CREATE SCI-FI SCENES
How can we produce a large futuristic scene with amazing detail? Oscar Juárez demonstrates
Many years ago creating larger images was a difficult task, mostly because we did not have the equipment and assets we have access to these days. Now it’s simpler to create our images, but it’s always important to keep in mind that it’s all a process. In this tutorial I will show you the process I follow – it’s not too complicated, but most of the time I like to have a clean workflow and a good file optimisation. Why? Having a clean workflow enables us to make changes quickly and efficiently. For example, let’s say we need to change an asset in the main model – if we have it properly named and grouped, then if we need to change anything it can be done in no time. This is the same for scattering our models, which we will do a lot in this tutorial – having each scatter named and placed with its scattering elements helps us a lot when we need to add vegetation, people or anything else we need to scatter. I will show you the process I follow to achieve the final image, from creating a concept, gathering info, using pre-made 3D assets to speed up the process, adding our lighting, composition and postproduction. Hope you all enjoy this tutorial, let’s begin.
01 Basic idea
First we need an idea of what we want to do. From here we can start to focus on creating or getting the relevant assets. In this case we will do a big forest in a futuristic zone. What comes to mind? We need trees, water, birds, mountains, robots and flying ships.
02 Gather references
Now we have lots of ideas in mind but we need to see how they look in real life, so the next step is gathering references. Finding a real reference image will help us to see tones, patterns and many other important details. This will also enable us to get new ideas; we might see waterfalls, lakes and other elements that we can consider including in our image.
03 create Mountains
The first thing we are going to do is create the mountains. Here I will use Soft Selection and the Noise modifier. In this case I set up a random size as we still don't know how much will be visible in our image, because we still have no cameras. We can also start to add features we have seen from the reference images, like hills, mountains and lakes.
04 ADD non-forest Details
We have a huge set of mountains with a lake in the centre. Now let’s keep in mind where we could set a nice spot to add an element of story to the scene. The centre of the lake will be the right spot for that, so we will set some
work with lots of reference material Gathering references is a key step for making sure we can accurately create assets with enough detail. TARGA format Saving in TARGA enables us to have the alpha channel in the same image without needing to add the element in Photoshop.
bases. In my mind it will be a human base ready for combat, so I have to keep enough space to add humans, ships, mechas, warehouses and places where people can live. It’s a lot of assets to do, but in the next step we will solve that matter.
05 use ready Assets
Adding a lot of life to our image could mean adding a lot of models and a large amount of time spent modelling, so in this case I decided to use some pre-made assets. I used the Kitbash3d Space Colony, and a pre-made spaceship downloaded from Turbosquid made by Costinus. I also used a mech I made a long time ago and for the main towers I did a model we will see in further steps. I added the building according to the idea I had in mind, setting a place for resources, a ship dock and so on.
06 create Our Forest
It’s now time to create the forest for the scene. In this case I used Evermotion Archmodels for Corona vol. 1, and here we have a choice to make. 1. If we have a high-performance machine we can leave the models as they are, not converting to proxies. 2. If we don’t have that much power we can make it proxy.
Once we have our trees we will use the powerful Corona Scatter in the areas we want to be filled with trees. Scattering over irregular surfaces will make the trees look weird, so we have to set the Align to Normal.
07 set up Our camera
Now it’s time to add our camera. We can see finally if the idea we had in mind goes well and if not, we can always change our position and get better results. Most of the time the ideas we have in mind will change once we have the camera in our scene. In this phase we can set many different cameras; I always say, never settle with the first good camera. Here I set the focal length to 34mm and the output size as 1,300 x 2,000px.
08 corona sun
One of the most important considerations is the light. In this scene we are going to use Corona Sun, but first we need to create an override material so we can render tests in no time and check if we like the Corona Sun position. Once it is set in the Mtl override we need to set the noise level to 10. Now we proceed to add our Corona Sun; in this case I set it on the upper-left side to order to achieve shadows in the centre of the scene.
09 corona FRAME Buffer
Now let’s make an initial render of our scene. For sure you will notice that the image will be so burned out we won’t be able to see a thing. Was this supposed to happen? Yes, using Corona often gives us this result, but we are going to use the amazing Corona Frame Buffer. First we have to go to Exposure and change the value to -3.1, and also change the settings in White Balance. See any difference? Yes, we finally have a better-looking image. Remember to activate the Override option so we can have faster render times.
10 ADD randomness to Our trees
We have a nice forest, but we still need to add non-regular tones to our trees. Select the relevant model, view its materials in the Slate panel, find the leaves texture and here we will use the Corona Multi Texmap. This will allow us to add several tones using only one texture. Add the Corona Multi Texmap, set Item Count to 3, set the map to instance and place the textures. The first one goes as it is. The second and third are connected to a Color Correction. Next add a modifier called Materialby-element to the tree model; set ID Count to 3 and set its frequency to 33 for each. Now render and see how we have a nonregular set of tones in our forest.
11 create the towers
Let's add some towers. In this case I wanted to add something we would likely see in a high-rise city. I used several primitive shapes such as discs, cylinders, torus and many simple Turbosmooth modifiers. In the included video you can see how a tower is dismantled and all the shapes I used.
12 trees in the towers
For this next step, I used the same trees I used for the forest (yes, the ones with modded materials we did before). I added a Corona Scatter and selected the green part of the tower, so it could be all covered up with trees. I tweaked some settings (shown in the video) and I really loved the result.
