First of all, I wanted to improve my skills in modelling, texturing and lighting so I was looking for a concept that I knew had a lot of assets to model and also had nice textures.
Since I have a background in photography and film, I’m always looking for projects that would look cinematic and have a nice atmosphere.
I also feel like every environment I create needs to tell a story so whoever sees it needs to feel interested and wants to know more, that’s why when I saw the concept made by Wojtek Fus, I knew right away that it would be an amazing piece to create in 3D.
Finally, since I’m a 3D student building my portfolio, I knew that I needed to create a piece that can showcase my skills in as many aspects as I could.
Maya was used to model everything in the scene and Zbrush was used to sculpt the details and create the displacement maps for some of the assets. Also, I used Marvelous Designer to create and simulate some of the fabrics and curtains are seen around the scene.
Everything was textured in Substance Painter and the scene was rendered in V-Ray. Photoshop was used to create some decals and alphas to use while texturing and also for compositing.
Since this was my final project for the Advanced Term at Think Tank Online, I knew that I had to challenge myself even more than the last time. I had around 15 weeks to get everything done so I also needed to be realistic in terms of time.
A couple of weeks before I started the project, I was watching some VFX Breakdown videos and I stumbled across one from Goodbye Kansas for the cinematic trailer of “Overkill’s The Walking Dead“ game and I was amazed by the quality of their work. After a couple of days, I found Wojtek Fus on Artstation, who was the concept artist for this project and saw the concepts for the trailer, that’s when I decided that is what I wanted to make.
I knew that it was going to be a challenge but I loved how cinematic the scene was and also how great it was in terms of storytelling. It had all the things I was looking for, there was going to be a lot of modelling involved, texturing, lighting and comp too.
Also, I felt really motivated since I’ve been a big fan of The Walking Dead for years now and having the chance to prove myself by creating a project based on that universe felt like a lot of fun.
The first step to create this project was to make a complete breakdown of the scene, this was a crucial step to make sure that I had everything organized and ready. I went into Photoshop and started painting over the concept, I divided it into 5 categories:
- Main Environment Assets
- Hero Props
- Principal Assets
- Secondary Assets
- Tertiary Assets
Once I made the breakdown, I knew which assets I’ll have to spend more time on, this helped me to manage my time in a better way.
Now that the scene breakdown is ready is time to start looking at every asset seen in the concept and create a list to have a full understanding of how much work I’ll have to put in each one of them.
Here’s where the scene breakdown helps a lot because it allows me to decide which assets are more important than others.
Before I start blocking out the scene, I like to spend some time looking at references for every asset detailed in the list made in the asset breakdown. Up to this point I like to consider the preproduction stage of the project.
Here’s where PureRef turns into your best friend, I created a black project and started getting images from google and pasting them in the canvas. I spent more time on the hero props and principal assets because I knew they were going to be closer to the camera so I had to get the modelling and texturing right.
Here’s where I actually started working in maya and getting the 3d work ready. For me this is one of the hardest steps in every project, however I made a lot of research regarding real life scales of emergency rooms in hospitals and started from there.
There was a lot of back and forth here because I wasn’t able to match it exactly as it was shown in the concept, however I knew that I couldn’t spend much time in this so I got it as close as possible and moved on.
Once I matched the perspective of the scene, I moved on to the blockout stage, here I began using polygon primitives to populate the scene and give a brief look at how it was going to look. Details are not important at this stage so the models are made really quick.
In the blockout stage I usually import the male human model from the content browser to have an idea of the size of the assets. It’s really important to get the real-world scale of everything so it looks correct in the final render.
To be able to model more easily I used references for every asset in the scene. This helped to get everything organized and later it would be much easier to LookDev once the textures are ready. So, I have one file for the main scene and a lot of new files, one for every asset.
Once I finish modelling, I import the references into the main scene and start placing them where the blockout meshes were. Using references is really helpful since you can update the models in the Reference Editor once you’re finished with the reference file.
