build cine­matic en­vi­ron­ments

Master the fun­da­men­tals of de­vel­op­ing cine­matic ex­te­rior land­scapes

3D World - - CONTENTS - Gus­tavo Åh­lén Gus­tavo is a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary de­signer, matte pain­ter and con­cept artist with more than five years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the CG in­dus­try. www.gus­tavoahlen.com

The fun­da­men­tals for build­ing a cine­matic en­vi­ron­ment

There are some key fun­da­men­tal steps to fol­low dur­ing the process of de­vel­op­ing CG en­vi­ron­ments be­fore you can reach the fi­nal com­pos­ited re­sult. These ‘fun­da­men­tals’ re­fer to colours, shapes, tex­tures, mod­el­ling, light­ing, at­mos­phere, ex­po­sure, con­trast, sat­u­ra­tion and so on, and these pa­ram­e­ters are the ba­sic prin­ci­ples to learn be­fore start­ing any work. For ex­am­ple, if we are work­ing on an in­tro for a film or a se­ries, we should take note of any im­por­tant de­tails of the script in or­der for us to un­der­stand the essence of the work, which will in turn en­able us to un­der­stand the needs of our client. Sketch­ing en­vi­ron­ments us­ing ref­er­ences is a good way to start be­cause it helps us to or­gan­ise our scat­tered ideas.

It is also very im­por­tant to un­der­stand colour the­ory and how colours are con­nected to dif­fer­ent emo­tions, and after mas­ter­ing these prin­ci­ples we will be ready to en­hance the fi­nal scene. Im­prov­ing a piece of work is not sim­ply a process from one day to the next, but rather an on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment in­volv­ing trial and er­ror.

For this tu­to­rial, we will fo­cus on ex­te­rior land­scapes where at­mos­pheres, fog, light­ing and tex­ture play an im­por­tant role. Over the next few pages you will learn fun­da­men­tal pro­cesses such as de­vel­op­ing height maps, tex­tur­ing, light­ing, ren­der­ing, post-pro­duc­tion and colour grad­ing to achieve a vis­ual bal­ance in cine­matic en­vi­ron­ments.

01 work­flow over­view process

Look at ref­er­ences of na­ture and think about how you will de­velop your com­po­si­tion. Merge your scat­tered ideas with emo­tions, ob­jec­tives, and how you will de­velop the scene by tex­tur­ing, mod­el­ling, sculpt­ing, ren­der­ing, post-pro­cess­ing, light­ing and colour grad­ing. The work­flow over­view is fun­da­men­tal for un­der­stand­ing the pro­cesses step by step.

02 ob­serve ref­er­ences

It’s im­por­tant to be­gin by col­lect­ing and ob­serv­ing some rel­e­vant ref­er­ences. Try to look at the veg­e­ta­tion, shapes, tex­tures, colours, leaves, trees, clouds, haze, at­mos­phere and light­ing. Take notes on a blank page in Pho­to­shop, ipad or paper of all the im­por­tant de­tails that will en­hance your fi­nal scene. This will be help­ful in pre­vent­ing us from for­get­ting any key de­tails dur­ing the next steps, be­cause it can be easy to miss some of the fun­da­men­tal key as­pects that we need for our im­age.

03 think About the com­po­si­tion

Next fo­cus on your scene style (fu­tur­is­tic, dystopian, fan­tasy, etc), the story be­hind the scene and where/when it takes place. Once these pa­ram­e­ters are set, the next process will be eas­ier to de­velop. It is like a stair­case; we can­not go to the se­cond floor if we do not start with the first step. Work­ing in an or­gan­ised man­ner is es­sen­tial to achieve bal­ance in each new job.

04 Merge scat­tered ideas

The notes we have taken so far should be linked with emo­tions and ob­jec­tives; oth­er­wise, ev­ery­thing will lose its mean­ing. Con­sider el­e­ments such as us­ing warm or cold at­mos­pheres; haze, fog or dust; iso­la­tion or many peo­ple; green or dry veg­e­ta­tion; desert or soil; trees or just sed­i­ments. All these pa­ram­e­ters will shape dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions for the fi­nal work. You can choose the most ap­pro­pri­ate process ac­cord­ing to the script and the story that is be­ing told.

05 De­velop the scene

Cre­ate a men­tal map with all your scat­tered ideas. Start think­ing about the mod­el­ling of the ter­rain (World Ma­chine, Ter­ra­gen, Vue, etc), tex­tur­ing us­ing nodes, ren­der­ing the scene in the na­tive soft­ware or ex­port­ing the height map or geo to an­other soft­ware, and post­pro­duc­ing the fi­nal ren­der with some sim­ple ad­just­ments, such as fix­ing de­tails, colour grad­ing, etc.

06 sketch the scene

For the sketch­ing process we used Pho­to­shop to set the per­spec­tive view to see how the scene ob­jects will be lo­cated on the ter­rain. Con­sid­er­ing what the viewer will see is fun­da­men­tal when set­ting the per­spec­tive. Dur­ing this process, we rec­om­mend the use of ref­er­ences from movies, se­ries, etc. It’s like the process of de­vel­op­ing con­cept art for a film, where we draw a se­ries of frames.

