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Create Realistic Glass and Caustics in Maya: Part 1

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Read Time: 7 min

Achieving a realistic render can be a challenging task, especially when re-creating a real-world object or scene. In this two-part tutorial, you learn how to build and render a realistic glass of water, complete with accurate caustics in Maya.

1. Modeling the Glass

Step 1

Create a new Maya project. Press the Spacebar to show the default views. We will start working with the side orthographic view.


Step 2

To create the glass, we'll start with a CV Curve. Go to Create > CV Curve Tool.


Step 3

Press X to snap the first vertex of the curve to the center (as shown in the image) and continue creating vertices for the shape of the glass.


Step 4

End the CV Curve at the center of the view, it is important that the start and end vertices are aligned, as shown.


Step 5

Select the curve and from the Surfaces menu, go to Surfaces > Revolve and click on the Options Box to open the tool settings.


Step 6

The Revolve Options menu will open. Set the Axis preset to Y, End sweep angle to 360, Output geometry to NURBS and then click on the Revolve button.


Step 7

This is how the glass should look after the revolve. If we needed to modify the shape of the glass, we could simply change the curve, because the NURBS object is still connected.


Step 8

In this step, we will delete the glass history. After this the shape of the glass will no longer be affected by the CV Curve. Go to Edit > Delete by Type > History.


Step 9

Since the curve is no longer connected, we can Delete it from our scene.


Step 10

We need to convert our glass to a polygon object, because later on we will set up UVs for the textures. Select the glass and go to Modify > Convert > NURBS to Polygons and click on the Options Box.


Step 11

The options box will open, generally selecting Control points as the Tessellation method should work well enough. Then click on the Tessellate button.


Step 12

We will end up with two glasses, a NURBS and a polygons object. Now we can safely delete our NURBS from the scene.


Step 13

To smooth out the polygon glass, we need to press the 3 on the keyboard, while the object is selected. Now we have an exact copy of our old NURBS object.


Step 14

With the glass selected, go to Edit > Delete by Type > History.


Step 15

We should start organizing the scene by naming our objects. With the glass selected, open the Attributes Editor and change the name of the object to something recognizable.


2. Creating the Table

Step 1

Now well create the table for the scene, go to Create > Polygon Primitives > Cylinder.


Step 2

A Cylinder should appear in the scene.


Step 3

With the Scale Tool, scale the cylinder until it has the shape of a table.


Step 4

In the side view, we need to align the table with the glass using the Move Tool.


Step 5

Now open the Attributes Editor of the Cylinder, here we will increase the Subdivisions Axis to 40, in order to get a round table.


Step 6

As we did before with the glass, we should also name this object.


3. Creating the Environment

Step 1

Now we're going to create a Sphere that will be the environment for render. Go to Create > Polygon Primitives > Sphere.


Step 2

The Sphere will be created, but it will be much smaller then what we need.


Step 3

Select the Sphere and with the Scale Tool, increase its size until it surrounds all the objects.


Step 4

With the Sphere still selected, open the Attribute Editor and change its name.


4. Adding the Water

Step 1

Now we're going to create the water in the glass, go into the side orthographic view.


Step 2

As we did with the glass, we need to create a CV Curve. Go to Create > CV Curve Tool.


Step 3

Zoom in, in the side view and start creating the curve following the inside shape of the glass. Remember to snap the first vertex to the center.


Step 4

Finish the curve with both the start and end vertices aligned.


Step 5

With the new curve selected and while in the Surfaces menu, go to Surfaces > Revolve and click on the Options box.


Step 6

This will open the Revolve Options. Remember to set the Axis preset to Y and the End sweep angle to 360, this will make the revolve a full circumference. Also set the Output Geometry to be NURBS, and finally click on Revolve.


Step 7

Now you'll have the water object inside the glass. If the shape of the water does not match perfectly with the glass, you can adjust it by moving the vertices of the original CV Curve.


Step 8

When you are done adjusting the shape, select the water object and go to Edit > Delete by Type > History.


Step 9

After deleting the history, the curve will be disconnected from the object and now we can Delete it safely.


Step 10

Select the water object and open the Attribute Editor to change its name.


5. Lighting the Scene

Step 1

Now, we need to set up the lighting for our scene. We'll start by creating an Area Light. Go to Create > Lights > Area Light.


Step 2

Select the area light we just created.


Step 3

To position our light, while in the View menu, go to Panels > Look Through Selected.


Step 4

This will change our view to be the position of the light. Change the view until you're looking towards the scene from the top, on a slight angle.


Step 5

Now we need to get back to our perspective view. In the View menu, go to Panels > Perspective > persp.


Step 6

Select the Area Light, open the Attribute Editor and change its name.


Step 7

We need to create another light, this time we'll create a Spotlight. Go to Create > Lights > Spot Light.


Step 8

Select the Spotlight we just created.


Step 9

We'll set its position as we did with the area light. In the View menu, go to Panels > Look Through Selected.


Step 10

Position the light in a similar position as showed in the image.


Step 11

We need to get back to our perspective view. In the View menu, go to Panels > Perspective > persp.


Step 12

We'll now create a third light. Go to Create > Lights > Spot Light.


Step 13

Again, select the Spotlight we just created.


Step 14

We'll set its position as before. In the View menu, go to Panels > Look Through Selected.


Step 15

Position this light higher than the other Spotlight.


Step 16

We need to get back to our perspective view once again. So from the View menu, go to Panels > Perspective > persp.


Step 17

Your lighting setup should now look similar to the one in the image.


6. Adding the Camera

Step 1

Now we need to have a main camera for our render. Go to Create > Cameras > Camera.


Step 2

You'll see the new camera created, now select the Camera.


Step 3

Go to the Attribute Editor and change its name.


Step 4

With the camera still selected, and while in the View menu, go to Panels > Look Through Selected.


Step 5

This will set our view to be our main camera.


7. Render Settings

Step 1

Click on the Resolution Gate button in the View menu. This will let us see the limits of our render with the current resolution.


Step 2

Next open the Render Settings.


Step 3

In the Common tab, change the Renderable Camera option to the main camera, and the Image Size Preset to whatever resolution you would like to render the final image. For this tutorial, we'll work with the HD 720 preset. Finally close the render settings



Now with our resolution set, we can position our camera like so. In the next part, we'll add realistic materials and textures to the scene, set up caustics and adjust render settings.


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