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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
Cameron Scott, a Gnomon student, shared the process of creating atmospheric Underground Lab in V-Ray, Maya and Substance Painter.
My name is Cameron Scott. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. At the age of 13, I was shooting short projects that were edited in iMovie. The enjoyment that came from this caused me to seek more in the computer world. By 17, I was enrolled in a high school summer camp program at Gnomon School of Visual Effects. Here, I was exposed to Maya for the very first time. Immediately falling in love with the world of CG, I sought out to attend Gnomon as a full-time student. One year following, I graduated high school and began taking classes at Gnomon as an extension student. After just three terms at Gnomon (about 7 months), I applied to become a full-time student and was accepted. I am currently enrolled at Gnomon.
So far, I’ve had my work displayed in the Gnomon Student Gallery, worked on a couple outside projects, and I am letting the industry know I am coming.
I set out to become a Look Development Artist, as well as a Technical Director. I currently have an extreme fascination with the Walt Disney Animation Studios but am receptive to all opportunities that come my way.
How did you get into Gnomon?
I began taking classes at Gnomon in 2015 when I was a junior in high school. It was a one-week crash course for high school students on Maya. The instructor was Stephen McClure. I fell in love with Maya and knew at that point that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In order to go to Gnomon you need at least a high school degree, so I finished up my senior year of high school, and started taking classes as an extension student. There was only a one month gap from when I finished high school to when I started Gnomon. I had never drawn or even picked up a pencil when I first started. All of the other students were part of the program, meaning they were accepted into the school. I, on the other hand, was not, and I had to pay for all of the classes out of pocket. After 3 terms of doing this, my skills increased enough for me to get accepted as a full-time student. I applied and was accepted. My fourth term at Gnomon was my first term as an actual student. It’s a pretty exciting story if you ask me.
The work of the “Underground Lab” is one of my most accomplished pieces. It was also one of my earlier works, and it received a lot of recognition. I created this project as a final for my Intro to Maya class with Max Dayan. The word around Gnomon is that this is the class to shine in, and that’s what I strived to do. The piece took about one month to finish, and I’ll explain more of this process below.
The project began with solely a concept painting from a man named Gabriel Yeganyan. I inserted this concept into Maya and created a block out solely with this image of his. It began with just the walls and floors. As I progressed through the scene, more and more items were added. The wires and junk pile you see were incorporated after all the main elements were in place. The modeling process took roughly two weeks to complete. I used reference images of water coolers, heater machines, abandoned rooms, etc. The list goes on and on for each element in the scene. Reference is one of the most important factors when modeling. That’s a huge thing we are taught at Gnomon.
It was not complex. This piece is driven by lighting, composition, and story. A story is so important when creating art. I chose this piece because there are volumes of the story in it. The piece makes you look around and understand the environment. On top of that, the composition is astonishing, so that gave reasoning as to why I chose this piece. When modeling all of these shapes, it’s best to break them down and understand their rudimentary forms. Tables are cubes, the tank machines are cylinders, the giant tank in the middle is a sphere, etc. I modeled the majority of this project with that mentality, and when I finished the process I stepped back and looked at my work. It worked! Due to time restraints, I couldn’t spend as much time on the models as I wanted to, so by following this rule I was able to get the models to a point where they’re ready to be textured. The hardest thing to model in the scene was surprisingly the chair on the left-hand side of the shot.
The majority of these textures are procedural actually. The walls were done in Substance Painter, simply because the design of them was too specific to make any other way. This project actually was the first time I used Substance Painter, and I’d say it went successfully. The main tank was done in substance because I needed to create specific rust on it. The side tank containers were also done in Substance with a simple metal shader, with similar rust thrown on top. V-Ray was the rendering engine I used, predominantly because it is the industry standard. It is very reliable compared to its older rivals, Mental Ray and Arnold. Redshift and Octane are other engines that are amazing, but in terms of workflow, V-Ray is the true winner.
