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Hello, guys! My name is Lucas and I want to show you the process behind my final project at Think Tank Training Centre. I'll explain all the processes, decisions and tricks that I used to finish it in 4 weeks.
The goal of this project was to make a 3D scene from a 2D of our choice within a month. After some research on things I like, I chose this concept by Sergey Grechyanuk.
Choosing the Concept
First of all, we need to choose the concept. I want to find something that looks beautiful, challenging to do and inside of my goals. I wanted to polish my texturing, hard-surface modeling and lighting. So I searched a lot of concepts with this on my mind.
I recommend searching on ArtStation, there is a lot of good stuff to get. Pinterest and Google Images are good search engines for this, tho.
There are a lot of cool textures to do, that is my first goal to reach with this project. The metal has a lot of different details to do, a lot of wear and tear, rust, dirt, leaking and etc.
The second thing that leads me to choose that big robot was modeling. The robot design that Sergey does is very cool! There are a lot of cool shapes and a really cool expression to do.
And last but not least, the lighting on this exterior scene is really beautiful. I was not really sure about my lighting skills, so I found this a good opportunity to work on this part!
All the teachers and the school emphasize this part. And I can not be more grateful for that. The schedule is very important in the process. It helps us to organize what to do when to do and so on.
It could be a simple table on Google Docs, a board on Photoshop or anything. But plan every step you take. And obviously, try to stick on the schedule as much as possible, making little changes when necessary.
My mentor, Darrell Abney, helped me to define every step and suggested some adjustments and so on! It helps a lot when doing our job at the time. Make sure that you'll finish in time, it's very important. Because we try to plan as better as we can!
Gathering the Reference
One thing that I consider super important, is saving some references since you're starting. You'll need references from the modeling to final compositing, for sure.
So I searched for things that could be used as a reference to all my projects and organized them in a folder dedicated to this. You could save, for example, some metal references, buildings, leaves and things like that. Analyze your concept and search based on what you need four your project!
Big Robot by Serget Grechanyuk
I know isn't the coolest thing in the process, but don't skip it, it's very important!
After that, I started the modeling, yea, we started the cool things!
Choosing priorities when having limited time is crucial to finish the piece in time.
With the guidance of my mentor, we stablish the priorities, I'll do the robot first and keep modeling the things. And Darrell helped me to decide, as it a still image, I'll model only what appears on the scene. I didn't model his back or things like that. I have only one month to do all the steps, this decision helped me a lot to deliver on time. Remember, don't matter if you make the coolest thing in the world if you don't do it in time.
Start blocking the shapes, you don't need to polish now. Now is the time that you have to set the sizes, composition, rhythms and etc. And if you need to make changes, it's easier. Don't make super complex shapes and polishing now. It could be a headache to modify things if you polished too much now.
After you get the blocking approved, you can start the polishing. Model all the details that you can. Try to get every detail of the concept.
And very important, we talked about the priorities, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. For this project, the trees are from Maya's Content Browser. They are not the core of my concept, so I used them and scale, rotate, delete parts, and etc to try to match close to the concept. Redo the textures to work with your renderer and everything is ok!
And one of the most important things in the whole project.
Keep things organized. Everyone will love you. From your teacher to your lead or colleagues in the future. It starts here, in the modeling, but you have to organize throughout the entire project.
Besides, it's not the coolest part of the process, it's very important. You should have some time to unwrap your model. The organization thing continues here. I like to organize the shaders by the lines of the UVs, I think it's the standard nowadays.
Now you have the UV layout and organized, you can go to the texturing without having any problems. And being a lot faster by the organization.
This is the part that I like most. And it's my focus!
I used the references to paint the colors of the metals, rubber, clothes, and etc. As with modeling, start blocking the colors, add color variations, but don't go crazy with the details before they're approved by your lead, teacher or client. The general rule is to start from the big things and in the end you can make every little scratch that you want and have time.
And make sure everything is organized as much as possible! Name everything! It won't only help your colleagues, but you, too.
