Making Of 'Back In 1991'

Introduction

I've always wanted to do a computer retro rendering that reminds the viewer of the good old days of (adventure) computer gaming. However there are a lot of Amiga and Commodore renderings on the web and so I decided to create a computer scene with an old IBM-AT. A lot of people actually never had an Amiga or a Commodore home computer, but rather they had a PC with an EGA/VGA graphics card and an Adlib/Soundblastercard or expensive Roland MT-32 Midi sound module.

I decided to set the scene in the early 90s with lots of old retro stuff. So the first step was to search the web for 80s/90s stuff, focusing on computers, games, posters (Fig.01).

Fig. 01

Fig. 01

Modeling and Layout

All modeling was done in 3ds Max without using subdivision surfaces. I modeled all objects in high poly so I had control over the polygon count and the chamfer edges of the objects. Correct chamfer edges were essential to achieve the correct highlights and make the rendering believable. I also used some objects from previous projects and placed them off camera. I used these objects to fill the room behind the camera because I didn't want to use a HDRI for reflections. So everything you see reflecting in the objects on the desk is really there. Also the Global Illumination calculation got something to "bounce" on.

The layout of the scene and camera didn't take much time because I wanted to get the feeling of an amateur photo and I didn't care too much about cutting off objects and the rule of thirds. I ended up with a V-Ray Physical camera and a focal length of 75mm (Fig.02).

Here you can see the final room from a side view (Fig.03).

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

Lighting

The main idea was to achieve a warm mood in the picture, so I thought of sunlight falling through the window onto the desk. I created this with a V-Ray sun which was placed a bit outside of the scene in order to get the sunlight falling through the window. The sun should be the only light to illuminate the scene, but it's nearly impossible to get good lighting with just one light source even if there's Global Illumination in use, so I used a Point light with a slightly blue saturation to brighten up the scene and two Spotlights to illuminate the other side of the room. This was very important as it meant the Global Illumination got more light to work with to prevent dark spots and splotches. I used a linear workflow with Gamma 2.2 and a camera setup with F-Stop 4.0 and a Shutter Speed of 1/200 sec.

Here's the final lighting without textures (Fig.04 - 05).

Fig. 04

Fig. 04

Fig. 05

Fig. 05

Shading

A lot of people asked me how to achieve a realistic look so I want to take a minute to explain my workflow. First of all I created the material with the diffuse color/texture and I guessed the amount of reflection and glossiness. Then I did a quick region render at the shaded object to check the material. Most artists tend to oversaturate their colors /textures/highlights and this makes the material look artificial. So I adjusted the color and saturation and did a quick render again. I repeated the same workflow with the material's reflection/glossiness until the material had the right look. Over time I've developed a sure feeling for the color and reflectivity of materials. Of course it was very important to study the individual materials in real life or on photographs.

I also used some hand painted dirt maps on some materials to get a "used" look. I did these black and white textures in Photoshop and multiplied them with an amount of about 10-20% over the specific texture.
At last I did the shading of the LEDs. All LEDs are single box objects with an Area light behind them. The material is refractive, light absorbing and scatters the light within (Subsurface Scattering). So I got a realistic look of the light emitting diodes, which added a lot of realism to the scene.

I created more than half of the textures from scratch due to the fact that I couldn't find any suitable textures for some objects like the midi module or the cassette. All textures had a minimum resolution of 512x512 and some textures' resolutions were up to 4K to preserve as much detail as possible.

Last, but not least, I had to create a believable displacement texture for the wallpaper. I ended up mixing a texture with a procedural map to avoid texture tiling. Getting the right look for the displacement map was almost the hardest part in creating the image because the chips/flakes had to have certain proportions between them so it didn't look fake (Fig.06).

Fig. 06

Fig. 06

Rendering

First I calculated the Global Illumination/Irradiance map as displacement was turned off to speed up the process and save memory.  I activated displacement and used the stored Irradiance map for the final rendering. The image was rendered in one pass with a resolution of 2400x1020. The final rendering process took about 45 minutes on a quad-core machine with 2,4 GHz. Calculating the GI solution took about 2 hours. I also rendered some RGB masks for compositing. Ambient Occlusion wasn't used.

Compositing

I did some small Gamma corrections and added a little glow in Photoshop to achieve an atmosphere illuminated by the sunbeams. The next step was to insert additional dirt into the image, which I painted directly with the Pen tablet onto a new Photoshop layer. With the RGB masks I separated some elements and made some small hue corrections. Then I painted seams on the wallpaper and added a little grain to the image.

And finally I decreased the image's contrast a little bit to get the look of a slightly aged and faded image. After all, the image is nearly twenty years old... (Fig.07).

Fig. 07

If you have specific questions about the image then feel free to contact me.

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