Sci-fi cars in Maya: Desert Racer Part 1
Learn how Rory Björkman crafts this angular desert-racing sci-fi vehicle, from initial concept sketches to a Maya model ready for texturing
In this project we will cover the process of making and using concept designs. From there we will go through the thoughts behind what makes a good design and the process of iteration. When making a concept piece, it's important that it is believable and physically plausible, so this will inform what design elements to keep and what to remove. These boundaries may be pushed somewhat when it comes to futuristic technology, as we may have invented new solutions to old problems in the future - this makes designing such projects a lot of fun!
For those who are beginners to Maya I will provide exact blueprints for the model we will be making for you to follow as I make it, although I encourage more advanced users to evolve this or even try make your own design. Not only is it good practice for you to make these decisions about your own concept art, but also if you are intending to use the models you make in tutorials in a portfolio online your content will look more original.
At the least if you are just reading along I hope you will gain some tips. After we analyze the concept design I will get straight into some simple and effective polygon modeling techniques where we will look at using the image planes provided as a guide, and produce a lovely well thought out futuristic desert racer by the end.
Initial concept art: Good concept artists are hard to find and Matt Tkocz is as good as they get! I was lucky enough to be provided with these fantastic images to evolve my design upon. I really liked Matt's design as illustrated here, but I was really inspired by his multitudes of previous sketches, which put the idea in my head of a more angular off-road type desert racer. As you can see, part of being a great concept artist is putting so many good ideas down, and scanning through his images I decided upon three elements I like most: nice hard edges, futuristic wheels, and a high suspension.
Evolving the design: Inspired by Matt's designs, I drew up these initial concepts which borrow from the features of each of the three selections. Considering the vehicle is going to be a futuristic desert racer, I think it'll be higher off the ground for unstable terrain, with unusual chunky wheels. The wheels will be the selling point which makes this vehicle look futuristic, rather than the entire vehicle looking too far into the future. In the final design, I've decided to lose the large side fenders and make the front a bit more sleek and sporty, with the hot red flowing from front to fender. This will add interest and extend the angular forms along the body.
Setting up: The first thing I always do is set up a new project under File > Project Window > New. Next, import the images planes provided, then go to Maya > Preferences > Settings and change the size from centimeters to feet. Now each square on your grid will be one foot, so you can resize the image planes to be approximately 10 feet long using the grid. This will be effective when rendering using physically based materials, as scale is very important. I always start by placing a cube, extending it, and then using the Insert Edge Loop tool to add some more geometry so I can manipulate the shape to fit the image planes.
The bonnet: To start on the bonnet, I drop a cube into the top view to form the general shape from above. I then switch to the side and front to manipulate the vertex point to fit the drawing closely. I only make one side at a time, then use Mesh > Mirror Geometry to ensure perfect symmetry.
As this is a concept piece, I'm not going to get too hung up on exacting the geometry to fit the image as it is simply not necessary. As always, concept drawings will never give you every piece of information. Some nice design attributes can often happen on the fly, so we shall go with our gut and solve problems as they arise.
The roof geometry: To contrast the sharp angles of the front, I want to make the back of the vehicle a smooth rounded shape. To do the roof, I start with a plane and make the top shape first. From there I can make some depth by using the Extrude tool on the edges. Similarly we will extrude the outer edges and drag them downward to make the walls of the cockpit. It's a good idea to flip between views when pulling vertices so you don't lose the basic geometry. When you are happy with the basic shape, you can then add more edge loops and tweak the shape to fit the drawings more exactly.
The base and trims: Here we will look at the cockpit base and making a trim from that. Initially I start on the side, as it's the most important element of this piece to get right. By adding more edge loops and correcting the flow of geometry, I can then move to the top view and align the rounded back shape with the roof.
A nice way of adding elements like the trim is to use existing polygons. By using the Edit Mesh > Duplicate Faces tool, we can then generate a perfectly fitting piece to extrude the depth of the trim from. As I go, I add edge loops tightly along the edges of the piece, so it holds a nice shape when smoothened.
The rear spoiler: To start the rear spoiler, I place a cube into the top image plane. I then generate the spoiler's shape from there by adding edge loops and deleting the faces to make an "L" shape. Then I select the vertices on the end, move to the side, and rotate them to get the tilt angle. By adding an edge loop at the end and selecting the face at the top, I can then extrude that face upward to build the wall of the spoiler, and then continue that across the middle to the center.
Flipping underneath, we can do the same by using an extruded face to create the support for the spoiler. Finally, to tidy it up, add some edge loops along the edges and check it in the Smooth Mesh Preview (hit the '3' key).
Axle preparation: Here we look at how the rear wheel axles connect to the base of the vehicle, and detailing the base. Firstly, select the faces of the base and delete them to make space for the cylinder. It's very important that the edges of the deleted faces match the amount of edges on the cylinder. A useful tool for counting the edges is under Display > Heads Up Display > Polycount. You can select the faces, geometry as a whole, or just the edges, and this will display the data on the viewport. While we're working on the base, it's a good time to select the faces along the length and extrude them inward to create some contour lines.
