Behind the scenes of 'Autumn'
This article aims to answer some of the specific questions I have been getting in regards to environment Autumn.
1 - Every texture or matte is custom painted or designed in Illustrator / Photoshop. Cardinal rule #1: don't use unmodified clipart textures. Not only will you avoid embarrassment when seasoned professionals undoubtedly recognize them, your images will look more original and alive if customized.
Try to alter them to some extent so they fit into the environment better by either adding some dirt layers, or customizing cracks and natural defects with Photoshop clone tool, or just outright paint them to fit your geometry. Using real photo references for every texture or matte you paint is recommended, if you want to achieve realism.
If you are uncertain what you could do with your textures, I strongly suggest looking around at the real world. Look for similar buildings or structures in your area. You might notice beautiful details you hadn't paid attention to before, such as water marks, cracks, dirt, weed and various foliage. No surface is perfect, especially the one that has been exposed to the outside elements for a long time.
2 - Water is made out of combination of animated procedural bump map and animated geometry displacement.
3 - Much of the detail on the bridge is modeled, instead of relying on bump or
displacement. Main reason for this is because this is a focal point, and the
most prominent object in the foreground. This is a personal preference, since in
my experience rendering at high resolutions, bump map just wouldn't give the
same level of detail.
4 - Background consists of several layers of hand painted mattes with alpha channels. You will want to make the mattes bigger than the screen size if the camera will be moving, so you have enough room to match the camera movement. Size depends on how much the camera view changes, so for a wide pan your matte might be up to 4-5 times the final output resolution. Obviously, for still images, this part doesn't matter.
There are many ways to go about painting and compositing background layers. By leaving the lower level layers visible when exporting, you can reduce the chance of any anti-aliasing issues cropping up, since the layers are pre-multiplied with correct colors.
5 - In some cases it helps to use 'matte choker' filters in compositing software, to get rid of the bad blending issues. This can speed up the process at the cost of some edge quality.
6 - If using After Effects, my preferred choice is to import the layers as Photosphop file Composition, in which case you will get perfect blending, and will bypass the need to pre-multiply colors.
7 - Sky consists of 5 different layers with alpha channels, which allows for movement at different speeds to give the background depth, and simulate 3d space. I'm showing only 2 layers here, since they all pretty much look more or less the same (different shaped clouds on blue background).
8 - Lens flare pass is there to add softness to overall light which is coming from the upper left corner. Even though you can see the lens flare rings in the pass image, I purposely avoided having them show up strong in the final composite. When it comes to CG, there are few things as cheesy as a big red lens flare flying across the screen for no apparent reason, in what is obviously computer generated image. No, having one doesn't make the image more "professional". :) Of course, there are exceptions, such as cityscape scene in Blade Runner and landscape pans in Lord of the Rings, but they are tasteful and fit in.
Below you can see additional passes used in the final composite.
You can see the scene in motion in my demo reel, which can be accessed from the Gallery section.