Fall, my latest project, was the first illustration I did using a combination of 3ds Max and VRay. After almost five years of experience with mental ray it was a real pleasure trying something new.
This was a project I started few years ago, but it never grew to more than an initial sketch and simple scene blocking in 3D. The first idea for the image was just to create an old rusty factory and something mysterious in that tunnel. But as the image developed and grew, the main story was formed and from that point the whole image began to be shaped that story; it was my main source of motivation and inspiration. I know some artists just sketch and do illustrations, but my way is to create a story first and then create the whole environment around that story. It's basically just a flowing creative process and I think that in time every artist finds the best way to develop his ideas.
The purpose of this Making Of is to show you my working process and to explain some steps during image creation; it's not a tutorial and you probably won't learn something specific like in other tutorials. So, if you want to get some more details about a few of the steps then feel free to drop me email and I'll do my best to reply.
Concept and Initial Scene Blocking
After I got my first idea I made one quick sketch that served as a base for things to come. It doesn't matter if you are good or bad at sketching; it's just that it's the fastest way of making a draft version of ideas that you have. This was made in 20 minutes in Photoshop using simple brushes and some base textures. I'd recommended having a painting tablet for this kind of work (Wacom is the best) because it just feels so natural. Sometimes I do a quick sketch on paper and bring that into Photoshop where I add colors and shading to everything, but since painting on a Wacom is very intuitive it is also a great way to start. So this is how the first sketch looked (Fig.01)
The initial sketch served as a starting point for building the scene in 3ds Max. Using some compositional forms from the concept, I built a few basic shapes in 3ds Max and staged the camera. I believe that the most important thing at this stage of an image is to define the main shapes in the composition, because the whole scene is going to be built around those shapes. The camera is another important consideration because the scene is created from the camera's point of view and so you only need to create what the camera sees. If you don't do this part right then it's going to be very time consuming to change the main shapes later on when you get into the detailing. It's also good to place some basic lights and define some materials … for this image, I made two materials: one metal and one brick. I then assigned those materials to all the objects (Fig.02).
After the 3D scene blocking was finished, it was time to start with the modeling. When I create a scene with lots of details, it can take up to a couple of weeks to complete depending on the time I have. Sometimes, to make things less messy and help me organize everything, I export parts of the blocked scene to separate files and remodel that area over there before merging it back into the main scene. It's also possible to do XRefs and keep everything in separate files, but that's up to you if you want to try it... I only mentioned it here because for some artists it can work better.
As I said after scene blocking it was time to get into the details and the modeling. This time I decided to model everything I had in scene first, then do the textures and materials later. Sometimes it can be a good decision to separate every process (modeling, texturing, lighting), but most of the time that's not the way I do illustrations because some modeling details can end up in dark areas where I don't need them. The thing is that in time you just learn where you need all the details and where to not put your effort. After a few days of work the model was at the following stage (Fig.03).
I normally use the Edit Poly modifier, starting from a box, cylinder or some other object, or I just draw the curve that's going to serve as a profile and then apply the Lathe or Extrude modifiers. The Symmetry tool is one very important modifier in my workflow because you can get so many different variations from your initial model; you can basically reuse the same model a couple of times without spending so much time building a new one... and the viewer won't even notice that the models have the same base object. Here's an example (Fig.04).
When I am done with modeling for the day I usually do one quick render, bring that to Photoshop and do a quick draft paint-over that image to make a plan for the next day. These over-paints look really simple but it gives me a better visual reference of the details that I need to do in some areas. Sometimes I end up doing only 40% of what I sketched, sometimes it's more, it all depends on how much time it will take and if the new details will fit into the final model (Fig.05 & Fig.06).