Making of 'Bottles of Life'

Farid Ghanbari runs through the Maya and Substance Painter workflow for his incredibly detailed still life image "Bottles of Life"...

My name is Farid Ghanbari and I have been working as a CG Generalist for about 10 years. My overall experience includes games, advertising, architectural visualization, motion design, and VFX mostly created in Maya, Realflow, Marvelous Designer, C4D, Substance Painter, Photoshop, and After Effects.

In this tutorial will show you the process of my last artwork "Bottles of Life." The most important fact for me as a CG artist delving deep into all the facets of the software, is to hold on to the creativity and artistic look of the final result. In this particular project I intended to achieve something eye-catching with perfect lighting and detailed textures!

Fire up the project (references)

I always spend some time to study art fundamentals like lighting principals, color scripts, photography rules, and then finally fire up the project by the first step which is always gathering references to me! Just look at these references. They are awesome, aren't they?!

References

References


But, as I mentioned I don't like to just create something crazy realistic! I need it to be artistic and magical! In fact, in this part I usually add some spice. For example, how about adding some extra lights which we don't have in the real world! How about some levitated grapes in those bottles which have not been affected by gravity! To be honest some of these spices will be added during the process. So don't push your whole energy to finalize your concept at this level! (e.g. the last thing I added to "Bottles of Life" was the rat tail.)

Quick Modeling and setting up the camera

Gathering references and creating your own first concept is a lot of fun! I usually use Maya for 80% of the project. I started from scratch by modeling the initial shapes and blocks!


After playing with object positions and different camera angles, I choose the best camera view and best composition for the scene! Of course this may change as the project goes forward. But not too much! Maybe just some adjustments!

You may need to spend hours to find the best angle for your camera! Care about golden points and concentrate on your heroes in the scene!

You may need to spend hours to find the best angle for your camera! Care about golden points and concentrate on your heroes in the scene!


Do not forget to play with all the camera parameters such as angle of view, film gate, camera rolling and focal length, besides tilting, panning and zooming!

Do not forget to play with all the camera parameters such as angle of view, film gate, camera rolling and focal length, besides tilting, panning and zooming!

I chose a 55mm lens for "Bottles of Life"

I chose a 55mm lens for "Bottles of Life"

Love this focal length! The modeling section will be finalized during the process and you may add something new

Love this focal length! The modeling section will be finalized during the process and you may add something new

Lighting

I prefer to have a schematic look of the final result as the project goes forward! So once I have achieved my first setup in modeling with main objects, I add a key light to see if I should continue or pick some other road to drive down! It's enjoyable to tweak the lights and try to set up the balance of dark and light.

To recap on lighting: I used a V-Ray Rec light in directional mode as Key Light. Some V-Ray Sphere lights among the bottles. I also applied a dim Dome light for a blue tint over the dark shadows

To recap on lighting: I used a V-Ray Rec light in directional mode as Key Light. Some V-Ray Sphere lights among the bottles. I also applied a dim Dome light for a blue tint over the dark shadows

Creating realistic textures in Substance Painter

Looking back to my goal for this particular project - perfect lighting and realistic, detailed textures - it's time to meet the Swiss army app of 3D texturing. I mean the great Substance Painter. Without Substance Painter "Bottles of Life" would never have been born! It's easy to use, smart and user friendly! By importing your object with simple UVs and baking the texture in Substance Painter, you will have many abilities such as brushes, alphas, smart material and lots of procedural textures. I usually start by simply filling the layers for the base color, and then proceeding with smart masks.

There are several magical maps that help you within Substance Painter

There are several magical maps that help you within Substance Painter

Curvature and ambient occlusion are the most important maps. You can also benefit from a world space map to define the top parts of your objects to easily apply the dust effect

Curvature and ambient occlusion are the most important maps. You can also benefit from a world space map to define the top parts of your objects to easily apply the dust effect

The important point when creating realistic textures is to not rely on smart or procedural pre-provided nodes. You should care about all man-made imperfections such as footprints, effects on dust, wood scratches, special dirt, or even the effects of some absent objects in your scene which may have been there in the past. (Look at the blue ring on the table which tells you there had been a paint pot here)

The important point when creating realistic textures is to not rely on smart or procedural pre-provided nodes. You should care about all man-made imperfections such as footprints, effects on dust, wood scratches, special dirt, or even the effects of some absent objects in your scene which may have been there in the past. (Look at the blue ring on the table which tells you there had been a paint pot here)


When I get the satisfying result with all the desired detailed textures, I bake them in 4K or even 8K for some larger objects! (e.g. I created 8 UDIM textures for the table in Maya and 8k export from SP).

When I get the satisfying result with all the desired detailed textures, I bake them in 4K or even 8K for some larger objects! (e.g. I created 8 UDIM textures for the table in Maya and 8k export from SP).

Spider webs and age

When you want to show an old forgotten place, spider webs come into play. I used 2 techniques for these: modeling with surface curves, and textures with opacity map! With the SPIDER'S WEB MAKER script, you can easily define your web between objects with your own options. For the opacity spider webs, I just used a simple black-and-white texture which I found from Gleb Alexandrov's website, with a simple V-Ray material.



Adding final details

Well, we are almost done! I'm happy with the final detail on the models, and the lighting and textures are very nice. What more do we need? I just spend some time on the final touches. As I mentioned above, I added the rat tail here. (Believe me or not this idea was created in my mind right after seeing a big rat fooling around in our apartment dumpsters when I stood up for getting fresh air in front of the window!)


Final render setting & render elements

I rendered "Bottles of Life" in 2400 res. As we have many refractions with 4k and 8k textures, this is really important to have an optimized render setting to save time. Don't forget to bake the irradiance and light cache maps! They really save you time!



Final touches in post-production

Now it's time to composite the layers in your composition app which is Photoshop for me. I am not a fan of much post production. I love to achieve the highest percentage of final result in the 3D application. So I just added some fog effects to the left side of the image, and a slight color corrections.


To finish, I just want to recommend that CG artists use their own objects, and their own artistic style! Do not try to fill up your scene with pre-provided objects found on the internet! I hope you like this written breakdown and will benefit from it!

Related links

Check out Farid's website

Grab a copy of 3ds Max Projects