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[Tutorial]How to use a environment map with Cycles

Welcome back πŸ™‚

I often see people having problems with setting up a proper lighting system for their scenes. So i show you how to set up a environment map for your background! We will reproduce the image seen below in this easy to follow 11 step tutorial. I also give a link for the download place for neat environment maps πŸ˜‰

So lets get started!

[Hint] If you cant see what a image shows, because it is to small, just click on it to see the original blender screenshot size.

1. Open Blender and select the cube and the point light via <shift>+ <right mouse button (RMB)>

2. Delete them! Press <x>

3. Switch from the “Blender Render” to “Cycles Render” (red box)

4. Download the environment map “Dining room” from this page here:


5. Go to the “world” buttons,Β  under “surface” click on the “use nodes” button to open a menu.

6. Click on the grey dot on the right side of the grey colour bar to open a new popup menu, select “Environment Texture”

7. Click on “Open” and search your downloaded environment map.

Now you have loaded your environment map into Blender, to see how it works, we will do the following:

8. Click on the white circle to switch from the “solid” view into the “rendered” view. After a short loading time, the background will appear as you can see above.

Because we don’t have a object in our scene, we will add now some stuff to see how the light affects our 3d world.

9. Add a plane and the monkey to our scene, press <sgift>+<a> –> add->mesh->plane/monkey and use the 3D Pivot to place them like i did. For this tutorial you do not have to add materials, objects without materials will be rendered in a matte white in Cycles.

As you can see, the image is very grainy, this is because of the low samples setting in the preview window. To get a better image, we have to increase the samples count.

10. Go to the render buttons and go to “Integrator” open that menu and increase the preview samples to 100.

[Hint] You can also increase the render samples to 1000 or above to get a nice and cleam image when pressing f12. Beware, a high samples count will dramaticaly increase the rendertime.

[Hint] You can also use the Gpu mode for Cycles, if you have a new graphics card (release date after ca. 6/2010) to dramaticaly reduce the rendertime πŸ˜‰

Now the preview image looks much better!

As you can see, the rendered image is too dark, i dont know why Cycles does this, but it uses too less light from the environment map to light up everything, so in the end we have to increase the brightness of the environment map to get a proper brightness to our render.

11. Go back to the wold buttons and increase the “strength” to 5.

Now the image is ready to render, i placed my camera at a neat angle and set the render samples up to 10000 and added a subsurf modifier to smooth the monkey a bit . I also used my Gpu do accelerate the rendering, the result was ready in about 5 minutes and can be seen at the top of the article. I hope i could help you with that easy to follow tutorial!

6 responses

  1. Cool tutorial πŸ™‚ thanks for sharing!

    December 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm

  2. Nice tutorial ! Now we need a tutorial how to create a environment map. πŸ™‚
    Btw you have a typo in the title. πŸ˜‰

    December 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm

  3. Do you mean to say that if you set the samples higher it will take your render longer? I always set it to some crazy high number like 100000000 and then just stopped it when all the grainy-ness goes away. So if I were to choose a lower number like 1000, it would render faster?

    January 3, 2012 at 9:24 pm

  4. me

    Thank you.

    January 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm

  5. dksionzyk

    Thanks for the tutorial. I used the environment map for lighting a model, much more realistic results. But I don’t want the environment map to be seen in the background. It was a car model and I don’t want it sitting in a living room. Is it possible to use the environment map for the lighting/reflection information but not have the living room itself appear in the render?

    March 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    • Hi,
      there is a possibility to render just the real geometry and then remove the background. the easiest way would be: render the image with rgba transparency and save the image, you can add then a clear background with gimp. there are also possibilites to do this stuff with nodes, but im not used to this kind of compositing, sorry. check andrew price’s new camera tracking tutorial, there is a part where real geometry is projected onto 2d footage, that would be the best way to do that, check it out πŸ˜‰

      March 16, 2012 at 9:39 pm

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