Making Of 'Steam Traveler'
I hope that everyone is in an amazing mood and has smiles on their faces and if not, I will try to make you smile. Big thank to everyone who supported me on the forums and thank you for reading this article!
I recently finished my new work "Steam Traveler" and I will now tell you and even show how I did this project. I hope it will be funny, interestingly and, most importantly, useful.
Concept & Idea
It's very, very strange, but for some reason I knew before I started that I was going to do a train - it was kind of like dÃ©jÃ vu. A few months back, I was with my friends at an old plant near a railway, in search of industrial pictures and maybe some new ideas. A not so great situation happened at the plant - we met a covey of large street dogs. Well, no, not really - the covey of large street dogs met us. These dogs had strayed onto the factory site in search of food and their hungry look obviously told us, "Boys, it is time to sit down on a boat and cast off!"
The look on my friends' faces reminded me of the look of fresh chicken, which is going to be prepared for the New Year table. Strange, but it's in exactly those kind of extreme situations that new potential and new possibilities are discovered. I learned that I was better than Spiderman at jumping out of broken windows and climbing through a two meter brick wall, which I would never have been able to climb over. I was luckier than some of my friends and even had the time to take a couple of pictures of quite a good training, which was passing near the factory.
This event is possibly what pushed me to bring this work to life, but one thing the experience definitely taught me is that you need to wear armor when you enter the industrial world! My biggest regret was that the pictures I took weren't really enough. Here are a couple of pictures of some interesting industrial themes (Fig.01 - Fig.03).
Because I hadn't managed to take enough pictures myself, it became necessary to search for new material and new ideas on the internet.
I started to searches for pictures and photos and after a few hours I found these images of an amazing, grand, old train, which is what I decided to go with (Fig.04 - Fig.10)!
During the search of pictures of trains, details, different camera positions, landscapes and backgrounds, I found an excellent web site with shockingly good pictures of trains. If anyone is interested in the railway theme and some great photos, here is the link: http://www.railpictures.net
For the modeling I used 3d Max 9. It was the most difficult and intense, part of this piece. I didn't know where I need to start, what to do, where I wanted the camera - nothing. I knew I needed to do a big piece of work and because the centre of the scene was going to be the locomotive, I began by modeling him. Using drafts, I started modeling from the greater part of train onwards, using simple cylinder and polygonal modeling (Fig.10 & Fig.11)
The locomotive and many of its details were not modeled completely correctly, only as close as I could get them, because I didn't have enough information or detailed enough references and I also didn't have much time (and in principle, the task wasn't to produce a completely accurate locomotive!) I even thought to go to the local train station and talk to someone who understood trains and possibly locomotives, but the words "modeling" and "rendering" at the train station? No, they would think that I was going crazy!
So, I needed to just do what I could. Moving up I created the wheels, frame, spring, impellent wheel mechanism and other details. Most details reminded me of some space devices or alien weapon, as batteries or maybe plasma-guns. Most of the objects were initially created from simple primitives, such as Box, Cylinder, Sphere, Capsule etc. Sometimes I start my work from simple planes which I then modify. It is simple to work with such objects, because I can always easily edit them through Editable Poly, which I prefer for modeling. Also, I used lines for the pipes, wires and bent objects (Fig.12 - Fig.29; Mov.01 - Mov.08).
I did a few different types of screw, which are used for different details of the locomotive. The number of polygons was killing me; my computer told me "Stop throw stones on my back, I am slowing down!" It was necessary to hide so many objects in boxes that my old man finally woke up. Next, I passed to the forehand of locomotive and did a protective grate, headlights and other details, the names of which I honestly can't even guess - just one brutal, factory steel and cast-iron monster (Fig.31)!
Moving on I created new details using all those primitives and Editable Poly. I don't think I need to fully describe the process of modeling the locomotive - it is routine work which took me from my mind. When the basic model of the locomotive was ready, I breathed, scratched my beard and said to myself, "Hey man, it is only part of the working process, so stop scratching your beard and let's go!" I added a few small details such, as bolts, riveting and other things and at last the model of the locomotive was ready (Fig.32 - Fig.42; Mov.09 & Mov.10).
Often, in childhood, I would ride on trains to visit relatives, moving from one city to another. At this age I was already attracted by trains, stations, railways, railroad ties, screw-bolts and even the smell of the railway. Maybe it is some kind of illness "¦? Anyway, moving on, I then began modeling the rails. For this purpose, I did the rail profile and line of direction, and also the railroad ties and fastenings. So that the rails didn't look so sad and boring, I decided to add a small turn. And so that the scene didn't seem so empty, I added a few railroad mechanisms and electro-transmission lines (Fig.43 - Fig.47).
