Making Of 'Harbor'
Harbour is my latest personal project, which evolved from an idea to create an old and rusted place surrounded by water, placed sometime in the future.
Traditionally I use a combination of Maya and mental ray for modeling, texturing and rendering. For some additional details like rock surface and pipes I often use ZBrush, and for final compositing and color correction I use Photoshop.
I started this image by making a quick sketch in Photoshop and spent no more than 20 minutes defining the composition and the most important elements in the shot. This sketch served me as a base for everything else (Fig.01).
So I started the modeling by blocking in the scene with very primitive geometry. When I was done with the modeling, I did one rough render and then brought the image into Photoshop to do a quick paintover, make a plan and arrange the elements. This is something I always like to do because although these overpaints are very simple, they help a lot (Fig.02).
I did a few other slight adjustments in Photoshop: I roughly painted some of the other buildings, the water and the sky in and I also did some minor color correction changes. This is the creative part of the creation process, when I can easily experiment and there are no constraints between creation and my imagination. Back then I came to the conclusion that my main focus should be the large building at the front of the image, so I abandoned the idea of the dock in front.
Quick note: One way I like to work is to separate some elements and to reference them later in one large scene. So I had one scene with the large building where I modeled and textured everything I needed, one scene with only the docks, one scene with just the boats etc. At the end I referenced them all in one scene where I did the light setup and final render.
The modeling of the main building was relatively easy, but because it had lots of details it took a lot of time. I love all those fine details and they help a lot, so I spent lots of time refining them.
One of the tools I like to use whenever I finish modeling is Lattice - users of 3ds Max know it as the FFD deformer - which I use to make irregularities on the entire surface (Fig.03).
For example I used Lattice to deform the roof, roof windows, terrace and chimney. Small details like the broken window, fallen roof tiles, grass etc. gave a nice extra touch to image as well (Fig.04 - 06).
Irregularities on some elements like wood planks and logs were sculpted in Maya with the Sculpt tool. First I modeled the basic shape of the wood, then I subdivided it once or twice and finally, with different shapes and brushes, I sculpted on the surface very intuitively. This tool is not powerful like ZBrush or Mudbox, but can be very handy from time to time. Fine details for large elements like the rock cliffs and pipes were done with the help of ZBrush. All shapes were sculpted with custom made alphas, a Standard mallet, and Clay brush (Fig.07 - 08).
I included many different elements such as buoys, tires, barrels etc., in the scene (Fig.09).
All the elements used simple shaders like Lambert or Blinn with the exception of the water surface, where I used Mia_material_x. Most of the textures were layered one at the top of another, and then I projected on geometry. I even used and layered procedural maps like Fractal, Cloud or Noise.
Only a few objects had unwrapped UVs; I knew it would be very time consuming to unwrap all of them, and I was pretty happy with the result of projections (Fig.10).
The textures for many of the pieces were custom made color, bump and specular textures that I created in Photoshop (Fig.11 - 12).
For the ocean, I used Maya ocean, but only for creating the displacement map. I didn't like the look of the ocean shader in the render, so for shading I used Mia_Material_x with higher reflectivity, tinted blue. The ocean shader was then plugged into the displacement slot of the shading group. The result looked much better and more realistic (Fig.13).
The lighting was very simple: I used HDRI and one directional light, with Final Gathering turned on. The first idea was to create a completely diffused environment, with no direct light, but I realized that a bit of a light would give some dynamics to the image as a whole (Fig.14).
I rendered out Beauty and Ambient Occlusion passes and compiled them in Photoshop with all necessary color corrections.
I rarely try to make a rendered image perfect; for me it's much faster to do such things in post-production. I have much more freedom. Clouds, smoke, some dirt, as well as some water splashes were added in post-production. Small elements like the people on the docks were painted and I toyed with the idea of having a boat leaving the port, but then felt it would be overkill (Fig.15).
Rendering an image of this size took me around 45 minutes. The final resolution was 1910 x 3000 and had around 4.5 million polygons. While this was excellent practice, one of the things I would definitely try in the future is to render it through Pixar's Renderman. One of the reasons I want to try it out is its very quick displacement method. Mental ray is much slower, and one of the things I regret is that I wasn't able to apply displacement on the building itself without sacrificing render time, so all the curved elements and irregularities were achieved manually.