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.
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.
Step 4: Spline Modeling
One of my favorite things about 3ds Max, and why it has always been my modeling package of choice, is spline modeling. Making custom wires and pipes, and just overall complicated shapes, is done in a matter of minutes. However, while I was setting up the pipes, I noticed that the front of my turbine was too hard to read. It was just a jumble of pipes and wires that looked a mess, and while it was one-to-one with the reference, I chose to use artistic liberty and rebuild the wires so that they were bunched and tucked away behind another area of the turbine.
While it may not be correct, it still looks functional, and that's what you need to convey the most for a subject like this: it needs to appear functional, even though it isn't. If your viewer can't interpret the design of your object, you have failed as an artist.
Step 5: Spline Modeling and using TurboSmooth
There are many spline modeling techniques I could use, but for this project, I mostly utilized one. You can immediately see this technique in the bundles of wires.
For this, I went into an orthographic view and roughly drew out the splines. Then, I used the fillet tool to get nice curves that would otherwise take some time to accomplish if I were to use the Bézier curve and refine tools. Then, going into perspective mode, I grabbed the spline verts and just moved them into position. This same technique was also used for the wires going around the circular areas.
Another technique is the use of TurboSmooth. This is where all the clean modeling pays off. Here you can focus on your topology, edge weights, add a TurboSmooth and watch the details come in. This is a great method to get high poly detail without killing yourself over modeling every poly.
Step 6: Reusing pieces
If you notice, a lot of pieces in my model share the same details. The best and smartest thing you can do is to make a few, unique modular shapes and just reuse them as much as you can. You can save a lot of time and effort having seven or eight really clean, detailed pieces, and using them over and over, rather than making a bunch of slightly less detailed objects that are going to get lost in the mesh anyway.
Step 7: HDRI Set Ups
Once the modeling was done, I went back into my HDRI image and adjusted the colors, so that it was brighter overall to bring out a few more details in my mesh.
Also, a key thing with HDRI images in 3DS Max is to make sure that your material is set up to spherical environment, or it will look like you just slapped some nature picture on it.
Then, for my material, I went into 3ds Max's Arch & Design materials and selected the default chrome. I added a default 3ds Max noise and made it extremely subtle. Next, within the mental ray render settings, I added a diffuse bounce of 2 and enabled final gather and global illumination. Then, I made the render huge at 3000x1920, so that nothing got jumbled together. One last thing I did was to open the render window and adjust my last values to high for some subtle render improvements.
Step 8: Photoshop Compositing
The last part of every project I do is Photoshop compositing. For the most part, I render out a full render in 3ds Max, then do a separate AO pass after.
In Photoshop, I took the AO and set the layer blend mode to either Multiply or Overlay and adjusted the opacity as needed. I duplicated both layers and then merged them together. After that, I went into the filters and add an Unsharpen filter. I kept the settings at default, except the first one where I changed the detail amount to 500. This returns any lost detail. Then, I took the unsharpened image and added a darken blend mode and brought it down to 20-40 percent. I then continued on and did some slight color corrections to different layers.
Next are a couple of tricks just to add a little pop to the image. I made a fake spec bloom pass, which you can do by using the color range tool and selecting the lightest part of the image, adjust the fuzziness to whatever can capture enough of the highest value parts, and click OK. Once I got the selection, I went to Modify and expanded it by 5, and then feather it by 5, in that order. Then, I created a new layer and did a fill of white, and brought the opacity down by about 20-30 percent. Afterwards, I did a lens correction to add a little chromatic aberration to make the picture a little off.
A perfect render is a problem because it's perfect. Imperfections can really sell an image, so the little off red or green, which we fight so hard against in normal photos, are welcome to 3D renders. And there we have it!