Stephan Spencer made a small stylized project Sky Island and talked about its production.
My name is Stephan Spencer and in the next few weeks, I will graduate from Humber College where I’m taking Animation 3D program and specialize in 3D modeling and Design. I have an academic and professional background in graphic design and marketing, including owning a freelance motion graphics design company Animative Space. My interest in art was evident from an early age, but my discovery of digital animation occurred by mistake when I stumbled upon keyframes in Photoshop while working on a client’s designs. This led me to After Effects which then took me into 2D animations, and finally, to 3D game design (that was one of the best choices I have ever made).
For the Sky Island piece, the idea was to make a unique and vibrant portfolio piece that would essentially captivate the attention of the viewer/observer. I knew I wanted to do a stylized environmental piece that effectively combined both 2D and 3D elements, and settled on a floating 1950’s gas station – I love the aesthetic of the 1950’s era and the infamous pink Cadillac. Then, I researched gas stations within that era to get references and drew simple sketches of what I wanted to depict.
For modeling, I utilized 3DS Max and Maya as I think they both have their ups and downs when undertaking certain aspects of modeling/VFX. I began in Maya and made low poly shapes of the rocks, then used the boolean tool to merge and export them as one. Next, I created other low poly assets and exported those meshes that needed to have high poly versions into ZBrush. After sculpting the high polys and retoping the island, I baked the high poly maps using Marmoset Toolbag (I love how easy its baker is). Finally, the wiring, the windmill, and the rotating blades were done in 3ds Max as the spline tool there is more effective.
To get the stylized look I wanted in Substance Painter, most of the project elements were textured using this base color scheme:
I then imported the baked maps (Normal, AO, Height, Roughness, Position) from Toolbag and utilized generators, grunges, height, and custom alphas. Emissive maps were also added where glow/gloss was needed.
All the animation I needed was made in Maya: the blades are just a simple loop rotation; the beams were made utilizing a variety of planes and animating the emissive with Maya’s hypershader menu. The lighting was done in Toolbag utilizing multiple skylights and an HDRI to get the right mood. I then rendered it, took it to After Effects where I created and animated the clouds with Trapcode Particular and the background with a gradient ramp. Finally, I created the 2D versions of the birds in Photoshop, animated the layers in After Effects, applied color correction where needed and tweaked the opacity so that everything was blended.