog, select and copy (Ctrl+c) the following script text below:

Global CreateGridAtPivot

Struct CreateGridAtPivotStruct
fn DoCreateGridAtPivot ObjectForGrid =
GridHelper = Grid name:( + "Grid") isselected:on
GridHelper.transform = ObjectForGrid.transform

max activate grid object

CreateGridAtPivot = CreateGridAtPivotStruct()

if (selection as array).count == 1 do
CreateGridAtPivot.DoCreateGridAtPivot $

3-After copying(Ctrl+c) the above mentioned script from this blog; go back to the new Maxscript dialog in 3ds Max, and paste it (Ctrl+v) onto it:

4- Next, save the script by clicking on the "File" button and choosing the "Save As" option.  


5-The "Save As" dialog should be prompted. Save it as an *.ms file type; under the name of, Create_Grid_At_Object_Pivot

To run the previously saved “” script, simply do the following: 

1-Open 3Ds max and create a shape or geometry. Also, rotate/position it in an awkward angle.

2- Next, while the shape/geometry is still selected, click on the “MaxScript” button from the main toolbar, and choose to “Run Script” from its drop down list.  

3- The “Choose Editor File” dialog should appear. Locate and "Open" the previously saved script under the name of “” . 


4- A grid should automatically appear in the correct angle/position, and enabled by default. To test its accuracy, simply begin creating anything in the viewport.      

Using the mental ray connection to access a displacement shader
In the past, a number of people had asked me if there was a way to override the default Arch & design displacement shader with a better one, in order to achieve better results.
To access a new displacement shader from the Arch & Design, simply do the following:
1- Open the “mental ray Connection” rollout and scroll down to the “Extended Shaders rollout” group.
2-Unlock the padlock button by clicking on it, and click on its toggle to access the “Material/Map Browser” dialog.
3- I personally choose the “Height Map Displacement”  shader from the list, as it’s faster to render. However, feel free to choose another one, if desired.
4- The “Height Map Displacement”  shader parameters are simple and self-explanatory.  

As mentioned in my latest book, the more segments (detail) an object/geometry has, the better displacement results one will have.

Vray subpixel mapping function
Again, while this subject was covered in my latest book, I thought it would be nice to share it with those that don’t have the book (yet).

Ever wondered how to correct the artifact depicted in the render below? 

The above described artifact can be instantly corrected by simply enabling the “Sub-pixel mapping” function.  

V-Ray:: Irradiance map Interp. Samples
When using the irradiance map, at times the default “Inter. samples” value of 20 may work for a 1920x1080 pixels render. However, when rendering a 5000x2813 pixels image, it may yield artifacts such as the one demonstrated below. 

Note: Such artifacts are more noticeable on white or bright surfaces.

To rectify such artifacts, users should simply increase the default “Inter. samples” value to 70 or as high as 90, if necessary. There are extreme cases when one might need to enter higher values.


Note: It is suggested that, by increasing the “Inter. samples” values as mentioned earlier,one may cause the scene to lose depth. 
If such happens (debatable), one can still add more depth by using key VRay render elements such as VrayRawTotalLighting; VrayRawLighting; VrayTotalLighting; Vrayshadows; etc).           

I hope you have found the tips and tricks useful!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Photorealistic rendering: Vray and mental ray : 3d images

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The 3d Images shown above were created and rendered whilst at Glass Canvas Productions.
To see my entire portfolio and the architectural rendering, simply click on the above image!

Lighting a scene realistically is one of the most challenging aspects of producing photorealistic renderings.

The following article/tutorial will focus mainly in easy techniques to help users achieve acceptable results, even when working on relatively bare/simple scenes.  

One of the preliminary steps often taken to light up a scene realistically, is to create a clear definition between dark and bright areas: Depth.  

To achieve this, simply ensure that, there’s enough distance between each light in the scene.
Also, test render the effect of each light created, especially when a key parameter is changed.

Photorealistic rendering: mental ray- It’s common practice to create photometric Target lights in the Left or Front viewport to set its directional point (e.g. downwards). 