To have a clear understanding of how the assets will look I create a basic lighting pass, in this case I knew right away that the main lighting source will be the ceiling tiles so I created a couple V-Ray Rect Lights to light everything.
I used Maya to model every asset in the scene with the exception of the corpse bag, curtains and towels, they were made in Marvelous Designer, for those assets I quadrangulated the mesh before exporting, then I import them into their own maya scene, I make sure that the UV’s are packed correctly and export them to start sculpting the details in Zbrush.
Once I’m happy with the details sculpted in Zbrush I created displacement maps in .exr files to use them in Vray and getting as much details as I could.
The UV’s is a straight forward step, the only thing I took into consideration was the texel density of the assets. Once again, I take a look into the asset breakdown and knowing that I’ll have four hero assets I started working on them, also, since they were the biggest, I wanted to get them done first.
In the concept the only asset that’s close to the camera is the bodybag with the stretcher, the hospital bed, monitor and isolation unit are not close, however I wanted to create a turntable render so I decided to give them more texel density.
All of the texturing was made in Substance Painter and my workflow is really simple. First of all, I create groups in the Maya outliner for every material I have in the asset, then I give them their own UDIM making sure everything is organized. After that I create a master group containing all of the materials with their groups and call it “assetName_lp” to make clear that’s the low poly asset. Then I duplicate the main group and smooth it a couple of times, this group is called “assetName_hp” to make sure it’s the high poly.
Once they’re ready I export each one into separate .fbx files, naming them accordingly. Then I import the low poly one into Substance Painter and bake all of the maps. For all of the main assets I used 4k textures.
Texturing in Painter is amazing, I always start making a small breakdown of the base materials of the asset, then I think about the rest of the layers. For example, for the bodybag I knew I would have a lot of plastic, metal and rubber. Once I create the base for those materials, I start layering the rest of the details.
This concept had a lot of chaos all around so I knew that blood and dirt will have to be all around the scene. Also, smart masks are amazing when texturing in Painter, they give you a great starting point, after that having a nice set of stencils and alphas will be really helpful to get all the details needed in the assets.
When texturing the bigger assets like the floor or the ceiling I first thought about creating modular pieces, so basically, I would have to texture one of the tiles and then duplicate it all over, however this gave me a really uniform and fake result. Finally, I decided to import the whole asset and give every tile their own space in the UDIMS, making this made sure that I could give every detail I wanted without having repeating patterns all over.
Having color breakup in the textures was a key step in the texturing process for the assets, since the scene had a lot of chaos, I knew that the assets couldn’t look new so making sure I had breakups gave a nice touch to everything. Also, having surface imperfections in the roughness channel was essential, I got a pack of tileable surface imperfections online and used them all around the scene, however it’s important to not overuse them.
To save some time on the assets that were far away from the camera I used basic V-Ray shaders since the details were not going to be seen from the render camera and also, I wasn’t planning to create a turntable for them.
I created the decals and alphas in Photoshop, once again is really important to have all of your files organized into their own folders. Most of my textures were downloaded from Textures.com and Quixel Megascans.
This is where using references becomes a really useful way of managing this kind of environment. Once I finished texturing the assets in Painter, I exported them into their own folder and went back to Maya.
I knew that in the final scene everything would have a blue tint, however, the assets need to look good in neutral lighting without color grading. In each of the reference scenes, I created a V-Ray Dome Light and used a neutral HDRI to have a basic view of the textures, then I created a couple of V-Ray Rect Lights to enhance the lighting and make sure that the asset will be nicely exposed.
Once I have the lighting setup ready, I started importing the textures, I always make this while having Painter open in another window so I can make changes right away.
Time to start plugging every texture into the shader.
Now it’s a matter of taking a close look into the asset and start analyzing what is working and what isn’t, when you identify an issue you go back to Painter, fix it, export the textures into the same folder to overwrite them and render again, the asset will update automatically with the new textures.
