Quick Start Guide
Part 1: Scene Setup
For the purposes of this guide, a very simple scene will do. I will be using a teapot sitting on a box. In this image I have set the teapot's segment count to 16 so it looks pretty round.
Now that we have a scene, we need to set up lighting. Trying to render the scene as it currently is would just output a black frame.
Part 2: Lighting
To bring up our environment setup, press 8 or open the "Rendering" menu and select "Environment...". In the "Environment and Effects" window click the button at the top under the label "Environment Map:". If you haven't set an environment map yet, this button should be labeled "None".
In the texmap list that pops up, select bitmap and then navigate to the HDRI file on your hard drive. Leave all of the HDR settings as default when you load the HDRI file.
Now the environment is set up and we can do a test render. First, make sure that your perspective viewport is selected and has a decent view of the scene. Then, press F10 to bring up the render setup dialog. In the "Renderer" dropdown, make sure "Cycles Renderer" is selected. With all the options still at default, you can click Render to produce something that resembles this image.
Part 3: Materials
We need to set up two materials here: one for the box and one for the teapot.
For the box we will use a simple diffuse shader with a checker texture for color. In this example, the checker texture has both its U and V tiling set to 4 to make the checker pattern denser. In the Slate material editor, this looks like this image.
For the teapot we will use a preset configuration that is built into Max's Physical Material. To do this, first create a Physical Material and apply it to the teapot. In the presets rollout at the top of the Physical Material configuration, there is a dropdown menu labeled
<Choose Preset....>. In this menu select Copper.
With these materials in place, our render output now looks like this.
Part 4: Cleaning Up Noise
Now we have a completed scene, but the renderer's output is quite noisy. This noise is most noticeable in the reflected light near the base of the teapot. There is also some visible noise in the blurred reflections on the side of the teapot.
Cycles give us a few options to help reduce this noise.
First, we can always simply render more samples. By default this plugin will render 100 samples per pixel, which is fine for previews and simple scenes, but will not provide the quality we want. To help cut down on the noise in this scene, lets up the sample count from 100 to 200. This is done in the Cycles tab of the Render Setup Dialog. Be aware that increasing the sample count will proportionally increase the render time. That is, 200 samples will take twice as long to render as 100 samples.
Another tool available to help clean up noise is sample clamping. This allows us to set a maximum brightness that Cycles will sample. Limiting the maximum brightness will reduce the variance across multiple samples of the same pixel and will lead to a render that converges faster.
It should be noted that the sample clamp option gives you speed at the expense of physical accuracy. Removing light from the scene in this way makes the final output image darker than it 'should' be in some spots.
By default both direct and indirect clamping are disabled. We want to enable indirect clamping and set its threshold to 1.8. Leave direct clamping disabled.
With these options set, lets run the render again.
Here we can see the noise has been almost entirely removed, but there is still a bit of noise visible in the reflection on the side of the teapot. You can further clean up the remaining noise by increasing the sample count a bit more.