Once the first light had been created, go to the Modify command panel and set its shadow type to Ray Traced Shadows, to enable mental ray to trace shadows more accurately.
Also, the distribution type is often set to photometric web, followed by locating and choosing the appropriate IES web file.   

Once the light is created, one should remember to disable the Targeted function. This action will later prove crucial when copying /instancing lights across the scene.    

While it may take slightly longer to render, soft shadows are commonly used to make the renders look more realistic. To create soft shadows simply scroll down to the Shape/Area shadows rollout parameters and change the Emit light from (shape) to Disc type.
Its Radius controls the shadows’ softness: Sharp shadows= low values; Soft shadows= high values.

To control its intensity, simply open the Intensity/Color/Attenuation rollout, and pan down to Dimming group, followed by enabling the Resulting Intensity and increasing its value.  

Test render each value tweaked to achieve the desired result.

To quickly test render, one can simply use a white override material (with its reflectivity set to 0.0)  for the sole purpose of creating the correct amount of depth in scene (e.g. dark and bright areas of the scene).
To use any specific IES light, one can choose from any of the pre-defined (Select Template) list; or by loading it from the Distribution (Photometric) rollout toggle. One can preview the IES physical distribution From the Open a Photometric Web file dialog and/or from the Distribution (Photometric) thumbnail.  

Furthermore, users can also decrease the image Sampling Quality and the overall render settings to speed up the test rendering process. 

The idea behind this technique is to prevent users from spending too much time test rendering the lights with all the materials and reflections enabled. 
Once satisfied, simply begin to copy (instances), test render and place the lights accordingly in the scene.  

Photorealistic rendering: In Vray- Users often open the Create command panel and choose VRay from the drop down list. 

Next, one can create the VRayIES light by simply selecting its respective button first, followed by clicking on the VRayIES button next. Finally click in the Left or Front viewport, and drag its target downwards to create it.

Once the target of the light is set, go to the Modify command panel and disable its targeted function. As mentioned earlier, this action will enable the user to easily copy/instance lights across the scene.  

Next, locate and load the appropriate IES light file by clicking on its toggle. To preview the IES web file in the viewport, one can simply create a default Max photometric light, turn it off and use its Distribution (photometric web) rollout for the sole purpose of previewing the IES web file inside 3Ds Max.
Alternatively, one can use the IES generator software.     
To help pick up tiny shadows (e.g. grass, etc.), one should reduce the shadow bias values.  

As mentioned earlier, while soft shadows may increase the render times slightly it will also help make the renders more realistic.

To enable soft shadows with VRayIES lights, simply do the following:

Open the notepad dialog by typing in the word notepad, on the windows start up text field. 

Next, locate the relevant IES file in your computer folder, followed by dragging and dropping it into the notepad dialog. Its numerical values should appear.

To soften the shadows, one should only change three of its values. These values are often the three zeros that appear after the numbers 1, 1 and 2.   

Change those three zeros to 0.5; 0.5 and 0.5.
It’s worth noting that, the suggested values work well for my scenes. However, feel free to experiment with different values, if desired. 

To control its intensity, simply increase its power values.  

As mentioned earlier, users should test render each value tweaked to achieve the desired result.
As in mental ray, one can also use a white override VRay material (with its reflectivity set 0.0) for the sole purpose of creating the correct amount of depth in scene (e.g. dark and bright areas of the scene).

To further decrease the rendering times whilst test rendering the lights in Vray, simply decrease the    Sampling Quality and the overall render settings.  

As previously mentioned, the idea behind this technique is to prevent users from spending too much time test rendering the lights with all the materials and reflections enabled. 

Once satisfied, simply begin copying, test render and place the lights accordingly in the scene.  

Test rendering each light created with Vray or mental ray will enable users to preview their effect in the scene, and subsequently tweak them further, if necessary; thus preventing the common mistake of overexposing/scorching the 3D scene with too many lights, and/or having the lights too close from one another. 
It’s worth noting that, prior to lighting up a scene, most materials and their basic parameters (e.g. UVW Mapping, etc.) should be applied to their respective objects first.         