My advice here is to take your time with the hero props or main assets in the scene, making sure that the textures are looking the way you want is what’s going to take the environment to the next level.
Lighting was one of the most important aspects of this project. From the moment I saw the concept I knew that the lighting had to be top-notch. Lighting is what gives the mood of the scene and in this case, it’s what drives you through some of the key elements of the composition.
The first thing I did was a lighting breakdown in Photoshop, just to draw over the concept and identify the main light sources to have a clear idea of where to start. The main and most obvious lights are the ceiling ones and from the modelling stage, I knew where they were since they are different panels from the ceiling tiles so getting the first lights in place was not a problem.
However, the light was too plain and boring, also it didn’t help showcase the texturing of the assets. This is where I started thinking more in detail about the smaller light sources.
One of the first things I did to enhance the mood of the environment was to use the V-Ray Environment Fog. Right away it gave a completely different result from the first test. I would advise to read the Chaos Group article about this atmospheric effect:
I started playing with the settings until I got to a point where I was happy.
After I finished placing the main lights I went to the smaller ones, this is the ones that help you highlight specific parts of the scene. Also, a smaller breakdown of these lights was helpful to start placing them.
When it comes to rendering there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One of the most important things is to set up the AOVs or render elements to work on your compositing.
The scene was rendered at 4K resolution with V-Ray.
One of my favorite render elements from V-Ray is the Light Mix. This is what helped me get to the final result. Basically, what this allows you is to have complete control of the light intensity, color and more from inside the V-Ray Frame Buffer. However, where I mostly used it was in comp.
When the render is finished you can save all of your render elements in different files, so for every one of the lights, I had a separate file which I used later.
At this point, I was almost finished with the project but in compositing is where you take it to the next level. All of my compositings were made in Photoshop, the first thing I did was to import the final render, without any post-processing into the canvas.
It’s really important to think about where you’re going with the compositing, keep the concept or references on the side and start breaking them down. I usually start with the main AOVs, specular, self-Illumination and reflect. I placed them on top of the render and applied a Screen blending mode, then I control the intensity of each layer with the opacity value and masked parts where I don’t want them to affect.
Then I moved on to the Light Mix Pass. I imported the lights that I wanted to give more intensity and again, used a Screen blending mode to stack them on top of the render. This was really helpful to give more focus to certain parts of the composition, to be honest, this is a matter of testing what works and what doesn’t until you feel confident with the lighting pass.
Once I was happy with the lighting, I started color correcting the scene, using Adjustment Layers in Photoshop and placing them on top of the lighting.
Then I started getting the smaller details in, like the Godrays from the lights in the ceiling, this was made with an IES Brush in Photoshop.
One of the last steps was to color grade the scene, looking at the original concept it had a blue tint all over so that’s the direction I wanted to take. I used the Camera Raw Filter to color grade everything, having a clear understanding of the concept helped me to identify the colors of the highlights and shadows so the Split Toning section is where most of the work was made, however, in this stage you can also tweak the saturation, luminance and hue of specific colors in the scene.
Also, to have a cinematic look I used a little bit of grain and some dust overlays, these are small details but they give you that extra detail.
One final step I decided to make is to create cinematic shots with depth of field, for this I used the Z-Depth render element from V-Ray and used a Lens Blur filter in Photoshop, this allowed me to create the blurry effect you get when using some lenses in real life.
Time management was incredibly important to finish this project, having a schedule to follow helped me a lot to get things moving, even though there were some days where I felt I had no motivation I pushed myself and I’m happy with the result.
This project allowed me to improve my workflow, modelling techniques, texturing, sculpting, lighting and compositing in an incredible way.
Creating this project was something I felt I had to do, it was an incredible challenge to achieve and I couldn’t be happier with the result. As a student I know I have a lot of things to learn but it’s great to have such a supportive community of artists that help each other to get better.
Finally, I’d like to thank my supervisor, colleagues and classmates that helped me through the process.