Create and shade realistic honeycombs
Discover this simple and logical approach for creating and shading realistic honeycombs using volumes and subsurface scattering materials
Produce a honeycomb render oozing with detail with this step-by-step guide from Matthew Novak
as a more technical artist I’m always amazed at how detailed and intricate such simple objects and materials can be. The bark on a tree, the rocks on the ground, even the clouds in the sky contain insane amounts of detail in their shaping and form. The way light scatters across such simple surfaces, revealing so many fine details, is really quite astounding.
When it comes to shading and detailing highly complex surfaces the underlying shape/model of the object plays a large role in the result, especially if that object is translucent or refractive in any way. Lighting and shading work together in a unified way, and when surfaces are refractive or scatter light, small imperfections and details on the surface play a large role in distributing that light further into the shapes/object.
Without getting caught up in the small details and trying to make things look pixel perfect, a more organic and free-form procedural approach can be taken in the creation of these honeycombs, leaving any imperfections behind. By using volumes and procedurals we are able to add many details that would otherwise be very timeconsuming and challenging to model by hand, but that add to the realism of the final render.
Over the next few pages I hope to introduce some new techniques and methods that you will find useful in your own projects.
01 research AND understand your Goal
The key thing to remember when starting any asset or the shading/ texturing of an asset is to have a clear vision of the result and its purpose. This will determine whether you will have to focus on macro (large) details or micro (small) details. In this case we will be making a honeycomb, which is already a small and intricate object. Our goal is to focus on the micro (small) details; to do this we must ensure that all edges look organic, and that the light falls across the surface and scatters into it naturally to reveal details and shaping.
02 create the Honeycomb Pattern
We will start off by opening up Maya and making a simple pattern as shown. By having a simple tileable geometry we can duplicate it into almost any shape we need. You can even use MASH in Maya to create more complex shapes, or you can simply just duplicate the pattern by hand. The geometry is kept simple for now, as thickness and details can be added later.
03 ADD DEPTH to the Honeycombs
Once the pattern has been created we can combine the geometry, weld the edges and extrude. There is no need to be picky about geometry here; it will be fully re-created through volumes which are quite forgiving, so even for highly complex shapes you can be as messy as you want at this point. Just make sure the resulting shape is combined geometry.
04 use Volumes to remesh Geometry
Under the FX tab you can create a 3D fluid container; delete the emitter. Scale the container to fit tightly around your honeycomb geometry. Select the fluid container, then select the object and emit fluids from our honeycombs. To prevent the fluids from moving, we change the fluid container’s Contents Method Velocity to Off (zero). Change the fluid container’s base resolution to a higher number in order to have enough voxels to properly replicate the detail/ shape of our object. This way we get an organic look without sculpting.
05 Define Procedural Details with Volumes
Now we can start to add details. We can adjust the falloff/sharpness under the fluid container on the opacity graph under the Shading dropdown. Procedural details can be added to the surface by going to the Textures dropdown and checking Texture Opacity. Here you can add details using procedurals to add/subtract from the fluid/volumes. Make sure your viewport texturing preview is enabled. To view the volume as a mesh, go to the Surface dropdown and set it to surface render.
06 mesh the Honeycomb
Make sure you save before this step. To convert the fluid/volume into geometry select the fluid container and go to the Modify dropdown in the top menu, then and click Convert>fluid to Polygons. By default the conversion will generate a triangulated mesh, but this can be changed on the fluid container under output along with the mesh resolution/density.
07 ADD Honey with Volumes
To create honey we will generate a lower-quality version by repeating the previous step and setting a low mesh resolution in the output settings. Create a 3D fluid container and emit fluids from the low-qual honeycomb, but once it builds up pause your timebar. Select the fluid container and in the FX menu under Field/solvers set Initial State as the starting point of the volume.
08 simulate the Honey
Now we have a good starting point where the honeycomb is covered in this new fluid we created. We can go into the fluid container and turn the velocity back to dynamic, and in the Content Details dropdown under Density set the Buoyancy to -1. This will cause the fluids to drip/sink downwards. To have proper interaction between the fluid and the honeycomb mesh, you can also create a blocker mesh and select the fluid, then the honeycomb mesh, and go to Fluids Make Collide in the FX menu.
