Use Photoshop & Clarisse to create a sci-fi environment

Introduction

In this overview of the project I will show the steps I took to create this image, and will cover major parts of my workflow.

building, landscape, industrial
Basic utility passes

Basic shapes

The basic idea came to me when I was playing around with Magicavoxel. I spent about an hour building the main blocks of the ruins, and decided to do a quick test render.

building, landscape
Test renders from Magicavoxel

Scene layout

It’s time to import basic geo into Clarisse and find the right camera angle and lens. At this point I'm using only basic shaders and basic lights. I displaced the ground plane to make the floor a bit more interesting, and did a couple test renders to see if I was going in the right direction.

building, landscape
Test render with a generic material

Adding details

After selecting the camera position I needed to add some details to the main structure geo. I'm simply scattering deformed boxes on points with points from point cloud, and decimate those points with a scope. One of the many powers of Clarisse, among others, is comprehensive scattering tools. You can build very complex scenes and environments in a matter of minutes.

software
Clarisse 3D Viewport and Browser. You can see the setup for point cloud and scatterer.

Adding additional Kitbash elements

After completing scattering and locking the amount of block, I want to see the main shapes it's time to start adding some kitbash elements to add scale and interest to the image. Having a good library of 2D and 3D elements is a key to quick turnaround. Especially, if you have a tight deadline and no time to search for additional elements. In this case, I used assets from Kitbash 3D WARZONE pack, couple of pieces from Vitaly Bulgarov's MEGASTRUCTURE and Oleg Ushenok's Hard Surface Kitbash Vol. 3.

building, landscape, industrial
Clay render of assembled 3D scene. At this point still no shading has been done.

Texturing and shading

Knowing it is going to be just a single image with no animation and most of the finishing work is going to be done in Photoshop. I decided to spend a minimum time with texturing and shading the elements of the scene, and went with procedural approach. Most of the scene’s section didn't have any UVs, so naturally I just did triplanar textures with projection mode set to cubic. I used a couple of different rust and dirt textures within the whole scene, so I can reveal them partially in Photoshop later.

building, landscape, industrial
Wallpaper contact sheet from Clarisse. Almost ready to jump into Photoshop.

Additional utility passes

Usually it is very handy to export additional utility passes from a 3D program to help you later with additional depth or object masks. I usually render out a zDepth pass, object ID pass, and separated light groups to adjust the image later on.

building, landscape, industrial

Working from background to foreground

After that it's pretty much time to do some overpaints in Photoshop.

This part is straightforward for beginner Photoshop users. I use mostly Curves, Color Balance, and Hue/Saturation adjustments.

After importing all the rendered layers I usually start with the sky, and move forward from that. I stitched a few photos together and color corrected them to match my render color scheme. I tend not to go crazy with the amount of photos I use for the sky as it is really easy to spot different cloud types, and light conditions on the same image. Remember if you are grading or relighting too much, it will always feels like there is something wrong in the end result. In matte painting, we can’t make complex landscapes look like a sunset from a noon light scenario—just find a different image!

sky, clouds, sun
BG sky layer to set the image color scheme

Masks painting and wallpaper reveal

After that, I layered a couple of rendered layers with different textures and started to reveal those materials painting layer masks. It adds additional levels of detail and allows you to control it better as it is a completely non-destructible workflow. You can also color correct patches and break textures even more.

building, landscape, industrial
Adding different texture elements in different areas

Adding elements

Later on, I added more debris to the ground and painted the shadows from the building’s screen off to the right. I also painted cables and antennas to give structures more elements and connect them together, simultaneously leading the viewer's eye to the center of the image. I placed a couple of characters on the mid-ground which helped to tell the story a bit better.

building, landscape, industrial
building, landscape, industrial

Final touches

When the image is almost done, usually I use a lens correction filter to create a lens distortion and add some photo-metric noise and chromatic aberration to it.

Those steps help to even the clarity of the elements and tie the whole picture together. I hope this walkthrough was useful and you pick up tip or two. Thanks for reading!

building, landscape, industrial
Final touches

Quick tip

Try to take a “time off” from the image you are about to finish. Go for a walk, play a game, whatever it is. Usually your eye will get tired after a long time working and everything will look to be in place. In a similar way, ask for feedback in a relevant community and don’t be discouraged if people point out too many mistakes or elements—remember nobody’s perfect. Keep doing what you like and you’ll be there pretty soon!