People most of the time map the environment map to the color, but I mapped it to reflection. That way you’ll get that faded fresnell- like reflection. Only the floor has a environment map.
If by self shadowing you mean like AO, then no, it isn’t. But if you mean by self shadowing that my nose casts a shadow on my face, then yes it is.
Well, if I learned something from Jeremy Birn’s book is that any decent or half decent render engine could render anything without to much workarounds. It’s about giving the right pixel the right color, be it unbiased or faking with plain old scanline render lamps.
What my grievance is that a lot of Noobs and intermediates show their rendered stuff by either using only one strong spotlight, or going overboard and using AO, raytracing, area lamps and what not.
As I read (past tense) Digital: rendering and lighting and Jeremy keeps using Maya as a starting point, I kept thinking that Blender has more options than Maya (I don’t know Maya). People underestimate the internal engine because they are expecting to see a “render realistically” button.
My quick rig setup to give a fast evenly illumination is always:
1 Slightly blue hemi lamp for ambient light. Specular should be turned off.
1 (or sometimes more) Shadow Only spot light. I don’t like the spot circle, it looks cheesy, that’s why it’s only shadows only spots for me. It is also more flexible this way.
1 slightly yellowish Sun lamp to act as the key light.
That’s all. IMO it yields those renderman like, GI-like or Maya like renderings.
For more elaborate stuff I might employ more lamps and such, or if the scene needs it, I resort to more expensive methods like AO, raytracing (only if I want refraction) etc.