The textures from Substance were exported with a PBR workflow that was set to go straight into V-Ray’s engine. Connecting the maps from substance is also very simple with Vray; another reason why I went with it. Everything textured in substance was done with a PBR workflow. The other textures were made procedurally, with one simple diffuse map. Most of these diffuse maps are seamless also, thus making it very easy to hide seams.
Each pass was done for a specific reason. I will go in the order I present them in the video breakdown. The first pass was the Maya Render itself. This raw render was the base for my comping, which was done in Photoshop. The comping for the animation was done in After Effects. The next pass was just a simple chromatic aberration and color correction. The color correction was very light because the render already matched the lighting in the concept fairly well. The chromatic aberration was added at the end, but I threw it in this pass for presentation purposes. Then I added in the Ambient Occlusion pass. I created this pass by using a Vray Dirt material that was applied to the entire scene. This helped with pushing the darks in the shadows of objects. After that, I added a slight vignette and some noise to mimic a camera. These were done in Photoshop. What I enjoyed this process, is I used rudimentary (not the best out there) programs to composite in, but the outcome was amazing. As one progresses at Gnomon, one begins to learn things like Nuke, a much more powerful compositing program. This project taught me that it isn’t the tools that help you get better. It’s the knowledge you bring to the table, and how you use that knowledge on these programs. The tools are there for you to create your art, but you have to look at it in a sense where the tools don’t create the art, it’s your knowledge.
That being said, the fact that I created a visually appealing piece in Photoshop and After Effects, shows that it isn’t the tools that make things look good. While they definitely do help, your artistic capabilities soar over them.
The lighting for this project is a bit insane. I had to create a bunch of extra lights to get the lighting I wanted. I wasn’t as experienced with compositing when I created this, and because of that, I felt it was a better move to create extra lights in the scene than to create them in post in Photoshop and After Effects. What I mean is, I would literally place an orange light next to a wall that had an orange glow in the concept. My tip of advice here is this: use as little lights as possible, but stick to the lighting of the scene as best you can. But, if you have to add some extra lights to make the scene look better, then go for it. At the end of the day, if it looks good, you did a great job,
That’s very important. Some fun things in my scene that are related to the lighting are the mesh lights placed throughout the scene. The blinking lights all over the scene were mesh lights that rendered out on a separate render layer. I rendered out 3 passes with some of the mesh lights on, some off. In After Effects, I animated the opacity, which gave the illusion that they were flickering on and off. I also used mesh lights on the monitors in the back of the room. These were also rendered on their own layer, with the opacity animated in After Effects also.
Another solution to a light mesh could have been a Vray Light Material, but I just went with mesh lights because this project was a good reason to learn how to use them! Always learn new things with every project you do. Push yourself. That’s what I always say. The final light that was animated was the tanks yellow glowing light. This was also rendered separately and was animated with opacity in After Effects. This light had a more gradual change in opacity than the other lights. All other lights in the scene were Vray Rect Lights. Vray Environment Fog was added after this process to create an atmospheric effect.
This project has taught me so much. I’ve learned that if you apply your own knowledge, instead of just using the tools provided to the user, one can create beautiful imagery. I went out of my way to make this piece look good, and with only a year of Maya experience, which was very little, I was able to create something beautiful.
When I say this project taught me a lot, I really mean it. Here is a plethora of things I learned through this process: Procedural workflow, linear workflow, Substance Painter, After Effects, Ambient Occlusion, Map Baking, Vray Fog, Mesh Lights, Wire modeling, speed modeling, etc. I am also very thankful to a handful of people who helped me during this process, especially Sinjin Treharne. He has taught me so much in terms of workflow, and this project wouldn’t be where I took it without his help. Using your resources is important as well.
In closing, I’d like to say thank you to anyone who has read this. I hope this has been quite informal! I am easily accessible through my website www.camscottcgi.com and my email is email@example.com for any further questions! This piece was also honored and featured in the Gnomon Student Gallery, and I would like to thank Gnomon for publishing my work! I am also very thankful for this interview and I hope that you enjoyed reading what I had to say. I hope to be invited back so I can show you my process on future pieces.