My Journey with 3D: Told through software

Fun Fact: There are more polygons in one of the window handles in the left image above than in the entire image on the right.

Seeing as it’s now pretty much exactly 4 years since I first started exploring 3D as a field to go into, I thought it might be a good idea to put this journey down on digital paper; told through 4 different pieces of software. Less for narcissistic reasons, more because my entire belief is that you have to know where you’ve come from to know where you’re going. I mean sure; may this also serve as a directory, of sorts, for those also starting out in the field and perhaps experiencing that same trepidation I did. ‘I’ll never be as good as X Y and Z at it’, ‘Where do I even start?’ and of course the old favourite, ‘Is this even a serious career choice?’

The eagle eyed will note that 4 years is not a long time at all in which to go from complete amateur to established ‘professional’ in any field; not least CGI. Well, while I was completely new to 3D this time 4 years ago (I had to look up what a polygon was), to say I was completely fresh to it all would be a half-truth…

1) Floorplan 3D Essentials

31GPENRDZBL
Floorplan 3D is a native Windows 3.1/95 application and no longer functions on modern hardware.

It was a rainy, windy Christmas Day in 2001. I was nine years old. My memory from this time is extremely vague at best, but that Christmas sticks in my mind. I was opening my presents with all the excitement of a child that age. I remember clearly opening my Guinness World Records 2001, a chest of plastic stationary drawers, a whole lot of nick nacks…followed by three fairly inconspicuous looking square packages from my parents. The first was an architecture book; The Home Plans Book, by David Snell and Murray Armor. I liked pencil drawing architectural elevations at this point but technically speaking knew nothing about the subject, so this was an apt gift. Then followed Total Cad 2D-3D from IMSI; an early consumer CAD CD-ROM application which was surprisingly ahead of its time. I loved these gifts and couldn’t wait to feed them to my ancient IBM machine. Then I opened the third; this one I was less excited for at the time (sorry mum), as the packaging was nowhere near as exciting to me as the first. It was a copy of the Floorplan 3D Essentials CD-ROM.

ibm_ps10
IBM 486SX PS/Valuepoint, the first and best computer I ever owned; already vintage by 2001.

Armed with my new toys, I retired to the IBM and fed it these two shiny new discs; the CAD one first, of course. It completely threw my 9-year old mind and while I could see its potential even at the time, I didn’t do much with it beyond trying to learn basic functionality. But wait! I had another to try! Within hours of finishing the installation (a whopping 20mb!!!), I was completely hooked on Floorplan. This program actually let me take the designs from my new book and turn them into 3D I could walk around and experience! Best of all, it was simple enough for a child to use (somewhat conveniently). Now let me be clear on something at this point. My first project looked like this:

Back 1front

Between the late 90s graphics core running on something like 50mhz of CPU, and my own skills as a pre-adolescent, I wasn’t going to get any masterpieces done. But boy, it didn’t matter one bit. Over the course of the next 2-3 years, I produced around 30 buildings; complete with furniture and in some cases, landscaping. Many were original, many weren’t. I didn’t care. This was my Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Half Life. I had discovered the joys of 3D.

2) 3D Home Designer

A few years on, and the story of how I got hold of this next software is somewhat less interesting than the last. I believe I picked it up on the high street; I had the choice of a Deluxe or standard version so of course chose the Deluxe for £14.99; it came with a booklet on decorating which I never read (!), but also an extra 500 ‘materials’, which would prove useful.

51rtFNLjT0L
3D Home Designer is still a very operational application available online for a pittance, though the graphics are a little dated and don’t expect good optimisation. 

A few years on, and the story of how I got hold of this next software is somewhat less interesting than the last. I believe I picked it up on the high street; I had the choice of a Deluxe or standard version so of course chose the Deluxe for £14.99; it came with a booklet on decorating which I never read (!), but also an extra 500 ‘materials’, which would prove useful. Upon some digging, this turns out to be a budget, re-packaged consumer version of the Arcon visualisation software; an industry standard ArchViz solution still in use today. In many ways, it was effectively a better version of Floorplan. The basic tenets of conumer-level 3D were all here, only this time the graphics actually looked like what they were supposed to…most of the time. It was with this software that I learnt the beauty of ray-traced rendering, some (very) basic texturing skills and, crucially, it was an introduction to the world of lighting. Surprisingly for the time, this software carried a fairly comprehensive lighting engine which taught me so much.

 

 

Again though, this was all completely basic 3D skills; I was still just placing assets other people had made. Now though, I had access to basic lighting and texturing which only enhanced my love for the art-form even further.

I’m going to stop now and highlight something extremely important but somewhat controversial. You’ll note that I was already adept with placing assets in a scene, then lighting and fiddling with textures. Now, for many this right here is 3D Visualisation….creating a scene by adding and composing from assets found online. There’s nothing wrong with this practice; it’s perfectly valid if you’re working to a fast turnover or there simply isn’t any call for creating your own models. However, the ability to reliably and consistently model from scratch is the only way to become a real 3D Visualiser as opposed to a 3D ‘Arranger’, and is only becoming a more valued skill to have.

