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Creating Textures and Shaders in Maya with Eric Keller shows how to create textures and materials, and then apply them to models to render realistic surfaces. The course covers working with the mental ray shading nodes, including the mental images architectural node, subsurface scattering nodes, occlusion, and car paint shaders, as well as how to incorporate these nodes into shading networks using the Hypershade editor. It also explores using textures, Maya software nodes, normal maps, and displacement maps for adding detail to models. Exercise files accompany the course.
Another important concept to understand when talking about reflections is the concept of Fresnel reflections. Fresnel reflections are named after the 19th Century French physicists Augustin-Jean Fresnel. This property describes how reflections behave based on the angle at which they are viewed. The angle which the surface is viewed is often referred to as the angle of incidence. As a surface turns away from the eye or the rendering camera, it can become increasingly reflective.
So a good example of this is this render that I have right now. I'm comparing two different surfaces. They have an equal amount of reflectivity applied. But this surface exhibits the phenomena of Fresnel reflections. You can see on the parts of the surface that are more perpendicular to the camera are less reflective than the parts of the surface that are moving away from the camera. You can sort of think of it this way. Pretend that you are standing at the edge of a clear lake. If you look straight down into the lake, you can clearly see the bottom and all the fish and all that stuff in the lake.
But as you look out over the surface of the lake, in other words, as the angle of incidence increases, the surface becomes more reflective. It becomes harder to see what's actually in the lake. So adding Fresnel type reflections to your surface can greatly increase the realism in the surface. You notice how this perfectly reflective surface looks just a little less realistic than this one right here. This looks a little bit more like steel. This looks like a mirror or chrome, which in some cases can be appropriate. But depending on the type of metal or the type of reflective surface that you're designing, consider how the surface reflects the light in the environment, and whether or not you should add a certain amount of Fresnel reflectivity to the surface.
Some mental ray shaders have this built-in, but in some case, with other shaders it's something that you can build into your shading network.
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