09 mesh the Honey
This step is almost the same as meshing the honeycomb, except I would often recommend aiming for a slightly lower quality and see if smoothing the shape after results in a more natural-looking result. The creation of the honey does not have to be done all in one go, so feel free to do this process multiple times to add layers of honey or smaller drips and more detailed areas.
10 ADD extra Details
The honeycomb entrances should have a nice glaze over them or have the effect as if they are filled with honey. To do this we will model a simple cap, or extract it from our honeycomb pattern, and just place these caps over some of the tops of the honeycombs. This will add some breakup to the render and will look as if some of the honeycombs are filled with liquid/honey.
11 create the wax shader
The wax is the main part that the honeycomb is made up of. Since it is similar to candle wax, light will scatter into its surface. To achieve this look we will need to use an SSS (Subsurface Scattering) material. To keep things more optimised we will use the Fast SSS shader since it has less parameters and is quite a bit faster; it is much more suited than a skin shader. We will set the subsurface colour and the scatter colour, and not much diffuse will be needed as our look is mostly based on the scattering effect.
12 create the wax shader ii
Honeycombs aren’t purely dry wax, and it seems that further down the wax starts to get more gooey. The top of the honeycomb is more yellow and dried out, and as it gets deeper we want a more gooey, scattering look. To do this we will create a secondary, more gooey shader, then have the top of the honeycomb use our previous shader and gradually fade to this more gooey shader at the bottom. The key here is to make sure that our shader is refractive raytraced.
13 create the wax shader iii
We have to be able to blend the two shaders together from the tip of the honeycomb to the bottom. To do this we will add a V-ray Blend Material with the gooey shader in the base and the dried-out shader in the coat, and put a ramp as the mask with a simple gradient. This mask will be applied to a UV set that can simply be a planar projection or a projection from the camera.
14 make the Honey shader
The honey shader is also a subsurface scattering material very similar to our gooey shader that we used for the non-waxy part of the honeycomb. A few tweaks can be made to make it look a bit more liquidy – these changes can be an adjustment to the index of refraction, and make sure that you have even more depth on the raytrace refraction if you can afford longer render times.
15 set up lighting
For the lighting I keep the approach as simple as possible, as effective lighting doesn’t come from having tons of light sources and cheats. Good lighting is having as few light sources as needed to accomplish the look with the correct position, intensity and size. The full lighting setup for this render is an HDRI in a Dome light, and a few supporting lights with their positions roughly matching the light sources in the HDRI. Using textured lights can also help contribute to the realism in some cases.
16 use ipr for framing
IPR mode can help with framing your camera and adjusting lighting. The great thing about IPR mode is that even though it will produce a grainy result, it enables you to see a quick overview of what your final frame will look like. Even though GI, refraction and scattering are not always shown as accurately or exactly like they will turn out, it gives a pretty good idea of what the overall feel will be.
17 final tweaks AND Adjustments
Once the shading and framing are all complete I usually recommend going through one more round of manual adjustments. At this point I look at a preview or a low-quality render of my final image and think about what fixes or adjustments would take the least amount of time but have a positive impact on the final image. I really try to just focus on the big picture and stick to a timeline.
18 DEPTH of field
When it comes to creating something that is very small in real-world scale or close to a lens, focus becomes a huge part of making something look realistic. Often I prefer to do this with a Zdepth render pass in compositing, but in certain cases having it done in render is worth the performance hit/ render time increase. The key thing to remember here is that the larger the aperture (lower f-stop) the shallower depth of field, and the smaller the aperture (higher f-stop) the deeper depth of field.
19 render element setup
No matter how simple the render is I always add the render elements that can provide extra control when compositing. Even if you don’t plan on doing many adjustments I still find it useful to have the ability to do so. You should also always be rendering to EXR or some type of HDR file format, as this way you’re storing as much information as possible and you will have a greater range of information available in your rendered image.
20 render settings
Not only is it important that our render looks good, but also that it renders in a reasonable amount of time. It gets very tricky when dealing with heavy refraction and SSS, but often by limiting or lowering the depth of the refraction and using the Vray Fast SSS we can improve render times and also drastically change the look of the result. You can also save render time by rendering slightly more noisy with lower sample rates and relying on denoising to clean up the result.
21 final image At Half resolution
I do my final render at half resolution and work through one last round of checks. I make any necessary final adjustments or corrections then render out at full quality settings at full resolution. Getting into this habit has saved me countless hours and prevents me from rendering something in super high quality only to notice some-last minute mistake I forgot to fix. •