Create appealing 3D illustrations

4² Rooms is a brilliant series of illustrations in an isometric style. Creative duo The Stompin' Ground shares the process behind the project, from a 2D concept to a final image

Concept and Sketches

When starting the 4² Rooms project, we knew we wanted to create something isometric and colorful that played with the idea of multiple dimensions in an infinite universe. We decided on creating a series of rooms that explored the bizarre to the mundane across one moment in time. Taking that idea forward, we started to sketch out lots of different rooms; sketching is the best way for us to go in terms of initial idea generation, forming ideas from the marks on the paper.

Once we had a good 2D base we quickly moved into 3ds Max and Photoshop, continuing to use these tools to further develop our concept. Each room in the series has its own specific inspirations, but in the case of The Construction Room, they were the boiler room from Spirited Away (the drawers on the walls) and the Nintendo game Pikmin, where the characters are collecting parts of the spaceship so they can go home.

Initial sketch of the room and the grid pattern

Initial sketch of the room and the grid pattern

Modeling

Everything in the scene was made with really simple polygon modeling techniques, using TurboSmooth and Quad Chamfer to soften any hard edges, which helps to catch the light. The only rule we stuck to was that we would work close to a real-world scale to make it easier when it came to lighting the image.

The basic scene model

The basic scene model

Furniture details

Furniture details

Revisions

Throughout the beginning stages of a project we find it really beneficial to render low quality drafts and draw over them in Photoshop as this can really help to evolve an idea, and give you a concise direction as you move from concept to completion. Once we were happy with our final design we went back into 3ds Max and amended the model. You can see from the images how our design for the room changed during the revisions process.

Drawing over draft renders

Drawing over draft renders

Setting up the camera

When it came to setting up the camera for the scene, we used a standard 3ds Max camera with VRayExposureControl for getting an orthographic render. In the latest version of V-Ray you are able to render from an orthographic camera but we found the following method quicker and easier. First, we created a 3ds Max standard camera, ticked the Orthographic Projection checkbox and moved it into position. Then we added a VRayPhysicalCamera in the same position and refined the exposure settings; this camera was added as a node to the V-Ray exposure settings by opening Environment and Effects (hotkey 8), selecting VRayExposureControl from the drop-down menu and finally clicking on the "Camera node" box and selecting the V-Ray camera.

Orthographic camera with V-Ray

Orthographic camera with V-Ray

Lighting

Although the lighting of the room was one of the most important aspects in creating the mood and style of the image, we kept a very simple setup. We used a V-Ray dome light with a sky blue color to fill the room with natural ambient light, and a V-Ray sun with lowered intensity for the direct light in the centre of the room. For the light bulbs, we made a filament from a renderable spline and added this to a V-Ray mesh light.

Basic lighting parameters

Basic lighting parameters

Textures

Once again, we tried to keep the texturing process relatively simple. We wanted the materials in the scene to look realistic but with a naive and exaggerated style. The most complicated material in the scene was the metal that was used on the rocket; we used a VRayBlendMtl and added a basic satin metal with a reflective glossiness of 0.8 in the "Base material" slot, we duplicated the same metal to "Coat 1" but changed the reflective glossiness to 0.99. This was then blended together using a custom falloff curve to give a mirror finish at an acute viewing angle.

The metal material used on the rocket

The metal material used on the rocket

V-Ray Environment Fog

To get the subtle volumetric light effect we used VRayEnvironmentFog. There aren't any universal settings that will work for every scene; it was just a matter of experimenting with the parameters until we had a result we were happy with. Because we only wanted the fog to appear in front of the window, we made a basic wedge shape which was made unrenderable and added it as a gizmo to the VRayEnvironmentFog nodes rollout. We rendered the fog out as a separate pass so that we had more control over the final image. This was done by adding a black material to everything in the scene except the window glass and saving out the VRayAtmosphere render element.

Environmental Fog gizmo and settings

Environmental Fog gizmo and settings

Rendering out

We used relatively standard render settings, opting for irradiance map and light cache for the quicker render time. We made sure we had lots of channels and render elements to give us that extra control when taking the image into post-production.

V-Ray render settings

V-Ray render settings

Post-production

Taking our base render into Photoshop, we stacked some of the render elements using blending modes such as Multiply, Soft Light, Overlay and Screen. We also applied some Curves and basic color correction until we had an image that we were happy with. Final details such as enhancing the light bulbs, and the welding sparks were then added, which really started to bring the image together. Finally, we painted in some highlights and glows, screened over the atmosphere pass and added some shading to the cross-section of the walls and floor.

Raw render (left) compared with final image (right)

Raw render (left) compared with final image (right)

Please check out www.thestompinground.co.uk to see the rest of the images in this series!

  Another image from the series

Another image from the series

Related links

Check out the 3dcreative issue Dan and Ilana originally featured in
Visit The Stompin' Ground's official website
Pick up 3ds Max Projects for more 3ds Max tutorials and advice