Basic composite workflow comparisons

In this entry I thought I’d setup a basic HDRI + backplate scene in different render engines and start a discussion on workflows.  The scenario is simple, you have a backplate image, and environment HDRI.  You want to incorporate some CG elements into the backplate in one render, compositing not required.  I will provide the files so you can see how the scene is configured & see if I’ve overlooked anything.
So, let’s begin.

Corona Render (CPU):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In Corona Render you’ll setup a ground plane with a shadow catcher material.  Assign the backplate to the scene environment or Direct Visibility Override.  Then assign the HDR to the scene environment.

Pros:  Simplicity, good results, able to render everything in one pass including color controls like LUT, bloom/glare, and tone mapping.

Cons:  Can be difficult to get reflected light/caustics from CG elements.


iRay+ (GPU):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In iRay+ you’ll setup an environment light source and assign the environment HDRI to it (enable shadows on the ground/shadow option).  Assign the backplate to the scene environment.

Pros:  Simple to configure.  Their environment light is a neat approach to configuring IBL.

Cons:  Difficult to get reflected light/caustics from CG elements.  In other applications I can adjust the gamma/contrast on the HDRI to strengthen the ground shadows.  That is locked in iray+ so the shadows here don’t match up as well.  Yes, I could adjust the HDRI outside of 3ds Max for iray+, but that’s not the point here.  It also needs glare/bloom/LUT options.


Arion Render (GPU):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In Arion Render you assign the HDRI and backplate to the Arion IBL light source and enable the matte floor option in the settings.

Pros: Able to render everything in one pass including color controls like LUT, bloom/glare, and tone mapping.

Cons:  Difficult to get reflected light/caustics from CG elements.  Apparently the ground shadows don’t pick up HDRI illumination, it’s just an ambient occlusion type shadow.


Octane Render (GPU):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In Octane Render you assign the HDRI to the scene environment via texture environment shader.  There isn’t a simple method for implementing the backplate.

Pros: Fast.  Nice looking results.  Glow/Bloom and LUT options.

Cons:  Not as easy to get the CG elements incorporated into a backplate in one pass/shot.  You can either render the CG elements out with an alpha channel and/or passes and use a 3rd party program to comp the CG elements.  I have used (incorrectly I’m sure) the diffuse material to make a ground and backplate with projected textures to pick up the shadows so I could render everything together without having to composite the 3d elements.


VRay (CPU):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In VRay you can assign the HDRI to a VRay dome light.  There are material & VRay setting options for a matte/shadow catcher.  The backplate can be assigned to the scene environment.

Pros: Nice looking results with bounced light onto the backplate.  Glow/Bloom and LUT options.

Cons:  None / Previous issues appear to be resolved in the latest release.


VRay RT (GPU):

3ds Max file:  (same as VRay above, just switch it over to RT as the engine)

Outline:  Same as VRay above.

Pros: Nice looking results with bounced light onto the backplate and it didn’t require any changes from VRay CPU.  Glow/Bloom and LUT options.

Cons:  A lot of the previous issues appear to be resolved in the latest release.


FStorm (GPU): *DEMO*

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In FStorm you assign the HDRI to the environment option of FStorm settings.  Then assign your backplate to the new Alpha Environment settings introduced in version 1.1.4b.

Pros: Fast.  LUT, Bloom/Glare, and color control options.  Simple to configure.  Fast development speed

Cons:  The shadow catcher doesn’t pick up the color from the HDRI, but it can be tinted in post.  Depth of field doesn’t seem to impact the alpha backplate.  However, that too can be adjusted in post with a z-depth pass.


mental ray (CPU)

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In mental ray you’ll assign the HDRI to a skylight light.  Assign a matte/shadow/reflection material to the ground plane.  The backplate can be assigned to the scene environment directly or via the environment/background switcher.

Pros: Nice looking results and simple to configure.  It comes free with 3ds Max.

Cons:  Nothing major.  Bounced light and/or caustics can be configured but it’s not automatic.  Would be nice to have LUT & glow/glare options built into the frame buffer.


Redshift (GPU):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In Redshift you’ll add a redshift dome light to the scene and configure the HDRI and backplate within that.  Very straight forward.

Pros:  Render speed, out of core rendering for complex scenes that won’t fit on your GPU.  Fairly easy to use.

Cons:  As someone with no experience with this render engine I spent more time trying to figure out how to add DOF than anything else.  Turns out you have to add a Redshift Bokeh effect to the scene effects and configure it there.  That’s fine, but I’d prefer to see DOF controls either in camera or in the render settings.  It also seems like the Redshift shadow catcher doesn’t pick up colored shadows.  I had to manually set the shadow color to a blueish hue.  That too is ok, at least it’s adjustable.  Just something to mention.  IMHO it would be nice to have the LUT/glow/bloom options in Redshift as well.


iRay (GPU version included with 3ds max):

3ds Max file:

Outline:  In iRay you’ll need to add a light source to your scene and disable it to prevent the default lighting from illuminating the scene.  From there, if you’re using 3ds Max 2015 like me, you’ll have to run the gauntlet of unhiding/unlocking the matte/environment shader.  Hopefully this just works in newer versions than I’m using.  Assign the iray matte environment to the scene environment and then add your HDRI & backplate to an environment & background switcher and nest it inside the iray matte environment shader.

