model

Emulating the landscape of Joshua Tree by James Whitaker

Over the last few months, I have been designing a house for a private client in Joshua Tree, California. As the design developed I thought that it was something that would catch a little bit of attention in the press if I showed it in its best possible light (I never imagined it would go viral). I was already using the computer to make simple 3D maquettes and with the design locked off, it was fairly straightforward to build a detailed model of the house on the computer. The context was the real challenge. The client had provided me with a topographical site plan as a PDF, which I had been sketching over. He had also provided me with photographs of the site, but the photographs weren't quite sufficient for me to use to make some nice images of the scheme - I wanted to be able to surround the building with context, in 360 degrees, so that we could get the shadows and reflections across the building. To solve the context problem I devised this rather satisfying workflow which I thought warranted sharing.

First of all I opened the pdf in Adobe Illustrator and exported it as a DWG. I then opened the drawing in Autocad and scaled it to the right size, cleaned it up, and joined fragmented contours into continuous polylines (I later realised that this could have been done automatically in 3DS Max with SiNi plugins). This drawing was then imported into 3DS Max and each contour was raised to its correct height (this was tedious and I'm unaware of any shortcuts).

With the contours set out in 3D space I then used the Terrain Compound Object to create a surface from the contours. This generates a surface that is detailed but an ugly mesh to work with - it's all triangulated.

Joshua Tree Residence Terrain Mesh

At this point, I identified some areas around the building that where cliffs and rocks, rather than sand surfaces. I duplicated the terrain surface, drew a 2D polyline around the area that I wanted to be more detailed and cropped the landscape surface down.

Joshua Tree Residence Landscape Crop

I then took the cropped down landscape surface and retopologised it using SiNi Software's Sculpt plugin. This gave me a localised area of the landscape that was turned into a neat quad poly surface.

Next, I centred the surface's pivot point to the centre of the surface and then added a point helper to the scene and aligned it to the pivot point. This is to help align the detailed surface in the right place, later in the process.

Joshua Tree Residence Anchor Point

Now I did a quick UVW Unwrap on the surface.

Joshua Tree Residence unwrap UVW

I moved the surface to 0,0,0 in model space and exported it to Mudbox. (I found that if I didn't move it to 0,0,0 first I had difficulty viewing the mesh in Mudbox.) With the UVW mapped, nicely regular mesh in Mudbox I could work detail into it easily, before taking it back into 3DS Max and using the helper to locate it in the right place.

Joshua Tree Residence Mudbox

The final step was just to adjust the original, main landscape surface so that the detailed surfaces sat over it well. I made a bunch of rocks in Mudbox and then used Forest Pack Pro to scatter these and vegetation over the landscape.

SiNi's plugin was really the kingpin in this process. If you do visualisation work and aren't familiar with SiNi I recommend that you check them out.

Creating 2D Splines in 3DS Max by James Whitaker

I've just been doing some concept design work in 3DS Max. With the design finished I needed to extract a 2D drawing that I can clean up in Autocad and then pass on to the set builders. It's a little bit of workflow that is always helpful to do with architectural projects, say when you're working on a competition, but can be a bit of a pain.

Well, I'm quite pleased with this workflow in the end. I viewed my 3D model in elevation or plan and drew splines over it using the 2.5 snap. This is pretty quick to do but can leave you with lines floating all over the place in 3D space which are then a pain to work with in Autocad. Scribe by SiNi Software has a flatten spline button, and with a click of a button your splines are all flattened to the C-Plane. Ta da!

Siclone Tutorial by James Whitaker

This is a little tutorial for SiClone, a neat 3DS Max plugin that I’ve been using recently by SiNi Software - https://www.sinisoftware.com/

If you have any questions or queries please ask away in the comments section below and I'll try my best to help, and if you enjoy the tutorial please sign up to our newsletter so we can keep in touch - http://eepurl.com/cf3NM5

Space Baby by James Whitaker

So, last week I finally finished my series of images Space Baby, and they are now selling through Getty Images. I've been chipping away at them between commissions and they've been great fun to create, so I thought you might enjoy a little break down of what went into making them.

Each shot was sketched out before hand. Sometimes this was a quick pencil sketch and sometimes a very dodgy bit of photoshop, as below. As these were never intended for public consumption I didn't worry about spending too much time on them, they were really just for blocking out the principals of the shot - the camera angle, lighting etc.

We did all of the photography work at the brilliant Cloud & Horse studios in north London, and with a rough idea of the shot that we were after we could set up the studio to give us the right lighting conditions. However, unlike when I was shooting Jennifer for the Tokyo penthouse we couldn't be that precise - a toddler just doesn't stand still that long. We had to be far more fluid and adaptable.

Back at the computer I was able to make my selects from the shoot and begin the hard work.

The first step was to place the photograph of Jack behind the model in 3DS Max. I could then move the virtual camera into the right position so that model and photo would align. With the camera setup and locked in position I could then work on the 3D model, adding detail where it would be seen without wasting time on stuff that would be out of shot.

With all the shot modelled up I then went back to Photoshop to mask out the background in the photograph of Jack. In the instance of this photo I had to use 2 or 3 photographs and composite them together to remove any trace of gravity and me holding Jack.

There was then a little back and forth to double check the camera angle and lighting in the model before rendering out the final image of the spaceship. This was then taken into Photoshop where it could be combined with the photograph of Jack.

I render out my computer images as 32-bit images in multiple passes so that I can adjust each element (reflections, refractions, lighting, etc.) in Photoshop. This is particularly important on images like this to bed Jack into the image and adjust the little details that make him look like he's actually there rather than just pasted on top. 

Every detail was carefully embellished to give the series a comfortable real world feel. For instance the magnetic letters were modelled from scratch and then textured with a Vray SSS2 material. This material allowed me to give the plastic that slightly translucent feel that you get on some children's toys, which then glows a little when it's back lit.

Jack's spacesuit brought some unique challenges, particularly for someone who specialises in architectural imagery (which is normally hard and rectilinear). In the end I took a model of a small boy and tweaked it to give him the proportions of a toddler. I then rigged the model with a skeleton in 3DS Max and exported that to Marvellous Designer. In Marvellous Designer I could then use the toddler model like a mannequin and slowly craft the spacesuit over him. With the fabric parts of the spacesuit finished in Marvellous Designer I then animated the mannequin back in 3DS Max to move from standing to the pose for each shot. I then took that animated mannequin back to Marvellous Designer and animated it while it wore the spacesuit. The spacesuit was then finally taken back to 3DS Max for texturing, to add the hard elements, and then finally adding it to the rest of the scene.

If you have any questions feel free to ask them below and I'll do my best to answer them for you.

Brass Reading Light by James Whitaker

I made this model just before Christmas for an image I was working on and then revisited it last week to get it ready for selling online. While getting it ready for sale I made this little film of it which I find oddly enjoyable and hypnotic if watched on repeat. So here it is for your enjoyment too!

Brass Reading Light 3D model

Brass Reading Light 3D model

You can purchase the model on turbosquid

Bed with metal frame and fur throw by James Whitaker

Last year I modelled a lot of beds for one project, and as with most things I definitely improved with practice. I ended up getting the most satisfying results modelling the sheet in Marvellous Designer, then the duvet and pillows back in 3DS Max using cloth simulation, before returning back to Marvellous Designer to model the throws. In this instance I then used VRay fur on one of the throws. The great thing about modelling the throws in Marvellous Designer is that they come into Max already UV mapped making it really easy to change the texture of them.

If it would be helpful let me know and I can put together a tutorial covering the process.

For anyone without the time to start from scratch you can get this bed from Turbosquid.