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Ambient occlusion is actually a lighting concept that describes the darkening of surfaces in crevices and areas were two surfaces meet. So in this render you can see ambient occlusion shadowing appears as the surfaces get close together or in these corners. Fewer photons of light actually reach these areas of the surface and so you see it as darkening. This is known as ambient occlusion shadowing. It's something that happens usually in an ambient lighting environment like an overcast day. Now this is a lighting concept, but mental ray allows you several options for creating ambient occlusion.
You can create it as part of the lighting setup or you can actually build it within your shader network, or you can actually do both at the same time. So this is a concept that's important to understand because it affects the lighting on the surface and it also affects the way light is reflected from a surface, because this is an example right here of ambient occlusion shadowing. But there is also the concept of reflection occlusion. So in the rendering that's shown here I have an example of a surface that is perfectly reflective, but there is no reflection occlusion.
So each part of the surface is reflecting the environment with the same amount of strength. In this teapot here on the right I've added reflection occlusion. So you can see how the surface right here gets a little bit darker, because fewer photons of light are able to reach these parts of the surface and reflect back into the environment. So you see this sort of lessening of the reflection here in the cracks and crevices of the surface. It can be kind of subtle, but it adds an awful lot of realism to your surface. So this one looks a little bit less realistic than this.
So reflection occlusion is something that you can build into your shader networks to increase the realism of your surfaces.
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