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How to Create a Mouth-Watering Feast of Fresh Ingredients in Maya

Lighting and Compositing Artist Kumar Sayan Barui has offered us an insight into the creation process behind the Culinary Magic project, featuring an assortment of glass bottles, meat, fresh vegetables, and knives, all meticulously crafted using Maya and Nuke.


My name is Kr. Sayan Barui and I am from India (Kolkata). I have been working as a Lookdev, Lighting & Compositing Artist for the past 10 years. Since an early age, I’ve always dreamt of being a painter and started painting quite young. My mind was only focused on becoming a painter, but things changed after my high school.

I went through an experimental stage, where I dabbled with different art forms that I got to know about animation and all. I started learning 2D animation and did flash animation and classical animation. Then, I started learning Photoshop, then After Effects, and slowly, I figured out that post is my kind of department. Since then, I am here today as I’ve found where I belong. I did my diploma course from WEBEL DQE Animation Academy in Lighting & Composition, after which I’ve been working in this industry.

I have worked on Star Trek: Prodigy 2 (Animated Series), Fast & Furious Spy Racers 1,2 & 3 (Animated Series ), Arctic Dogs 2019 (Animated Feature Movie), Rugrats (Seasons 1 & 2 ) Ana & Bruno (2016-17), and a few others.

About the Culinary Magic Project

I was working on a different project in Unreal Engine. There, I used this table which I really liked, and thought of doing some work using this prop. That was at least 5-6 months back, then, I totally forgot about it.

Recently, I’ve been working in Blender and Unreal Engine a lot. All of a sudden, I felt like I wanted to work in Arnold Maya 2023. While planning and brainstorming, I remembered that I kept that table aside. So, I grabbed that asset and started building the scene. I downloaded assets from CG Trader and Quixel Bridge, started the layout, slowly set up the textures, and looked dev it.

For the references, I only had one background image that I liked and used as an image plane in Maya. I thought whatever it was, I would make it something with all these. That’s how I started this personal project.

Start of the Project

As I mentioned earlier, the way I started the project was without a clear end vision; I was simply winging it as I progressed with my work. My intention was to create something attractive and beautiful that’s all I had in my mind. 

I used assets downloaded from Quixel and CG Trader. I worked from look development to the final output, spending quite some time on shading to get the desired look. I examined things in roughness, specular, and bump or Displacement Maps, and then, followed my own creative process.

Material Creation

I like to think in an artistic way mostly, instead of technically. So for me, I always prefer simply thinking of realizing how much diffuse, roughness, specular, and displacement is required for that particular environment. That’s all.

I didn’t use any complex shader for this work, or for most of my other work. I believe when you know exactly what you want, you won’t get tangled up in any complexities. If I can think or know exactly what is required, I guess half of the complexity is gone. So, while I was putting in all the assets and doing the layout, I visualized all the props in the look development part. I worked on a few props each day, and I discussed them with my friend, with whom I had a lot of work-related discussions. Show him how I’m setting up things, sharing ideas, discussing different work stylizations, then again, seeing those assets with different perspectives and then getting a feel of how that look is going.  

Scene Assembly, Detail Scattering & Overall Design

While I was setting up the base table, at that time, I only had this BG plane image. I kept it aside to use in this scene. I liked its color scheme. This particular project idea interestingly came about while I was working on some other projects. I had all these props that I’d used before. So, I assembled all the assets one by one and developed them as per the mood requirements. I adjusted specular, roughness, displacements, and all that. I used Regular Maps in the bottle for the roughness part and used the regular process of shading to build this look. I had to fix UVs for a few props due to stretch issues. For the powder dust, I used an Alpha Dirt Map with displacement and Opacity Map.

For the overall look part, whenever I do my own project, I strictly push myself to think in the visualization process without taking any reference. Nowadays, a lot of artists talk about taking references, but I don’t prefer that. I believe when I’m working, that’s not the time to crosscheck with a reference and block myself to all other options that spring to mind. You can check references when you are not working. The real world is the best reference. As an artist, you need to visualize and put a lot more feeling into understanding what is required for that particular mood. 

