Making Of 'Acres'
Hello everyone! I am Sebastien Czaja, and for the last five years, I have been working as an illustrator in architecture in France.
Briefly, this image was created for my personal amusement, for an interview. It was such a real pleasure for me to create it that I wanted to go as far as possible with the finish. You are going to see in this Making Of article that I used simple and classical methods in order to reach my aim. Actually, I prefer using 3D software like 3ds Max and painting software Photoshop as strong tools, rather than a direct route to a final piece.
First I have to honour the amazing artist that is Nicolas Bouvier, aka Sparth, because without his artistic concepts I would have never been able to create this image. His work is a continuous inspiration for me due to the variety of the themes, style and composition etc. Take a look at his site if you don't know him already: www.sparth.com.
I was inspired by one of Sparth's concepts, Acres (Fig.01 - This image is the property of Ubisoft) and decided to try and make an architectural project with dirty and old walls - the opposite of classical architecture.
I started by searching the internet (Fig.02) for realistic references of the town of Acres to help me with the modeling because, as you can see, the concept presented lots of abstract areas for me to interpret. I think having good references allows you to have a good base for any kind of work.
I used 3ds Max for modeling (Fig.03). I used poly editing tools such as Extrude, Bevel and Cut, and started with very simple shapes, using boxes for houses and splines for the rounder shapes.
I did not use a UVW developer (no unwrapping) for this image (Fig.04). I only used UVWs in box, plan.
I used V-Ray for the render. For materials (Fig.05 - 06), I like to use color correction to make the saturation vary and to obtain the light independently. Often, I use the reflection in all my materials, because that offers a more homogenous making. For the ground, I used 2D displacement to give more volume to the rock.
I duplicated the different houses (Fig.07) to offer the maximum depth to the image. Then, I added all the small details, such as the stairs.
Point of View
I wanted my point of view to match Sparth's concept, but not entirely because I prefer to use 3D to have a more elusive line (with the focal lens of the camera) to bring a personal touch (Fig.08).
I used a V-Ray camera with a little vignette effect to blacken the borders and focus the point of view. I put the shutter speed and ISO with these values to have a somber enough result and some contrast, but not too much (Fig.09).
In my scene, I applied a direct light with V-Ray shadows in certain areas to have some fuzziness in the shadows. I also colored the light and the shadows to have a pictorial result, not a photorealistic one (Fig.10).
I took the antialiasing "in catmul" and used the "linear workflow" of V-Ray, which allows you to have a more homogenous result. Then, I used the V-Ray pass rendering, which is indispensable for post-production. For the moment the 3D render was cold and impersonal, but allowed me to have a good perspective, volume, scale and direction of light (Fig.11).
Before I talk about going to Photoshop, let's look at the pass rendering (Fig.12):
1. Wire color: selection of each element to retouch the materials or the lighting independently
2. Raw shadow: work on the shadows separately
3. Depth: to obtain depth of the field or not
4. Reflection: working on the reflection of each element
The post-production stage was the part of this project I liked the most because it allowed me to really personalize the image. As I mentioned earlier, before the 3D rendering the image was too cold and impersonal (Fig.13). So I decided to destroy the too perfect part of the 3D with 2D work in Photoshop.
First I placed a sky in the background, in agreement with the concept art (Fig.14). Then I added some new elements to the image to break up the too perfect 3D rendering (Fig.15). I painted over the 3D to add a bit of dirt with the help of textures and brushes. A very practical tool to break up lines that are too straight is the Eraser.
Another important aspect is represented by the highlights (Fig.16), which allow you to give more volume even in areas with shadows (it is a paint-over with a white brush and a little opacity). After this I painted in lots of little details.
And to end, I added a bit of mist with a brush with a little opacity. I repeated this a few times on each element (with a wire color pass) and then on the entire image. I desaturated the entire image and lightly added a balance of colors in the blue-greens in order to get closer to the Sparth image and to bring in my own touch (Fig.17).