mental ray. A rendering engine constructed by a German company that puts in a TON of calculation into how light bounces off objects. Of course this is all translated into neat little attributes such as reflection, refraction, weight...etc.
And after tweaking these attributes to death, you can somewhat capture the appearance of a real life object. Somewhat, because there's always going to be little things that don't quite seem right. Argh.
Anywho, this was done using mental ray 'material_x' (ooohhhhh). Lighting was a basic 3-point light scheme, with a backdrop that takes a bit of shadow. The magical 'final gather' option has been turned on, and that automagically makes everything look realistic. Though it significantly ups the render time as well.
If you're interested in the theory of final gathering, click here. It's basically another form of calculating global illumination, but also really putting into consideration the effects of indirect lighting (i.e. light bouncing off objects).
No more maya this week...Pathology awaits.