That’s my own thought process while I’m working on my personal project. I keep working each day for 4-5 hours in small parts, and then, take a break from that color scheme to work in another color scheme so that my eye can settle down from that particular color. The next day, I can judge with a fresh perspective. I kept checking, rethinking, and then moving forward to repeat the same process like that. I also kept changing the layout mid-process, based on the inspiration that day. After a week or so, I felt something was off and needed to change. It keeps happening to me until I’m satisfied. Honestly, I feel there’s always something I’m missing. Yeah, it’s like that.

I feel running after perfection is not the right thing. As an artist, our job is to create imperfection because nothing is perfect in this world around us. That’s the real reference. Then, we just put our artistry on top of all that, but the aesthetic part is the same.


For the lighting part, I used Arnold Light setups. It’s a pretty basic setup of dome light: two backlights for that sharp rim, so that I could get that reflection and refraction effect on the glass. I added some rim from both sides to get the feeling of that environment. I kept the whole scene in a cube for the room environment shadow feel. That’s about all. I used a basic render setting to get the clean render and diffuse, specular, translucence, and crypto AOVs are there for composition.

Once I get into Nuke, I start breaking up all the AOVs and making the whole flow structure with all the information. You can see this in the breakdown video I made and put on my YouTube channel. I keep posting my work on YouTube. As the YouTubers say, "Subscribe to my channel if you like my videos to support me."

Anyway, in Nuke, after setting up everything, I take a few days to do the comp. It’s just a process of beautification in comp, which takes as per your own needs. I spend just about enough time in the beautification part until I get bored of it. When I start feeling that it’s never going to end, I leave it alone for a week, no peeking.

After a week or so, when I reopen it and feel it’s not that bad, that’s when I post it. Later, Gloria reached out to me about this. I wanted to thank you that 80 Level liked my work. It’s a motivation for me. Thanks once again.


Honestly, in production, we have different scenarios. There is always a fixed vision/color scheme/pipeline and you have all the information. Whereas, when you are working on your own project, you have the luxury of time to do trial and error. So, this project of mine is like that. I started this project just to work in Maya; I just wanted to brush up while working on this project. I was continuously working in Unreal and Blender for quite some time, so I felt I needed to do something in Maya. That’s how this started. Overall, it took me at least 4-5 weeks, every day almost for 4-5 hours max.

I don’t feel that I faced any complicated challenges for this. I was not satisfied with a couple of things, mostly that white milk bottle. I worked on imperfection maps a few times with the bottle because I was looking for something else. So yeah, that's all. I’m not a big fan of a complicated workflow. Some people flex their muscles with complicated things, but I am not a fan of that process. Most of the things you can do in a very simple manner.

For those who are beginners: don’t fall into the mindset of the technical software thing. Software is just a tool you need as a 3D post-production artist. Because sunlight is not going to change based on the software or the look and feel of an apple is not going to change in the scene, no matter how we do. So if you know how an apple looks, you can create an apple for the scene, in whatever software is available. So, try to focus on the aesthetic side of the object or scene.

And for the source of reference, you need to go out and see things, not capture things. Try to observe with your own eyes, not with your lenses because our eyes are the best lens you have built. We don’t need to spend anything to capture super high-quality details with our eyes. If you are a fan of gadgets, go for it.

But my suggestion is, as an artist, you need to memorize every frame of the real world to become a good artist. This is my own realization, after working in this industry for 11 years and still going. You can find a lot of distractions in our industry; you can find a lot of not-so-great seniors who give you shitty ideas. Identify them and keep a safe distance. They are harmful to your creativity. On the flip side, you can find a gem of people with zero egos, super helpful from whom you will get inspired. And do the same for other juniors when you become a senior. It’s always a choice of what you strive for and remember why you came into this industry as an individual. I’m lucky that I have a few gems of persons, with whom I discuss work and all.

Kumar Sayan Barui, Lighting & Compositing Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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