With this software I created a large body of work; not all of it good work, but work all the same. For around 4 years I played with this software almost non-stop until eventually it was 2007 and I had to choose a ‘serious’ line of work and opted to study Film Production. Back then, 3D was something the cool kids studied who wanted to work in Gaming or CGI; not a serious pursuit (!)

Fast forward another 5 years.

3) Live Interior 3D Pro (OSX)

Annotation 2019-03-11 150326
This software is still available on Mac and PC, albeit completely re-branded and revamped. I can strongly recommend it for dipping your toe into the world of 3D without jumping in.

During the final year of my first degree in which I mostly focussed on cinematography, I had to create some 2D set plans in a great screenwriting program called Celtx as part of an assignment for a module called Corporate Video Production. Yes, it was as corporate as it sounds. But one good thing came out of it; I recalled my days with 3D Home Designer and decided to blow my lecturer’s socks off by creating a fully 3D representation instead, despite not being a Design student at all. One problem; I owned a Macbook Pro, not a Windows 95 clunker by this point. So with 3D Home Designer already out of the running, I set about finding another piece of software which I could pick up quickly and create nice visuals with. Welcome Live Interior 3D. This amazing piece of software is still around today though under a different name, and capitalises on the OSX platform to deliver the same consumer 3D experience I’d come to know and love over the course of the past 10 years. Featuring a GI render engine, bump mapped textures and more realistic lighting, this application was a perfect evolution for me; albeit I was still using a consumer grade program. Regardless, I got the assignment done, got my F (no, really) and started finding some roots with it. For at least several months of my Film production degree, I spent most of my time making models and it was great. Just me and the software again.

421820_3101100820741_1660821059_2539423_525521533_n[1]
Most of my work was fairly simplistic in Live 3D. But again, I learnt some more core 3D principles such as how lighting, cameras, textures and even models worked on a fundamental level.

Then reality hit back and I had to stop all this silliness once more. I wanted to be a cinematographer and 3D was just a silly pastime with no legs. After graduating, I did an MA in lighting and cinematography; whether or not this was worth its weight is debatable. However, between this and my first degree I learnt a lot of valuable skills; key ones being composition, technical camera skills, colour and sound science and crucially, lighting; which I ended up majoring in during my Masters. Knowledge in these things would seriously help me much later on down the line.

3a & 4a) Adobe After Effects CS5 & DaVinci Resolve 11

Wait, this isn’t 3D software. And that makes six, not four! You lied to me!

Ah, but it’s relevant. During my degrees I also picked up a strong skillset in post-production; namely, colour grading and basic compositing. I became fairly strong with AE in particular; rotoscoping and compositing became necessity for various projects I worked on. The hours I spent infuriating myself with this program. ‘Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I do that? How do I make this 3D……?’; you get the picture. I started yearning for the freedom my 3D programs had afforded me for all those years past and genuinely felt frustration towards AE specifically for making it ‘so hard’ creating 3D environments.

untitled.png
Most of my work was basic compositing work by this point. Adding smoke, VFX and playing with lighting became my bread and butter.

A few years on and I’m severely disillusioned with film. I loved creating beautiful imagery first and foremost, but grew weary of the constant impediment at every turn. Not enough dynamic range. Not enough soft boxes. Not enough grip. Wrong weather. Wrong colour grade. Wrong people. Wrong industry; all I wanted to do was create what was in my head but it would be constantly and consistently quashed by both my own position on the hierarchy but also practical limitation on a large scale.

I started exploring options.

Getting back to After Effects, it was at this point that a motion graphic designer friend; an absolute master in After Effects himself; mentioned a program in which I could make anything imaginable within crisp 3D space; and integrate it seamlessly with After Effects to pretty much do whatever I wanted with VFX. By this point though, Film VFX wasn’t something I wanted to do with my life so I politely ignored this frankly brilliant advice.

The software, incidentally, was called….

4) Cinema 4D

c4dr14
R14 was the version I cut my teeth on but lacks a lot of the features found in the software now.

