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Building an Urban Scene with Maya

3d artist Gary Tang talked about the way he crafted this busy city scene, based on the concept of Tony Holmsten.

3d artist Gary Tang talked about the way he crafted this busy city scene, based on the concept of Tony Holmsten.


I was born in China, but I came to the US when I was around 10 years old. I went through middle and high school here in San Fernando Valley. I joined the Marines pretty much right after high school and got really interested in CG and games while serving. So as soon as I finished my contract in the military, I started learning about Art. At first, I was just trying to learn by myself, taking individual art classes (mostly traditional). I was aiming to get into Art Center at first. After a year of drawing and learning about basics of design, I had a sudden change of heart and decided to go to Gnomon. I took the generalist track at Gnomon because I wanted to study EVERYTHING, a bit greedy now that I think about it. but I think it paid off pretty well. I’m currently working full time at Encore Studio as a Character Artist. I’m working on all the DC T.V shows such as Flash, Super Girl, etc

Tokyo Street 

This was a very beautiful concept done by Tony Holmsten, I was actually talking to him about it before I started the piece to ask him if I could use his concept. This was a piece I wanted to do for my environment project. It had everything, great lighting, great model, realistic yet a bit sci-fi. I mainly wanted to recreate his vision but in a more realistic sense. The key tasks were to bring out the atmosphere of the environment and make it look like it could be in a film or video game. 


For the Main blockout, I modeled everything in Maya, and yes I used alot of my pre-existing models, since I’ve been working on other environment pieces before, so it didn’t make sense to model out new benches or boxes etc. I used the Maya paint out tool to create the vegetation. and imported Character block outs from other assignments I’ve done in the past. The street itself was modeled out in Maya. but I only modeled 2 blocks and duplicated them 6 times to make it look like a whole street. I then modified it so it looks different enough to sell the fact that it’s not just 2 streets repeating itself. I then duplicated light poles and cables everywhere in the scene to connect everything together. I think the biggest takeaway here is to re-use models.


I used Substance Painter for texturing. I’d say the biggest hiccups and issues I’ve had were UVing everything. Which was also the most time-consuming part, but once everything was UVed, the actual texturing process wasn’t very long, because most smart shaders are already pretty good, and just need a little bit of adjusting. I think when it comes to environment works, Substance Painter is definitely one of the better programs to use. And again, be smart about re-using models, especially when most of the geometry in the scene are duplicates.



As for the Lighting of the scene. I just placed one sunlight aimed at the center of the street at an angle, so to make one side of the street bright and one side of the street dark. I then added in lamp lights and brightened areas such as windows and lamps. A lot of the adjustments to the lighting was actually done in post, I used tools such as Nuke and Photoshop. 

Useful Tools

I think for environment artists, modeling fast is definitely a plus, and what’s even more important is knowing what to spend time on and what not to. For example, if a prop is used multiple times in the scene, it should require a little extra attention, same as things in the far back should be modeled as simple as possible. The tall buildings in the scene were just boxes, but since they were so far away, with dop, simple boxes did the job.  The main tools I used for this project were Maya and Substance Painter, with a little help from ZBrush, and Photoshop, and Vray for lighting and rendering. As for recommendations, I highly recommend saving your models, and textures and organizing them in an easy to access place, because props like chairs, or boxes, etc will be used over and over again, and I can’t even begin to think what I’d do if I lost my library of texture maps.

Gary Tang, 3D Generalist at Encore VFX

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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