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3DS Max Design: How To Create A Great Looking Sky

By on October 5, 2011 in Autodesk 3DS Max, Tutorial with 8 Comments

In the following tutorial, we will create a skydome that accurately projects light onto your scene. This tutorial is based largely (entirely) from the master of Mental Ray rendering, Jeff Patton.

This tutorial will take you to youtube–> 3DS Max Skydome creation – If youtube is blocked, try replacing “” with “” in order to view the video.

If you cannot or don’t wish to view the video, you can follow these simple steps:

Create a ground plane object and a sphere that is about the same diameter as the plane and has its center at the same elevation as the plane.

Select the sphere and convert it to an editable poly (right click menu) – name it “skydome”

Convert the sphere to an editable poly and delete the bottom half of the sphere beneath the plane

Add a “Normal” modifier to the sphere and flip the normals

Use “Select and Squash” to flatten the cylinder to make it half-spheroidal

Add a “UVW Map modifier” and set it to cylindrical – then click the fit button

Open the Slate Material Editor (type M)

Right click > Materials > mental ray > mental ray to create a new mr material

Left click and drag from the Surface Shader node (left side) to the left and let go of the button you get a menu of choices, select mental ray > Color Override/Ray Type Switcher

In the Slate Material Editor right click > Maps > Standard > Bitmap and select your panoramic sky bitmap image

Connect the right bitmap connector node to the “Eye Rays”, “Reflections” and “Final Gather” nodes of the Color Override/Ray Type Switcher

Connect the right Color Override/Ray Type Switcher connector node to the mental ray Material “Surface Shader” node

Set the “Output Amount” to between 30 and 50 on the Bitmap. edit: <----scene scale is the driver of that value. The bigger (dimensionally) the scene, the higher the value.

Open the “Environment and Effects” dialog (type “8”) and on the “Environment” tab set the Exposure Control to Logarithmic Exposure Control

Check “Process Background and Environment Maps” and check “Exterior Daylight”

With the skydome selected, open the material editor, select the sky parent material (Color Override/Ray Type Switcher) and click the “assign material to selection” button to assign it to your selection

Do some test renders, adjusting the output of the bitmap each time to see how the different levels affect the scene lighting. If you see black, keep upping the value or double check this list. It’s easy to skip a step.

Finally, create a daylight system and do more test renders.

Here is a render of a generic plant using the method outlined above. You can purchase the plant model from turbosquid.

Please do not reuse or hotlink to images without express written consent from Dave Tyner.

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About the Author

About the Author: Hi! I am currently an Autodesk Solutions Engineer working to deliver real time solutions to our Enterprise customers. I have been involved with industrial design software for nearly 15 years and am a 3DS Max Professional who is passionate about design visualization. .


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  1. Chad Shupe says:

    Great guide Dave. Keep up the great work.

  2. Joel Harris says:

    If I could make one comment on this: I found using “Select and Non-uniform Scale” was not a good idea for squashing the skydome hemisphere since non-uniform scaling affects all types of UVW mapping. When I used this accidentally instead of “Select and Squash” as you noted above, I was unable to used the “Real-World Map Size” option to get my bitmap scaled properly. I ended up with many, tiled bitmaps instead. Just a note of caution to noobs like myself.

    • dave says:

      ah! I must say that I have tended to avoid using real world map size on my UVW maps. Also, not sure if I did it in the video but I recommend scaling after applying the UVW map 🙂

    • Andrew says:

      In general scaling something at the object level is a bad idea since it is like having an invisible scale modifier at the top of the stack. If you scale at the sub object level you can add modifiers without having to worry about them being affected.

      • dave says:

        Thank you for the comment, Andrew. Would scale > reset xform > convert to poly > apply modifiers…be an acceptable workflow? I haven’t tried scaling at the subobject level, thanks for that tip!

  3. Kole says:

    I like to think I’m pretty good at 3DS Max but you broke my brain a bit here. Going to give it a go when I get home tonight and take it step by step.

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