Nox is a render-engine that just went open source some days ago. It’s name might come from a unit to measure light intensity. Just like Cycles Nox is unbiased. It was developed by the Polish studio Evermotion. The team at Evermotion has realeased beside the Nox standalone plus exporters for Blender, Cinema 4D and 3ds Max. Today I only wanna focus on how to get started with the Blender exporter.
How to install Nox
Installing Nox and the Blender export addon is quite straight forward.
Download of Nox renderer
- Navigate to the Evermotion page. Click here.
- Download the latest available builds
By the way it makes no difference whether you wanna use Nox in conjunction with 3ds Max or Blender. The standalone version includes both exporters.
Installing Nox renderer under Windows
- Install the Nox renderer as follows
After double clicking the Executable you will be asked wheter you really want to run this application due to an invalid digital signature. Accept the warning by clicking run.
After accepting the lisence agreement you will be asked what you want to install. Depending on your needs turn the 3ds Max Plugin on or of. If Visual C++ is not installed on your PC, then make the Nox installer install it for you.
Once the programme installation is finished, head to your software directory, search for nox, open the subfolder “Blender”, extract the Zip-compressed folder you’ll find inside the blender folder and copy its content to the script directory of Blender.
Under windows your scripts and addons are usualy saved under C:/Program Files/ Blender Foundation/Blender/Version/scripts/addons.
A folder called render_nox should now appear in your scripts folder.
In the next step we have to install the activate the script inside Blender. Navigate to the Blender preferences (Ctrl Alt U) and search for Nox. A search result should appear. Check the little box on the left and click “save user settings”.
In oder to switch between Blender internal, Cycles and other render or game engine(s) click the field left from your version properties and choose Nox-Renderer. The layout will change slightly. Esspecially the options in the render, world and material properties do change. All the options you will find in these tabs can also be found in the Nox Standalone but I will talk about that later.
Setting up some Hdr Lighting
In order to understand better how Nox works you first need to know the fundamentals. First Nox renderer needs two things in your scene: a camera and a lamp. If you were to render the default scene by pressing F12 the following error message would occur:
The problem is that the standard blender lamp objects can’t be used by Nox, ergo we either need a setup of planes, spheres or other objects acting as our emitters or some environment lighting. I want ot start with explaining the hdr lighting and the other environment options.
The options that can be found in the environment tab in Nox are pretty similar to the ones that can be found in the world properties. I personally find the Nox renderer Environment settings more comfortable to use. That’s why all my explanations will concentrate on these properties. At the top of the editor you find a projection of the earth with two dots. The yellow dot marks the position of the sun, while the purple dot marks your current position. You can freely grap the purple dot around. Further more you can set the date and the time. Why should you do this? If you plan to use the Hosek-Wilkie or the Preetham sky model you need to know that the date of time and and the current date will change the appearance of the sky. When using a sky model, make sure “sky” is enabled.
Here I’ve set up a quick demo scene. What we can see is that Nox wil try to fake sunsets and sunrises. Furthermore the sun is most powerfull at midday. One more world about the skymodels: Preetham is a bit older than Hosek-Wilkie, while the Hosek Wilkie skymodel is aimed to be more accurate. If you need to brighten up your scene even more you can enable “sun”.
Let’s focus on the lighting with environment textures next. Nox allows you to load different image types including .hdr and .jpg files. The most commonly used images for setting up environment lighting. Please notice: That you can only use hdrs forming a complete sphere. There are also .hdr files out there which like like a skydome but unfortunatelly they won’t work properly with the Nox renderengine.
Once again make sure sky is unchecked while the map is enabled. One cool option I want to make you aware of is the rotate option. If you type in e. g. 45 your environment map will be rotated 45 degrees clock wise. With this little trick you can for example “set or tweak the sun’s position” in your hdr file as needed.
Setting up some proper 3 point Lighting in Blender
Setting up a proper 3 point lighting in Nox isn’t much different from a lighting setup in Cycles except the fact that we can’t use area or sunlights. We’ll have to use emission planes acting as our fill, rim and key light. I definitely recommend you to check out this Wikipedia article and this blog post written by Ben Simonds.
