Making Of 'Cheese Platter'

This piece is actually based on a photographic concept, which was partially derived from Fig02.Originally, I was asked to create this piece based on the original photographic reference image, but I feel that the point of shading and lighting is to show off your texturing skills and give it better lighting, if possible. As you can see, the lighting is too strong in the original image, so I added more information to my own scene, like the blue cheese, cubes of cheese, Brie, almonds and crackers, just to make it busier. I also wanted to make it more painterly and with a better composition.

References

It is always good to have more than one reference to look at when modelling and texturing. Try to find ones that you can purchase and have in front of you when modelling and texturing. This is because the pictures you grab online can have bad lighting, be pixilated, or may not contain enough detail. Here are some of the references I used (Fig03).

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

Modelling

For the strawberries, I modelled one in NURBS and converted it to Polygons. I checked the normals and then reversed the normals (this is very important, but I will explain why later on). I then UV-mapped it (Fig04). For the strawberry leaves, I used Polygon planes and the Append tool. I shaped it with a Lattice, and then UV-mapped it (Fig05). For the bowl, I used a NURBS CV curve, revolved it, and then used the Rebuild command on the surface (Fig06).

Fig. 04

Fig. 04

For the crackers, I modelled one in Polygon and extruded it. I modelled only one side, not two, because no-one will see the back of it (Fig07). For the cheese cubes, I basically modelled one good one in Polygon with rounded edges, and UV-mapped it. I then duplicated it and shaped them all individually with a Lattice, to make them look less uniform and less perfect. Then, when I placed them, I rotated each cube so that the camera could only see just one side of the textures. This saved a lot of time (Fig08).

Fig. 07

Fig. 07

Fig. 08

Fig. 08

For the blue cheese, I used a Polygon cube, shaped it, and then extracted the Polygons to separate the skin and the cheese. I duplicated the skin to make the wrapper. I deleted the polygons at the back of the cheese skin, because no-one will see it. I used a Lattice to bend and shape the wrapper (Fig09). For the almonds, I used a NURBS sphere, converted it to polygons, reversed normals, and UV-mapped it (Fig10). For the Brie, I used NURBS CV curves, which I lofted, and then shaped them by pulling the vertices. I converted the surfaces to polygons and UV-mapped them (Fig11).

Fig. 09

Fig. 09

Fig. 10

Fig. 10

Fig. 11

Fig. 11

Subsurface Scattering

For an organic character, the conversion scale will generally remain small. However, the fruits and cheese have translucencies which are a lot higher. Therefore, there will be more noise to balance out, which means higher values for the scale conversion. However, there is more than one way to balance the noise without having such insane numbers for the scale conversion. You can play with the numbers of the samples of the light map, in addition to the minimal numbers of the scale conversion (Fig12).

Fig. 12

Fig. 12

The reason why I said it is important to check your normals earlier, was because NURBS have a tendency to have normals facing inwards. If the normals are facing inwards, light cannot scatter throughout the object and you would therefore not be able to see the real details of the texture maps. In Fig13, the cheese cube on the left looks dry, and you can barely see the textures even with a Specular map. The picture on the right however, the cheese cube looks much more detailed, wet and translucent (Fig13). For all of the cheeses and strawberries, I used Maya's Skin Shader instead of the simple fast shader, because of the control for the specularity and reflectivity attributes.  Overall is a tint. Diffuse and Epidermal attributes multiply each other. Subdermal and Back Scatter attributes are where you control how translucent you want your object to be. I found it is mostly the Subdermal weight that you have to play with to get an object more translucent. Primary specularity is where I put the Specular map I created using different sized brushes, and then tinted it very light blue in the colour gain of the strawberry primary specularity. Secondary specularity is where I put a black and white noise map to break the highlight of the strawberries.

Fig. 13

Fig. 13

The Strawberries

Since people keep asking me about the strawberries, I'll tell you how I created them in Photoshop. For the Color Map of the strawberries, I cropped a good looking seed, individually placed them on the UV layout for the imperfections, then duplicated the jpeg seeds several times and merged visible. I did this so that the seeds didn't have that pixilated look from the jpegs that I found on the Internet. Next, I used the Brightness and Contrast tool in Photoshop, and bevelled them so that the seeds had that curvy, "popped out" look without using geometries. For the base colour, I sampled the redness of one of my photographs, then added Noise and Gaussian Blur. Next, I painted the rawness of the strawberry's white and green colour, then blurred and blended in Photoshop. For the Bump map, I duplicated the seed layer, inverted it to achieve the bumped look, duplicated it again, turned it into black, Gaussian Blurred it, then put that layer under the white, bumped layer. This gave the look of the dented strawberry with the seeds popping out.  For the Primary Specular map, I used different sized brushes and randomly painted onto the UV layout.   As for the Secondary Specular map, I used a Noise filter, played around with the Levels and the Brightness and Contrast settings, duplicated the layers several times, then merged the layers. This was very important, because Maya didn't seem to be able to show the white specs of the noise in the attribute editor when I plugged it into the Secondary Specular Color.  So what I did was to bring more of the whiteness out in the noise map, so I could see it in the attribute editor. The following images show the maps of the strawberries and the Skin Shader attributes (Fig14 - 15). For the strawberry leaves, I used an Anisotropic Material and manipulated the sliders for the translucency attributes (Fig16).

Fig. 14

Fig. 14

Fig. 15

Fig. 15

Fig. 16

Fig. 16

Crackers & Almonds

For the crackers and almonds, I used a Phong (Fig17 - 18).

Fig. 17

Fig. 17

Fig. 18

Fig. 18

The Cheese

For all the cheeses, I used a skin shader. For the blue cheese skin, I used a Lambert and played around with the translucent values.  The same was done for the Brie. For the wrapper, I used a two-sided shader and plugged it in the front and back colour map. For the tray, I used a metal texture and plugged it into the diffuse and reflectivity attribute of the MIA material (Fig19 - 23).

Fig. 19

Fig. 19

Fig. 20

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

Fig. 21

Fig. 22

Fig. 22

Fig. 23

Fig. 23

Lighting

I used HDRI and one Area light to emit photons with a yellow and orange colour. If you want to show more emotion and make your work seem more appetising, don't use white light! Render with Global Illumination, Caustics and turn Raytracing on (Fig24). Note about translucency: The more translucent an object is, the more you will lose the shadows to show depth. But don't let that frustrate you, as this is where post-production work with an Occlusion pass comes in handy!

Fig. 24

Fig. 24

Post-Production

Do not use the default Occlusion presets. The shadows are way too dark with this and it looks horrible. You want to be able to control how dark the shadows are, so use the MIB-Occlusion node in Maya 8.5, change the black colour to a dark grey, and play with the sliders. I used two MIB-Occlusion nodes for the scene. Now render the Color and Occlusion passes separately and take them into Photoshop. Duplicate the Color file and put the Occlusion pass in the centre.  Use Multiply or Overlay for the Occlusion and play around with the opacity.  For the Color pass layer on top, use a little Gaussian Blur and Screen the top Color file. You can see the original render in Fig25. Fig26 shows the render with the MIB-Occlusion. And Voila! One heavenly cheese platter!

A warning about using the skin shader and rendering with Mental Ray: if your scene has 90% skin shaders (like mine), it can be quite expensive, in terms of time, to render - even with a Core 2 Duo Processor!  This present scene took a little over an hour to render a frame.

Fig. 25

Fig. 25

Fig. 26

Fig. 26

Fig. 27 - Final Image

Good luck with your own experiments!
 

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