Making Of 'Power Plant'
The idea for the power generation plant came from the thought that alien planets could have almost any type of plants. So I figured why not have a planet where trees generate electricity that is harvested by machines? The original idea was to have the plants grow in a laboratory-like environment, but I later changed it to a forest (Fig.01).
Anyway, once I had finished the basic concept in Photoshop I started to model it in 3ds Max. I quickly realized that modeling the tree in Max wouldn't be the best idea as I wanted to create quite a few variations of the main tree and wanted to keep the structure as procedural or live as possible so that it would be easier to make changes later. So I finally decided to model the entire forest procedurally in Houdini.
Here is a rough breakdown of the modeling process for the tree in Houdini:
1. I created a central curve. The idea was to create a base curve and have the entire tree twist itself around that curve. In order to do that I started by making a line. Using a Point SOP and basic Sin and Cos functions converted it into a helix (Fig.02).
2. For the vines I followed the same process except with a larger radius (Fig.03).
3. I then used a Wiredeform SOP to deform both these lines around the central curve (Fig.04).
4. Using a Vopsop I added some noise-based deformation on the curves.
5. To create a tapering effect I created a red gradient going from the base to the top point of the curves. Using a Polywire SOP, I used to red color to drive the width of the curves and made three copies. This got me the central trunk of the tree (Fig.05).
7. Merging these together gave me the trunk (Fig.07).
8. For the pod on top, I started with a Polygon Sphere. I copied lines onto every vertex of the sphere and adjusted the scaling using a Noise and Bounding box function. Then I gave it thickness using a polywire. I also modeled some additional detail and had it randomly copied over the sphere (Fig.08).
9. I drew a curving line around the sphere to work as a vine surrounding the pod. I then deformed the line using turbulent noise VOP and copied it randomly around the sphere using a Copy SOP (Fig.09).
10. Finally I merged it all together and attached the sphere to the top of the central line (Fig.10).
11. The final completed tree looked like this (Fig.11).
Since everything was deforming around the central curve, if any changes were to be made to the curve the entire tree could be readjusted.
To create the clump of three trees, I used a bit of Houdini magic:
I drew three central curves, put them in a Switch SOP and fed it into the Wiredeform SOP. Then, using a Copy SOP and a Stamp function, I made Houdini switch between every consecutive curve for every copy (e.g: copy 1 would use curve 1, copy 2 would use curve 2 and so on). This made creating variations even simpler (Fig.12).
Then I exported a few clumps of trees as OBJs into Max and started to set up the scene.
For the rocks and plants on the ground I used some basic Scattering tools in Houdini by painting color on the landscape and copying spheres on the scattered points (Fig.13).
The machine was modeled by making a small part of the arm and then copying it over a curve in Houdini. The front of the machine was made in 3ds Max (Fig.14).
The final setup in 3ds Max looked like Fig.15.
Texturing and Materials
Once I had setup my scene in Max, I started with the basic lighting. I usually light and texture my scene simultaneously. That way I know how detailed my texturing should be. Since this scene was fairly dark, I didn't bother with too much texturing. Most of the textures for the trees are essentially procedural maps like Noise and Smoke.
The main shader for the glowing pod is a blend material. I mixed a basic reflective V-Ray material with a V-Ray light material. To mix the two shaders I used a Voronoi map mixed with a falloff for a Blend map (Fig.16).
The lighting and the atmosphere were the most crucial parts of this scene. I wanted to create a glow around the tree to make it look like it was generating light and also have the rest of the forest shrouded in a haze. So, I decided to use V-Ray environment fog for the effect. The primary light is inside the main pod and I kept another light on the top. V-Ray environment fog generates volumetric light out of any light kept inside the fog area and generates a haze as well. However, the render time was quite long. The series of images in Fig.17 should give a fairly good idea as to how the lighting progressed.
And here's a simple screenshot of the lighting setup (Fig.18).
For the Global Illumination I used Irradiance and Light Cache. The final image took roughly six hours to render at 1920 x 1080.
I've also included an alternate render in which the lightning was also modeled in 3D, but which I didn't use (Fig.19).
After the render, I did a fair bit of painting in Photoshop to achieve the final look. The lighting generated by the trees was the major challenge for me. Originally I wanted to try and do it in 3D but eventually realized that it would be better if I painted it. I also painted some additional fog and floating particles in the air.
Since I am not very good at describing the painting process, I've included a strip of images to show the progression (Fig.20 - 21).
Well, that was how I went about creating the image. I hope the information was helpful. If you have any further questions feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org