13 Place extra Details
We now have our forest, a human base and the main towers, but we still need to add more details. After seeing the composition of the image I decided to add a lake in the centre of the scene and later a fallen tower. I refined the settle of the human base by adding more buildings, including some buildings in the mountain and some within the forest. I did this with two purposes. The first one was to help with depth when it comes to the post-production, and the other one was to balance the image with some elements. I used simple materials because the final image would be so far way, adding displacement or more complex materials would have been a
change the mood of your scene Post-production can change the entire mood of our scene, so remember to test out some different options once the final panorama is ready.
waste of RAM. Still, I show you the material settings in the video.
14 Final render settings
The last part of this process is to set the final render settings. One of the biggest advantages of Corona is its simplicity. The only settings I changed in order to get the final image were Output Size: 2,900 x 4,000px and Noise Level Limit: 7. I set the Full Denoising and in Environment Overrides I checked Direct Visibility Override (in order to get the black background instead of the Corona Sky one). In Render Elements I only used Z-depth, Wire Color, Reflect and Refract.
15 remove BACKGROUND
Now we have to open our image in Photoshop to add a sky and a nice environment, but first of all we need to erase the background. As I always do, save in TARGA. Saving in TARGA gives us an alpha channel right into our Channels tab with no need to load an alpha element into our file. Let’s go to the Channels tab and select the alpha: press Ctrl+a to select it all and then click Load Channel as Selection. Select our Elements folder and press Add Vector Mask. This way we will erase the whole background. Remember I told you to activate the Direct Visibility Override? This is helpful in this step because once we have removed the background we won’t have any white pixels in the places where the background has been removed.
16 use Blend MODES
Now we will use the elements we rendered. The first one we will add is the reflect – I set this one as Soft Light and with a value of 23. With this our reflections will look stronger, but as I set them at 23 we will only get more contrast and a soft reflection, which I found to be the best setting. Next I added the refraction element and set it at 21.
17 ADD Mountains
Now it’s time to add the background mountains. Searching for ideal images I found one with a nice mountain for the first plane and another image for the tall back mountains: I got both from pexels. com,
a pretty nice place to get free stock images. The first thing I did was add the closest mountain. I added a mask and started to fade away what I did not need, and later I set the big back mountains and did the same process. Always look for similar-toned images – sure we can manipulate them in Photoshop, but the less we have to change the better. Once both were set I then started to fade the transition between them.
18 ADD sky
Now it’s time to add a nice sky. I have selected one with some dramatic colours. I usually add several layers of clouds, and in some other cases I just add an image I think does the job of filling the background. Why? Because we need a nice background without it becoming the main star of the image. As usual I added my first sky image; as you can see I turned off the big back mountains and defined the first plane mountain a little more. I did this because I wanted to make the transition the best possible with my layers. Once I did that I turned on the big back mountains and with a soft brush I faded the layer so the transition between mountains and sky could be much better.
19 sense OF Depth
So we’ve set all of our foreground, mid-ground and background elements, but it all seems so flat, why? Because we need to add more depth to it. Now it’s time to add the Z-depth element we rendered in Corona. Once it’s in our image we need to Rasterize and then invert it (Ctrl+i). We need to add a greater sense of depth – in
the waterfalls When adding the waterfalls keep it in two layers – where the water touches the surface and another with the falling water. This will make it easier to edit if needed.
this case, a fake one because the farther away the things are, they get whiter. You can see that in reference images of aerial perspective. So we have to draw a whiter layer in front of each layer of the mountains so that the aerial perspective effect can be visible.
20 create Preset Bird Brush
It’s time to add more elements to our scene. Birds in this case, but I will do it a little different this time. I will create a custom brush so we can have it for further images. We have to open the birds in a new Photoshop file, next with Ctrl pressed we need to click in our layer, so we can make a selection. Keep in mind that the image should be clear so the selection can be done easily.
We now need to go to Edit and pick Define Brush Preset, set the name ‘birds’ and then close the file. I went back to the image and started adding the birds. I created two birds layers; in the green areas the clear colours look better and in the white area I added ones with darker colours.
21 Draw A waterfall
I also had the idea to add a waterfall and I really liked the way it looked in the final result. I used a set of water brushes; first I added the base where the water touches the lake, and then I tried different falling water brushes until I found the right one. Always remember to have several references – in this case I tried several water patterns because in my references I saw many different types of waterfalls.
22 ADD MOONS
What kind of futuristic image would it be without a couple of moons? The process for adding these moons is quite simple and easy. I selected a PNG moon image and added it to the image, then with the blend mode set to Screen I achieved the fade effect and also with some opacity and curves I was able to find the right look. Once a moon was ready I added another one, almost with the same settings, and only minor tweaking was done.
23 side trees
We are almost at the end! Finally I decided to add some trees to give more depth to the composition. The first thing to have in mind is to make sure that they match the lighting we are using. The better the match, the less work we will have to do adjusting the tones and so on. Both of the side trees I used have almost the same settings, but the difference with the closest one is that we need to add its reflex on the water. For this I copied the image and flipped vertically. Later with a mask I deleted what I did not need and finally increased the opacity so we could have a nice tree reflex.
24 Final touches
The final step is to slightly change the overall mood and look of the image, and for this we will use adjustment layers. First we will use Color Balance and increase the reds and the blues a little to give our scene a reddish tone. Later we will use a Black & White adjustment layer so that we can have more contrast in our image, and also to give it a slightly more realistic look. I set the blend mode to Soft Light and set its value to 23. And our image is ready!
colour effects Even when the image is ready, if we use some filters, like colour effects for example, we can change a lot of different elements. We can create a different mood, make certain things more visible and so on.
Oscar Juárez Oscar Juárez is an architect who loves creating CG stuff – he has had his own studio based in Mexico City called Fibrha Studio since 2010. www.fibrha.com