The making of Vulture

Tamas Gyerman runs through the processes behind the creation of his
space-ship model: Vulture

Introduction

The image is based on the Starcraft I - II 's Vulture design, powered by details from of my imagination. The game has always had a top -view player camera, so we always have hidden areas that aren't in view.

I tried to imagine how the vulture looked like under its shelter plates. I looked for some of references of old and dirty - but still functional – vehicles, and the types of equipment it might hold.

Step 1 Concept

The main idea was to create a desert scene with the Vulture vehicle. There were many options in my head, for example:
• A dead one , with damaged surfaces, holes, cracked parts and cables, with parts under the sand.
• A rundown one that still functional, with nothing in the horizon but an oncoming storm. It will have atmospheric rain and some fresh water leaking onto the dry plate surface.
• A simple finished one, with a different light setup.

In the end, I chose a midday phase, when the temperature is at its highest. This allowed me to use a hard, bright light source, without to losing too many details on the model.

I also try to imagine how the Vulture parts work - they each have a specific function. See the image below for more details.

Some of the various equipment elements to consider

Some of the various equipment elements to consider

Step 2 Build it up

All parts of the model were modeled using the polygon-modeling technique. There was no sculpting.

I looked for references for the geometry of the iron /steel parts, but all of them are fictional. If we want to create a realistic machine though, we have to keep the geometry similar to objects we've seen in real life. When I created the meshes, I followed the industrial quad-polygon system to create a wire mesh, because it would help me later on in the UV parts , aside from that though, quad wire looks better, clearer and shaders are working better on these surfaces.

I used traditional tools for modeling, such as Extrude, Inner Extrude, Bevel, and the phenomenal Knife tool in Cinema4D. There are static and subdivision models in the final mesh too. This means that all the models have a fixed polygon limit and shape, and there are lower polygon models that we need to modify with Subdivisions for a smoother, better shape.

The subdivision models are looking a bit different because they have control loops at the edges. These help protect the hard corners or detailed lines against the smoothing process.

The wire mesh models created using the polygon modeling technique

The wire mesh models created using the polygon modeling technique

Step 3 Texturing

The texture phase is a very important part of the CGI process. This is the point at which we can give a story and personality to the objects in the scene. I created a mid-aged vehicle that creates an impression of speed and raw natural appearance. Almost the entire vehicle is created from steel and iron parts, the rest is made with other materials like rubber, plastic and glass.

The Vulture is big, but I used tiny surface damage effects in the texture. Of course, larger versions are also needed, but the finest details define the overall size of an item.

I used traditional techniques in the painting - baking parts as the hand-made edge abrasions, and texture blending for a better and detailed diffuse map. I also used texture projection in 3ds Max. This is a really easy and useful feature to get fine details on uncooperative surfaces. All texture painters know that when the UV map bends, it can create an ugly transformation and bad final texture.

I used a simple method to create details for these unfriendly areas - just separate the loops and create a line UV map. Place this on the required part of base mesh and use the Projection - Bake function.

Baking details for the various textures on the vehicle

Baking details for the various textures on the vehicle

Step 4 Shaders

After I had the textures ready, I started to create the shaders. I placed a simple steel shader on a rim object and used simple Diffuse, so as to have no roughness.

I also used two layers of Specularity. First is a thin and overall Specular Edge Highlight, and the second is a ‘real' Specular of the material. The first Specular is free, with no texture control, and I only used it with a very high set curve to get the sharpen effect. The second is a texture-controlled Specular and reflection set. It needs more render time to calculate the Specular intensity from the pixel count of the textures. The other texture controls the reflection spots on the dirty surface.