While creating the correct amount of depth in scene will help make the renders more believable, the light colours will also prove even more crucial in achieving that ultimate photorealistic look.
The following examples will help demonstrate how to quickly apply realistic colours of a photo to a light source in both Vray and mental ray.

In addition to applying IES lights to a scene, one can make the renders look more realistic by picking colour/s of a real photo reference.
To do so, first load the relevant photo in the scene (e.g.  Rendering > View Image File) . 

Next, select a light and open the Modify command panel.

Photorealistic rendering: In mental ray, scroll down to the Intensity/Colour/Attenuation rollout.

Click and hold the Filter Color swatch.  Its Color Selector: Filter Color dialog should appear.

Click on its sample screen colour button and pick any part of the loaded photograph. To mix colours, simply hold down the Shift key and continue picking 

Photorealistic rendering:In Vray, scroll down, followed by selecting and holding its Color swatch to enable the Color Selector: Filter Color dialog. 

Click on its sample screen colour button and pick any part of the loaded photograph. To mix colours, simply hold down the Shift key and continue picking.  

In addition to picking and using the colours of a real photo, production companies also use a blurred version of the same photo as light source to help make the render more realistic.
It’s worth noting that, while this methodology is utterly effective, it also increases the rendering times slightly.

Photorealistic rendering:In mental ray, to create the additional light/s with a blurred map, simply create a new spherical photometric light using some of the techniques covered earlier.

To change the light to Uniform Spherical, simply open the Modify command panel and expand its General Parameters rollout.

In the Light Distribution (Type) group, choose the Uniform Spherical from its drop down list. This   light distribution type will provide users with the numerical value to be added later in the mental ray Light shader.    

Next, scroll further down to the mental ray Light Shader rollout and enable its function.
Please note that once this function is enabled; all the default light parameters are automatically switched off. So even when the light is physically turned off the light shader parameters will still affect the scene.
To disable it, simply uncheck the Enable function. 

To plug a light shader, simply click on its toggle, and double click on the Light point type to choose it from the Material/map Browser dialog list. 

To view its parameters, open the Material Editor dialog first by pressing the M button.
Next, drag and drop the light shader toggle into an empty material editor slot; followed by choosing the Instance type, from Instance (copy) Map dialog.   Its parameters should appear on the material editor dialog. 

Most of its parameters are self-explanatory. Before plugging a blurred map to its Color toggle, enable the Shadows and the Attenuation function.

The Attenuation function determines the furthest distance of the light source from its original point.

The Attenuation Start value should always be 0.0, unless there’s a specific requirement. 

Users often use the Radius values from the Shape/Area Shadows rollout parameters to preview the Attenuation End value in the viewport, without having to test render.

VRay users can also use this value to preview the size of the light source; followed by turning it off once satisfied.

When using light sources to cast colours of a real photo onto surfaces, users should always place the light/s in a position where it will affect as many surfaces as possible.
For instance, in an interior scene it’s common practice to place the light between the floor and ceiling of each floor. In addition, the light should be slightly dimmed to prevent bleaching areas of the scene.

Its sole purpose should be to create colour variations in the scene with a faint brightness; and to also break up even specular patterns. 

Next, locate the relevant blurred image and load it in the Color toggle. When possible, always use an HDR (high dynamic range) spherical panoramic image. If the shot happens to be a photomontage, one should seriously consider taking a panoramic photo of the environment in question.  
Otherwise, one can simply use a standard non panoramic blurred JPEG image.

To blur an image, simply open it Photoshop and use the Gaussian Blur filter. The reason for blurring an image is to avoid having very well defined colour patterns, sharp shadows and increased rendering times.  

Once the image is loaded, if the original bitmap is panoramic, change its Coordinates parameters to Environment type, and the mapping to Spherical Environment.
In addition, one can also decrease or increase its default Blur values to about 100. Blurring it to 100 will decrease the rendering times dramatically.  

