How to:   Good Graphics 

How to create good looking builds and take awesome screenshots

People want good graphics but they don't realize that they actually need to do something for good graphics to happen. In all games that look good, the maps are designed in a way that forces you to look at the right spots that actually look good. Objects/Trees are placed so they cast perfect shadows. Shiny surfaces/puddles are placed in a way that forces you to look at the reflections. And the sun (or any other light-source) is positioned perfectly so that you can't miss the good graphics.

In Minecraft, none of these things are done for you. People want "Ray-Tracing" and install PTGI - but all they do is take screenshots of sunsets, clouds or 
boring landscapes. This has very little to do with ray/path tracing. There is so much more that most people will never see.

The same applies to Textures. People see my Videos and are impressed by the graphics.  They download and install it (with wrong settings of course).
Then they go on a Minecraft flat-world, place a few random blocks and then complain that it doesn't look like in my videos.      But why doesn't it look as good?

Does Real-Life always look realistic? Sure.  But does it look good all the time?    Probably not.    A photographer picks the best spots and tries to get the 
perfect lighting, camera angle, etc.  - Even if you had the most expensive camera setup, your photos will still look terrible if you don't know what you are doing.
We have to become "Minecraft Architects" to build the right way and we need to become "Minecraft Photographers" to take awesome screenshots.

I'll teach you a few basic concepts.
This knowledge applies to any visual art:  Photography/film, Drawing, 3D Rendering/Modeling, Graphic Design, Architecture, and so much more.


Screenshots Breakdown

I will show you two of my builds/scenes and explain exactly what I did and why.

With my work I want to show you a completely new and different way of playing Minecraft - It's similar to 3D Software. We are basically inside a 3D Modeling and Rendering Engine that allows us to play around with all kinds of cool visual effects - In real-time.    We don't need to create 3D Models and we don't need to wait ages to render an image.  We can just place blocks and can change things on the go. We can walk around in our environments while we design them.

The screenshots above are from R16 and R15     (To download and test it yourself, head over to:  Releases)
Both have a different style/theme but for both I used the same basic principles to make them look good.

Building:

Extremely simple and small. You don't need to build huge castles or cities. Every single block is placed for a very specific reason.
Start with the most simple scene you can think of. Just build a tiny box and then slowly expand and add only things that look good.
If you over-do anything, it will break the immersion.  If something doesn't look realistic - remove it.   Less is better.   Avoid symmetry.  Use a fixed time/sun-angle!!!
Place a few blocks - pause and ask yourself if it looks better - make a few changes - pause again......   This design-process is a lot of fun!

Lighting:

Both of the screenshots have the exact same lighting setup:      A bright, white light-source in the center of the image.
But what's the light that is coming into the hallway?    It's not from a lamp and it's not direct sun-light.   It's indirect sun-light.
At the end of the hallway, outside there is a wall made from white_concrete.  It is illuminated by the sun directly.
This light bounces off the wall and illuminates the hallway. The wall becomes a light-source.
It is very large which means it gives off very soft light which also casts soft and complex shadows.
This is called Global-Illumination and only Ray/Path-Traced Shaders can do that properly. Light behavior is infinitely complex.
Be aware of how this works and use it in your builds. Your scenes will look so much more realistic. 

Tip 1:   Make use of the complex light-behavior in PTGI. Let light bounce off walls into darker rooms and then let this indirect light cast shadows. Play with it!


Reflections:

After I created this big, soft light-source, I placed a few objects in the hallway  -  for two extremely important reasons:    Soft Shadows and Reflections.
In both screenshots I placed a cube in the hallway. It casts soft and realistic shadows.

But probably the most important advice I want to give you:  Use reflections properly.

