Making Of 'The Hornbill Express'

This is another overview about the creation of my image "Hornbill Express". I have split this Making Of article into 4 parts, and you will find some of my references and sketches, as well as technical snapshots from Maya and Photoshop. I have tried not to repeat some of the topics which I covered previously in the Making Of "Air Base", and I intend this article for those people with a basic understanding of Maya and Photoshop, as well as an interest in the process of the creation of this work.

Part One - Overview - Draft Idea of Design

The work "Hornbill Express" is another design from my "2200 City without a Name" project, and it is a train from this city. As a part of the project, there are some important points I need to take care of, for example I want to create something unique but not straying too far away from the main style of the design, and so right from very beginning I made some sketches for each part of the project before going on to build them in 3D (Fig.01). This gave me clear direction of the style what I was aiming for, and the rest of the work was refining my design in the modelling stage.

Fig. 01 - Earlier Sketch Of Design

The previous design of the train station set up a basic idea of the structure for this piece (I already have a finished 3D model of the train station). When it came to the part of the train, besides the form, function was another important thing which I had to focus on. In the real world we have to make sure our design functions perfectly, but in the virtual world, besides the style of your design, illusion plays a big role here, and so I had to take care of how it would appear inside the camera, and what kind of the function would strengthen the visual result. When I was working on the sketches, some basic questions I asked myself were, for example, Is there anyone related to the train, and how do they get in or out when the train arrives? How should it land or stop? All of these questions kept driving me to refine my sketch for a believable design. Here are some of the references I used for the design (Fig.02).

Fig. 02 - Selected References

After a concrete idea was there, it was finally time to do a detailed sketch of the design for 3D modelling (Fig.03).

Fig. 03 - Detailed Sketches

Part Two - Production - Modelling / Texturing / Rendering


At the beginning, I imported a 2D Photoshop image of the side view of my design into Maya, using the cranes of the train station (which I modelled before) as the scale/position references. After positioning the image plane, I was ready to start the modelling process (Fig.04).

Fig. 04 - Modelling Based On Image Plane

1. I started from the front part of the train. First I created a basic curve, based on the shape of the image plane, and created a polygon plane using the Surface - Loft tool with another duplicated curve. From this basic polygon plane I start to extrude and position the edge until the basic shape was formed. I then converted it to subdivision for a fine-tuning of the shape, using the same technique. I keep modelling the train until the basic shape was complete
(Fig.05 - 06).

Fig. 05 - Modelling With Polygon

Fig. 06 - Modelling Process

2. Here is a quick idea about how I created the curve shape on the surface. First of all, select your target object and under Modify > Make Live, the target object will turn to a green colour. At this point I used an EP curve tool to build the shape on the live object - the curve will automatically snap on the live object and create a polygon. Select the face and shift select the curve, and then start to extrude it, following the curve. Once that's done, go back to Modify > Make not live, and your target object will return back to a normal situation!

3. Here is another quick idea about how I created the side cover. Select the edge of the object and go to Edit Curves > Duplicate Surface Curves and you'll get duplicated curves following the contour of your object. Attach those duplicated curves and rebuild the curve to a reasonable amount of vertexes, and then duplicate the rebuilt curves again to form the shape you need. Select those duplicated curves to create a plane with the Surface - Loft tool (Fig.07).

Fig. 07 - Create Curve On 'Live Object' / 'Loft' From Duplicated Curves

4. I reviewed my design again here and modified the shape of the train and added/deleted some elements (Fig.08).

Fig. 08 - Refined Sketch

5. Something I shaped the body with was the Lattice tool, and I kept adding detail until I was satisfied with the results (Fig.09).

Fig. 09

Fig. 09

Fig. 09 - Shaping with 'Lattice' Tool / Finished Model

6. Once the model of the train was done, it was time to work on the environment. Before the process of modelling, I started to search for the camera and atmosphere inside the sketches of the environment, based on my previous model of the train station. Coming to the underground level of the train station, the function of the environment was the major point I wanted to focus on (Fig.10).

Fig. 10 - Sketch Of The Environment

7. For a complex scene I find it useful to apply Display Layer for some of the objects as this can save you some trouble during modelling without mishandling your 3D model. Modeling of the environment was straight forward: some basic polygons with Extrude, Insert Edge loop Tool, Bevel, etc. - to create all the shapes I needed. Here is a quick idea about how some of the curved shapes were created. First I created a polygon and a Curve, selected the face of the polygon and shift selected the curve. I then used Mesh - Extrude to get the shape I needed, in-between refining the shape by tweaking the vertex of the curve (Fig.11).