Pros:  Fast.  It comes with 3ds Max.  Good results.

Cons:  Those freakin’ hidden shaders & cryptic string options…oh man, I could scream.  If it’s a feature of a program how about providing simple access to it via the UI for the love of all that is holy.  Oh, it also needs glare/bloom/LUT options. 🙂


There is nothing wrong with compositing 3d elements onto backplates outside of 3ds Max.  Sometimes that’s the most efficient way to handle a specific project or task.  I’m simply listing the workflows for different applications where the goal is to render directly onto a backplate.  A “one and done” type scenario if you will.

28 Comments Basic composite workflow comparisons

  1. jaymo February 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Nice comparison, Jeff! Would be interesting to add Redshift to it.

    1. Jeff February 7, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      I’ll see about adding that, and any others that I can.

  2. Ledian February 7, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    Great test, thank tou Mr. Patton!

  3. ali sengun February 8, 2017 at 4:44 am

    Nice comparison Thank You

  4. Tom Mannington February 8, 2017 at 5:51 am

    I can set you up and render out a ProRender version if you want?

  5. Tom Mannington February 8, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Nice work as usual. I could set up and render out a ProRender version if you want?

    1. Jeff February 8, 2017 at 6:44 am

      Thanks Tom, that would be great if you could share your experience with ProRender.

  6. Josh Purple February 8, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Just wondering/curious, in the 3ds Max Vray setup, when I turn off the; Environment > GI environment (and leave everything else the same, etc.), I don’t notice a difference in the render (I’m guessing I’m missing something/not see it, etc.). Again, excellent setups, very glad to have this reference, Thank You Jeff, I appreciate it 🙂 !

    1. Jeff February 8, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      You’re right. Looks like I could have just left that off (environment GI HDRI) since I have the VRay dome light in there using that same HDRI.

      1. Josh Purple February 8, 2017 at 1:12 pm

        Thank you Jeff, I sincerely appreciate your fast reply 🙂 !

  7. Archistico February 10, 2017 at 3:12 am

    Blender3d + Cycles? 🙂

    1. Jeff February 11, 2017 at 9:37 am

      Possibly. I’ve been wanting to try Blender for a while.

      1. Archistico February 14, 2017 at 2:48 am

        Thank you very much! 🙂

  8. PaulF February 12, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    There is a way in Octane to enable a backplate separate from your HDRI environment, though it’s not very flexible nor intuitive. I believe you can assign an image to the viewport background via the std Max interface, then there is a checkbox in the Octane kernel settings to use viewport background.

    1. Jeff February 13, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      That option correctly displays the backplate in the OctaneRender Viewport. However, for some reason, it won’t actually save the render with the backplate visible.

        1. Jeff February 22, 2017 at 7:35 pm

          I didn’t have much luck with that method either. Obviously I was doing something wrong though since they show it clearly working on the forum. Will check it again to see where I went wrong & update the Octane file/workflow blurb when I get it nailed down.

  9. John Draisey February 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Wha??? No Arnold example? Where’s the love, lol.

    1. Jeff February 13, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      I’ll have to see about adding Arnold to the mix if/when I upgrade from 3ds Max 2015.

  10. john February 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    It would be nice to add the version numbers of the builds you tested. My biggest complaint about vray is that the demo, release build, secret nightly builds and betas all can have very different workflows that aren’t documented well.

  11. Bao February 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    What about blender and cycles render on GPU and CPU?

  12. joao February 17, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Hi guys, anyone can help me?
    I have scene in 3D Max with a logo iluminated by a HDR enviromment map. Im using Corona Renderer.
    Naturaly when i render the scene, the image comes with the logo and background. The alpha was computed over the background.
    But i want to compose the logo with another backgorund in after effects.
    How do i render only the logo with the ilumination and reflections generated by the HDR map but do not render the background, so i can compose it?
    Thank you!

    1. Jeff February 17, 2017 at 11:32 am

      Should be something like this: Black scene environment, HDRI applied to Corona environment, visibility override = black, matte shadow ground set to composite mode.
      Sample scene:

  13. Bao February 18, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Jeff here is a blender scene to render with Cycles: (in that link don’t wait for it to load but click the download arrow on the upper right to immediately download the file).

    Open the file in blender and press F12 to render. The zip also includes a render in .jpg if you don’t want to render yourself.

    1. Jeff February 22, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      Thanks. I’ve installed Blender but it’ll take some time for me to find my way around it. Houdini is also on my to-do list down the road.

  14. izzet February 20, 2017 at 2:55 am

    nice comparisons, its really good to see vray rt solve previous issues. thank you


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