Many thanks to the 3DTotal team, www.3dtotal.com
for this opportunity; it is a pleasure for me to share some of the techniques that I used to create my "Night of the Cat" image. My name is Cristian Mihaescu, and I am an electronic music composer who also loves to create digital art - mostly 3D scenes - as a hobby. Blender, Vue Infinite, Poser, Inkscape and Gimp are my main tools. For Night of the Cat I used Blender (a powerful Open Source 3D programme), Gimp (a 2D Open Source program), and Inkscape for vector graphics (also Open Source). The techniques that I'll explain are not specific to these applications though, and can be adapted to equivalent programs such as Maya and Photoshop.
This somewhat atypical 3D scene, filled with 2D elements, is strongly inspired by Tim Burton's "The Night Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride". It is an attempt at recapturing the unique mood of these masterpieces. From the modelling, right through the texturing, and up to the title, I used a minimalist style combining 2D and 3D shapes, with lights and shadows to recreate some of the mystery of a children's story.
NURBS curves which are only slightly extruded appear like something between 2D and 3D (Fig02). I began with the fence which, like a "Chef d'Orchestre", determines the style of the image and its organisation around the centre of attraction. Modelling the fence was easy; I started with a simple NURBS Curve, subdivided it, moved the vertices in "crazy places", subdivided again, moved the new vertices, and so on. The final fence contains lots of curves - extruded and bevelled a little (Fig03).
For the filled elements, like the house, trees and plants, I used NURBS Circles; I subdivided them and moved the vertices in the same plane. The holes to represent the windows are an effect of new NURBS Circles inside the main one, and the metal gate was created using simple NURBS Curves, in the same manner as the fence. Then all was extruded with different values for thickness (Fig04). I used the same method for the cat, and the same was used for the road, also. No complications can be very cool! It is also possible to draw all of these curves in Inkscape or Illustrator and import them into your favourite 3D application to extrude them (Fig05).
For this scene, the lighting system had to follow the same minimalist style. Therefore, I used only two lights and Ambient Occlusion. Ambient Occlusion illuminates an object from all sides, which flattens the perspective and adds softness, which was great for my purpose. The two lights were two Sun lamps in the same position and same direction; one for lighting and one to control the darkness of the shadows. The second Sun had to use Ray-tracing and was set to 'Only Shadow'. After the addition of a little mist to hide the horizon, I made a first preview render (Fig06). Looking at the result I decided to complete the scene by adding another house (which can barely be seen), hidden in the shadowy part of the scene, plus some trees, plants and more crazy stuff!
Background & Composition
I decided to draw a 2D background to accentuate a mysterious mood, much alike that of children's stories. I drew the lines in Inkscape and the rest was done in Gimp (Fig07).