Initially I wanted to use a photo for the background, but again I scratched my head and thought, "Do not even think about it, you are the real railroad CG-machinist!" So, I decided to do a few low poly models of train carriages, some cylindrical depositories and a few details. And that completes the modeling section (Fig.48 & Mov.11)!
Materials and textures
In principle, there were not many different types of material in the scene. Mainly it was steel, a bit of wood, glasses and once again metal, metal and metal. I wanted the locomotive to look not quite new, but also not quite old, so I thought about using an old technique where you paint over 10-20 times, building up the layers of paint.
I remembered once how I painted an old window and didn't take off the old layer of paint because it was heavy and boring work and it was simpler to paint a new layer over the old. Bad, very bad work, I know, but "¦ For the metal of the locomotive I used V-Ray Dirt material, reflection map and normal bump map as an old leaking metal (Fig.49 - Fig.52).
In general all of the materials were not very difficult. I usually use a reflection map for all of them because this helps to make the scene look more realistic (Fig.53 & Fig.54).
I did a few types of stone to cover the ground near the locomotive, but when I realized that I would have to cover the whole ground with these stones, I started to imagine my computer becoming slower and slower, and eventually belching out smoke and dying. Of course I did a few tests, but it just wasn't working. In such situations it's best to use the V-Ray Displacement modifier, which helped in my case (Fig.55 - Fig.57 & Mov.12).
I used a lot of textures from own collection, and also from www.cgtextures.com. Here you can find a large library of high res textures that cover all sorts of subjects. As I mentioned earlier, for practically every texture I used the normal map with the help of the Nvidia Normal Map plugin for Photoshop. I understand that this is a Making of, not a Tutorial, but I still thought it would be useful to show you the method I used to quickly create a normal bump map for this scene (Mov.13).
For lighting I used V-Ray. Usually I set up the lights and position of camera in the early stages of a piece of work, but in this case it was necessary to do a few lighting tests, because I wanted to do a few variations and then choose the best one. I did not use Global Illumination; I used V-Ray Dome with a gradient map for the environment and a Target Directional Light to imitate the sunlight. I find that it is always simpler to work with neutral colors, because then I'm always able to do color correction in Photoshop (Fig.58 - Fig.60).
Rendering & Post Production
My render settings were not particularly complicated - I'd even say they were simple (Fig.61).
However, the final render results didn't strongly impress me. They weren't too bad, but they weren't too good either. So it was necessary for me to play with the render. I wanted to have the effect of a strong camera zoom so that the locomotive was separated from the background and for this purpose I decided to use the ZDepth channel for DOF, which is also very useful for fog (Fig.62 - Fig.64).
Also it was needed to create the steam and smoke that I wanted to come out of the locomotive's chimney. From studying the pictures of the locomotives, I saw that the smoke was different in different case - white, gray or black. I didn't want to deepen it. The problem was that I didn't know how to show moving smoke on a static image. After many variants and test, I understood that I didn't want too long a loop of smoke, because it would block out the sky and some of the background details. For smoke I used the FumeFX plugin. It is simple enough to use and is very powerful. Here are a few examples of my tests (Mov.14 - Mov.16).
For post-production I used Digital Fusion and Photoshop. For me Digital Fusion is very easy to use, with different layers and passes such as ZDepth, RGB, Light, Shadows, Reflections passes etc (Fig.65).
The first step was adding the sky and raising the gamut of the image. Then I added a few layers of smoke (Fig.66).
I always try to search for different methods for post-production and compositing. So, for the creation of the DOF effect, I decided to use Photoshop and the Depth Of Field Generator PRO. This is an excellent plugin, which gives you the possibility of producing enough realistic chromatic aberrations. I also used Nik Color Efex Pro, which has excellent effects such as Glow, Vignetting, Film Effects, different effects of color correction and other great details. I did a few different variants of post-production, and then chose the best. Here is the result (Fig.67).
I live in the beautiful city of Odessa, which is located on the shore of Black Sea. So every summer I spend my weekends with my friends, resting on the beach. Once, on one of those hot weekend days, I was lying on the sand with my friends and we were talking about computer graphics. Of course, we don't always talk about graphic arts - we often talk about girls instead! - but that day we were talking about our hobby and work. While we were talking, I noticed two amazing girls had approached and were commenting on our conversation, which they seemed to think was really strange.
So I began to think about it and you know - it is so strange. Computer graphics is not a simple theme to talk about; it is not simply a hobby or a piece of work, it is something much greater - a separate organism. It is another world; a big world; a planet with its own inhabitants, with their own culture, history and language.
So have a nice day or night, have good ideas and great rendering and thanks for reading (Fig.68 - Fig.70)!
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