We learn Mari in the school because its the standard when texturing for the film today and is really powerful. It's like having a boosted Photoshop that paints in 3D. It's magical!
And you can work non destructively. You can go back and forth throughout the process. It's really important. For sure, you'll need to change things as long as you paint your textures.
Start with simple colors, define all the variations. After that, you can start adding some tileable or triplanar projections to break up the colors, add variations and cool things to your textures. You can use some auxiliary maps, like Ambient Occlusion, Curvature Map, Thickness Map, and etc for help, too! It adds a lot of details like dirt, edge wear and tear and so on. And after that, if you need, you can paint manually variations. All those things add realism to your objects. Use masks, projections, and etc to make your objects look beautiful!
After you painted the colors, you can duplicate your channels to create the rough, bump and spec maps. Obviously, you can create any map that is needed for your object.
After duplicating your channel, add a luminosity layer or node on top to make it only grey and start adjusting your values. You can add things, get rid of some layers, remember, the maps are really important to sell your look in rendering!
This is my rough map. One of the most important maps to sell realism. This map is a bit hard to make it right. But with a bit with patience and work, you can get it! Don't make this map very contrasted, these values are a bit sensitive and rendering!
You can use the same workflow to create a bump, spec, and etc.
This is the part when you get all the exported maps and start to put everything to work in the render.
At school, we use VRay, it's easy to use and very powerful! You can render very realistic images with a bit of effort.
Again, keep everything organized. Name everything when you create things. Or you might have a lot of problems with complex networks.
You can use some remap nodes, reuse some maps to get rough and spec variation on your model, add some procedurals if it's needed. Be creative and try to get as close to the concept or reality as possible.
You can use a neutral HDRi to develop your shaders first and after the lighting, you can go back and tweak as needed.
Lighting and Rendering
The lighting is very important to set the mood, colors, feelings of your scene.
Pay attention to the color of your lights, the intensity, the position, and etc. You can "cheat" a bit adding some specific lights to your scene. You can place a little light to shine a piece of your object, link your lights only to one object and etc. Try to get as close as you can to your concept.
I used an exterior HDRi, a VRay Sun to get the yellowish mood of the sun on the scene and added a lot of touches of light to make my scene look beautiful!
When you're rendering your scene, export your render elements to help your compositing in the next step!
You don't need to set a lot of parameters these days. You almost can use defaults to render. Set your min and max samples to match your project. Set your threshold to remove the noise. And don't forget, you don't need extreme numbers to get days of rendering. Use some parts that you think will need more samples to set these numbers and render. I needed 1 and a half hour to render my scene that is a bit bigger than 1920x1080 (Full HD)
And don't forget the power of VRay Frame Buffer. You can add some photographic effects like glare, bloom, vignetting and etc. It adds a lot to your render!
I used Photoshop for the compositing, as it's a still image and I'm more used to the program. You can use Nuke, After Effects and etc. But remember, a tool is just a tool. Use what you know, unless you try to learn new software!
In this part, you can add the details that were too hard to make in 3D, or you don't have time or anything like that. Obviously, don't paint everything, but you can paint some things to help to sell your art.
You can add some atmospheric effects, some little touches, color corrections, add or remove some light and shadows of your render. The rule here is to get something beautiful.
Sure, try to make everything you can in 3D and complete with little touches in Compositing.
Don't get tired and keep everything organized here, too, name everything again! Use a lot of masks, like in Mari, to get non-destructive workflow.
Get the "big journey" finished in time was a really cool thing for me. For sure, I couldn't do it without the help of my mentor, Darrell Abney, who gave me awesome guidance in every step I take. Thanks for the organization, planning, and help, so I can finish this complex project in a reasonably short time.
And if you get to the end of my breakdown, you're a warrior, congrats! I hope that I helped you with some tips and thoughts.
Feel free to contact me to exchange some ideas, doubts or just for a conversation! I would love that!
Lucas Ceccon, 3D Artist