Andrej Stefancik talked about his recent work, Cessna C-152, discussing his workflow.
Hello, my name is Andrej Stefancik, and I’m a freelance 3D artist based in Slovakia. I am very fortunate to be a part of an amazing art team at NVidia. For the last few years, I’ve been helping them out with various cool projects and GTC demos, involving 3D graphics such as project Sol.
I also work remotely for a Prague-based company called Automobilist, which specializes in creating automotive-related posters and artworks for companies like Mercedes F1 team, Formula One, and others.
Gathering the Reference
What inspired me to start working on the Cessna C-152 project was the fact that I had an opportunity to actually fly this plane for a couple of minutes as part of the birthday present I got from my girlfriend last year. Since I’ve always been a huge fan of flying sims, this whole experience made me fall in love with aviation even more. Immediately after the flight, I asked the pilot if I can take some pics of the plane, and then I did. And I took a lot of them, about 1000, I reckon.
Since I use photogrammetry a lot in my workflow, I took the images in a way that could be used in photogrammetry software. Then, it would generate a mesh for me that would serve me as the main reference for my high poly modeling. The conditions were far from good to create a perfect “scan” of the plane, my lack of experience back then did not help, either. Nevertheless, it was a good enough starting point for me.
Even though I try to be very thorough taking pictures of every detail from every angle, I always miss something. In such cases, I like to search for additional images on eBay. You wouldn’t believe what you can find there, it’s a treasure chest! Since this plane was originally introduced in 1978, I could almost literally find the whole plane there part-by-part and see the details I would never have been able to capture with my camera.
When it comes to modeling vehicles, I always start modeling the exterior first. Since you can find all the details like the overall dimensions, size of the tires and wheels, or blueprints very easily on the Internet. I always do my modeling in Cinema 4D, using pretty much basic modeling tools.
With the scanned geometry serving as my main modeling reference, I started with the nose of the plane and then proceeded towards the rear end, and then I finished the exterior modeling phase by modeling the wings. The great thing about scans is that they add about 5-10% more realism and precision to your models even if you already are a very good modeler with a good eye for proportion and details.
With the exterior done, the cockpit work started. I never actually planned to make the interior as detailed as I did eventually. Again, I had a huge chunk of the instrument panel scanned, which was a really great help for my modeling. Typically, I start interiors with modeling of the door sills, then I work on door and other interior panels and pillars. After these, I moved my attention to the instrument panel and cargo area of the plane. The seats were added last. It was very important to me to add several extra props to the interior such as the hat, aviator glasses, keychain and some more in the cargo to add the “lived-in”, or “used” feel to it. I didn’t want it to feel sterile and empty.
You can also see a nice breakdown of my modeling steps on my FB page, where I’ve posted 8 work in progress updates so far.
In general, I always use low-poly meshes and a simple block-out of the key elements. Once I’m happy with the proportions and position of these elements, I begin turning the block-out geometry into more refined and detailed meshes. Slowly making my way from the biggest parts and details to smaller ones.
100% of my meshes are subdiv meshes because I just love the smoothness and perfection. I treat every single object down to a bolt as if it was the main hero object in the scene. Every single area on this model is ready for close-up shots because I just cannot help myself. This is what makes me happy about modeling.
For the cockpit texturing, I wanted it to feel used and old, basically 40 years old. I used a blend of hand-painted maps in Mari and did procedural texturing both inside Mari and in 3ds max and V-Ray.
With materials I try to recreate them similar to what they look like in the real world - they are layered. For example, my typical material for the buttons looks like this.
The base layer is always a “clean” layer with basic material properties, such as glossiness, bump, color. In this layer, I also add some scratch, or noise maps if needed. In the second layer, I usually have decals or stickers, and these are followed by the procedural dirt and dust layers.
I also used Substance Painter for some parts such as the buttons and switches at the bottom third of the instrument panel. Mostly as a small exercise to improve my skills in the program.
The whole interior was divided into many texture sets, ranging from 4K to 16K sets. As with the modeling, it was very important for me to make every single area of the cockpit usable for close-up shots, so I tried to give as much love as possible to every single object I had modeled. As proof of that, I also made a 360 view render. Texturing of the cockpit was done the part by part, even things that never ended up in the final camera shots.
I decided to focus the final shots on the instrument panel area as I found it visually the most interesting. Each number and letter that you see in the render were created from scratch.
For the lighting of the scene, the plan was to use natural light only, to give it a very realistic look. The main light source in the scene was the v-ray sunlight combined with a 360 HDRI image.
I like to use real-world camera parameters (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO) for my V-Ray camera settings. I had all these details from the reference photos that I had taken. Then I adjust the intensity of the light sources based on these parameters. Since the plane has its wings mounted on top, and they are really huge wings, it was almost impossible to get enough direct light inside the cockpit in a visually interesting way, therefore I decided to work with the indirect light only. So, in case I needed more light coming inside the cockpit I would just open the left or right door of the plane.
Ever since I started texturing the cockpit, I planned to turn on some of the displays to make my renders visually more interesting and potentially serve as an attention center points for some of the close-ups. I think this idea worked well.
The final renders were all rendered in 5K resolution with V-Ray inside 3ds max. Some render passes such as specular, lights, lens effects, etc. were rendered separately in case I needed to tweak something.
Then, I did the usual compositing and color corrections to various parts I wasn’t completely happy with. After these corrections, I added a vintage grading to images, with a bit of sepia look, which I think worked best for this 40 years old plane. All post-production was done in Photoshop on 16bit files.
These cockpit renders concluded phase 1 of the project. In the next phase, I plan to finalize all exterior textures and make another round of render, however, this time with the entire plane in various interesting environments.
Thank you for the interview!
Andrej Stefancik, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev