For our latest game we wanted to create an impressive looking start screen where a camera moves around the main character in a "frozen" 3D environment. We wanted the environment to look detailed with lots of enemies and action going on, but we also wanted to keep the file-size small and complexability low to keep the downloadtime short and system performance high.
We tackled these issues by creating a scene where only the main character and some small effects are true 3D models and where the rest of the environment is displayed as a panoramic texture mapped onto a sphere.
A panoramic texture can easily be rendered in 3ds Max using the Panorama Exporter which can be found in the Utilities panel. The result is a distorted looking image which looks normal when mapped onto a sphere and when viewed from the spheres center. The images below display the rendered panorama image and the Photoshop edit which was used for the final scene.
The next image displays the final 3D scene for the start screen.
Here the panoramic texture has been mapped onto a sphere, the spheres bottom has been flattened so it won't look like the 3D character is hoovering above the floor. A plane with the characters shadow is placed below the character to make it fit better into the scene. There are also some extra objects like bullet streaks, impacts and a big muzzle flash coming from the characters gun which exaggerate the 3D effect when moving the camera. The cameras cannot be moved outside of the sphere and moving the cameras closer to the center results in less distortion of the panoramic image.
Here are some screens of the final result.