Rendering an exterior at night in 5 simple steps, using vray

In this tutorial I will go through all the steps that we usually do when I’m asked to do an “exterior night-rendering”.
In order to follow it you need to know the basics of 3ds max and vray.

1) Natural light
The first step is to choose a background image of a sky.
For this tutorial I have used the image bellow:

background

Now put the desired image into the environment slot (3d max’s environment slot, not in vray’s).
In the vray settings, check global illumination, select lightcache for secondary bounces, irradiance map for primary (you could also use brute force, but it will take longer to render).
In the global switches tab, make sure that “default lights” is unchecked.

Last but not least go to the vray environment slot and check “GI environment (skylight) override. In the slot right beside put a gradient (dark blue in the upper slot, a lighter blue in the middle and a pale orange or purple in the lower position)

Exterior Rendering Settings

If you hit render, you will end up with something like this:

Exterior Rendering Phase1

2) Adding artificial lights inside
As you notice, it is starting too look like a night rendering, but at the moment it lacks artificial lighting so the spaces look deserted.

We will begin by adding vray lights inside the house, to simulate artificial lighting.
The important thing to keep in mind at this point is that artificial light can look different from one case to another depending on many factors (intensity, color temperature, size of the space that is actually lit, etc.) so you shouldn’t put a light source and instance it all over the place. Be creative and play with parameters like intensity multipliers, filter colors, etc.
For this scene I have used spherical vray lights with intensity multipliers varying from 1 to 2, filter colors with orange, yellow and blue tints and different a radius for each one.
vray interior lights

If you hit another render you will end up with something very similar to the following.
Exterior Rendering Phase 2

3) Simulating artificial light “spreading” from inside
Now we have light inside the house, but the light doesn’t seem to “come out” enough. Therefore we will place vray planar lights just in front of the windows, pointing towards the exterior, like in the following image.

vray window lights

Hit another test rendering and you should have something similar to the render bellow:

Exterior Rendering Phase 3

4) Adding artificial lights in the courtyard
We are getting closer. What doesn’t look right at the moment is the fact that the courtyard is too dark. Depending on your scene, you may have exterior lighting fixtures (like the lighting posts that I have in this scene), or even exterior spotlights that illuminate the building.  If you don’t have specific instructions for these, you could place lights somewhere behind the camera, so that you give the impression that the space is receiving illumination from neighboring sources (street lights, car lights, or even other buildings).

In this particular scene, adding lights to the lighting small garden lighting posts should be enough.
First I have assigned them a vraylight material with a gradient map; than I have placed vray spherical lights over each one. For each vray light in the courtyard I have excluded the lighting post bellow it. This is kind of a fake, but in the end it looks right, and that’s all that matters. (If you want to do it more “accurate” check out the lampshade tutorial as well).

vray courtyard lights

Hitting a test render at this stage you should obtain something like this:

Exterior Rendering Phase 4

5) Photoshop touches
a) Add a subtle glow effect to the visible artificial light sources (in this case, the small lighting posts). You can do this using the diffuse glow filter.
b) In a new layer, add a linear gradient from bottom to somewhere at the middle from orange to transparent. Put the layer on “color” and play with the transparency until you like the result. If you are feeling creative, you can also try some subtle brush strokes, with different tints of red, yellow or orange to create diversity.
After having done all of the above, here is the final image.

(CLICK THE IMAGE TO VIEW A HIGH RESOLUTION RENDERING)

Exterior Rendering Phase 5

Conclusion
Rendering an exterior at night can be very tricky. The best approach in my opinion is to take it systematically by starting with natural light, and adding artificial lights one by one during the process. Otherwise, you may find yourself lost not knowing where you did something wrong.
I can not stress enough how important is to have a few examples of professional architectural photography at hand and look at them at every stage of the process.
Here are some general guidelines that I always keep in mind when I’m doing a night rendering:

1) Even at night time the skylight still casts a subtle shadow.
2) Never make the sky 100% black; it should have either a blue or a purple tint.
3) If there are no artificial lights on the ground, the sky will always be brighter and the ground would “borrow” a bluish or purple tint from the sky
4) The lighting is a mixture of dark purple/bluish tints at the upper part and orange/yellow on the ground and on the building(s). That is because the natural light blends with artificial light sources placed on the ground.
5) The colors are more saturated in a night rendering that in a daytime one.
6) Artificial light sources have a subtle glow around them.
7) If you have “moving objects” in your scene, don’t be afraid to use motion blur. If you know a bit about photography, you are aware that at night time photographers use high exposure times when they target architectural subjects; this causes all moving things around (cars, people, etc) to appear with motion blur.