Rear axle struts: Next we will create the rear legs that attach the wheels to the base. The first thing I do is place an 8-sided cylinder and an 8-sided cube in position before deleting the faces that face each other. Before we can bridge them, we must select both pieces and combine them (Mesh > Combine).
Next, select the edges and bridge the two pieces. This process is repeated at the opposite end, except the cylinder will join by splitting it in half and joining the cube end to the halved cylinder.
Lastly, to add some interest to this piece, I select the front faces, extrude them inward and separate the faces. By adding some edge depth and inserting some edge loops, this creates a nice feature when smoothened.
Front axle and suspension: Using the image planes as a placement guide, I quickly drop in the basic shapes of the arms and disc shape to connect the wheel. We can start the suspension piece by making a simple 8-sided cylinder and extracting the geometry in various places to give it some interest.
Go to Create > Polygons > Helix to make a spring shape. (This can take a bit of trial and error to get exact, so I've supplied this in the assets folder.) Where the joints meet the base, I have deleted the faces and extruded the edges into the center of the shell.
Starting the interior: I want the interior to be a reflection of the exterior by using angular shapes and sloping lines. I have supplied image planes for you to make this seat. Like before, we start with the side and shape a cube to fit the profile image. Next, moving to the front view, add an edge loop so you can push the faces back into the seat, giving it depth. As you can see, again I'm only making half, and then mirroring it across when I'm happy with the shape. Finally, we can use our trusty Extrude tool to make some nice sloped contour lines.
Steering wheel: To start the steering wheel we will create a polygon pipe object. By deleting the segments across the top and removing the edge loops on the side, we can get this shape. Then we want to place a piece of shaped geometry into the center, and combine and bridge it to the beams extruded from the outer rim.
The background base piece is made the same way, by starting with a polygon pipe. I will also add some geometry to this segment and insert two cylinders to create buttons or dials. Last we can add some grips by selecting the faces along the wheel rim and extruding them outward. We can add more edge loops where needed to make the edges a bit harder.
Making the wheels: Rather than make the entire wheel in one piece, I'm going to make one segment and duplicate it. To start, we need to make a cylinder that's 24 segments around, with 6 divisions along the top face. Then split a slice that's 4 segments across (pictured, shaped like a wedge of pie) and delete the rest. With this slice I will adjust the vertices into an interesting design.
Next go to the Rotate tool, press the 'D' key, and pull the point of rotation to the tip of the slice (which will be the center of the wheel). To duplicate and rotate, go to Edit > Duplicate > Duplicate Special. Use a rotation value of 60, set the number of copies to 5, and press Apply. Then select all of the pieces and combine them. To merge the vertices, go to Edit Mesh > Merge. Add depth to the wheel by extruding the edges.
Futuristic off-road tires: To make a tire, I start with a cylinder that's 42 segments around and 5 segments across the width. I want to make the tire look as if it has a rubber layer which is clipped on around the base of the structure; I do this by selecting a pattern of faces and extruding them out.
For the parts that come over the alloy, I make a small extrusion border inward, and separate off the pieces. We will make these different materials later. To keep the tire soft, but still have definition, I insert some edge loops - make sure to press the '3' key to check how your wheel looks. I would suggest duplicating the basic tire geometry before you experiment with extrusion designs, so you have a back up.
Slick headlamps: Rather than try to make the headlamp in place, it's easier to make it as a rectangular block first, and then extrude that shape inward to reveal the bulb. Take this shape and position it near the front of the vehicle, then go to the Animation menu and select Create Deformer > Lattice. You can change the amount of lattice points in the Attribute Editor, but I think a simple 4-point lattice will work best. By right-clicking, you can 'Select Lattice Points' and start to pull the shape of the light into the socket to fit.
To make the glass for the front of the headlamp, I duplicate the back face of the headlamp and bring it onto the front of the headlamp. This way the glass will be the exact shape to fit.
Making a badge: To make an object from curves, or to import custom text, Adobe Illustrator is a very useful tool to have. If you don't have Illustrator, you can now get the CS2 version from Adobe for free: www.helpx.adobe.com/creative-suite/kb/cs2-product-downloads.html.
You can make curves using Illustrator's Pen tool to draw around the design, and then save the curves as an Illustrator 8 file (this format works with most versions of Maya).
Back in Maya, go to Create > Illustrator Object > Advanced Settings and check 'Curves', then click Apply and navigate to your Illustrator file. By selecting each curve part at a time, go to the Surfaces menu and click Surfaces > Bevel Plus.
Next you can use a lattice deformer to bend the entire object to fit sloped surfaces if needed. A quick way to UV objects like this is to go to Create UVs > Based on camera.
Top tip: Context
Especially when designing futuristic or fantastical objects, it is important to contextualize your piece. By this, I mean placing something in the scene that a viewer will be familiar with in some way. This can help your audience connect with the piece, making it more believable, and can also give reference to scale and material.