07 world Ma­chine: ba­sics

Be­fore cre­at­ing the ter­rain we should un­der­stand the ba­sic nodes and how they work. Firstly, open the Ad­vanced Per­lin noise with a left-click. A new win­dow will ap­pear and in the top-right side you can choose dif­fer­ent pre­sets; you can see how they work in the view on the left-hand side. Pre­sets are a great way to start when you don’t know too much about how each pa­ram­e­ter works.

08 world Ma­chine: oc­taves & per­sis­tence

Open the Ad­vanced Per­lin gen­er­a­tor and move the Oc­taves slider to see how it changes the res­o­lu­tion of the fi­nal ter­rain. Have you no­ticed the dif­fer­ence? Low­er­ing the Oc­taves to 3 will de­crease the lay­ers of noise for the frac­tal, whereas higher oc­taves will add more lay­ers, that is, more de­tails, but by de­fault this op­tion is ‘au­to­matic’. An­other pa­ram­e­ter is Per­sis­tence which con­trols the de­gree of strength of each layer of noise. If you de­crease the Per­sis­tence this will re­sult in smooth ter­rain, and vice versa.

09 world Ma­chine: nat­u­ral>ero­sion

The ero­sion in World Ma­chine sim­u­lates mil­lions of years of weath­er­ing and ero­sion by rain, so this fea­ture is great for in­creas­ing the re­al­ism of your ter­rains. In this step we do a test of stan­dard and chan­nelled ero­sion to com­pare the re­sults. Stan­dard ero­sion pro­duces weath­ered fea­tures with­out deep gul­lies, and chan­nelled ero­sion deep­ens and carves gul­lies.

10 world Ma­chine: us­ing Macros

On the World Ma­chine web­site there are a lot of macro op­tions that will im­pact on your fi­nal work. In this case we used Frac­tal­noi to demon­strate how it gen­er­ates frac­tals and achieves chan­nelled slopes. For this kind of work, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand the ge­o­log­i­cal lan­guage, so that we know what to mod­ify in­stead of sim­ply play­ing around with a lot of un­known pa­ram­e­ters.

11 De­velop the ter­rain in wm

To be­gin we’ve added the Ad­vanced Per­lin node with the pre­set Ex­per­i­men­tal-ba­sicper­lin. We changed the Fea­ture Scale to 6.7km, Steep­ness: 0.84, Ac­tiv­ity: 0.563, Off­set: 0.188, Lead-in-level: 0.031. It is im­por­tant to fo­cus on the Fea­ture Scale, as it is the base of the ter­rain. We rec­om­mend us­ing some ref­er­ences for a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of moun­tain sizes, rocky for­ma­tions, etc.

12 Mask Ar­eas for plains

Dur­ing this process, we added ter­races and the Lay­out Gen­er­a­tor node. The Lay­out Gen­er­a­tor can work as a mask con­trol­ling where the pre­vi­ous nodes will af­fect the ter­rain. Ex­per­i­ment with the Falloff Dis­tance and Opac­ity (strength) slid­ers. For the edges the Falloff Pro­file Curve is per­fect for achiev­ing a nat­u­ral merge. For this kind of VFX, we ac­ti­vated De­ac­ti­vate Static Dy­namic Ob­jects with the aim of se­lec­tively ac­ti­vat­ing them later, so us­ing Ac­ti­vate by Ge­om­e­try you can use a ge­om­e­try to de­stroy se­lected ar­eas.

13 world Ma­chine: ero­sion node

Go to the Nat­u­ral tab and search for the Ero­sion node. This node al­lows us to add more de­tails to the moun­tains and ter­rains for a nat­u­ral-look­ing land­scape. To get a pre­view of how this fea­ture will af­fect the ter­rain, select the Ero­sion node and click on Lock Pre­view. Go to the 3D view icon and in the left panel dou­ble-click Ero­sion. Mod­ify the val­ues to pre­view the ef­fects.

14 cre­ate the Dif­fuse MAP in wm

To cre­ate the dif­fuse map, we used the macro Colouriser by HYLK for this tu­to­rial, but there are other macros avail­able for down­load from the World Ma­chine web­site. For vi­su­al­is­ing the out­put of this node, merge the out­put from this node (HYLK colouriser tex­ture) with the Ero­sion node out­put (Pri­mary out­put) us­ing Over­lay view. Now, click on Over­lay view, Lock Pre­view, go to 3D view and click on the left panel in Colouriser by HYLK. Ad­just the pa­ram­e­ters ac­cord­ing to your pref­er­ences.

15 ex­port Maps from wm

Now it’s time to ex­port the nor­mal map. Go to Con­verter>nor­mal-map Maker and con­nect the in­put to the out­put of Ero­sion, and the out­put to Bitmap Out­put, ex­port­ing it as TIFF (16bits). We do the same for dif­fuse. For ex­port­ing the mesh, go to Out­put>mesh Out­put, and con­nect it to the pri­mary out­put of Ero­sion. Fol­low the ref­er­ence to un­der­stand the node con­nec­tions.