Go to the material tab as you would do in Cycles or Blender Internal. Add a new material. Until here you won’t be able to spot a difference compared to your Cycles workflow. In the next step you’ll have to add a new layer. You can have muli-layered materials but I will write more about this in the paragraph “Creating a Nox Material with the material editor in Nox and Blender
Next make sure to check the box next to emission and set the colour as wanted. For my three point lighting. I used two different colours one white with a tint of yellow and one with bluish tint. For the key, rim and fill light I used different emission powers. I’ve chosen “W” standing for Watt but you can also use other units. You might have to adjust the strength then. You might want to visit this site to learn about the units.
One tip: make sure that the normals of the planes are pointing the right direction otherwise you won’t see any lightrays hitting the surface of your object. You can do this by going into edit-mode, pressing “n”, normals of faces. If needed rotate your emission plane by 180 degrees or flip the normals by pressing “w” -“flip normals”.
Creating a Nox Material with the material editor in Nox and Blender
In this next exercise we’ll create a wood shader. Nox renderer is perfect for creating multi-layered materials.But there’s one thing you should keep in mind: When using textures you need to have an unwrapped object. There’s no option to use generated coordinates like in Cycles. This is quite common among thrived party rendering software. Furthermore you can’t use procedural textures like Perlin noise, voronoi etc. EDIT: To use noise textures etc. you would have to set up an BI or cycles shader, bake the texture and plug it into your Nox material.
I start my texturing work in Blender by unwrapping the cube. After unwrapping I decided to bevel my edges. You can do this by pressing Ctrl+B.
Next I have created a new material and a new layer. Scroll all down until you reach “Nox textures”. Choose “reflection 0” for the texture slot and select “Enabled”. Scroll back upwards and hit the button “Start material editor”.
In the Nox Material Editor then, link “Reflection 0” and “Reflection 90”. As we have a 100% rough/ diffuse surface you won’t spot any highlights. Hit render and admire your result.
Next we want to create the specular part of this shader. To do so, create a new layer.
Set the Roughness to a much lower number. In my example “5” was just fine. Plug into the roughness texture slot our initial wood texture but desaturate the texture this time. You might want to tweak the brightness as well. It can be trial and error…
Finally mix the diffuse and the specular layer together. To do so set the layer weight of the specular to a number smaller then 100 and use the wood texture for the the map input. You might want to tweak the brightness and the contrast again.
You should finally come up with something like this:D Please note that I haven’t used a bump map in this example, as I just wanted to focus on mixing two shaders.
Other cool features that will get you hooked
One cool feature is the “draw region brush”. It’s not just an ordinary border selection render, it’s more than that. It allows you to create only spefic parts of the image. The renderer will then only increase the samples within the selection. The cool thing is that you can select and deselect areas during rendering. The way how you select special areas that need more some time to be noise free is very natural. If you don’t go overboard the ordinary viewer won’t be able to notice that you used this big timesaver. Thank you Evermotion for developing this feature. 😀
My second favourite feature is the bokeh and depth of field feature. Bokeh and depth of field actually go hand in hand with each other. This two effects can be the icing of the cake for your image. The nox renderer gives you a few options to tweak the bokeh and depth of field. Furthermore there is an option to fake depth of field. You find this under “fake DOF”.
Another cool feature is the colour correction tool. It allows you to tweak the colours while you are rendering. You don’t have to pause the render either, how cool is this?
The evermotion developers definitely put a lot of effort into this software. I esspecially like concept of operations. When I first started the software it feeled familiar and comfortable for me. Its interface is not overload with different settings like 3ds Max. This doesn’t mean that any important features at all. By the way if you want to find out about other features click here. Also the way how you set up things e. g. materials is quite straight forward.
Despite of the overall postive impression I don’t want to leave two things unmentioned. Firstly the exporter interface in Blender looks here and there quite unpolished, esspecially the process of applying textures is in my opinion just a bit to confusing. That’s why I recommended using the Nox Standalone for setting up materials and environment textures etc.
Secondly I experienced some issues with tweaking materials in Blender, then changing to Nox and switching back to Blender. Nox sometimes behaved quite strange due to that esspecially when creating emission shaders.
Overall I’d recommend every user to test this piece of software to get an idea of Nox and to decide whether you want to use it for your Blender projects.
Please tell us how you used Nox in your Blender projects down in the comments! 😀
Cheers Markus 😀