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The Gnomon student Melody Romero recreated an iconic scene from Kiki’s Delivery Service and shared a breakdown of it.
My name is Melody Romero, I’m from Rockford, Illinois. I’m currently a student at Gnomon, in the Modeling and Texturing track. I enjoy all types of modeling and texturing, but I focus more on environments. I’ve worked on a lot of different personal projects for school and a couple of group projects.
I went to college in Tennessee and got a B.S. before coming to Gnomon. I studied animation in college, but the program I went through wasn’t anywhere near as vigorous as Gnomon’s, and I felt like I wasn’t really prepared for the industry. I wanted to get more thorough training and become a better, well-rounded artist, as well as to deepen my skillset. I visited the school first and talked to Ray, one of the recruiters. But it was actually my mother and aunt who convinced me to come. They were really impressed by the work that the students produced, and the overall quality of the program. They both told me, “If you go back to school, it has to be to here. This place is the best.”
I’m in my second term now, so I still have a little bit left. The culture is intense, and it’s been a really difficult 1.5 years. But the instructors are all so helpful and push you to do your best. They match your energy 100%, so if you put a lot in you get a lot out.
Kiki’s House started the last term when I took this class called Digital Sets with Tran Ma. The goal of the class was to model a terrarium or a small set with the focus being on vegetation. It was a 10-week course, with the lessons covering asset production in SpeedTree, texturing and sculpting leaves in ZBrush, making and scattering grass, modeling terrain, and just learning how to make a natural scene from scratch.
I had been looking for concepts for a while, and I found this piece after I had looked at a bunch of different ideas for greenhouses. I really enjoy Kiki’s Delivery Service movie, and I just wanted to interpret the background in 3D.
Start of the Scene
I started with a basic blockout. I didn’t really block in many of the plants at all, just pots. I didn’t try to model the specific plants in the scene, because I couldn’t figure out what they were and didn’t know how to find reference for them. I looked for plants that I thought would fit in the scene, got some references and modeled those. As far as the composition goes, I tried to copy the composition in the original concept, just extended it a little to 1920×1080.
I definitely did not think about lighting at first, I didn’t touch it at all until about halfway through. Lighting is definitely one of my weaker points generally, so I was nervous about it. I got a lot of help from Tran, but ultimately I pushed the piece more towards magic hour because I felt like it would give the piece that lush feeling that I wanted.
The plants all have a Vray two-sided shader which gives some translucency and helps them feel more like real plants. The lighting is mainly all done with the Vray sun and sky, but there’s a lot of extra work done in the comp. I got a lot of help from two of my other teachers, Miguel Ortega and Robby Branham, with compositing. I wouldn’t say I’m a Nuke wizard at all. But getting the nice sunspots was mainly about angling the sunlight in different directions and putting lots of gobos outside the house to get good shapes.
All of the plants were built with SpeedTree. I built the basic leaf shape in Maya or in SpeedTree, then grew the stems and branches for them and the leaves on top of it. I used a lot of references for each plant and had to go back to most of them and reiterate several times. Plants are difficult, but SpeedTree is a very flexible tool. For texturing, I took some of the plants to ZBrush where I’d sculpt the leaf and then extract a height map. Using that, I’d go to Substance Designer and build the leaf texture. For others, I would just paint the leaves in Mari or in Photoshop. It depended on how much of a hero asset each plant was.
Getting all the plants to work together in this scene was probably the hardest part. There are a lot of plants, and you if get them looking good on their own, that’s great. But when you put them all in the scene you realize they’re too different. The colors don’t work together, they’re at different levels of complexity or polish, etc. For me at least, it’s best to get everything in the scene as early as possible and continue to edit assets from there, based on how they’re playing off each other.
When I was rendering the final camera move, I kept having the strangest problem where random frames would end up really blown out, almost completely white. It kept happening for no apparent reason, and I just had to re-render frames several times. It was frustrating.
Besides that, I always kept seeing things that I could tweak. Each time I set a render, I’d realize there was something else I wanted to go back to. Even now I wouldn’t say that I am 1000% perfectly satisfied with this piece. I definitely learned a lot from it, which was the objective. But hopefully, I can make the next piece turn out better with everything I’ve learned from this one.