Making Of 'Totem'
Most of the time when creating a new illustration, I have no idea what direction to take. Initially, this scene consisted of a close-up of plastic ducks in a bathtub, sucked into a maelstrom. Sadly the exercise soon proved difficult and almost impossible due to a lack of hardware performance, but the idea of creating a bit of an extravagant scene with my little ducks was still in my mind. So I headed towards something bigger and wider, where I could use closeness and detail on the one hand, and depth on the other. What is more extensive for my ducks than the ocean!
From there I thought through the staging, the atmosphere, the frames and I reached this idea.
What does it means? This is probably the question I get asked the most. There is no rational explanation; I think it's a matter of interpretation. Before, I used to say that there are pictures that tell a story and pictures that have no purpose, other than being pleasing to the eye. My point now is that there is a bit of both in every picture.
Often in my 3D designs, the modeling is quite simple and basic; however I do not skimp on the reference images, in order to remain consistent. I used a hemisphere for the environment and a plan for the water. For the icebergs and ducks, it was purely box modeling. So, with edit poly, I moved the vertices and added segments (Fig 01 - 02). As I said, it was very basic!
Still, note that I used the Paint Deformation tool for the main iceberg, to add more detail where I considered it to be important. This tool is a good alternative to the 3ds Max Noise Modifier tool, because it makes it easier to add depth and relief in a less random way. Be careful not to abuse it though, at the risk of littering the model. You'd be better off using an Edit Poly modifier and adding TurboSmooth to add vertices, rather than working at the "base" of the model.
Finally I used the wonderful MultiPainter tool. The Scatter Object is the duck model converted to a VRayProxy and the surfaces are the water, of course, and the main iceberg (Fig.03).
I always enjoy spending time on this step. At this point I used V-Ray materials, which are easily configurable and very intuitive. Then I roughly put in the main light sources, to visualize the reactions of the different materials better.
For water, the tricky part here was the refraction. Many test renders were conducted to get the desired result (a beautiful semi-transparent turquoise). So I played a lot with the intensity of the Refraction, the Fog color and Fog multiplier. Initially, to reduce the rendering time, a Noise map was placed in the bump slot, but the lack of detail quickly led to my decision to use a nice Displacement map on a VRayDisplacementMod. The detail level here was controlled with the Levels parameter of the map.
For the ice I tried a lot of different configurations with the Displacement map, which consumed a lot of rendering time. The blue/green color was generated by the refraction and translucency.
In the end, the only painted texture was the one for ducks! This was also the only object with the hemisphere, created for an environment that required UVW mapping (Fig.04 - 05).
Lighting and Rendering
The principal light source is a direct light, which simulates sunlight. I could have used a VRaySun, but I find that simple light is easier to use and without a VRaySky it is almost pointless. My sky here is the hemisphere with a VRayLightMtl and a sky texture from www.cgtextures.com. It is a good technique to create outdoor scenes and is also quite fast. Finally, I added a large VRayLight at the top of the scene to add more reflection and specularity (Fig.06).
I faced some troubles with the rendering. I used Light Cache and an Irradiance map with medium settings. The Max Subdivs parameter was used to control the noise level on the final render.
Due to the pervasive Displacement maps, I had to increase the memory limit (Fig.07).
At the end, with my Core i7 and these settings, the render (2000 pixels width resolution only) took about 10 hours. At least I had no bad surprises!
This step was quite quick. As always, I rendered out Occlusion and Depth of Field passes. I also made some corrections with the Refraction pass, and used Photoshop's Burn/Dodge tool to increase the light and dark areas (Fig.08).
The final (and most annoying) step was to add some foam at the base of the ducks with a small, noisy brush (Fig.09).
As I said, there is no rational explanation to this picture; it's just a matter of interpretation. As Edgar Degas said, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." What do you see?