Designing a Realistic Coding Desk
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Thanks, Allar! Good luck with your new project!

Who just carries around $250.000 worth of files on a portable hardrive without any backups.. The bug is stupid, but this guy is a moron.

by Michael Allar
9 hours ago

Michael Allar here. Thanks a bunch for posting this, I really appreciate it. I'm also the guy who wrote that Confessions article that was posted here on 80.lvl as well.

Designing a Realistic Coding Desk
22 October, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design
Interview

Zaki Abdelmounim did a breakdown of his amazingly detailed realistic coding desk inspired by the movie Chappie. Software used: Redshift, Cinema 4D, Moi3D.

Introduction

My Name is Zaki Abdelmounim. I’m a 25-year-old Moroccan 3D generalist living in Qatar and working in the TV industry for 5 years now.

There aren’t many great projects you can work on in the Broadcast industry so I try to keep my 3d skills and workflows up to date as much as I can.

I learned 3D because I thought it was a great tool to get creative with typography back in 2012, and then my interests grew over time.

Hardcoding: Redshift Study

This project started after watching the movie Chappie. I really liked the concept of the command chair that was done by George Hull, and I wanted to recreate something similar in 3D for the sake of practice and fun. I didn’t intend to spend that much time on it at the beginning, but what happens when you work on a personal project is that you get easily influenced every now and then by other amazing artists, and that makes you change the direction.

Setting the Desktop

When I started thinking about a desk that compliments the chair in terms of style and level of details, I came across the amazing Kaspersky project by Andrey Voytishin from which I got the mood and color palette, and the Work by Aiko Studio from which I got the idea of some of the lighting techniques but most importantly the impressive level of details and realism that was introduced in this project.

The combination of both projects is what drove the look and feel of this hacking setup, and since I knew this project was going to take a while I didn’t go through any block out stage. I treated this scene as a real one; every now and then I modeled something and threw it into the scene “randomly” to avoid falling in the trap of a pattern. This came out naturally since I am an unorganized guy.

Materials

This is my favorite part of any project. All my materials were following a similar node setup so I will break down only one: the muddy tire material which was done in Redshift for Cinema 4D.

By following some photo references and using the poliigon library I made a primary Rubber Material covered with dirt and scratches using Redshift curvature node and state node to control the direction from which the dust is coming. This setup allows me to play with a variety of textures to get different looks on the fly.

If you are a C4D user and you like to dissect these materials, they can be found on my gumroad for 10 bucks, basically giving them away for free.

Screens

For the screens, I had to set up a Basic Xpresso rig in order to interactively change the arrangement for the monitors’ arms whenever I needed to push them away from the camera or an overlapping object (e.g.: the retro computer, lamps etc.). This worked in combination with Merk Vilson’s plugin Topowire for dynamic cables.

As for the material, it was made of two layers: the main incandescent texture coated with glossy textures and blended together using fingerprint map from poliigon. Then I added a single subtle volumetric light in front of every screen to give it a less flat feel and also to give the scene enough light bounces to illuminate it.

Modeling

I am not a great Sub-d modeler so resorting to Moi3d came in handy. CAD modeling is very powerful when it comes to boolean operations. I basically created sort of a main silhouette in Moi3d and then added more details inside of Cinema4D. There is also some kit bashing involved, and this workflow accelerated my modeling greatly and saved me the hassle of dealing with topology.

Creating the base model in Moi3d:

Adding details over the base model from Moi3d:

This was my first project to be rendered in Redshift engine, so I wanted to stress test it by putting as much geometry as I could without optimizing. The view-port quickly got laggy, so the layering management system always saves the day by organizing object groups and their materials in layers which makes it a lot easier to handle.

3D Artist Nightmare

Lighting

The lighting was the most difficult part and it’s the phase that took most of my time since I was lost between a dark moody atmosphere and a very well lit setup that shows off all the details.

If the global light was too bright, all details would be shown but the volumetric became less visible. You can’t have both so I had to find a sweet spot between them. In order to do that, I had to rely less on global HDRI lighting and light every corner of the scene independently. There was a total of 36 light sources used in the scene which can be broken down to the following:

  • The Monitors: each had its own area light with volume.
  • 2 light projectors on the sides.
  • 3 lamps on the table with volumetric mesh lights.
  • 4 Big area lights from the Top-Back-Left and Right.
  • And from each window, there was a spotlight coming through a portal light to enhance the volumetrics.

The combination of all the lights made the scene more compelling and less predictable.

Light setup before doing post FX

A lot of scenes from movies helped me to set up my light sources. I was basically trying to mimic the same setups.

Achieving Realism

In addition to having a good lighting setup, rich textures and, of course, non-flat modeling and a correct scaling, it’s a good practice to focus on imperfections that make sense (e.g. fingerprints on the screen, dust particles, scratches on the edges and dirt between the cavities in the keyboard, a touch-pad that was worn out due to overuse, some coffee cup rings, few hairs scattered here and there and so on). Imperfections can be applied to anything: to the arrangement of the objects, to the camera lens (e.g. dust, smudges, particles in the air causing light orbs, imperfect focus, distortion, overexposure, noise etc.).

You can even go further and focus on what I call behavioral imperfections (a made-up name) (e.g. cracked phone screen, damaged wire, missing keys in the keyboard, flip and tilt the cup lid instead, unfinished meal or cigarette, crumpled paper or peeled sticked, scattered mentos or spilled beer, taped broken object etc.). All these elements can add realism and make it feel less digital. They might even contribute to the storyline.

Zaki Abdelmounim, 3D Generalist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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2 Comments on "Designing a Realistic Coding Desk"

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OOZAROO
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OOZAROO
This is amazing, great work! I love all the detail work in modelling, texturing and lighting they all work extremely very well together. I especially appreciate the extra intricacies when it comes to surface imperfections, scratches, fingerprints, etc.. its one of the few details that can take an otherwise great scene to the next level. I do find it rather hilarious that anyone would critique this with notes as trivial as repeating data textures or believability of coffee/energy drink spills in or near equipment in an obviously fictitious scene. GTFO with that and applaud this man for the many hours… Read more »
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Bringing this from the Reddit: The second screen from the right and the far left lower screen have the exact same data appearing on them. the data that appears on what looks like an ancient IBM gray CRT monitor at bottom right, which seems out of place to me, repeats on 3 more small screens across the back of the desk, under the larger black flat screens, and the gray, stacked components are duplicated on the left and right side. On the far lower right is a small black screen, and the exact same data on that screen is mirrored… Read more »
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