If you think that I have missed something, feel free to post a comment and let me know.

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96 Comments
  1. MrCAD says:

    very nice vray tutorial…will plug it in my blog

  2. I’m glad you like it.
    Thanks for the link!

  3. Hosain says:

    Nice pice of work man.
    Cheers.

  4. dipesh sadavarte says:

    nice work u did.
    it will be helping for the others who need to make
    a night scene……it is very good..

  5. daveb says:

    what did you use for the grass in the scene, it looks fantastic, good tut also

  6. Thanks for the positive feedback!
    For the grass I have used vray displacement; nothing special…

  7. Mohammad says:

    Thank you very much for this tutorial.The way you explain is very good.nice job thanks once again.i just want to know about the trees u used beck side of the house?

  8. Thanks for the reply Mohammad. The trees are geometry converted into vray proxies.

  9. thanks a lot it is very helpful

  10. AHMAD says:

    THNX ALOT ALEX…THE SHOT LOOKS REAL & EVERYTHING LOOKS FINE,BUT ABOUT THE GRASS I HOPE THAT U HELP ME MORE,I CULDN`T MAKE IT LOOK REAL,I TRIED TO USE VRAY DISPLACMENT BUT IT DOESN`T WORK IT BROKE THE SURFACE I DONT KNOW Y….THNX AGAIN

  11. I’m glad you liked it Ahmad.
    Regarding the grass, I will post a tutorial today.

  12. nice and helpful tut! ;D I’m wondering about your model, did you use ‘wall’ to create it or do you have some other methods? I see in the pic2 that your roof is clean, in my projects I am always facing the problem making clean roofs after boolean’ing it for windows.. it consists of hundrets of triangles and then is difficult to lay precisely materials on it..
    best regars and thx for tut ;D

  13. I used simple poly modeling technique to model the house.
    I try to stay away from “templates” like “wall”, “door” etc., and most importantly I never use booleans; as you said it literally destroys the mesh.

  14. gautam says:

    thanks but u did not tell the v ray setting plzzzzzzzzz send it on my email.thanks buddy

  15. anand babu says:

    nice work alex.i like the tutorials very much.how did you subtract without boolean?

  16. @gautam – irradiance map set to “high”, hsph subdivisions – 25, interpolation samples – 25 and lightcache samples to 1000. The rest of the parameters are untouched.

    @anand babu – I use extrude towards the inside, and delete tha polygond behind for windows, in order to avoid using booleans. If I have time these days I will probably write a short tutorial about this.

    Many thanks again to everybody for taking the time to write a feedback. I really appreciate it.

    Best regards,
    Alex

  17. Thank you very much for this nice tutriol,excellent work,night rendering is good,this is the best and very logical apporch to ward the subject.slope roof,and garage door and main entrance door need to be more visible dont you think so. once again lot of thanks and best wishes

  18. Thanks for the feedback!
    Regarding those details you’ve mentioned, I kind of prefer it this way… it gives more “drama” to the image.
    However, it is just a matter of taste.

  19. jan raj says:

    the photoshop bit was really gud…hadnt been able to figure how to get that orange glow…

    n i guess vray displacement gets meesed up if the object has plenty of curves..i break up the grassy area into smaller portions to fix it..is there any other way?

  20. If you are talking about the glow around the light fixtures, the workaround is simple:
    Select the white areas and copy them to a new layer, than use the diffuse glow filter.

    I don’t fully understand how your grass gets messed up… problems usually occur when you have overlapping polygons. If this is not the case, you could post a link to your image (or send it o me by email) and I will try to help.

    Thanks for visiting!

  21. jan raj says:

    thanx for the other link… :) i will make changes accordingly and get back in case of trouble…

    i will also mail u the image where my displacement gets distorted

  22. jan raj says:

    do dimensions make a difference to the lighting setup parameters? i do work in mm and feet/inch both. wud the same parameters work for both?

  23. ahmad bagheri says:

    Thank you very much for this learn

  24. mhike says:

    very nice,i hope you post more tutorials it will help us a lot..keep up the good work,..thank you

  25. bob says:

    alex, everything is fantastic.regarding grass, could you pass to me the tutorial?

  26. Thanks for the feedback!
    The grass tutorial is already published:
    http://www.cgdigest.com/index.php/how-to-create-grass-in-3ds-max/

    @jan raj – it doesn’t matter if you work in inches, feet, mm or whatever. Just keep the correct scale.

  27. farman khan says:

    this was my first visit of your website, i think its great please regularly send me the beginners excercise.

