So, I wasn't happy with the previous Maya renders (as if it wasn't made clear in the last post), however, I hacen't given up the ghost yet. I decided to go back and remodel and stage everything, this time using paint effects and minimal lighting to try and achieve the look I'm after. Below is the result:
Already, this is a stark improvement over what came before. Some more tweaks are needed (for example, the stars a a bit too large) but it's definitely a step in the proper direction. I figure, in terms of textures on the planets, I can craft something in Photoshop that I can map onto the Maya polygons that would help blend them in with my visual aesthetic. Also, when exporting the scenes for compositing, If I render them in layers, that would give me more control over individual tweaks I may need to make down the line. While playing with the lights, I got to experiment a bit with leaving the objects in the dark. When I turned the light off, I was presented with a scene that had some dark, almost cloaked objects, that helped break up some of the negative space in the shot. It was a nice little discovery (even if it is a bit obvious) that will benefit me later on when staging the shots leading up to the black hole.
The next thing that I need to focus on is getting the framing of the shots solidified. I have to take into account the cat's coloring and be attentive to his fading into the background textures. Some of this could be solved by decreasing the size of the stars, overall, but it will, probably, still take some figuring out. Wide shots are going to be a key aspect to some of these space scenes, however, they won't work if the cat blends in too much. So, I'm really going to have to nail this staging before I can proceed.
Looks like it's time to set up a 3D animatic for these shots.