I've found that 3drender.com has one of the nicest setups for personal improvement in terms of lighting and shading. I remember visiting their website a while ago so it was an easy find. For this personal project I've taken Challenge #1, the fruitbowl, as I think fruit is one of most difficult subjects to shade tastefully. Yesterday night I've set up a few lighting keys, but I think of them as just tests. Tonight I will prepare the models for texturing in Mari.
The darkest of them all has a nice key however, clearly too dark. The others are just tests with different HDRi's as a feed for the lighting. Not sure yet if I want to keep the model in the center of the image, but seeing as this is a presentation of materialism, I don't think I need to spend much time on composition.
I've also looked into using Ptex as a viable option for rendering in Arnold, but I have found only little support for it. A two year old workflow presented by therenderblog.com offers more insight in the availability of this method, but alas nothing more. This Russian website has a working plug-in called 'BeshaPtex' which works... but at the cost of having to downgrade your Arnold version. I'd rather not... so I'll do it the old-fasion way.
Fast forward a little over an hour, the UVs are done. Ready for texturing.
As I continued, I noticed the pear appeared missing from the scene. How had I not noticed this? Then I wrote a small script to enable Catmull Clark smoothing on all assets and exported my file to an alembic for painting in Mari. The visual difference of the smooth is slight but, surprisingly, shaved half a minute off of the rendertime. Now to see whether or not the UVs hold up; stranger artifacts have occurred.
Current UVs are placed in an orderly fashion and I am planning on using udim's just so I can avoid having to export and manage so many different folders, locations and file names.