  28. AbaidUllah says:

    Thank you very much to contribute this tutorial.
    It is very helpful for me and other professionals relating this field.
    Thank you once again.

  29. Reem Habib says:

    Thank you so much for this tut.. great work and great way of explination… i was wondering if you may include some interior design scenes and give us more ideas n effects in this field…
    Thank you once again..

  30. niki says:

    Yes man you deserve lot of beers!The tutorial is very useful 10xxx!!!

  31. shihab abdulla says:

    Thanks For the Importend Information
    and Very Good Tutorials

  32. whaling says:

    nice tutorial , especially the notes at the end -thanks!

  33. po says:

    thanks for the tutorial..i am following it but everything in the scene is getting too blue.your objects in the scene are holding their material colour.how do manage this?my white walls of the building are getting a blue colour..and everything in the scene..can i fix that?

  34. The blue tint is perfectly normal and it is caused by the environment skylight (in my case the gradient map).
    If you look at the early stages of the tutorial, right before adding the artificial lights in the courtyard, you will notice that the walls in my example are bluish too.

    The effect is less visible after that step because of the yellowish artificial lights.
    If you don’t like your rendering to be too “blue” you can desaturate the skylight color until you like what you get.

    Again, as I said in the tutorial, it is very important to look at architectural photography at night time to see how the environment light affects the objects.

    Best regards,
    Alex

  35. Mai says:

    Thank you for YOUR effort in this useful tutorial

  36. Diwakar says:

    Hey Dude, I was good in interior lighting by vray, but this fantastic tutorial for night lighting has given me some more confidence. Thankyou so much. Now I want a tutorial for perfect day light with proper shadows

  37. xorg says:

    thanks a lot irealy need your help i appreciate it

  38. jake says:

    thanks a lot sir alex. i hope continue to share your
    knowlage to us and pls send me tutorials about interior redering in vray. simple but the best. thanks in advance…

  39. krishna says:

    thank’s a lot for night effect , it look’s superb

  40. karthik says:

    Hi Mr.Alex, the night exterior scene looks great! i am going to work on it right now. Wish me luck.

  41. tush bobo says:

    Good work,i m following the tutorial but the problem i have is that my lights dont render properly, my vray plane light comes as a lit plane and covers the window behind it and the spherical vray light doesnt render at all.

  42. Make the vray light planes invisible (and also make sure that they are oriented the correct way). Check the multiplier and size of the vray spherical lights; I can’t see any other reasons why you have problems with these, at the moment.
    Let me know how it turns out.

    Best regards,
    Alex

  43. syed shan haider says:

    My Project does not look real. how can i make it real.i request everyone to help me if any body wanna help me please send me email at this address syedshanhaider@yahoo.com

    i will send my project to him who will send me email
    A lot Thanks

  44. andro says:

    thanks a lot for this very helpfultutorial, can i ask a 3d max file of this tutorial sir? actually im a new user of vray and i cant follow the other modifications that you have mentioned in this tutorial.. thanks in advance sir…

  45. Unfortunately I can’t share most of the scenes I’ve used for tutorials, because of legal reasons: In some cases I have used content (like models or textures) provided by another company, which I am not allowed to share, while in others the models were part of a commercial project for which I am not allowed to send any 3d model or cad file to a third party.
    Hopefully in the future I will have more time to build scenes especially for tutorials but for now I can’t promise anything.

    Best regards,
    Alex Mincinopschi

  46. rakesh nayak says:

    hi, its great help for me

  47. Ratna says:

    Hi Nice tutorial.. and I have few questions

    1. How to reduce the rendering time if am usng more number of lights in the scene. ( am using exact photometric ies files of the lights)

    2.What is the intensity and what kind of fake light u inserted for interior effect?

    3. Is there no need for logarithimic exposure brightness?

    THanks in advance

  48. Hello Ratna,

    First of all welcome! :)
    To reduce rendering times, you could try decreasing the number of subdivisions of those lights (until the noise is becoming too noticeable). There are plenty of other things you can to try – like using interpolation, adjusting the noise threshold, material subdivisions, etc.

    I don’t remember exactly the intensity multiplier of the light inside (and I don’t have the scene on this computer), but it really doesn’t matter. That is different from one scene to another.

    No logarithmic exposure was used. Everything that wasn’t mentioned in the tutorial was just default vray settings.

  49. Nguyen says:

    ALEX! You are great man! All your tutorials are good!

  50. reem says:

    hi..nice tutorial..im kinda new in the 3ds max modeling and i was wondering how ur did the doors and windows without boolean?

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