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Create a Cool Looking Neon Sign Effect using 3ds Max and VRay

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In this tutorial you will learn a cool technique on how to achieve a neon sign effect. I’ll show you how to model the neons from a font and then simulate the way a neon structure is built to get a realistic effect. Finally, I will demonstrate how to properly set up the materials, lights and some render settings to be rendered with Vray with using alpha channels.


Step 1

Ok, first write down your text, choose your type ( mine is “ Neona “ ), and convert it to an editable spline.

Step 2

Now erase the vertices and segments you need so it only a single line remains.

Step 3

Do the same to all the letters of the sign.

Step 4

Now bend each line terminal backward. You may want to add some vertices to give you more control.

Step 5

You should have something that looks similar to this.

Step 6

Now we have to give the lines a “tube” appearance. You can do this 2 ways: You can create a circular shape and loft it with the lines as your path, or your you can simply select the letters/ lines ( one at a time ), go the modifiers panel, and in the rendering tab select “show in viewport” and “ show in renderer”. Much easier.

Step 7

Give it a thickness of 0.3. Don't worry, it has to be thin. I will explain why later. Now, change the sides to a number you think you think looks smooth enough. Be careful though, as more sides will increase the render times significantly.
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Step 8

Do the same with all the other letters, and you're almost done with the modeling part.

Step 9

Now duplicate all of the letters 2 times. Each copy will work as a layer of the neon light, and each layer will have its own material. This will create a more believable final effect.

Step 10

The middle section has to be thicker than the left section, and the right thicker than the middle section. This will work like an onion skin. Give the middle section a thickness of 0.7, and the right section a thickness of 0.9.

Step 11

Now lets add the materials. We’ll start with the thinner section. We have to create a light material because this section will be our main light source.

Step 12

In the materials panel, simply select “self illumination” and choose a bright color. I’ll choose blue ( R:0 G:188 B:255 ).
For the ambient color choose the same color but a bit darker ( mine is R: 0 G:106 B:251 ).

Step 13

Now click on the standard button, select “VRayMtlWrapper”, and keep the old material as a submaterial. After this, increase the “generate GI value to 1.3”. We do this is because it’s easier to control the light generated from the geometry without interfering with the self illumination color in the event that the material needs some tweaks. If you want to have more interferance of the light in the scene just increase the “Generate GI” value.

Step 14

Now that the Main Light material is created, let’s create the material that will be the most responsible for the color of the neon, as well as its round appearance. Simply copy the material you just created, then change its colors to a more saturated tone. Mine is (R:0, G:141, B:255) for self illumination, and the ambient color is (R:0, G:24, B:255).

Step 15

Now change the Self Illumination Opacity to around 35 so the Main light can stand out from inside the geometry that will have the material you just created.

Step 16

Now to create a glass material so for nice reflections. First get a Vray material, and change the diffuse color to black, the reflections to white, and check “fresnel reflections” but change the value to 0.2. This is done so the reflections are more noticeable and realistic. Change the refraction color to a light gray color (R:161, G:161, B:161) and leave the rest at the defaults.

Step 17

Add a falloff map to the refraction slot, and change the black color to a dark blue color if you prefer ( R:14, G:0, B:64). This will darken the edges of the glass giving it a more rounded effect.

Step 18

Now for the final material. Get a new Vray material, name it “background”, change the diffuse color to a dark gray (R:44, G:44, B:44), and the reflection channel to ( R:17, G:17, B:17). Back in the "MtlWrapper" properties, check "matte surface”, “shadows”, and “Affect alpha”. Change the “Alpha Contribution" to -1.0 so it will render the alpha channel properly. We do this so you can insert the neons into another background in photoshop and do any kind of tweaks you like to the image individually.

Step 19

Now select the thinnest neons and apply the light material (first material), do the same to the middle neons with the second material, and the thickest neons with the 3rd material.

Step 20

Place the tubes inside of each other like so.

Step 21

Finally, lets create the lights and scene for the render. First create a plain box (this will be the wall), place it in the back of the neons, and apply it the “background” material to it.

Step 22

Next, create a Vray light and place it on top of the neons. Under its properties, give it a value of 1.

Step 23

Duplicate the light three times. This is so the neons will have something to reflect.

Step 24

Hit F10 to go to the render set up. I used the following settings for my render.
Note: Do not use GI environment because it will illuminate the scene, and your environment needs to be dark for the neons to stand out.

These are the main settings i used. Nothing special about it, and the rest is left at default. Use your own tweaks as you like.

Step 25

Choose the best view, hit Render, and you should come up with something like this.

Step 26

Save your image and be happy;) I really hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

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