Creating Atmosphere in 3D Scenes

Caroline Ng did a detailed breakdown of her fancy interior environments. She gave some tips about blockout, lighting, and rendering.

Caroline Ng did a detailed breakdown of her fancy interior environments. She gave some tips about blockout, lighting and rendering.


Hello! My name is Caroline Ng and I’m originally from Auckland, New Zealand. I am a 3D Generalist and recently just graduated from Gnomon School of Visual Effects. I studied Modeling and Texturing at Gnomon and prior to that, I studied 3D animation in New Zealand. I first became interested in 3D because of watching Pixar and Disney films growing up. At first, I was interested in 3D Animation because I love story telling through animation, and I still love it! but through my time studying animation, I realised I preferred creating the environments and characters as they themselves tell a story from the modeling, the texturing and the lighting, and that is how I ended up studying at Gnomon. Previously I worked at Blur Studios and Aaron Sims Creative. The main instructors / friends who have helped me a lot during my time in Gnomon as well as after graduating were Miguel Ortega and Eric Valdes.

The Alchemist

I was really excited to do this project because it had many elements. I get motivated from doing something really challenging and risky, it’s because you have to challenge yourself to become a better artist and I knew I would learn so much from doing this project.

The main thing I wanted to try was the lighting! I loved the lighting in the concept and wanted to try and translate this in 3D. I also wanted to try and finish a full environment with a character in it, as I wanted to find out a better pipe line for myself and know how long it would take to finish a piece like this.


Blocking the scene was actually one of the difficult parts of this project, probably the hardest part for me, this was because of the perspective. The first thing I do is to attach an image plane on the shotcam then use a cube to match the edges and corners of the room. You can’t always match the perspective of the 2D concept into 3D, so sometimes just getting the similar right angle will have to do. I was taught to block in assets with cylinders and cubes, matching it to the image plane. I did that for the bigger assets, as I wanted this to particularly look right as these larger assets are what you look at first. The large cupboard on the right was especially difficult to block out. This one looked too distorted because of the perspective in the concept, that it took a while to figure out the shape and how it would work in the 3D scene.

Below are images of the block out to final look phase:

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There are a couple of assets that are just duplicates. E.g. the glass jars and books. I model one, UVed and duplicated. For each duplicate however, I did some minor adjustments, for example, pull a vert up, pull a vert side ways just to give that little variation on each duplicated asset. Because this was a stylized piece it was also important to create curves and exagerated shapes, so when pulling verts up and down or scaling them, I made sure you could see the exaggerated shapes from afar. Most of the assets were done by poly modeling brought to Zbrush to add details and export displacement maps. The organic assets were modeled and sculpted in Zbrush. Some were brought back and retopoed and UVed in Maya and others were just Zremeshed then brought back in Maya to UV. I honestly would have to count how many assets I have in this scene, I only know there’s a lot of them! I actually found modeling the entire thing, the easiest, it was texturing and look-deving them in time to finish that was complicated. The models them selves are not complicated to build, it may look like so from first glance because of how cluttered the room is.

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I mainly used V-Ray and Substance Painter on the creation of the materials for this scene. Substance Painter made my workflow faster as I can create a base material and save it as a smart material then use it for multiple assets. I import all similar objects with similar UVs and textured them together. If I need to fix maps in Photoshop, it is usually when I spot the problem right away before going to Maya. I rarely go into Photoshop when I am already working in Maya unless I really need to, as I find it disrupting to change software in the middle of creating shaders, instead I use ramps and utility nodes within Maya, but even so, I try to do this on a minimal as it can make the hypershade too messy. I try to use blend materials in minimal as well as it slows down render times. Some materials were created procedurally in Maya.

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The first thing I do when I work on lighting, is turn on GI! I then I figure out what and where is the main key light in the concept. In this case, it was the light outside coming in around the door. I never use white light, especially in this scene, being so colourful. Any light I used that was coming in from outside was set to yellow or orange. I then added a few more lights from the window coming in, but less intensity then the key light. Inside the room, I used a few lights facing the back wall. These lights were coloured a dark purple or blue to give that warmth to cold lighting. I had to use some light linking as well, like the cat and the balcony as it needed a darker purply lighting and a highlight on the cat. I try to avoid using light linking unless I really have to. I added fog into the scene and this helped with the blooming effect as well as light up the scene a little bit more. I also had to use V-ray fog on geometry to create a concentrated volume of fog in some areas, such as the area near the door and windows, this created a somewhat god ray effect. The rest of the work is then done in Nuke, adjusting the colour and intensity of the shadows and light using render passes.

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I used V-ray to render the scene and Nuke to finish the final look of the render. I usually render the following render passes to help with the comping: GI, SSS, refraction, reflection, spec, shadow, self-illumination, AO and atmospheric effects. I then adjust these layers and add effects such as blur and glow, which was used a lot in the scene.

Caroline (Pricillia) Ng, Freelance Artist, Gnomon Alumni

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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