Recreating the White House in 3ds Max

Recreating the White House in 3ds Max

Andre Cantarel talked about realistic art, his way of becoming a generalist, and the White House project production.


Hi, my name is Andre Cantarel, originally, I'm from Germany.

I have been interested in animation since childhood and drew a lot of flipbooks. At some point, I started looking for ways that don't require redrawing each frame from scratch over and over again, so in my teenage years, I discovered 3D animation. I found an educational program for around 60 dollars and it was absolutely terrible! Yet, my mind was blown away and from then on I got hooked so much that I started skipping school just to recreate pictures I saw on the big screen, especially related to the first Independence Day movie. I started freelancing while I was at school and just kept doing that as well as learning through 3ds Max manuals (yes, back then there was a physical box with 3 very thick manuals). It was an awesome time of discovery the so-called magic.

Becoming a Generalist

When I started learning 3D, Germany was basically a CG desert. I didn't know anyone else and wasn't smart enough to look in the right places to find other people from the community. As I wanted to do "cool stuff", I needed to learn how to model, texture, set up lighting and render. Nothing of this was any burden at all, I was more like a sponge that soaked all of the information up and was eager to learn new things. As I had nobody to talk to about CG, there was no way around figuring everything out by myself and I think that is what served as a basis for becoming a generalist. Today, of course, there is a massive amount of learning materials out there which is great as it makes the path of becoming a generalist even more achievable. Additionally to this, I'd say being enthusiastic about creating personal work at home is definitely a big factor on the route of developing all-round skills.

Realistic Art

From early on, I was a fan of photorealism which has been the goal and challenge of CG in its early days. So far, I pursued this route, especially with the Russian Mi-24 helicopter which is still a big work in progress. I like paying attention to the details because often details are what makes or breaks the realism. Real-world machinery is often made out of a lot of elements, and I think, it is not particularly difficult to put all of those details in. It is rather a question of whether you have enough patience. For example, my Mi-24 helicopter is a sum of around 3000 simple parts. When assembled, the model looks complex but each part on its own is just a bent metal sheet, a screw or a spring. Having great references at hand makes life easier but mind that it can take half of the project's time to find and study the right reference materials.

The White House

Modeling the White House

For the White House project, I went through the Library of Congress and found close-up photographs taken during a big building restoration that happened decades ago. I found a lot of angles you usually can't find.

When modeling something, I usually find measurements, block low poly shapes in and double-check that everything fits together. It was a bit tricky in the beginning as the White House is built on a small hill and the elevation changes of the terrain are built into the architecture. In the south, the first floor is at the same level as the ground but in the north, the same floor is underground. When you just start getting into this topic it can be very confusing.

The modeling of the window frames and windowsills is actually quite simple! All you need is a spline that represents the side profile of the frame and a rectangle spline. The Bevel Profile modifier is possibly one of the greatest under-used features in 3ds Max - it makes such things super easy and allows you to get great UVs in one go. 3ds Max is really great when it comes to using splines for modeling. Splines allow you to work very accurately as well as most of the parameters can be typed in using real-world units. My system units and display units are mostly set to centimeters. If I need to block in very large stuff I might switch to meters for a moment.

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All the materials rely on tileable maps I created in Photoshop. They are often 8K, like the ones used for the plaster, for example. I simply mix them together in a composite map to get the right amount of microstructure and small cracks while avoiding tiling when you go a bit further away. Overall, everything is kept very simple and comes down to a well-prepared base material. For the White House, I did not use any scanned materials and worked in what you would call an "old-school" fashion.


The trees were not too hard to create either. I looked up what kind of trees there are in the White House yard, googled some leaves of those specific trees, painted the textures in Photoshop and did a bit of modeling. Then, I filled a crude odd-shaped volume with a lot of leaves using a particle system to get the right density. Once I was done with that, I created a V-Ray proxy out of that geometry. Huge trees look almost like dense clouds so you need a lot of leaves. Thankfully, you just need to type in the right number in the particle system for that. Again, everything is kind of simple but it seemed to work well enough in my case. I am not a big fan of opacity maps as they slow down rendering a lot when you have such dense greenery (there's a clipping method now in V-Ray that works much better though). I use full geo for leaves whenever I can.

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The lighting was done using a high-res HDRI in the V-Ray Dome Light, a Target Direct with a very small soft shadow radius and a bigger V-Ray Disk linked to the key light that affects specular and reflections (it helped me to have more control over the highlights on the greenery). Everything has been rendered in V-Ray 3.6. In the post-process, I lifted the renderings a bit and made them warmer as I wanted to get a "welcoming" atmosphere.

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If you want to learn more about my work or contact me, here're a few links:


Andre Cantarel, 3D Generalist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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