The process of creating a cottage

After completing a recent 3d materials project I decided I wanted to submit my first project to Behance. I created a series of in-progress images to show some of the process that goes into building a scene for a still render. The process isn’t perfectly portrayed (I actually did the materials before the lighting) but it’s good enough to give an idea of the workflow. This was an interesting scene to create and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

This is a color palette created from the final render. The entire image uses earthy tones to unify the elements and keep as much realism as possible.

The first step was to create the base geometry. I knew that I would be focusing on materials and paint effects so I made my models fairly simple. A small cottage with just enough detail was put onto a plane with just enough additional geometry to pass for basic terrain. It’s hard to see in the texture-less render, but there is a lake behind the house. Even though I didn’t create the lights at this point, they are in the preview render. As such, I’ll talk about them. The lighting started with a dim directional to create the overall scene light. A dim, slightly orange ambient light was added to lighten the shadows a bit. Next a dim point light was added off to the right of the house to help the shading and paint effects (I’ll discuss this more later) on that side of the house soften a bit. Finally, orange point lights with linear falloff were added inside each lantern to complete the effect. Shadows on all of the lights were set to raytrace to improve realism.

As previously mentioned, lighting was not actually present during this phase of the process, but was added after the materials.

Next I had to create the materials. These would be adjusted again in the future once everything else was in place, but right now it was important to set a realistic base. The hardest material, in my opinion, was the thatched roof. The reason for this is that I originally planned to create the material using just shaders, and only decided to add the paint effects later. This was actually my first use of paint effects in Maya so I wasn’t sure of their capabilities. The stucco shader also took awhile to get right, it started off looking too procedural. Never underestimate the power of textures and blending. At this point I also added my environment, which consisted of a sky dome with a starfield texture (which faded out into a slightly lighter bluish gray color) and a plane with an orange-transparent radial gradient on it. The gradient was used to give the scene a late-evening feel.

There were some slight UV mapping problems on the house that I didn’t care to fix, but were worked out for the most part in subsequent steps.

After adding the materials I added the paint effects. This was an important step for two reasons. For starters, they were a big part of the scene. If the grass, trees, and thatched roof didn’t look correct the entire image would have been ruined. If I had more time and/or processing power I would have liked to convert them to polygons for better lighting. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have either of those at my disposal, I had to fake it a bit. The grass texture was darkened a bit to give the illusion of ambient occlusion on the ground. I also added the previously-mentioned point light to the right of the house which brightened up that side of the house a bit, helping to blend the paint effects with the roof and reduce the darkness of the stucco there.

For awhile this was going to be my final render because I didn’t have the ability to add ambient occlusion. I am very thankful I was able to get that sorted out in time.

For ambient occlusion I had to render an entirely separate image. There are ways to include ambient occlusion in the render, but unfortunately my computer refuses to allow such uses of mental ray. I am still not entirely sure why the AO render came out at all, since it technically uses mental ray as well. The render was created by duplicating the house, terrain, lake, and lights into a second render layer. All geometry in this render layer was given a mental ray ambient occlusion texture. I then rendered the ambient occlusion version of the scene into the image below.

I actually forgot to de-saturate the lights before rendering the AO pass so I had to do so in Photoshop. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind.

Once I had a final render and an ambient occlusion render, I was ready to bring everything into Photoshop. Normally I would set the AO layer to multiply to only show the shadows, but in this case I decided to go with overlay. The reason is that with overlay the blacks get darkened and the whites get lightened, giving my whole scene a brighter, high-contrast look that maintains the nighttime feeling while increasing visibility of the elements. If I had gone with multiply I would have probably added a brightness/contrast layer effect to do a similar thing.

The final composite. Isn’t it pretty?

You can see the Behance project here.

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The process of creating a cottage

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