Take a look into the 3D view and we can see what’s really here. The non-material parts are extremely simple. Their are some cubes which I duplicated, and pressed Shift-R a bunch of times. The water, which is proportional editing set to random, and then relax. And the backdrop, which is an image from flickr, imported using Images to Planes. Plus a a box which sits under the water, that has the top face missing. What’s more interesting? Our cubes all have the same material!
So, what turns a bunch of cubes into rocks? The first thing you’ll need to do is turn on Experimental features in cycles. It has some bugs, but they can be fixed by going out of rendered view and then back into it.
Then select a cube, and go into the Object Data panel. A new option for displacement will appear if you’ve enabled Experimental features. Change the method to Both, and check Use Subdivision to get some roundness to your model. At the time of writing, the subdivision doesn’t respect edge creases (as far as I can tell).
Now in our node setup, we can give displacement data which will actually change our mesh when rendering. It’s similar to a displacement modifier, but without slowing things down until you want it to render. also note our first usage of the Random property. This lets us one material for many meshes without having them all be the same.
How else can we leverage the random operator? How about color? It may be a bit confusing, but we’re using a random value (0.0 through 1.0) to pick a color for each rock. It’s a slight difference but adds a lot of realism. This is completely arbitrary, but we’re having the object’s location affect the brown texture for the rock. It’s just adds a little more randomness to the scene.
You can probably figure out the water, it’s just standard glass shader (IOR 1.333), with some misc noise for a bump map. So, let’s move on to the sky. Our sky is two planes. The trick is that in our Object panel (the orange box), we scrolled all the way to the bottom and unchecked the camera visibility.
This is so we could increase the emission to a very high number, without the plane it self looking pure yellow (which starts happening around 2). The plane behind it has an emission of 1 which does two things. Firstly, it looks shameless; exactly like the original image. But it also avoids the supernova directly in front of it. Using a diffuse texture would cause it to look yellow.
Unchecking the camera visibility allows us to put lights anywhere in the scene without seeing them directly when rendering. If you have mirrors, uncheck glossy or else it’ll show up in them.
My last tip is to care about your scene, even what the camera can’t see.
Cycles is incredibly accurate, but this can kill an image if you’re not accurate. For example, my rocks didn’t have any lighting on the back because I didn’t provide something for light to bounce off.
Take a look from below my scene. You’ll see that I added a cloud covering a lot of space. The light emits from the planes, bounces off of my cloud and then down onto the world (rocks and water). Without this strange feature, it looks absolutely unbelievable.
I’m not saying my render’s good; but I am saying it uses a lot of techniques which could help your render be good. I hope this was helpful, and brought a few tricks to your attention, that previously were unknown.
Note: most of this is just personal experience, and not backed up with evidence. I poke things until they make me happy, and then share what they do when poked in certain ways.
Feel free to ask any questions, or complain about anything I did wrong. Suggestions for tutorials are appreciated