Recreating the Bathroom Scene from Joker in Maya and Substance Painter

Recreating the Bathroom Scene from Joker in Maya and Substance Painter

Silvia Mingolla talked about her latest project Pit Stop inspired by the movie Joker: modeling in Maya, texturing in Substance Painter, and rendering in V-Ray.

Introduction

Hi, my name is Silvia and I’m a 3D artist. My artistic background comes from past studies. Cinema and video games have strongly inspired me, as well as post-apocalyptic settings, game scenarios, and underground environments like "The Last of Us" and "The Division". I've always been attracted by desolate places, where the dark side of things takes all the attention. This encouraged me to bring my own experiences to the 3D world. 

Driven by the passion for cinema, I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. During my studies, I spent most of my free time developing personal projects. After earning my degree, I decided to increase my skills by joining BigRock Training Center. Today, I work at BigRock as a 3D artist.

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Pit Stop: Reference

The movie Joker inspired me in the creation of Pit Stop. The story of Arthur is told through sophisticated colors and lights: blue represents the lonely and desolated aspects of his personality, while warmer lights express his hopeful side.

Every single frame is a work of art, and the bathroom dance scene improvised by Joaquin Phoenix totally captured me. So, I thought it would have been exciting to recreate it in 3D.

I started the project by gathering lots of references to better examine models and layouts and try to capture every single frame of the movie scene.

Blockout

My idea was to stick to the original scene. Since the bathroom is made up of modular objects, I started modeling knowing that some elements would be repeated several times. The blockout is one of the most important steps in building an environment. In the first phase, I set up my working unit in meters, so I created polygon primitives in order to build the perfect space for my environment.

After studying the references, first I listed the main elements to model, then I created different combinations and arrangements of these elements to see how they could fit and be reused in distinct ways. This approach allowed me to obtain the minimum number of models necessary to create the space I wanted. It primarily helped me to understand the distances between elements. 

One of the major obstacles that I faced during this work was the movie framing: the absence of the character made the 3D scene unattractive, so I opted for small, tight, and even claustrophobic spaces to create the perfect depth.

Perspectives and compositions are crucial elements to improve image quality. A long and narrow space was the key point to carry out this project as it confers to the narrative a stronger sense of drama and oppression.

In addition, a first pass of lighting and composition helped me to test if the shapes would work.

Modeling

Once the blockout was finished, I started the modeling phase in Maya, carefully respecting the different proportions of every single object to create a visually plausible and realistic image. First, I sketched the shapes out, without detailing the models at this stage. In this preliminary phase, all the various props were modeled using primitive NURBS. After reaching the desired result, I converted each NURBS into polygons, and then I performed a retopology to obtain a topologically proper final mesh. This step allowed me to detail the model.

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Once I was satisfied with the composition, I refined the models by adding extra details. During this phase, I spent most of the time on the "key" objects. Real-life objects rarely have perfect shapes and angles, so at this stage, I spent extra time to strongly improve realism. Tools like "soft selection" and "lattice" in Maya helped me to make the objects more irregular. Then, I placed into the scene a 3D model of a human figure. This fundamental step allows the artist to compare objects with the surrounding environment in order to obtain realistic measurements.

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After modeling, I set the color palette using the scene from "Joker" as a reference and then assigned materials by associating a color to each object to visually understand the combination between them. Finally, I gathered my references and started selecting textures to use in the next step.

Texturing

My main goal was making objects appear to spring to life, telling their story in the best possible way and making them look realistic. I wanted the bathroom to be a way station, a stopping point during a long journey where people are used to leaving a mark, a feeling, or a greeting to others.

After I finished the UVs of the assets, I imported the meshes in Substance Painter. I decided to start from the larger elements, such as the walls and the tiles, to get an idea of what kind of mood I wanted to represent. Together with these elements, I also imported the bathroom fixtures because I needed to know where to add dirt or dripping based on the models’ position.

For the walls, I used more UDIMs to get a lot more details.

Texturing was the most important part of this project. I wanted to capture the essence of all the objects and convert them into my renders. I studied every single material, from aluminium and metal to ceramic, in order to represent the properties of each material as faithfully as possible.

I did research to better understand the concrete texture. I split the material into different parts to obtain first concrete, then cracks, and finally a light worn paint.

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All the layers were created with Substance Painter. I made the concrete dirty through brushstrokes and "grunge" maps. I added generators to the masks to outline the edges and create realistic-looking dirt and grime, then I modified the dirt by adding paint layers to make it less linear. All layers were then contrasted with additional filters.

Graffiti allowed me to customize the bathroom. The selected amount of references made my work easier. I searched on the web for high-resolution photos of graffiti: I cleaned up some of them by generating images with the alpha channel, and I drew other ones changing my handwriting to make them all look different. In this way, I created a folder with an infinite list of graffiti and then I used them in Substance Painter with the projection tool. 
Other graffiti was directly generated by the software using different types of brushes. It was very interesting to study how the brushstroke adapts and changes relative to the surface, whether it is a pen, a marker, or spray. Once the texturing phase in Maya was finished, I had a better view of the whole scene, so I was able to increase details by using “decals”.
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Lighting

The lighting had a crucial role in representing the general mood of the scene, and using V-Ray as a rendering engine for the first time was very challenging. I tried different lighting, first I created a daylight environment with a warm light coming from the window, then I played with warm/cold light contrasts to accentuate the sense of drama.

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At first, I placed two warm sphere lights in the neon above the mirror, but then I decided to leave only one of them to convey a stronger tense atmosphere. I put a cold rect light in the ceiling neon and added several lights in the scene to generate volume over the objects. Finally, in order to accentuate the depth and make the scene dynamic, I placed two light points: the first one is the neon reflection in the mirror, the second one is the cold light reflection on the floor.
Lastly, I added some passes for the composition assembly (Beauty, Reflection, Specular, Z-Depth, etc.). These rendering passes allow the artist to gain more control over the final 3D still.
Below is an example of the main steps followed during the lighting and post-production creative process.

Silvia Mingolla, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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