Tim Diaz walks through the process for creating his high poly effect jet turbine
Introduction for project
The idea for this came from looking at a lot of my colleagues' portfolios. A lot of people I knew did a car engine or an engine of some sort, as they're good subjects to practice hard surface modeling. While scoping reference on the website, Prime Portal, I found images of large jet engines. Prime Portal has tons of high resolution images of military equipment and is a great resource. There, I saw a J-58 engine and turbine and said, "That's one of the most intense things I've seen. I'm making it!"
Step 1: Starting Out
The first and most important step before I start any project is to get as many references as possible. For this image, I looked at Japanese visual reference guides that consist of pictures taken from hangar bays, as well as websites such as Prime Portal.
Once I had all my images, I headed into 3DS Max and began to block-out. The block-out is always my most important step. If the foundation isn't right, the rest of my work will be off. It's also a great time to mess around with scale, and to see what shapes work and don't work. The block-out stage is also a good time to get camera angles figured out for rendering. The key things to keep in mind: it doesn't need to be pretty; it just needs to read well (Think about silhouette and negative space.)
Step 2: Creating the Light Pass
After the block-out and camera setup, the next thing I did was get a rough light pass in the scene.
It's always helpful to get the mood of the scene down, so I know where to put the most/least amount of detail. It's also helpful to get the lighting in, so you know how to adjust shaders and textures accordingly later on down the road.
For this, I planned early on that I wanted to use an HDRI lighting set up, so I first changed my renderer to Mental Ray, and then placed a standard MAX skylight. Then, within the skylight, I plugged in one of my HDRI images into the "map" slot and put in an Omni light to exaggerate highlights around the edges of the model.
Lighting set up for scene
Step 3: High-Poly Modeling
After the foundation was set, and I liked where the scene is at, I started the fun part and just went crazy with high-poly modeling.
Using my reference, I built towards it, while adjusting anything that I thought might add more visual interest. While building out pieces, the key things that I remain aware of is to keep the topology clean, and to pay close attention to edge weights and smoothing groups.
A big problem with a lot of newcomers is that they try to go for the quickest way to the end point and forget foundations. You do yourself a favor by doing it right the first time, especially if somebody else has to work with your asset later. Here's a difficult mesh that was sculpted high and then reduced with automated tools, and on the other side, a clean mesh built with turbo smoothing. One is a lot easier to fix than the other.
The top model is a sculpt using a mesh reduce while the bottom is a clean model built in 3ds Max