Making of 'Night Of The Cat'
Many thanks to the 3DTotal team, www.3dtotal.com for this opportunity; it is a pleasure for me to share some of the techniques that I used to create my "Night of the Cat" image. My name is Cristian Mihaescu, and I am an electronic music composer who also loves to create digital art - mostly 3D scenes - as a hobby. Blender, Vue Infinite, Poser, Inkscape and Gimp are my main tools. For Night of the Cat I used Blender (a powerful Open Source 3D programme), Gimp (a 2D Open Source program), and Inkscape for vector graphics (also Open Source). The techniques that I'll explain are not specific to these applications though, and can be adapted to equivalent programs such as Maya and Photoshop.
This somewhat atypical 3D scene, filled with 2D elements, is strongly inspired by Tim Burton's "The Night Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride". It is an attempt at recapturing the unique mood of these masterpieces. From the modelling, right through the texturing, and up to the title, I used a minimalist style combining 2D and 3D shapes, with lights and shadows to recreate some of the mystery of a children's story.
NURBS curves which are only slightly extruded appear like something between 2D and 3D (Fig02). I began with the fence which, like a "Chef d'Orchestre", determines the style of the image and its organisation around the centre of attraction. Modelling the fence was easy; I started with a simple NURBS Curve, subdivided it, moved the vertices in "crazy places", subdivided again, moved the new vertices, and so on. The final fence contains lots of curves - extruded and bevelled a little (Fig03).
For the filled elements, like the house, trees and plants, I used NURBS Circles; I subdivided them and moved the vertices in the same plane. The holes to represent the windows are an effect of new NURBS Circles inside the main one, and the metal gate was created using simple NURBS Curves, in the same manner as the fence. Then all was extruded with different values for thickness (Fig04). I used the same method for the cat, and the same was used for the road, also. No complications can be very cool! It is also possible to draw all of these curves in Inkscape or Illustrator and import them into your favourite 3D application to extrude them (Fig05).
For this scene, the lighting system had to follow the same minimalist style. Therefore, I used only two lights and Ambient Occlusion. Ambient Occlusion illuminates an object from all sides, which flattens the perspective and adds softness, which was great for my purpose. The two lights were two Sun lamps in the same position and same direction; one for lighting and one to control the darkness of the shadows. The second Sun had to use Ray-tracing and was set to 'Only Shadow'. After the addition of a little mist to hide the horizon, I made a first preview render (Fig06). Looking at the result I decided to complete the scene by adding another house (which can barely be seen), hidden in the shadowy part of the scene, plus some trees, plants and more crazy stuff!
Background & Composition
I decided to draw a 2D background to accentuate a mysterious mood, much alike that of children's stories. I drew the lines in Inkscape and the rest was done in Gimp (Fig07).
I opted for a cool looking castle and a rock with a distant mountain in the background. This added two more layers with an emphasis on a feeling of great distance between the castle/rock and the mountain in the distance. I used different amounts of blur on the two layers, which gave a nice depth of field, and two different levels of grey. By then, the single remaining problem was to hide the horizon line whilst keeping the upper part of the background visible and above the mist. Since the mist in Blender is view dependent, I had to map my background to a curved surface so as to control how much of it showed through. Fig08 is a screenshot of the scene, from above. In this screenshot, the yellow part of the line of view for the Camera represents the beginning of the mist up to the end where it hides everything. To completely hide the lower part of the background in the mist, whilst leaving its upper part gradually more visible, I inclined the curved surface towards the camera and set the mist to reach maximum intensity in front of the background's lower part (see Fig09).
Looking from the side view, one can see how the inclined background interacts with the misty area (Fig10). At that point, before texturing, the scene had this aspect when viewed in wireframe (Fig11).
The original "Night of the Cat" received stylised textures that I drew in Gimp. The 3DTotal team gave me the opportunity to re-work the scene using some of their wonderful texture collections (www.3dtotal.com/textures). I will describe this process, next. I opted for some toon textures from the Total Textures: Vol. 15: Toon Textures CD, and used some masks from the Total Textures: Vol. 5: R2: Dirt & Graffiti DVD. I started by UV-mapping the ground plane. Then, following the contour of the road's curve, I painted directly onto the mesh plane in the UVMap Editor, and in black to obtain a black and white mask image. This image will be used to texture with different Toon Textures (Fig12 - 13).
You can see the re-textured ground in Fig14. The UVMap texture for the ground was done in Gimp, using two layers; the first layer containing the main ground texture and the second layer containing the rest of the textures with a mask for the distribution. Balancing the texture for the ground with the main texture was done using the Curves Filters and playing a little with the Saturation and Lightness (Fig15).
The tree was UVMapped, too. I painted, in black and white, some cartoon branches to use as another mask. This resulted in a texture with a crazy toon style (Fig16 - 17).
Re-Texturing The House
The house was textured in Blender using a Stencil channel. On the first and third texture channel were loaded the textures for the wall (a toon wall and brick texture), whilst the second texture channel contained the Stencil image (the mask). Dirt textures were used for the mask (Fig18 - 19).
By this point, the picture only needed a little post-production work in Gimp to complete it. Here is the final Blender render (Fig20). Post-production work consisted of some tonal corrections. My intention was to even out the tones between the foreground and background, and to improve the colour of the fog in the background (Fig21).Â Above is the final Night of the Cat image, re-textured using 3DTotal Textures CDs and DVDs.
Fig.21 - Final Image