Fig. 11 - Extrude The Face With Curve

8. Once the environment was done, it was time for texturing - and a cup of coffee (Fig.12)!

Fig. 12 - Adding Details To The Environment


After using the "texture projection" process, I created some snapshots of my UV maps and painted the texture maps in Photoshop based on the UV maps. As usual, I created different sizes of texture maps in Photoshop, and here are some the examples of my texture maps (Fig.13 - 14).

Fig. 13 - Selected Textures Maps

Fig. 14 - Selected Textures Maps


In this scene, I mostly used Mia_Material (available with Maya 8.5) for the materials - this gave a lot of control which provided nice results (there are clear instructions for the Mia_material inside Maya's Help - this will give you a clear picture of each section).
Here is a quick example of how to create a bump map for the mental ray material. There are 2 types of bump_map inside the mental ray material (if you are afraid of a complex networking then the "mib_bump_map2" is the best choice for you). Connect the mib_bump_map2 to the Material Shader and load the bump map inside the Tex section, and then connect the Mia_material to the colour section of mib_bump_map (Fig.15).

Fig. 15 - Selected Shading Networks Of Mai_Material

Lighting & Rendering

(Fig.16) Inside this scene, 2 spotlights were set upon the ceiling as key lights with shadows, and there were 2 additional spotlights to help light up some areas. At the same time I also created 2 polygons and placed them at the position where some indirect light was coming from, and applied a ramp to the colour - this was to simulate the environment colour and indirect lighting.

How to set up the lighting is a 3D technical question (the same as how to draw/paint light with your graphics tablet or a pencil) - it requires the knowledge of the tool and time to practice and experiment. But how to use light is something different; it's kind of the visual language. Light and shadow always tell a story inside an image, for example, if we review the works of Giorgio de Chrico, we always get lost inside his strange perspective and lighting. Or the atmosphere that comes about from the loneliness and perplexity of those long shadows inside the works of Edward Hopper! These are some different examples of the language of lighting. Lighting helps the viewer to realise the physical space and the atmosphere inside the image, and from there they can start to discover the story behind the image.

Fig. 16 - Lighting Set Up


As usual, the setting for the rendering was the same as what I used in my last few images (you can review the settings in the Making Of Air Base, but this time I rendered the environment and the train separately. Under the render stats section of the Attributes editor, you can choose how to render out your objects with different options, and this can save you a lot of rendering time when it comes to multiple-frame rendering.

Part Three - Post Production In Photoshop

The post-production technique was similar to what I did inside Air Base, and here is a breakdown of my working process for the post-production:

1. From the beginning I used the mask layer to separate the occlusion layer and apply it with a different level of percentage, and gave a level adjustment layer to tweak the overall lighting (Fig.17 - 18).

Fig. 17 Occulsion Layer / Mask

Fig. 18 Occulsion Layer Applied

2. After the occlusion layer I started to add some lighting effects to simulate a working machine, and at the same time some smoke was also created (Fig.19).

Fig. 19 - Lighting Effects / 1st Process On Atmosphere

3. I increased the direction of the light and gave some highlights to the image, and then adjusted the saturation and levels (Fig.20).

Fig. 20 - Overall Lighting / 2nd Process On Atmosphere

4. Coming to the final stage now, I added a figure and some heavy smoke to simulate movement inside the dusty environment, and gave some final tuning to the saturation and levels. Finally, a zdepth layer was applied for a lens blur filter effect (Fig.21 - 22).

Fig. 21 - Final Lighting; Figure / 3rd Process On Atmosphere

Fig. 22 - Selected Close-Up Views

Part Four - Final Conclusion

Apparently, Dali discovered lots of ideas when he looked at the wall of the toilet (I am not sure is this true or not), but even when you can see nothing on the wall, you can still read an article in a science magazine to find out the possibility of building your favourite water world inside a space station, and then start sketching to make them visible! Sketching is a tool that helps us to study our ideas - the more sketches you do, the more your ideas will become more concrete. And then, when it comes to your 3D model, it will become easier to know if that penguin can actually fit inside the cockpit!

Thanks again for your time, I hope you like this Making Of. See you!

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