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.

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

Light Fields by James Whitaker

Geeky, I know. Extremely!!

I was chatting to someone last night about light fields and it reminded me just how mind blowing they are. Essentially a light field camera captures 4D light information rather than 2D like a traditional camera - rather than recording a flat image it records the light levels in a volume allowing you to do all manor of clever things in post-production.

For anyone interested in exploring the frontier but is short for time check out this video,

For anyone hungry for more intel this podcast from the CG Garage Podcast delves in deep(ish).

How does CGI work? by James Whitaker

People often ask me how does CGI work, or how do I create my images and I've always felt like I wasn't giving a particularly good answer so I've made this short video as an introduction for the uninitiated.

If you like the video be sure to follow us on Facebook - facebook.com/WhitakerStudio/
and Instagram - instagram.com/whitaker_studio/

And signup for our newsletter to receive a 3D model of the cup - whitakerstudio.co.uk/how-does-cgi-work-newsletter-signup

A free piece of 3D software for you to play with is Sketchup - sketchup.com/

How to put your 360 VR Renders on Facebook by James Whitaker

Since experimenting with 360 videos last week, Facebook have now introduced 360 photographs and it turns out it is incredibly easy to produce and upload cg images, although it does require you to go through a couple of steps. So here is a little tutorial for anyone needing to create 360 content.

We use 3ds Max and V-Ray here at WS so the first part of this tutorial will describe the settings specific to our pipeline, but can be translated to other renderers. The second part will look at what you need to do to prepare your rendered image for upload to Facebook, regardless of software used.

Stage 1 - Render Settings

Set up your camera as you normally would.

Render settings are largely the same as your normal preferences, however under V-Ray > Camera select Spherical Panorama for type and check Override FOV, entering 360.0 for the horizontal override and 180.0 for the vertical override.

Finally, Facebook needs your image to be in a 2:1 ratio with the maximum recommended dimensions being 6000 wide by 3000 high.

Now you can hit render! We normally save out as 32-bit EXR with render passes and you can still do this, editing your image in Photoshop as you see fit before saving out as a jpg.

360 Image for Facbook created with 3DS Max and Vray

Stage 2 - EXIF editing

With your image rendered you now just need to add some additional information into the EXIF data so that Facebook interprets it as a 360 image rather than a normal flat 2D image.

For this you need to visit theexifer.net. Upload your image and then click eXif.me. Here we need to enter Ricoh for Camera Make and Ricoh Theta S for Camera Make. This will fool Facebook into believing that the image was taken with a recognised 360 camera.

Now you can download your photo with its corrected EXIF data and upload it to Facebook.

Further Reading

For anyone wanting some further reading here are a couple of helpful links:

Editing 360 Photos & Injecting Metadata - Facbook

Chaos Group guide to VR

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.