This is a tutorial meant to give away some tips and tricks I used throughout the creation of the "Water Generators". I will not go in too deep on any subject (lighting, modeling, texturing, etc.) as there are already a lot of great tutorials out there, we will just be taking a look into some details I think could help some people out there. This
is my first tutorial so be forgiving.
Before I begin I always like to create a little story behind the image, this helps me to understand my characters or environments so I can clearly identify what should be there and what should not. The tale of this piece is that this alien race (whatever name you give them is fine) needs to expand. They go out in search of planets suitable for life, however there are some planets that need a little work, so they take some few thousands of these islands (the water generators) and scatter them around the surface of the planet carrying seeds and, of course, the technology to create water; you can watch in the Discovery Channel (great source of inspiration :) ) that water estabilizes the temperature of the planet and plants generate oxygen and... well, you know. There's more of this but you get the point.
Ok, the first part holds no secrets. Sketching is the beginning of everything and as far as I am concerned nothing can replace the good old paper and pencil. Here are some of the final sketches for the islands. Of course I will save you the pain of countless other pencil drawings that lead me to this.
Here is the protruding "face" of the islands. This is the basic shape of everything. There's 2 to 3 faces like this on every island and on the structure over the main generator. I modelled this extruding edges and moving verts. After the first one was completed I just cloned and tweaked it so that other faces would not look exactly the same.
You should know that I had a very tight deadline for this image (5 days : / ) so I had to keep the modeling to a minimum. I chose the angle in which it would be seen and modelled only the part of the island visible in the shot. There is nothing behind or in the top (other than a hole). This works fine for a still but I just can't use it for animation.
Ok, here's something interesting. Take a look at how I used the cilindrical gizmo to texture the island. I rotated, moved and scaled the gizmo so that I would have the whole front of the island clear and simple to texture for the shot. I tried all possible mapping types (planar, box, spherical, etc.) and this gave me the best results.
This is the image that texporter gave me to texture:
I had to go out and hunt for some textures. I don't own any texture libraries (as I should) so I took about 20 photographs of cliffs, rocks and walls, everything that looked "rocky" to me. If you can get your hands on some texture CDs do, they can save you time and sometimes minutes can be precious. You can get the Total Textures libraries here in the site (and no, they didn't pay me to say that).
After some color correction and a lot of editing I got the color map. I tweaked it a little and used it as a displacement map. Here's a little note about displacement: I don't think of it only as a texturing tool but also as a modelling technique. What can I say? I love displacement. Final Render Stage 1 came to the rescue here, it renders pretty fast with very nice results.
Notice the black shapes in the center of the displacement map? I didn't want the faces or the stairs to be affected, so I painted them black. I also added some noise as bump to give the sensation of more detail.
Ok, so the basic body of the island is ready. The tree was really simple actually. I made some splines and lofted them along a straight line blending between the shapes, then I curved the path and voilá we get a tree. The extensions were made either by extruding the edges or by making separate lofts and welding vertices together.
The roots were made as separate pieces, they are not really attached to the tree, but you can't see that in the image :).
Here's a little viewport wireframe of the tree with a light meshsmooth modifier applied to it:
The structure over the island follows the "face" principle. There are no real secrets in this, it doesn't even have displacement. I just used noise (turbulence) as bump and color.
Now this is nice, at least I think so :): the plants. Ok, the first thing I wanted with the bushes was to avoid the flat look of a real photographed bush with an alpha channel. See those strange red objects? Well, those are 5 non-renderable objects meant to contain the bushes, they are actually spheres modified with edit mesh and soft selection. I created 4 particle arrays that would fill these containers with particles.
The main "leaf" object is this (Above).
Just 4 spheres put together with some scale variation.
I used a random rotation and some variation in its scaling to avoid "patterns". Now, why 4 particle arrays? I used 4 colors to fill the bushes, a dark green, a mid green, a light green and a red with different settings on the specular level and glossiness. Every one of the particle containers (the red objects)was filled with a rate of 3000 dark green particles, 2000 mid green particles,1000 light green particles and 500 red particles (to serve as berries or flowers).
Here's a closer look at the bushes:
Many particles seem to be floating around, I added those little branches later in Photoshop to make them look attached to the body of the bush. To avoid a 3dsmax crash (I sadly only have 256 MB of RAM) I had to render each bush separately and added them later in Photoshop. I used the body of the island and the tree as a matte object to retain the shadows and to have the bushes "cut" where needed.
For the lighting of the scene I first though of using global illumination... I quickly discarded this idea because of time. Micro triangle displacement (as Final Render's) + GI = HUGE render times. I had to solve this by faking it with omnis. There is a main direct light to serve as the sun and a lot of little omnis which cast very blurred shadow maps around. I also added some green and blue lights inside the island to make you believe that there is "something" else inside. The top and front views of the light setup is here:
Ok. The island is done. Now for the background.