Lighting The American Diner

Lighting The American Diner

3D artist Corinne Dy talked about the way she created her amazing American Diner scene and shared some of the techniques she used to build this project.

3D artist Corinne Dy talked about the way she created her amazing American Diner scene and shared some of the techniques she used to build this project.

My name is Corinne Dy and I am a Texture Artist and 3D Generalist from Vancouver Canada. I am a recent graduate from Think Tank Training Centre. However, before coming to Think Tank I attained my bachelors of science in biology in the University of British Columbia. I’ve always had a passion for film and art; I enjoy the storytelling and immersive worlds that can be created through these mediums. Some past projects I have worked on is a stylized dragon for a first semester final project piece at Think Tank Training Centre.

Late Night Dinner 

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In my demo reel, “Late Night Diner” the main elements of my production I wanted to showcase were the atmosphere and textures. For the mood of my scene I wanted my diner to have an upbeat vibe of a diner you would find during the 1950’s, Since I didn’t have a direct concept to follow I drew inspiration from films like Pulp Fiction and Grease.

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As my reel did not have vocals I wanted to be able to tell a story through my textures. From the smallest details like the music choice in the jukebox to the lipstick stain on the coffee mug I wanted my audience to infer with their own story what took place at this diner.


The hero assets in this scene I created were my Jukebox, booth chair and table. All the modeling for these objects was done in Maya. However before modeling these assets, I tried to find as many references for them as I could. For my jukebox specifically, I went to many diners and prop stores in Vancouver to try to find a Jukebox I could use as reference, in the end I chose to model a Wurlitzer Table Jukebox.

One of the biggest challenges I faced in maya was modeling the curvatures and indents in the jukebox. It took a lot of trial and error to finally perfect the topology. For the booth chairs I modeled them in Maya and brought them into Zbrush to sculpt more wear into the seats.

My modeling workflow consisted of first using a reference image in Maya and try to block out the basic shapes, then get critiques, model more of the details, and when I was happy with the shapes I started to work on proper topology and edge flow of the object.  


My textures were the most important thing I wanted to showcase in my reel so having a variety of objects to texture and shade was a fun challenge for me. Since I had such a variety of objects in my scene I got to learn a lot more about the object properties (spec, gloss, bump) of many different materials such as leather, metal, glass and plastic which was very useful. I primarily used Mari to texture paint and I used Substance Painter to create ambient occlusion and edge wear masks that I could use in Mari. I really liked using both Mari and Substance Painter in my workflow as I feel that both of these tools fill in the gap that the other one lacks. One of the best benefits to Mari is the ability to easily project and paint on unique textures over multiple UDIMS, however feedback on your materials with your texture maps together is not instantaneous; you do have to preview it in a renderer to get more accurate results. In Substance Painter some of the benefits are that the feedback you get is real time and you can create different edgewear and procedural textures for the objects quickly, but I found painting and projecting to be more tedious in Substance Painter than it is in Mari, and painting over seams in multiple UDIMs can be quite challenging in Substance Painter.


Lighting my scene was another challenge I faced while concepting this reel. I had to decide whether or not I would choose between a nighttime or daytime diner, but in the end I felt that a night vibe would suit the diner more because people during the 1950’s diners were more lively at night.

During the block out phase prior to lighting the scene, I knew there was going to be a lamp hanging above the table, so I designated that lamp as my key light for the shot. However, since I was creating a nighttime scene I had to balance a night aesthetic, while also making sure I had enough light to show off my texturing I had done in the scene. As a solution, to brighten up my scene I used a large area light coming from behind the camera, where the kitchen would be, to lighten up the darker areas in my scene. All my lights were directional Vray lights with a slight orange tint to create the warm atmosphere contrasting the dark cool night outside the window.

In the end I used V-Ray to render my reel; I was quite happy with the results I got from this renderer. I find the main advantage of this renderer is that you have full control over the render settings, which allows you to control the amount of noise and balance it with the time it takes for each render. Another benefit is that V-Ray offers an extensive list of materials and settings to help shade and create realistic textures (reflection/refraction, translucency…etc); in my reel I used a lot of V-Ray blend materials to help create realistic shaders.

Corinne Dy, Student at Think Tank Training Centre

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Lighting The American Diner