Baghdad: Smart Object Distribution & Animated Water

Baghdad: Smart Object Distribution & Animated Water

Mostafa Samir did a breakdown of his cinematic environment Baghdad made with Blender, Substance Painter, and Clarisse iFX.


I'm Mostafa Samir and I'm 26 years old. I started learning 3D in 2012 and specialized in the environment after 2 years of working as a 3D artist. Originally, I'm from Egypt, but I'm working and living in the United Kingdom at the moment.

My current occupation is Environment Technical Director. Generally, I build environments based on concept art or even reference board and solve the different production challenges by creating custom tools (check out a sample here). I also participated in Cinematic Movies/TV series/TV commercials and worked on an animated feature film trailer, however, creating production-ready environments with cinematic quality is the main line of my work.

About the Project

From an artistic point of view, Baghdad is a fantasy art featuring an ancient city in the golden age. Technically, It's a massive cinematic environment. I focused on the harmony between the different aspects of the scene to deliver a cinematic-quality shot.

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The key elements are:

  • Buildings were separated into several categories based on the financial levels of the city (Poor class, Middle class, Luxury class for the royal family)
  • General props for the streets
  • Animated assets such as water, fabrics and smoke


I always make a plan before any phase, so I'm aware of the challenges of each stage early on. For instance, I had some weak points in the pipeline such as exporting time, building huge amount of shaders with color variations and nodes. I solved this issue in Clarisse iFX by writing a script in order to create all the different nodes inside Clarisse iFX. It is based on isotropix script that assigns materials to selected assets. With it, I only had to load the textures for every asset and the shader automatically generated color variety when I duplicated it manually or used the scattering system inside Clarisse iFX.

I also created a Substance Painter to Clarisse iFX export preset in order to save time.


Mainly, I used Blender to model/unwrap the buildings. After that, I used Substance Painter for texturing. Then, I imported everything into Clarisse iFX for the lookdev and the final rendering phase. Since the scene is huge and has a massive amount of polygons, I needed a high-end 3D software - Clarrise iFX is one of them, it can handle millions of polygons in the viewport and give you immediate feedback. Clarisse iFX is my main software which I rely on in creating the scene (layout-lookdev-lighting-rendering). For compositing, I used After Effects.

I created all the buildings from scratch in order to achieve a certain look. No procedural tools have been used, though I followed a reusability principle when creating each asset. For example, each asset was 360° which allowed me to use it from multiple angles and break the repetition.

Distributing the Buildings

Clarisse iFX has a particle system which can be used to distribute the objects. Unfortunately, when I started the project this system didn't support collision detection for the scattered objects that's why I had to place the foreground buildings manually, and for the buildings in the distance, I used the scattering system. The newer versions of Clarisse iFX supports collision detection.

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The base shapes of the buildings were the key, and I worked on two types: sharp-angle shapes such as rectangular and smooth-angle shapes such as circular. By using different base shapes, you can communicate an indirect feeling of variety and randomness to the viewer.

I also followed the PST principle for creating the building (Primary/Secondary/Tertiary shapes): large buildings -> medium ones -> small props to fill the in-between areas. I started with the largest structures, then went to the medium and small ones.


I began the texturing process with creating the base materials for the city buildings. I made smart materials in order to reuse them all over the project, for instance, Concrete, Fabric, and Gold.

Concrete was one of the major smart materials in the project. I began this material with a simple concrete layer, then added a noise and an ambient occlusion mask mixed with edges mask to darken some areas. I also added a ground mask to darken the areas near the ground to help blend the buildings with it. This is the base material for all the buildings in the city including the castle.

"Start now and get perfect later" is the principle that I followed. Also, I split the huge tasks into small chunks to be able to finish them in a short time.

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I used Blender's Ocean Modifier with animation and exported the animation cache as Alembic file to Clarisse iFX. I rendered it in a separate layer with a doubled resolution to avoid flickering because it's hard to render glossy objects in such a huge scene.

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Blender's Ocean Modifier did all the job - I only made a little adjustment for the timing and that's it.


I started working on the lighting phase and camera animation at a very early stage. After the layout and camera animation were done, I rendered low-resolution sequences to test the lighting and find the perfect lighting situation.

The lighting in Baghdad had two main targets. Firstly, it had to support the storytelling by creating a focus on the Sultan's castle. This was achieved by adding a supporting light to the key light to illuminate the castle area only. Secondly, it had to add variety to the scene. Animated clouds helped with this -I added a big plane with animated noise pattern to cast shadows.

Overall, I tried to make the light as simple as possible because of the large space


Thanks for reading! Lastly, I would like to thank the pepole who supported me in this project:


Mostafa Samir, Environment Technical Director

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Baghdad: Smart Object Distribution & Animated Water