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Making Of 'The Prison Yard'

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Date Added: 24th July 2009
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This scene was developed to promote the Skies collection in the Total Textures range, and as such needed to have a fair proportion of the final render dedicated to this aspect. As has been usual with these projects in the past, it has proven necessary to limit the amount of detail evident in the actual geometry in order to focus more attention on the textures.

With most 3D scenes, skies form only the backdrop in nearly all cases, and so this posed a particular problem in how to use a sky texture as a prominent part of the render, and at the same time make the scene interesting without detracting from this idea. I knew the scene needed to be simple, but it was not going to be possible to make the sky a focal point in the composition as this would occupy much of the frame and span the whole width of the render.

I needed something that would draw the eye to a particular area, but also ensure the sky remained dominant. The scene needed to be set outside, for obvious reasons, and I tried to think of somewhere I had been where the sky formed a prominent part of the view, and it was then that I remembered my time  at Alcatraz (not as an inmate though, you understand!). Whilst standing in the prison yard, one's view is restricted by the surrounding wall, and so the sky becomes consequently more noticeable. It was this memory that provided my topic.

I searched through some images on the internet and noticed a water tower which conveyed a strong sculptural form, and so chose this to be the focal point. The notion of an austere and empty concrete space with a single tower reaching towards the sky seemed wholly appropriate.

The first step was to build the scene and decide on a camera position. I opted for a low angle, simply to incorporate more of the sky, and positioned it so that the tower created a suitable focal point (Fig.01).

Fig. 01

As this render would be showcasing the Skies collection, I needed to build a dome to surround the yard on which to map the texture. I created a large sphere over the scene and made sure to reduce the Hemisphere value to 0.5, as we only required one half (Fig.02). Another important issue here was to ensure that the Generate Mapping Coords box was ticked.

Fig. 02

I then deleted the bottom faces, and once done selected all the remaining polygons and flipped them in order that the normals face inwards (Fig.03).

Fig. 03

After assigning a material, the next step was to apply an Unwrap UVW modifier and modify the UVs in the Edit window to incorporate the area of sky necessary (Fig.04).

Fig. 04

To display a certain part of the sky it is easiest to rotate the sphere in the actual scene once it is mapped. Using a dome like this is a common method of applying a sky texture to a scene, and once it is in place we can use the information in the photo to determine the light source. In this case it was coming from the left direction and so I placed a Target Direct light in this area. I set it to cast Ray Traced Shadows using the settings shown in Fig.05.

Fig. 05

Although the tower was only a small component in the scene, it was a focal point and so demanded some careful texturing. The yard itself occupies a large section but because it is made up of simple planes it can be detailed using a Composite material in Max. This allows a texture to be tiled across a large surface, and in order to alleviate the problems of repeatable patterns we can overlay various other textures using blending modes that help disguise any obvious symmetry.

The wall and floor both used this type of material, and in Fig.06 you can see the structure of the Composite map used on the wall. The base texture (Stone18 - Total Textures: Volume 2: R2 - Aged and Stressed) that makes up Layer 1 was set to Normal mode and was what constituted the bulk of what you see. You will notice the subsequent layers have different blending modes and opacity values, each of which can have their tiling and UV coordinates, altered to position them appropriately.

Fig. 06

continued on next page >

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