Loading a sharp image and blurring it in 3ds Max with the Blur function will never yield good results. The rule of thumb is to load a pre blurred image and blur it further in Max to 100, if necessary. 

To control image intensity, simply scroll down and open its Output rollout parameters.
Also, increase its RGB Level value accordingly by test rendering with the Material Override enabled.  

To clearly see the immense benefits of this methodology, the following images will depict examples of a very simple scene lit without a mapped image, with a mapped image, with an additional IES light source and an IES light on its own.     

Photorealistic rendering: In Vray, to create a spherical light, one is required to first create a sphere primitive, with the desired proportions. 

Next, create a VRayLight object using some of the steps covered earlier. Open its Modify parameters and choose the Mesh type from its dropdown list.  This light type will allow the user to plug a blurred image to its toggle. See fig. 41 and 42    

Scroll down to its Options group and enable the following options:

Cast shadows

Invisible- This function will make the light object invisible to the camera

Store with Irradiance map- When using the light source as Mesh, the rendering times will increase dramatically. Enabling this function will help reduce the rendering times massively. Otherwise, one can disable it. 
This function will only work if the Irradiance map is being used in the V-Ray:: Indirect Illumination (GI) rollout parameters.  For this reason, the Irradiance map parameters should be set above the minimum required.

Affect reflections- This function is often disabled to prevent having the light being visible in reflections.
While the above mentioned settings often work well in my scenes, feel free to try different ones, if desired. 

Scroll further down to the Texture group, and load the desired image in its toggle as previously covered. 

To view its parameters, simply open the Material Editor (M) first, followed by dragging and dropping the toggle into an empty material editor slot.
Choose the Instance copy method, and use similar parameters to the ones covered earlier. 

If necessary use the Cropping/Placement handles to choose specific areas of an image to be used as a light source.
It's also common to tweak with the "Bitmap" "Offset" coordinate values in "V" and/or "U" to help target specific areas of the bitmap.

Finally, scroll further down to the Mesh light options and select its toggle, followed by picking the relevant mesh in the scene. Its intensity can be controlled through the image’s RGB Level value, or/and from the light’s Physical Multiplier value. 

Note: When implementing the above mentioned technique using the VRay mesh light, the default  "Sampling" "Subdivs" value of 8 may yield inaccurate/unrealistic shadows. To correct this, simply increase the "Subdivs" to 64.
While this value will produce realistic/accurate shadows, it will NOT increase the rendering times due to the "Store with Irradiance map" function being enabled.      
Furthermore, when sending the final render, the "Indirect Illumination" "Irradiance map " values need to be set to "Medium" or "High".

All the spherical lights depicted in the 3D scene below, were created using the techniques highlighted earlier, for VRay and mental ray


Note: If the bitmap colours emitted by the sphere light are not prominent enough in the scene, simply use the "Color Correction" procedural map on top of the main bitmap; and increase its "Saturation" value until satisfied.
To apply it, simply open the "Material/Map browser" dialog and choose it from its list. This topic was covered in this post HERE.
Alternatively, increase the saturation in Photoshop and re-save the main bitmap.

To implement the same technique to emulate interior studio lighting or a light being emitted from a self-illuminated display screen, simply create a VRayLight object.  

To control its physical size, open the Modify command panel, scroll down to the Size group and tweak with its Half-length and Half-width values.  

To plug an image to the light, scroll down to the light’s Texture group and click on its toggle to enable the Material/Map Browser dialog.  

Photorealistic rendering: In mental ray- To emulate a similar effect in mental ray (e.g. Interior studio lighting or a light being emitted from a self-illuminated display screen), simply create a mr Sky Portal object. 

To control its size, open the Modify command panel, scroll down to the Dimensions group and tweak with its Length and Width values. 

 The mr Sky Portal is set to Use existing Skylight by default. This option only works when a Skylight object is already in the scene. The mr Sky Portal helps to re-direct the Skylight rays through where the mr Sky Portal is positioned (e.g. through open windows, etc). 

