The Making of 'Space Station'

3D generalist Dmitriy Ten shares how he made the awesome Space Station in 3ds Max

I'm happy to share with you the workflow of my latest work project – CGI Space Station. This image was done for Cream Studios. I worked on this project with a couple of very talented guys: Conor Gooner and Victor Maiorino Fernandes.

The brief was to make the photorealistic spaceship in a short amount of time. For me it was big challenge, because I haven't made a full CGI scene before, but I always had a dream to do it.

In this making of, I'll try to share with you all steps and show you the whole process from searching references to final touches.


Every job starts with references. The brief wasn't clear about how the spaceship should look, but we knew that the client didn't want a futuristic version.
After a discussion in the studio we chose the International Space Station as a main reference. We collected a huge amount of photos from ISS, but our main tool was the ISS virtual tour.

I can tell you, from experience and with confidence, that good references are 50% of a job well done. When you are starting any project, you should first understand how the objects you want to build work in real life. You don't need to be a specialist in that field, but you need to have at least some general ideas about them.

<h5>A small selection of our reference material</h5>

A small selection of our reference material

Main blockout setup and composition

After I gathered references I started to setup a main blockout and composition based on the brief, using 3ds Max. At this stage I experimented with a few different cameras, lenses, and placements. The final lens is extremely wide - 20mm. I also worked on the main shape of the space station. I used square output size to fit all crops and formats.

<h5>Using kitbash models to fill empty space in this stage very useful</h5>

Using kitbash models to fill empty space in this stage very useful

Modeling & Texturing

While I worked on composition, the other guys started on modeling. The first time we looked at ISS we were scared; there are so many details for modeling. After the initial fear, we then we started to divide big pieces into smaller and smaller chunks until they turned into basic shapes. We divided whole station into sections and each of us prepared blocks ready to render.

In the middle of the modeling process I started to combine all the stuff that was ready into one big piece; I started to design our space station. Every time I would go back and check the reference photos from ISS to be sure that I was on the right path.

Modeling process and whole scene

Modeling process and whole scene


Every time I start to light a scene, I think how I would do that in real life. And if this setup doesn't work for some reason, I start to "cheat" it by using options like include or exclude objects, reflections, etc. You can't see this kind of "cheating" in real life, BUT sometimes you have to use it. I'm not telling you that it's right or wrong, whatever works for you is always best. Lighting is one of the most important part of your image and I think if you want make your renders photorealistic you need to learn how light work in real life, learn rules of lighting and after that you can break it.

I used V-Ray for 3ds Max to work on the lighting in this. There is a VraySun, which shines through the cupola in the left part of station and a few VrayLights for the interior.

First of all I put my lamp models into scene, with a few spherical VrayLights in the middle of the station for the fill light and rendered it. I didn't want get an effect of a clinical looking hospital, where all the lights are on. So I turned off a few lamps and rendered again. After that I created few more spherical VrayLights and put them near the lamps.

<h5>Lighting setup</h5>

Lighting setup

Rendering and render passes

After putting the final scene together, there were about 100 million polygons. Optimizing this kind of scene takes a few days, which I didn't have. Also I rendered an additional pass for the right hand side. The final resolution is 11000x8000px.

By the way, when I need to render additional space without changing perspective or camera angle I use settings in VrayPhysicalCamera such as zoom, horizontal and vertical shift. With zoom you can easily have additional space for the whole image and with shifts - just for the side which you need.

I'm always use my personal set of passes when rendering which I can use to add some details or compose them into final image.

Render settings

Render settings

<h5>Camera tip for additional space</h5>

Camera tip for additional space


I was very happy with the final render, but there is always a way to improve your image. So I started compositing in Photoshop. From all the passes I used VrayLighting, VrayRawLighting, VrayRawRefraction, VrayReflection, and VraySpecular. The first two I used in Soft Light mode with 20-30% of opacity; it gives very accurate contrast. Other passes I used in Screen mode with a black mask as default. Then with a very soft brush and opacity at 30%, I painted with white color on places where I want to increase reflection or specular effects.

<h5>Raw render and composed with few additional passes</h5>

Raw render and composed with few additional passes

Post-production and final touches

There is no big retouching work in this project. I just stamped small stuff like little holes in the cloth, few scratches, etc. Also I changed some of the stars and the Earth, added screens to the laptops and that's pretty much all I did for retouching.

For the color correction I used few layers as Curves, Hue/Saturation, Color Balance and Selective Color. First of all I turn the image into black and white with Hue/Saturation layer on top and working with values. This is useful to see how your values are working.

When I'm happy with the values I turn off the Hue/Saturation layer and start working again with colors. Adding some color tones into shadows, midtones and highlights to make it more cinematic look.

Final touches: blurring a little bit based on ZDepth pass, adding chromatic aberration and graining, again to simulate cinematic feel.

<h5>Photoshop layers</h5>

Photoshop layers

Final image

Being self-taught, it was big challenge for me to grow as an artist.
After few years of hard working I can tell you with confidence that for each 3D Artist the most important thing is learning. Try to learn world around you, learn how objects are interacting with each other, etc. It's very important if you want to make your renders believable.

I hope this making of was interesting and helpful for you.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me. Thank you and good luck!

Final image

Final image

Related links

To have a look at more of Dmitriy's work head to his website
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