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Creating a Noir Bar Scene in Blender, Character Creator & Photoshop

José Ramírez has shared a short breakdown of the INK project, explained how he approached planning the scene's composition, and spoke about his modeling and texturing workflows.


Hi everyone, my name is José Ramírez and I am a Concept Artist from Spain. At first, I studied electronics engineering in Madrid but decided to switch and pursue a concept art career. I moved to Paris and studied the 2-year Concept Art Program at New3dge School. Since then, I have been freelancing working for companies such as Mathematic VFX studio, One Pixel Brush, Terraform, Tactical Adventures, and currently for Chromatic studio.

Inspiration and References

I was doing a family trip this past summer in the Philippines and wanted to do a personal project based on it inspired by the beautiful islands, the abundant vegetation, and the foggy/misty mood we had during the rainy season. I was also reading a book at the moment and eventually, a mix of what I was experiencing and what I was reading ended up becoming an idea for the INK project.

I usually like to get inspired by books. I wanted at first to go for Spanish colonial architecture but I ended up looking at New Orleans references as well and probably lost the Philippines look. When I am doing personal projects I try to be open about changing the direction of it.

When approaching personal projects I always try to learn something new with them and in this case, it was Character Creator and Gaea. I didn’t use the last in this part of the project but played a bit with it nonetheless.

In this case, I had a simple story of a former member of a local gang hearing about a new substance and trying to smuggle it with his new group. I wanted to have another moment where they are on an expedition to an island in order to get and extract the substance and that’s where Gaea will come in handy to develop the terrain.

Initial references José took in Manila that kicked off the project

Further research was done with being more specific with all the elements

Further research was done with being more specific with all the elements

Further research was done with being more specific with all the elements

Experimenting with Gaea

Planning the Scene's Composition

When working on projects with different keyframes it is always good to do some quick sketches to explore the composition and the best way to tell the story. In this case, I had a clear idea in my head about the shots I wanted to do, and just writing it down in a notebook (or in my case the notes app on my phone) was enough for me to remember. 

Modeling and Texturing the Bar Interior

For the bar interior, I gathered assets to save as much time as possible and model those that matter the most or need to be designed. In this particular project, it was easy to find models that fitted the scene due to their ordinary nature but they still needed to be modified/art directed to match everything else.

For the characters, I used Character Creator as It was my intention to learn how to use it. As I wanted to do some close-ups of the characters I needed good quality that I was probably not going to get from other great software like DAZ Studio. I had in mind that I had to tweak the proportions and have a look a bit stylized and it was easy to achieve with morph sliders. Same with changing their expression.

I planned to do the clothes in Marvelous Designer but in the end, the clothes that I had in Character Creator were good enough and got the job done for this task. 

Assembling the Scene and Rendering

It is always good to have some sort of blockout to define the space and solve the main problems and then populate it and set-dress accordingly. It is also a good idea if you can follow a reference for the space and try to analyze and understand why it was built that way. When I am stuck I like to ask myself questions that will help develop the space and the believability of it.

For the lighting, I had a clear idea of what kind of mood I wanted and try to achieve and I looked at a lot of references for the lighting and mood from the Bad Traveling episode from Love, Death + Robots Netflix show. 

I had a tendency to tweak a lot of stuff later in Photoshop but I have been trying to adapt to what the pipeline demands and I have been trying to push it in 3D as much as possible so it is easier later to change stuff and apply the feedback. Nowadays, I am just using some adjustment layers to push the lighting and mood or tweak it a bit and not much else.

Main Challenges

One of the big challenges was assembling a complex scene like this while having the freedom and fluency to modify and work in Blender. I don’t have a crazy PC so a lot of planning beforehand and optimizing textures and decimating assets was necessary. One addon that comes in handy for this particular task is ToOptimize Tool.

In the end, it took me around a week or so to finish it. It is hard to keep track of time as I was also working on other projects. Doing good research and gathering references for stuff like architecture/composition/lighting-mood will help you tremendously and it will make everything more believable in the end. 

José Ramírez, Concept Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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