This industry is a deadline driven industry so it does not mater how great an artist you are if you can complete projects on time, especially if you are working with a team, you always have to handover projects to other people and if you cant deliver on time it means you are going to cause delays through the project pipeline.
if you work alone, then its a good time to start practicing, 1 render a week is not fast enough, you got to pump those numbers up, those are rookie numbers. Try 1 render a day, and the only way to do that is to have these assets in your library ready to use at any time.
so lets look at such assets and libraries that everyone needs to speed up there workflow.
1 A Library Of volume objects
you will see alot of artists use mist or fog in their renders so it does not hurt to have a few volume objects to help you out.
A volume object is one of the most useful assets you can have, its easy to create in blender as all you need is a cube with a principle volume and thats it.
but it gets repetitive quite easily if you have to make it from scratch everytime you start a project. so you can create it once and add it to your library, or if you have my quick functions addon i added two buttons for two types of volumes. an emissive based volume object and a density volume object, the difference is that the emissive volume renders fast, and great for creating mist or fog, that does not cause volumetric shadows, this is great for making silhouettes standout and hiding areas with no detail in your render.
A density based volume on the other hand is great for night scenes with lights and it supports volumetric shadows, the volume can interact with lights and if you have a day time scene you can also use it to create God rays or sun bursts. the catch is that this adds on render time and your render can become noisy if you have a low volume sample count.
there other ways to fake mist, for example you can use an emissive plane with a gradient texture as a transparency mask, as long as the plane is far enough it will look great and its faster than the volume object.
if you want more detail like animated fog with turbulence, you may want to invest in a dedicated foh addon with more options and functionality like Easy fog it comes with alot of presets and templates to use.
2 Grunge maps/imperfections
nothing in real life is perfect and squeaky clean so nothing should be perfect and squeaky clean in your renders, dirt and grunge always collect on objects so you should always have a set of grunge maps in your library to add grunge, dirt and imperfections to your objects, poligon has a great video explaining more in detail the importance of grunge and imperfections maps in your renders.
these are just textures that can be added to the roughness input of your shader, it can be scratches, dents, finger pints and more, you can find them easily by searching for grunge maps on google but most of those are very low resolution and under copyright if you want some free ones you can get some at poligon website
these imperfection maps can also be used as dirt masks or texture masks to break up texture tiling thats why i always keep a folder of them in by texture folders addon which is my own addon for managing of import of textures inside blender.
how to use imperfections in blender
3 Water shader.
another asset you definitely need in your library is a proper water shader or water mesh.
water in a render can help fill up empty space and capture amazing reflections in your scene, so having a good water shader in your library is a must.
I have more than one water asset, for different renders am working on depending on how close the camera is to the water.
For water in the far distance like an ocean or lake or pond, a simple shader using a noise texture is enough, all you have to do is use two bump maps at different scales, blend the together with a mix node, animate there movement with a texture coordinate mapping, you can use a driver like “#frame/500” on the X coordinate of one of the noise, and “#frame/1000” on the X of the other, this will make it seam like there layers of waves moving at different speeds which gives depth to the water and detail. you can improve the shader by making the water darker and making it supper reflective with a roughness of 0.
when you want to render water at a close distance, thats when you pullout the big guns like this real water shader generator, the water is supper realistic, has foam, and caustics, the limitation with this is that it creates water on ground level if you want water falls, fountains and more dynamic water you will have to invest into something like the water library by polygoniq
full tutorial to make water shader.
4 Posed Digital Characters
before i start a project, the first thing i add is a human character for scale reference. you don’t want to make a scene and later realize the doors are too wide or too tall and everything looks off.
because of this Make sure you get a correctly scaled character from reputable sites like mixamo or download these free ones from renderpeople.com.
you can also collect a few more from other sites to use in your scene as background characters and more. if you want more characters for closeup shots, that’s when you invest into products like human generator that let you make your own characters by moving sliders like you are playing a sims game.
5 A Dynamic Ground
Every set or render needs a ground to be set on, it can be rock, grass, concrete and more. because its faster to start from 1 than zero i always keep a dynamic ground mesh that i can change depending on what i want.
with no uvs, no texture painting, i can paint grass, rock and anything i want directly on to the vertices of the mesh using vertex paint. its a simple shader that takes advantage of vertex painting and the color attribute node.
all you have todo is use a color to determine what vertex should have which material or texture, you separate the colors and use them as a factor for mixing the different textures.
having a mesh with this shader is a must for environment artists.
how to setup a dynamic ground shader in blender
6 normal/Height based Dynamic ground
the normal/height based dynamic ground works like the color based dynamic ground but this uses either the elevation of the faces of the mesh or their normal direction. you can set it up so that the slopes have a rocky texture and the flat areas can have a grass texture to mimic real life landscapes.
how to setup a normal/Height based Dynamic ground in blender
7 A bunch of grass
there a lot of solutions for landscaping, like the botaniq addon, these are really great for making full landscapes with more detailed where the camera is moving and you need everything to look coherent, but for quick renders having a bunch of things like a grass instanced on a plane is a quick way to add detail in your shots without doing alot of work.
an asset like this can be made using geometry nodes or the legacy particle system, i always keep around a collection of instances for grass, weeds, and even trees for a quick forest in the background if needed.
an extra touch you can add is a shrinkwrap modifier so that your instances settle on what ever geometry you have.
8 A linked sun and sky system
blender comes with a very powerful sky system, that can create day and night cycles, the problem with this system is if you add a sun object, its rotation is not linked to the sky system like many other DCCs like unreal engine or 3ds max.
it can be frustrating especially if you want to make something quick, you have to do alot of guesswork to get the direction of sun or shadow cast you want, the expected behavior is to have the sun object control the sky or sun direction which does not happen.
You can easily set this up using drivers but you would have to do it every time you work on a project as you can’t just drag a sky object from your library like everything else, the alternative is creating the functionality using python and thats what i did, i just coded the process into my quick functions addon so when i want a sun that is linked to the sky, i easily drop that into the scene with a single button click.
the other option is getting an addon like Physical Starlight And Atmosphere which is an addon dedicated to creating skies, this also gives you additional functions like adding static or animated clouds, god rays and sun bursts plus atmospheric fog.
9 stones and pebbles
i always keep a plane with instances of small rocks and pebbles, so i can add that extra detail to my renders, it to is easy to setup all you need is a plane with a geometry nodes setup, you can instance the particles using a distribute points on faces, and a collection of these stones and pebbles
10 Height map library
heightmap are quite useful for adding quick detail to your scene without working too much, they can be mountains, sculptures ornaments and more, all you need is a number of bump/height map images that you can use on a mesh, a quick google search will avail hundreds of them to you