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Ryan Talbot talked a little bit about his lovely ‘Coexist’ project, created with the help of Cinema 4D and Substance Painter.
Hello! My name is Ryan Talbot, and I am a VFX generalist and 3D animator living in Southern California. Some of my recent projects have included visual effects work on Nickelodeon TV shows, Netflix’s The Ranch, as well as product animations and motion graphic videos for G-Technology and Western Digital. My dream growing up has always been to make movies.
“Coexist” came about as a result of a series of images I decided to create with one common theme: technology and nature. The idea of nature reclaiming civilization has always interested me because there’s something both beautiful and sad about it at the same time. Like yin and yang, they are opposites that complement each other. My biggest inspirations that incorporate this style are Portal 2, Planet of the Apes (the newest ones), and Filip Hodas’s work. The main goal for me in this series is to practice modeling and texturing, while also building an imagined world piece by piece. One day, the idea popped into my head to have this industrial grade piece of machinery picking something as delicate and organic as a flower.
Sometimes I’ll sketch something very crude in photoshop to get my composition and shapes planned out, but in this case, I just got right into it. While modeling the arm I had my second monitor up on Google Images, just scrolling through pictures of industrial arms to constantly reference. A lot of the high res details come from the material itself, while the ivy really helps cover up the less detailed bits. The wires were created by drawing splines with the pen tool, and then putting that inside a sweep nurbs with a circle spline.
The first material layer is a base metal, which is made of a high metallic value and a roughness map to add variation. On top of that material is my paint layer, which has its own color, bump, roughness, and specular settings. The goal was to show the paint layer over the majority of the model, but have that underlying metal shine through around the edges where it might naturally be rubbing off from. The secret to this effect is baking a curvature map inside Substance Painter from my model. Once I have that, I plug the map into a mask generator called “Metal Edge Wear” on my (top) paint layer. From there, it’s just a matter of dialing in the amount and contrast sliders to taste, depending on how much of the underlying layers you want to reveal. Another thing that adds a lot of the detail are the normals. Substance Painter has a library of hard surface shapes such as sci-fi panels and vents that can easily be stamped onto the model, completely non-destructive to the actual polygons. I used some of those here, along with a filter called “Mat FX Detail Edge Wear” which will replicate the same effect my curvature map produced but using the normals. In the end, this creates an illusion of new forms being carved into my model, but all baked into the material.
You simply select where you want the ivy to grow from, and then watch it generate over the scene. There are settings to control the number of branches, leaves, size, etc. and you can even switch between living and dead leaves for different looks. The flowers were generated inside of an Octane Scatter object, with a disc-shaped plane as its surface. Each green and yellow line represents a flower, to be rendered by Octane. I set the number to about 5,000 and controlled the scale with a circle gradient, telling the scale to get bigger at the center and smaller at the edges. Noise also controls the rotation of each flower, adding another layer of variation.
To be honest, the environment was a bit of a happy accident. Originally, I wanted my scene to be set inside a defunct factory. But then I realized that it would take a long time to model every little piece and texture it, only to have it be out of focus in the final render. I almost went with a forest environment, similar to the other images in my series, but at the last minute scrapped it in favor of a simple but beautiful HDRI sky and some high-quality ground textures from Poliigon.com. I combined two different ground planes, one with a concrete street texture and the other with a forest texture. Then I used the sculpting mode in Cinema4D to quickly pull out variation and bring up patches where the forest texture could poke through. After this, I used Ivy Grower on it and another Octane Scatter objects with the same flower model, spreading them out across the land. The cars in the background are re-used from a previous image I did called “Parking Job of the Year”, featuring a mossy DeLorean being half submerged in a pond of dirty water. Finally, I added an Octane Volume object to create a fog separating the foreground from the background. This is a technique I use in most of my images now because it adds so much depth to the render. The downside is significantly longer render times, but that’s no problem for stills.
After rendering in Octane, I took the image into Photoshop for final adjustments. This includes levels, contrast, sharpening, vignetting, and compositing lens effects such as smudges, dust, and even grain into the image. On this render, in particular, I added two small glares to the hand of the robot, to help draw the viewer’s eye to the flower in its hand.