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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Manan Bachkaniwala from Gnomon showed a little bit of how you can create awesome lighting with Vray.
Hello! My name is Manan Bachkaniwala, currently, I am in Term 3 specializing in Visual Effects & Animation for film at Gnomon School of Visual Effects. I come from a small city in India with dreams of working in the Visual Effects industry. Before Gnomon, I was pursuing my BA(Hons) in Animation Art at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. There I made a short animated film with my friends Tan Ze Chaun and Ong Wan Kee for our final year which won two silver awards at Crowbars Film Festival, Singapore for Animation and Art Direction.
I chose to pursue VFX specialization at Gnomon after my Bachelors’ as I always wanted to do that. Seeing the artwork done at Gnomon had always inspired me to work hard and make my art even better. So the choice was pretty straightforward to study here.
During my first term at Gnomon, I made this project titled ‘Abandoned House’ for my Introduction to Maya class with Max Dayan.
Before this project, I had never done any photorealistic work and always focused on a stylized 3D artwork. So this project was a good way for me to try my hands at photorealism.
The main goal of this project was to recreate the photograph in 3D as closely as possible while getting comfortable with Maya. Through this project, I decided to limit myself to a few tools to see how far I can push myself.
Approaching the scene
I was pretty comfortable with the modelling part of this project as the props were pretty straightforward but as soon as I reached the texturing part, nervousness kicked in as I had never attempted anything photorealistic. I started lighting the scene to match it as close to the photograph as possible, so that when I started texturing I would know whether or not the materials and textures were working under the lighting conditions.
As for texturing, I decided to start with shader balls, to keep things simple and work purely on the materials that were in the scene such as leather, wood and metal. Not wanting to assume anything about how an object would look, I was constantly comparing with material references.
Working on the props
All the props in the scene were modelled and UVed within Maya. The sofa was modelled and UV wrapped in Maya before I took it into Zbrush to sculpt all the folds and details. Once I was done with sculpting, I extracted the displacement maps and replaced my base sofa mesh in the scene with a relatively high-resolution mesh so that all the details are shown in the render. I mainly followed the steps provided by Akin Bilgic for extracting and applying the displacement maps.
Since the whole scene was supposed to feel old, I added dust on every piece in the scene and this was done completely procedurally with the help of two seniors Valentin Erbuke and Darren Hou. The procedural dust network uses the Y-axis normals of an object to shade it and then a grunge map is used to cause break up in the dust. Once the base material was made for a piece it was blended together with the dust material using Vray Blend.
For the wallpapers, I modelled them using just a plane and then started manipulating vertices to create folds. It was difficult to find a balance between keeping those folds just enough and overdoing them.
To texture the wallpaper, I started with a base pattern that I had created for another class at school and changed the hues and saturation to match it closely to the reference photo. Once satisfied, I brought the UV snapshot of the wallpaper inside photoshop and placed the texture. For extra details and break ups, I used a grunge map and multiplied it on the top of the diffuse which was later used to create a normal map and specular map in Crazy Bump.
Lighting the room
Lighting was a process that I was constantly working on since I was done blocking the scene. When things start to come together in the early stages, it spurred me on.
I used three lights in the scene. The key light was kept outside the window, in front of which I placed a tree-shaped mesh to make it act like a gobo and give some break up in the light. Since it was a room, the light should bounce from around the walls and I mimicked that using a bounce light from behind the camera. This also helped me to achieve some nice highlights on the wallpaper to make it stand out more. The final render was exactly what I was going for since the beginning and hence I decided not to do any post work on it at all. So what you see is the raw render straight from VRay!
With the time period of only five weeks, getting used to the whole workflow from Maya to Zbrush, learning about different nodes in Maya and texturing a photoreal scene in photoshop were the most challenging parts of this project. With the constant feedback from my lecturer Max Dayan and my friends at Gnomon I was able to continuously improve my scene. Overall this project was extremely fun! I am excited to learn new and cool stuff at Gnomon and creating impressive artwork.
I hope the readers find this article helpful and informative!