Showing a variety of shaders with layers added

Showing a variety of shaders with layers added

Step 5 Renders

Okay, now we can start to look at how the Vulture will get shaded and detailed.
1. For the first render, I created a clay beauty render for the scene. This is also helpful to check the light, GI, AO and possible mesh problems or duplications.
2. Then I did a checker render to check surfaces and UV distortion.
3. The raw render is the first real render after the checking phases, but here I started to show the additional details that I intended to refine in Photoshop post-work. The first is the scratches. We can control them in post-work better than in the render. The render material has its own scratch effects here though - this layer is an additional detail. I called it hard - fresh scratches.
4. I did a full reflection layer for the post-work in Photoshop, because sometimes post-effects can corrupt the Specular - reflection effect.
5. I used Ambient Occlusion in the Advanced Render shader to create a sand/dirt effect for the surface. It works similar to AO, I just used a smaller subdivision to create the grainy effect.
6. A simple AO pass. I also used the Advanced Render here.
7. Leaking and dirt is a very difficult part in the detail creation. I chose to create a separate render from it and apply these on the surface in post-work. If I needed to, I could easily erase or smooth them.
8. The final detail is an additional sign - mark layer on the vehicle. These are in separate passes that I feel add a little extra after surveying the whole ship render.
9. Finally, we can see how the Vulture goes out from the render as raw.

The different renders used on the ship

The different renders used on the ship

Step 6 Lighting

I tried so many options for the final scene's light, but in the end, I chose a midday position with back-light effect.

Different variations of lighting the ship

Different variations of lighting the ship

Step 7 Environment

I then started working on the environment.

I created a simple floor to gain perspective and add shadows to the image. I chose a desert theme, which makes matte painting easier as most elements have a similar set of shades and colors. It is also a problem in this sense though, because it can get a little boring.

To counter this, I added hard, more visible details, and a soft fade to the sand. Sand in particular is quite difficult to paint as it can be either a soft or sharp surface, and it's difficult to find that fine balance in the visuals.

Establishing the floor plane in the image

Establishing the floor plane in the image

Step 8 Perspective

In this image you can see the basic perspective and composition lines used in the image. White indicates the 3D general space, and soft blue is the Field of View (separate segments of the Z-space in 2D).

The soft brown is a little different than the others - this is a perspective direction guide and guides the viewer's eyes into the scene. It moves across the scene from left to right, and expands out as it moves into the foreground. The Vulture has the direct opposite perspective to this, which causes a cross-field effect for the viewer. It gives the impression of more space. The black lattice is just a guide for the golden ratio composition.

Perspective grids help layout the scene

Perspective grids help layout the scene

Step 9 The desert scene

First, I created a flat render with a simple desert texture, than added a ripple effect in Photoshop. I then added darker and harder details to the surface, and sharpened the detail on the surface in the foreground. I also added dry and cracked areas to symbolize the gully, some random footsteps around the vulture's base and a line track that moves off into the distance.

I created distance in the scene using some compact sand layers. This natural staircase breaks the homogeny of sand plain surface.

Finally, I added a few 3D stone renders to the surface, then refined the track of the vulture. This gave it a dirtier, dry and burned sand surface. After that I detailed the foreground with sand stone parts.

Creating the texture for the desert ground

Creating the texture for the desert ground

Step 10 The sky

Here, you can see the atmospheric details I used in the sky - a distant group of clouds and a really soft sandstorm.

I filled up the sky with more realistic colors and applied a soft light on the horizon.

The creation of the sky and atmosphere

The creation of the sky and atmosphere

Step 11 The final details

It's time to leave Earth. I put some globes in the sky to indicate objects in space.

I also gave the scene some sense of life. I added parched branches among the layers of sand and a single poor bush try to survive the heat. I also added the driver's distant silhouette to the scene.

I placed some 3D concrete columns buried in the matte-painted desert field, and added the chain render and vulture's shadow to the scene, along with a soft dust effect close to the surface.

Finally the Vulture was placed above the shadow on the matte-painting (I made the vulture's layer group visible). I also modified the final scene with a soft color correction and added Chromatic Aberration and the Vignette effect, as well as a really soft additional Z-depth to the scene.

The finishing touches to the scene

The finishing touches to the scene