The cornelius render with and without the bake do turn out quite different but I suppose that is partially because you don’t need scene lighting with real AO and you do need it with the bakes. At least now we can apply “Dirt Maps” easily and to selective areas of the render in Blender, just like I saw it being done in a lightwave.
The first image has the baked pass and scene lighting while the second image has real AO and no scene lighting. It seems that the scene lighting is at least part of what’s drowning out the baked AO because the Uv map that is being applied looks IDENTICAL to the real AO render.
The third image is real AO plus scene lighting. When comparing the fiirst image with the third I am led to believe that the baked pass is being Multiplied Or Mixed with the black background of the image texture when it is cleared to black (as stated in the release notes) rather than Added to the texture which is, according to the release notes, the proper way to recombine an AO pass.
The fourth image is a full combined pass through the nodes minus the AO pass which I recombined with the image via a Mix nnode set to mix at a factor of zero. The dampening effect that this has on AO is as close as I could come to recreating the dampened effect of the bake. This leaves me little doubt that the bake is being improperly recombined as speculated above because the ammount of AO in the two images is almost identical, only the color is darker (you have to look closely at the darker image, but you can tell that the ammount of AO is basically the same).
Notice how the shadows cast by his head really kill the kill the AO effect in the first image where they fall on his chest and arms
I think I’ll stick with the passes for now because I’ve also noticed some severe creasing when baking colored cloud textures to lattice deformed meshes.