Building a Tokyo Scene with 3ds Max & ZBrush

Building a Tokyo Scene with 3ds Max & ZBrush

Lê Anh Nhân gave a detailed talk on the way he’s built Tokyo scene with beautiful lanterns in 3ds Max and ZBrush.

Lê Anh Nhân gave a detailed talk on the way he’s built a Tokyo scene with beautiful lanterns in 3ds Max and ZBrush. 


I am a 3d Artist from Vietnam. I studied 5 years at the University of architectural design. In the fourth year of university, I have developed an interest in 3ds Max and VRay. Because of CGI passion, I had followed the path of ArchVIZ when I left the university. And now I’m a freelance 3d Artist specialized in ArchViz.

I only have 2 years of experience in the profession and have contributed to a number of major projects in my country as well as some international ones. The biggest project that I loved was LAFC, a stadium in Los Angeles. I took the role of illustrator.

Go Home Late

After completing the work on “Day return (the Hobbit)” I have decided to look for new challenges. I was not satisfied with the final result and decided to make a better scene.

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I just got married and each evening I’ve been waiting for my wife to come back home late after work. Since I love her very much, I wanted to do something for her. I look for inspiration in the works of other artists and, thankfully, there are many of them to learn from.

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It was a lucky coincidence when I saw the work “Big City Sensory Overstimulation” by Gleb Alexandrov, a very talented artist.

And I was even more inspired when Cornelius Dammrich published the work “52HZ“.

I confess I was addicted to these two images.

I’ve decided to do something similar, also “crazy” like these two, but do it my way. Due to commercial work deadlines, I had very little time to do it. I had only 8 hours a week to do it, and modeling and texturing are not my strengths. I am the best at observing everything around us.

Block Out 

At first, I created a scene with boxes to check ambient light, and then I was going to detail every ingredient, it helps me make the details of the images easier.


This is a real alley in Tokyo, but the reference is vague. I want everything to be detailed, so I refer to each component of the model. For example, I have observed in my house as well as the internet a lot to model electric pieces of equipment.

I give a separate archive file for each model.A lot of references were used for this image.


I do textures in Photoshop with different blending modes. The biggest obstacle that took most of my time was creating billboards. Because I am in Vietnam, I don’t know anything about the Japanese. Meanwhile, my request was that the texts on the billboard must be accurate and texture’s resolution must be greater than 4000 pixels. So I’ve decided to do it manually in Photoshop and render then.

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Everything went smoothly until I started making the path. I did the texture for the path in 41000×8000 resolution with 3 different texture versions. I knew it was crazy because it would take a lot of RAM to render. I lost a lot of time to troubleshoot hardware and this scene required 48GB RAM to render the final image.


The lighting is a difficult task for me. It requires truthfulness. This scene has 3 main light sources.

The first one is the environment light. I used 1 Dome Light + 1 HDRI from Peter Guthrie.

The next is the light from electric poles. It is very important and plays a major role in landscape lighting.

And finally, the light emitted from the signs and lanterns contribute to the increase of the dynamic color of images and the reflection for a more attractive route.

I like to do everything in 3ds Max and restrict the use of Photoshop. After completing the picture in 3ds Max and VRay, I used Photoshop to add the brightness of lights, correct the color and the reflection of the road. The most important thing is matching my wife’s face into the picture because I couldn’t afford to model humans, it is not my specialty. 

Paper Lights

I researched lanterns and put out a lot of questions with them. They’re created by light setting close to the reality.

You see, the outermost layer is paper. I use a VRay2SidedMtl material to let the light go through. And don’t forget the glue spots along the lantern. The next is the wooden frame and the final is incandescent bulbs. I put VRay sphere into the bulb so that the light is naturally emitted.


In this scene, I could be lazy with things far away, but I wanted everything to be detailed (although it took quite a long time to detail everything).

There is nothing secret about this scene. What I know almost everyone knows. It is important that you take a look at reality to make the right decisions with your scene. Make a habit of observing things that you like and try to think about how to put them into the world of CG.

Lê Anh Nhân, Freelance Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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