Making of Fungi Forest
Emilie Stabell shares how she make the quirky Fungi Forest in Maya...
Before starting this project, the first thing I did was lots of research. I found tons of reference relevant for what I wanted to make. For this project, I was inspired by the art of CreatureBox, The Croods and Bastion, among others. I also gathered quite a bit of real-life reference, which is something I want to stress the importance of. If you always look at images of what other artists have created, how are you expected to make something fresh and original? And as you might discover, real life is often much more crazy and interesting than you could imagine.
Step 1: Concept & Sketches
When I feel like I'm done researching, it's time to start sketching. In my case, I knew I wanted to make an environment and I knew I wanted it to be cartoony and involve lots of mushrooms. At this stage, you shouldn't be afraid of experimenting and making something ugly. If everything has to look pretty, there is a chance that you won't explore enough and get too attached to your first idea. When making an environment, I try to treat it as if it were a character: what did it look like 100 years ago? How would it feel to stand in the middle of it? What is the weather like and what lives here? All of this will influence your designs.
Step 2: Modeling
The modeling for this project was fairly easy and went quite smoothly. As you can see, I kept my concept close in Maya to make it easy to refer back to the silhouette. I knew I wanted there to be a lot of different mushrooms, so eventually I ended up making a small library of different elements, already UVed, that I could duplicate and place on the rock as needed. This made it fun and flexible to work with, and since a lot of the shapes were similar it made sense to UV them beforehand.
Step 3: UVs
When it comes to UVs, I always try to imagine where the seams would be if my model were made out of fabric. I usually do my unfolding in ZBrush, but since this model was so simple it was easier to do the whole thing in Maya. Since I had already UVed most of the mushrooms, it was just a matter of making a layout that would allow me to give the same type of fungi slightly different color variations. I collected all the big elements such as the base and rocks on one tile, all the stems on another, and all the caps on a third.
Step 4: Texturing
Before I start texturing, I go back to my references and find the best ones to help me along with the task. Usually, I'll pick some both from real life and some in the style of texturing I would like to end up with. In this case, I was inspired by the Summoner's Rift map from League of Legends. I stuck to a simple color palette and focused on getting my textures to look simple and hand-painted.
Step 5: Shading
I went for a cartoony shading style, using 'threeToneBrightnessShader' from Maya's Toon menu. This is a very simple shader that is easy to set up and gives a cool cel-shaded look. After assigning the shader to your model, you simply have to plug your texture into both the dark, mid and bright color. Once this is done, you can go into the color balance of your texture and adjust the gain to control the shader's light and shadow colors. I would suggest keeping the mid tone the original color of your texture map.
Step 6: Rendering
For rendering, I like to experiment with lots of different passes, giving myself the freedom to try out many different styles in comp. Along the way, I often drag my renders into Photoshop to see if my desired look is achievable with what I've already got. In some cases this will save you a lot of time, since it'll give you a quick overview of what is possible with what you have.
Step 7: Compositing
Never underestimate what good compositing will do for your image. Not only can it save you a lot of time fiddling to get the right colors directly from your render, but it can really take your work to the next level if done right. Try to avoid too many crunched blacks and whites, and instead stay more with the mid tones. I personally find that it makes your image look less "3D" and is more pleasant to the eye. Compositing is also the stage where I really start to focus on color harmonies and ultimately bringing all the bits and pieces together.