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Recreating the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower Using 3ds Max & Megascans

Todor Vladev explains how the 669-feet-tall cocoon-shaped educational facility was recreated in 3D, talks about the challenges of working on the composition and choosing the lighting setup that creates the right mood and makes the centerpiece truly stand out.


My name is Todor Vladev and I have been doing 3D visualization since 2015. I got a Bachelor's degree in Graphic Design from the University of Waikato, New Zealand. I then went on to study Interactive Digital Media in Games at South Bank TAFE, Brisbane, Australia.

Currently, I work at Populous as a 3D Visual Communications Artist. I have worked on a wide variety of many exciting projects ranging from stadiums to arenas.

Working on Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

I started by researching modern architecture, mainly high-rise buildings around Tokyo, Japan. The one building that stood out the most to me was The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower in Shinjuku. It's quite unique in shape and symmetrical at the same time. I like the contrast between the different materials that make it up.

I thought it would be quite challenging and interesting to model and create in 3D, so I went ahead with it. To me, the tower looks quite futuristic which makes it stand out more from other buildings.

The next step for me was to research more about the tower and its history and surroundings. I started looking at the different angles I could use to capture this unique tower and by doing so I used street view and a lot of reference images. 

Working on the Composition

The most important part for me was capturing all the detail and imperfections of the environment. I planned this by looking at a lot of photographs of what is around the tower to recreate it in a 3D environment.

To capture the essence of the building, the composition was a bit tricky at the start. I was doing a lot of test camera angles at different image ratios to be able to capture the environment just enough to make it harmonize with the tower.

The additional assets were created by looking at street view, aerial photography of the area and other reference images of the surrounding buildings, roads, footpaths and foliage.

Creating the Building

To create the main building, I first study the building from all possible angles. Then I look at what basic shapes it is made of and I start by drawing the basic shapes out of boxes. After all that is done, I start adding the details — things like window frames, glazing, framing, floor slabs, etc. Then onto materials — by looking at a lot of detailed and close-up photographs of the building. At the very end of the process, I start adding more details, things like dirt, grime, and imperfections on some surfaces.

Designing the Surroundings

Setting up the trees was quite enjoyable. There are only one or two types of trees in that area. I started with a basic tree model and then added better leaves and trunk materials to get the right look and shape.

The pavement material was a bit challenging to get the right look of it and achieve the wetness effect. I didn't want it too wet with puddles but just enough, somewhere in between, like it's already starting to dry up but it still has that after-the-rain shine to it. I started looking at wet footpaths and tiles and tried to recreate that in my image.   

Texturing and Rendering

I used 3ds Max to create the scene. For the texturing, I used some Megascans materials and mostly custom material made by me. The skyscraper was textured mainly with different metal and glazing shaders. Materials were made by looking at reference photos of the tower and surrounding area.

Rendering and lighting the scene was quite straightforward. At the start, I did some lighting tests to decide what lighting I wanted to use for the final setup. I used an HDRI to light up the scene. I decided to do an early morning setting, where the sun is just coming up. That way the building is the first thing getting illuminated by the light making it stand out as everything else is still in the shadow. There was some post-production, just to give the image a bit more contrast and balance the colors more and highlight some details in the materials.


There were a few challenges behind this project. One of the main ones was getting the angle and composition right to capture the tower and surroundings in such a way that everything is balanced with the main focus on the building. There were quite a few other camera angles that I wanted to use but this one captured the tower and environment the best. Another challenge was the lighting and deciding what kind of lighting I should use to make the image moody and photo-realistic at the same time.

The whole project took around a month to complete from start to finish. Some tricks on working on such a scene are getting the models and materials right at the start and then lighting the scene.  

Todor Vladev, Senior 3D Visualisation Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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