To use the mr Sky Portal for interior scenes, one is required to enable the Custom function first, and click on its toggle; followed by double clicking the Gamma & Gain shader from the Material/Map Browser dialog list. 

To edit the Gamma & Gain shader, simply open the Material Editor first, followed by dragging & dropping it onto an empty material editor slot. In the Instance (Copy) dialog, choose the Instance method and OK to close it.   

Its parameters should load up. To plug a texture/HDRI simply click on the Input toggle and locate the relevant image.

Its multiplier value can be controlled through the Gain (multiplier) values; or through the image’s RGB Level as previously shown.  In addition, one can also use the mr Sky Portal’s On Multiplier value (1.0 by default) to help bump up the intensity of the light.  
The Reverse gamma correction (De-Gamma) function is enabled by default; which means brighter values are equivalent to high negative values. To reverse this, simply disable it.
One can also control the Gamma values of the image by tweaking with the Gamma values.   See fig. 57 and 58

All the rectangular lights depicted in the 3D scene below, were created using the techniques highlighted earlier, for Vray and mental ray.

To emulate the Payless self-illuminated display screen on the right hand side; I have simply created an object with a Payless self-illuminated bitmap assigned to the object, and placed a rectangular light in front of it to emit rays of the same image using the techniques covered earlier.  

Finally, one can also use the same approach with Skylight objects, when creating external shots.
Photorealistic rendering:In mental ray: When using the Daylight System, users often disable the Skylight option and create a separate Standard one.

The Standard Skylight object provides users with the flexibility to independently plug custom shaders, colours and images to its toggle. 

Alternatively, users can enable the Use Scene Environment option, to extract the sky data from the Environment Map toggle (press 8 to bring up its dialog).  
For Photomontages and film shots, users often plug the Environment/Background Switcher shader to its Environment Map toggle.  

For further information about this shader, please check this useful article HERE.

Photorealistic rendering:In Vray- Users are simply required to create a standard VRayLight object as previously shown, and change its Type to Dome.  Dome light is equivalent to Skylight object.

As with most VRay lights, users can control its intensity with the Multiplier values. 
To plug an image, scroll down to its Texture group and click on its toggle to bring up the Material/Map Browser dialog. Often some users apply a standard image; and most professionals prefer to use the VRayHDRI shader. 

To edit the VRayHDRI parameters, first open the Material Editor (M), followed by dragging and dropping it from the Texture toggle onto an empty material editor slot.                                                  Choose the Instance method. 

Once the VRayHDRI parameters are loaded, click on its Browse button to locate and pick the relevant HDRI file. 

While the Skylight shadows should yield diffused results, some users prefer to turn off the VRaySun object and use the Dome light to generate both direct and indirect shadows (e.g. diffused shadows).  

Most HDR images come with a reflection image (e.g. sharp), and the environment image (e.g. blurred to emit diffused light). To generate both direct and indirect shadows, one is required to use a sharp HDRI.
Users often tweak with Horiz. rotation and Vert.rotation values to control its position in the Material Editor slot thumbnail.    

Also, the Overall mult. value will help control the brightness of the light/scene.
Depending on the results intended, most users choose the Map type to be a Spherical environment.          For acceptable results, one is required to have the Irradiance map and the Light cache parameters very high.  

Furthermore, one should copy and paste/ instance these VRayHDRI parameters into the Environment Map toggle.  
To override either the GI Environment (diffused light) or what’s being reflected in the scene Environment Map toggle; one should open the Render Setup (F10). In the V-Ray tab, expand the V-Ray:: Environment  rollout and use one or both of its  parameters(e.g.  GI Environment (skylight) override and/or the Reflection/refraction environment override).   

Once the lights and colours have been signed off, one can then disable the material override to finalize tweaking the materials/ reflections/glossiness, and perhaps fine-tune minor light settings (e.g. boost up or decrease certain values).   

The 3d images below depict some of many results I have personally produced, with Vray and mental ray whilst using the techniques covered in this article. 


I hope you have found this article interesting!

Also check: 

Realistic materials

Architectural Visualisation Tips & Tricks