The 3DCheapskate's Brief Guide To Specialist Software

When you start getting more involved in your unreal 3D world you'll realise that there are many things you weren't even aware of that are very important. You may (or may not) be interested in investigating further. Here's a (very) brief introduction to postwork, UV mapping, rendering; environment/reflection maps, and image based lighting.


Once you've got your finished two-dimensional rendered image you might want to do a few things with it. From something as simple as adding a title, to somSince the rendered image is just like any other image, so you can use any photo/image editing software.

(Note: if you're using toy-box software you may notice that your rendered image has no background (unless you specifically something in). This makes it easy to overlay the rendered image onto another image, such as one of your photos.)

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop from Adobe is the sort of thing that graphics professionals use. There are cheaper versions for home users, but I'll leave you to try and work out what's what and how much various things cost - I find trying to find prices here very confusing! There are also also free trial versions available. But personally I'd just recommend the GIMP instead...


The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is free from Here's an example: my photograph's on the left, my DAZ Studio 4.5 render is in the middle, and the result of combining the two and doing a bit of fiddling in GIMP (adjusting colours and blurring the wings)

scene-t.jpg + dragon-t.png = dragoninscene-t.jpg

UV Mapping

The earth is a big three-dimensional ball floating in space. But you can look at a map of the world on a flat sheet of paper. That's UV mapping in a nutshell. It's the process for taking a three dimensional surface and putting it onto a flat surface. Every point on the 3D surface is represented by a point on the 2D UV map. This means that you can paint or draw , or even use a photo on the 2D UV map

The main problem is

UV Mapper

UV Mapper from UV Mapper Classic is free, and UV Mapper Professional costs $60.


The Roadkill UV Tool is a free UV mapper from Francis O'Brien's


Most 3D software includes a renderer. But there are alternative stand-alone renderers that you can use. The main distinction (I believe) is that some renderers are 'biased' and others are 'unbiased'. If I understand correctly unbiased renderers use the laws of physics and optics, whereas biased renderers take shortcuts.


LuxRender from is a free, unbiased renderer. The blurb says it's "LuxRender is a physically based and unbiased rendering engine. Based on state of the art algorithms, LuxRender simulates the flow of light according to physical equations, thus producing realistic images of photographic quality.". There's a standalone version, plus versions for Blender, Poser, and DAZ Studio (all free).


3Delight is a biased renderer and the blurb says it's "high quality, high performance rendering software and tools based on the industry proven RenderMan® standard and practices". You're allowed one free copy.

Environment And Reflection Mapping

An environmet map (or reflection map) is simply the full 360° azimuth/180° elevation environment (as seen from a single point) mapped onto the inside of a large sphere or cube centred at that point. There are three standard mappings:

HDRShop (see next section) is probably the easiest way to convert between environment formats. Simply load your image, select Image > Panorama > Panoramic Transformations, and save the result. There are other ways, all more complicated

You may come to a point where you want to make your own environment maps. You can make your own real-world based environment maps using a simple camera and some panoramic photo-stitching software. Or use the mirror-ball approach. (I'll let you Google those) Alternatively why not create an environment map from an imginary world? Use your favourite landscape software, set up the perfect environment, and take six 90° field of view photos (front, right, back, left, up and down). Combine them into a vertical cross cube map in GIMP, and then convert that to an equi-rectangular map in HDRShop. And while you're at it why not make a light probe angular map too! Here's a set of maps I created from scratch, using just Terragen Classic, GIMP, and HDRShop v1.

6renders-t.png vcross-t.jpg equirectangular-t.jpg angular-t.jpg


Hugin is available from It's a free photo-stitching program. The blurb says that " can assemble a mosaic of photographs into a complete immersive panorama, stitch any series of overlapping pictures and much more. "

Image Based Lighting

First a few acronyms: HDR (High Dynamic Range), HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging), GI (Global Illumination), IBL (Image Based Lighting). You may notice that the way lights work in 3D software isn't really like the real world. If you just have one light in your scene, then anything facing away from the light will be black. But in the real world light bounces of everything, so there's light coming from every direction. The most common way for 3D software software to hadle this using IBL. Effectively you use an environment map (see previous section) to determine the light coming from any direction. But you run into the problem of dynamic range. Light in the real world has a far bigger dynamic range than normal photos or computer images can cope with. For IBL to work properly you need to use a special type of image that can handle it - that's what HDR is. Note that your normal image viewing and editing software is unlikely to be understand HDR images, so the first thing you'll need is some software that understands HDR. The best place to start is probably HDR Labs - have a look at their tools page.


HDRShop seems to be the original piece of HDR-handling software. You may have difficulty finding the free HDRShop Version 1 (I did!) so to help you there's a direct link to it from the HDRLabs Tools page.


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