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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!
Mohamed Al Sadany discussed the production of the stunning surreal scene for the ‘Lost at Sea’ contest from Turbosquid.
I’m Mohamed Al Sadany, 3D artist based in Alexandria, Egypt, I studied Fine Arts – Painting, I started as a traditional painter then I moved to the digital art world where I have the endless possibilities of Digital art. I remember back in 2003 I saw an artwork (Fairy And Snake) by Steven Stahlberg, I was impressed by the beauty of 3D artwork.
Over the years I have had experience as animator, 3D modeler, concept artist and CG Supervisor at various animation studios in Egypt.
A couple of years ago I quit my full-time job to build a career as a freelancer and now I’m focusing on 3D modeling and 3D concept art for games, commercials and creating cover art for books from time to time.
Although freelancing comes with a lot of challenges, what is great about living as a freelancer it that you work on different types of projects and you have to improve your skills constantly because it is the only thing that keeps you going.
I liked the theme “Lost at Sea”. The title was just inspiring. One of the rules was “no extensive paintover in Photoshop, all elements should be created in 3D” and that’s what makes the contest unique, I learned a lot during the process to follow that rule.
As a big fan of anything fantasy and sci-fi — you can see that in my work — I was thinking of a lost city, I tried to stay away from all the usual ideas.
I used to sketch in ZBrush with dynamesh then thinking about how should I approach technically after specifying the general composition form.
I got a 3d house from the internet, added more textures details, reducing the number of polygons and extracting a normal map, I made it almost a game asset, as a prelude to 3ds Max to deal with the huge copies of the houses, a step that I will do later.
I modeled some props and lighting poles and mixed them with the houses to make the composition richer.
In my previous work I built similar forms which depend on copying the same objects with ZBrush/nanomesh and rendering the scene in Keyshot, but the difference here is that I had to send the model to the 3Ds Max.
As I wanted to use the advantages of Vray, I implemented a different pipeline. This pile has been built house after house, one by one, in 3Ds Max with changing the angle and adjusting the sizes of the copies, It took a lot of patience.
Nothing was particularly difficult here, but you have to make sure that each stage is completed properly because going back to a previous phase will cost a lot of time.
The Octopus was modeled in ZBrush on the hierarchical structure of the city after it was imported from 3ds max, so that the tentacles are tightly wrapped on the pile. In general I enjoy sculpting organic shapes in Zbrush.
I started modeling with dynamesh, added the tentacles form with IMM brushes and then dealt with retopology using ZRemesher, started sculpting, adding details with subdivided the mesh. I also painted the octopus textures in ZBrush.
I bought the jellyfish from Turbosquid. They provided free models specifically for use in the contest. After I re-textured it and made a quick rig to put it in the right pose, I put bubbles and some illumination materials to make it more interesting.
Nearly 50 active VRay lights were used in the scene, some of the jellyfish, and a sunlight to add sharp shadows and confirm the shapes of objects, windows lights done with a self-illumination map.
The difficulty of that lighting distribution is concentrated in the fact that the lights do not intersect with itself nor with other objects, otherwise it causes noise in the final render.
At the stage of the lighting work I found the general feeling far from the sea colors mood so I added an ambient blue light and some particle system emitters.
Why did you go with VRay for this render?
I have been working with VRay for a long time and the updates made by Chaos Group are great for working on crowded scenes and every object works fine with each other.
I wanted to add some rays of light with Photoshop and correct the shadings of the bubbles, but the result was good, so I preferred to stay committed to the contest rules and keep it as rendered.
Two weeks of work, two or three hours a day almost, the most difficult stage was the final stage and how to produce a beautiful and technically correct image with this crowded scene.