16 im­port the Mesh in MAYA

Im­port the OBJ file into Maya. Go to File>im­port and add the ter­rain. obj file. If your ter­rain is ro­tated or is un­der­scaled, just select the ter­rain mesh, go to the At­tribute Edi­tor>trans­form At­tributes, and there you can ro­tate, trans­late and scale your mesh. Now if your ter­rain has too many poly­gons, select the ter­rain mesh, go to Mesh>re­duce. Once you have a lower res­o­lu­tion, go to the right panel>chan­nel Box/layer Edi­tor>select In­put> Polyre­duce>edit>delete His­tory.

17 As­sign Maps to the ter­rain

Go to the Hyper­shade edi­tor>arnold>shader>ai­s­tan­dard­sur­face. Now in this new shader, go to Base Color and click on the small icon>file. There we im­port the dif­fuse tex­ture cre­ated in WM. For the nor­mal map, add the ain­or­malmap shader, and con­nect the in­put to the tex­ture of Nor­mal Map and the out­put to the in­put Nor­mal Cam­era of ai­s­tan­dard­sur­face. For spec­u­lar we used Flowmap. In the ain­or­malmap in­crease the Strength to 5. Right-click on the ai­s­tan­dard­sur­face shader and ‘As­sign ma­te­rial to view­port se­lec­tion’.

18 set the light­ing

Go to Arnold>lights and add Phys­i­cal Sky. Check the im­age to see the pa­ram­e­ters used for this scene. An­other good op­tion for light­ing your scene is us­ing a Sky­dome light with an HDR map. We achieved good re­sults us­ing a sim­ple Phys­i­cal Sky light­ing. There are no rules for this, just trial and er­ror and test­ing the pa­ram­e­ters of El­e­va­tion, Az­imuth, In­ten­sity, Tur­bid­ity etc.

19 ADD De­tails to Dif­fuse MAP

For this scene, we added a jeep or a car as the main sub­ject, but we re­duced the size of this ob­ject in or­der to em­pha­sise the im­mense size of the moun­tains in con­trast to the small ob­ject. For the gen­er­a­tion of small de­tails over the dif­fuse chan­nel, we have im­ported the map into Pho­to­shop and there we add some road tracks. In Pho­to­shop we can add tex­tures over the dif­fuse map to in­crease the level of de­tails, and when you ren­der in Maya you will get awe­some re­sults.

20 set the cam­era An­gle

Once you have added the main ob­ject to the scene, try to fo­cus on your favourite cam­era an­gle. Move the per­spec­tive view, then go to View>cre­ate Cam­era From View. Select the new cam­era, and in the tab Film Back try to change the Film Gate to test cine­matic views. For this tu­to­rial, we used 16mm The­atri­cal. An­other good Film Gate is Vis­tavi­sion or Imax.

21 con­fig­ure ren­der AND light­ing

For the ren­der set­tings, we used the de­fault val­ues of Arnold Ren­derer. Just in­crease the Ray Depth>to­tal= 32 and check Adap­tive Sam­pling. If you want to de­crease the noise level over the sur­faces, you can in­crease the level of Sam­ples in the Sky­dome­light At­tributes. Some­times we can achieve re­ally im­pres­sive re­sults us­ing just the de­fault val­ues.

22 ADD More De­tails

We can add more de­tails to en­hance the scene. For this, we used a plugin known as sp­paint3d, which lets you add ran­dom rocks over a ter­rain. Im­port dif­fer­ent rocks or model them, and below Brush Ge­om­e­try click on add. In the Tar­get Sur­face, select the ter­rain and click on add. Now, click on Paint and you can paint ran­dom rocks with dif­fer­ent sizes over the ter­rain.

23 ex­port the ren­der to pho­to­shop

For ex­port­ing the fi­nal ren­der, we can use ei­ther the TIFF or EXR for­mat. These file ex­ten­sions are great for pre­serv­ing de­tail for post-pro­duc­tion. In the Ren­der Set­tings, go to Im­age Size and change the res­o­lu­tion from 72 to 300. If you need to add any de­tail in the maps, or maybe add more ob­jects to the scene, do so be­fore ren­der­ing. Now, ren­der it and save it as EXR us­ing Raw.

24 colour GRAD­ING in pho­to­shop

In this fi­nal step we can fin­ish en­hanc­ing our im­age. Dur­ing this step we added dust trails, ad­justed the colour lev­els us­ing LUTS, in­creased the con­trast and added a lit­tle blur in some ar­eas. Try to add new lay­ers of rocks or sed­i­ments over the fi­nal ren­der and blend them us­ing over­lay or an­other blend­ing mode with the rocky for­ma­tions – this way we can in­crease the fi­nal res­o­lu­tion level. In ad­di­tion, we can add gra­di­ents as vol­u­met­ric light­ing to en­hance the at­mo­spheric feel.

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