The light-source is creating reflections on the walls, the ceiling and the floor. This is why I love building these hallways. Reflections everywhere.
Even better:  Use different types of materials. Almost all my Textures create very unique Reflections. There is matte concrete, or more rough concrete. There is polished, a bit more shiny concrete. There are metallic surfaces. There are dirty surfaces, clean ones, bumpy ones or smooth ones. Beveled or Flat.... A lot for you to choose from. My Textures need to be used in a very specific way. If you are looking for a Survival-Pack that looks the same all the time - This here is not for you.

Combine different materials that reflect light differently. For example: In the first screenshot, the walls are rough/matte. The white doors are a bit more smooth and you can clearly tell that by looking at the reflections. In the second screenshot, the concrete floor is very rough/dirty and the metal plates are shiny, smooth and metallic.  The ladder is reflecting light. The ventilation-ducts are reflecting light..... Everything is reflecting light because we set up our light-source in the center. It's that simple.  First, setup light in a way that creates reflections, then place different objects/materials.  This will instantly improve all your scenes.

Tip 2:  Build towards a light-source!  Show Reflections!  Place different types of materials!  Place them where you actually can see reflections!   Play around with it!

How to:  Take good Screenshots


Okay, now you created an awesome build/scene and you want to share it.   You take a few screenshots.... but they do not look as good as in-game.

Why is that?    You need to know a few very basic things about photography.    An image can always have a quality on it's own, no matter the actual "content".

Look at the two Screenshots below.  Exact same map, same scene, same shader, same settings, etc....  but why does the one on the left look better?
Everything is identical except for one thing:    The "Camera"   (Camera Angle, Camera Position, etc...)
Even such a super simple clean white scene can look good.

First of all:  Set your Field of view (FOV) to something like ~50.     Lower FOV values look a lot more "professional" or "cinematic".

How to find a good Camera Angle/Position?
There are all kinds of rules and principles for good scene-composition but we don't really need them here.

Most of it comes down to "feeling" it.   Sounds weird but what I mean by that is that you don't need to know why it looks better. 
Just take a few screenshots from different angels. Change the FOV, play with the player-height, just take a lot of screenshots from different angles/positions.
Then look at the screenshot folder and simply compare them. Try to look at them from a distance. Maybe try squinting your eyes a bit. Try looking out the window and then back on the screen -  so you can look at them objectively. Over time you will "feel" if a screenshot looks more "professional" or "cooler" or whatever your goal is.
I try to go for a "cinematic" look - seems to work out best for me.    You will learn which screenshots look good and over time you will automatically take better ones.

Look at some high quality movies. Every shot is very carefully arranged and planned. Look at professional photos. Architecture photography, etc. (pinterest, ...)

Anyways, here are a few simple rules I found very helpful:

  • There should always be one interesting "main"-thing/spot on the screenshot. (For example our hallway light-source with the reflections etc.)
    Place this spot somewhere a little off-center.  Avoid symmetry.  Avoid anything too perfectly aligned/straight. A bit of variation is nice.
  • Look at things from a slight angle so there are more block-faces visible. In general:  The more 3-dimensional information given, the better the image is perceived.
  • Depending on the scene, tilt your camera a bit upwards/downwards to avoid too many straight vertical lines. Again: Depends on the scene. "Feel it"
  • Different light-sources. For example blue-ish daylight and warm interior light combined. Sunlight and soft indirect light. Hard shadows and soft shadows.
  • Take screenshots from an angle that actually shows reflections!!! Don't take screenshots when the sun is behind you. Don't take screenshots if the "main-light-source" is behind you. This will only result in flat boring looking images. Take screenshots while looking towards light-sources, so reflections are visible. 
  • Try taking screenshots from an angle that allows you to see the illuminated Side of the blocks + the side that's in the shade + the actual shadow. Looks very "3D".
  • If it's a scene with a vanishing point clearly visible, include it. This also provides a lot of 3-dimensional information for the viewer.


Coming soon:      Practical Tips on how I take screenshots and videos (with PTGI specifically) and edit them.

Notes: replaymod, skymap, timelapses, Noise reduction, post processing, DOF closeup shots, software, time-lock,








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