Making your own studio HDRI in Blender

After the decision to improve render with HDRI lighting, the question immediately raises – where to get it? We can certainly ask Google-pictures for help, but not all founded images allows their authors for free use. What can we do? The solution is simple – make your own HDRI. Blender has all capabilities for this.

Simple studio HDRI made with Blender
Simple studio HDRI made with Blender

Baking displace map from geometry

Detailed relief means a lot for high-quality render. You can model a beautiful basketball, cut stylish grooves and set up good material shader, but with no relief this basketball would be similar with real only from high distance. That kind of basketball may be useful for general plans, but any closeup render reveal deficiencies immediately.

Basketball without microrelief (left and center) and with microrelief (right)
Basketball without relief (left and center) and with relief (right)

There are differen ways to apply a relief to the ball. The most reliable – exactly follow the real ball geometry. However, there are from 10 to 35 thousands of small protrusions on the basketball surface, formed its relief. It is possible to model all of that, but the final model gains heavy weigh and needs more system resources while rendering.

Relief imitation with displace and normal maps wold be the best solution. But where to get the required textures? It is possible to model a small fragment of the basketball surface with relief in detail, and then bake it to displace map for the further applying to the whole model.

Baking displace map from procedural texture

One of the essential components of beautiful render is quality irregularities map. Scratches, damages and abrasions imparts the model a natural look, it does not look like got to the scene straight from the factory.

Surface microrelief can be formed by geometry (“sculpt” or point by point editing), and from maps – static (prepared in a graphical editors) and procedural (created with nodes – texture generators).

Procedural textures usage to create a microrelief with displace method has all the advantages (dimensionless, three-dimensionality, uniqueness and customization) of procedural textures, but also inherits their main disadvantage – reduced render speed because generating textures requires additional computation.

Scraches microrelief formed by displace using a procedural texture generation
Scraches microrelief formed by displace using a procedural texture generation

To increase render speed it is possible to “bake” procedural texture into a static bitmap texture, which is no longer require additional resources during the rendering process. Using this method can benefit from 5 to 30% (depending on the complexity of the generated maps) of rendering speed.