Almost a year completely out of work later, another good friend in much the same boat as me, starts spouting off that he wants to work in the games industry. Bless him, this didn’t end up going anywhere for him. But being a fairly keen PC gamer by this point I decided it was worth a shot. How else was I going to use my degrees? So I downloaded Unity engine and instantly became infuriated by the fact I had to, once again, use other people’s models and could never hope to achieve my imagination. I found the entire experience stilting. Pissed off that once again I was being limited, I went on Wikipedia and read the entry on 3D to see how easy it would be to make my own assets; foolishly, I disregarded my earlier experience as being completely unrelated. So after learning what a polygon was and the absolute basic fundamentals such as what texturing does and what models actually are, I set about finding software. It was never a guaranteed thing that I’d go with Cinema 4D; quite the opposite, in fact. I saw C4D as a motion graphics application unable to hold a candle to 3DS and Maya for visualisation. However, at this point in time it was also cheaper, vaunted as having an easier learning curve and was the best for creating animation. Thinking as only a film student would, I took the plunge on Cinema purely because I thought I may be able to link my current experience in better. Turns out I was completely wrong and I basically started my journey learning an all-new field of digital imagery from scratch. My experience from before counted for nothing.

Or did it?

Within a week, I’d created a fairly decent cannon model; complete with animation:

Within a month, I’d re-created my first ever fictional model from Floorplan 3D Essentials…and learnt a lot about global illumination in the process:

15 Front Fog-2

Within three months, I’d fallen in with a small game modding community with whom I’d worked many years ago on sourcing sounds for. They would prove to give me the launchpad I needed to start taking 3D seriously. At first, I created a steamship for a current game they were working on:

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.17.36Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 13.47.31

I consider this my first ‘proper’ 3D model. I learnt the basics of box modelling as well as texturing from doing it. Once that had been successfully added, I was then given the task of creating a Palatial mansion based on very strict historical drawings:

Hampden Front 1

While it did take me an embarrassingly large amount of time to model this, I learnt a lot about texturing and architectural rendering in doing so. I also created many other ship based assets, such as this cannon:

0002

Unfortunately, they eventually had to abandon the project for various reasons and this was the end of my affiliation with them. By this point though, I was becoming seriously excited with what I could do in Cinema 4D; I’d completely forgotten that the whole point was to make games! Six months in, and I’d created my first major piece of work:

Canal low Overcast
‘Victorian Factory’ was my first piece of ‘complete’ 3D work. I remain extremely proud of the detail and lighting I put into this model, despite still being very new to the field.

Finally, I was able to create whatever I wanted. It was beyond liberating. Moreover, my experience with lighting and composition was starting to come out and give my work its own style. Eventually, this would play a huge role in my work looking professional despite having zero formal education in the field. With the awe-inspiring artwork posted online daily, it wasn’t hard finding inspiration to constantly improve. It was by this point I started seriously considering a career in the field.

Epilogue

A lot of exciting models later, I felt once again restricted; this time, by Cinema 4D’s standard render engine. Another year and a half went by and I’d been able to begin working freelance and getting paid for my effort. By this point I’d been modelling about 2 and a half years so decided to start taking myself seriously as a 3D Visualiser. For me, this involved removing my final limitation. The solution I chose was Octane Render Engine; and it would prove to completely change how I saw my own modelling. Suddenly, my scratch-made models and textures were shining; every detail being shown in beautiful, perfect, crisp 3D. Sure, a bad artist blames his tools…but surely a good one thanks them? Regardless, I’d finally found a way to unlock myself. The quality of my work sky-rocketed as I felt a fresh confidence in doing this for a living; it was no longer a pipe dream but becoming a reality. For this, I don’t attribute Octane, Cinema 4D or even my degrees and years of learning. Just as you wouldn’t say a tree sprouts from a fully grown trunk, my 3D journey begins and ends with a seed.

A seed which was laid on a cold, dark December morning almost two decades ago.

29 LV8
‘Enterprise House’, a massive architectural detail study of a mostly fictional structure, capitalises on everything I love about 3D; the ability to create anything imaginable to a high standard, with no limit whatsoever, followed by the ability to experience the work from any angle.

 

TLDR

  • You’d be surprised by how much consumer-grade 3D software can teach you. Very surprised.
  • You don’t need education to learn 3D; just a ridiculous amount of self-determination and initiative.

  • If you think 3D isn’t for you, you’re right. It isn’t. You have to love it to do it.

  • If you think working in 3D is a pipe dream, you’re wrong. It’s a very large industry in 2019.

  • Find your passion and work with it to progress your own art. In my case, this was history. Niche? Absolutely. Fruitless? Certainly not.

  • Don’t get hung up on software. It really doesn’t matter if you use Sketch-up or 3DS. If your work is good, you could be using Microsoft Paint and people won’t be able to judge you.

  • Equally, don’t fall behind. I learn something new every day; be it by accident or by design.

  • Find what it is inside yourself that wants to create the work. For me, it was the feeling of being able to completely express myself without practical limitation.

  • If you ever feel like you’re having the mickey constantly taken out of your work in an industry, leave. Nothing is worth that and leaving film was the best choice I ever made.

That about wraps this up. As always, let me know if there are any burning questions by contacting me via the R&H website: rhviz.com.

 

All work displayed on this page is (C) Rob Nutter 2019. 

Advertisements

Modelling Tips: Painting the Past

This is a general tip list for 3D production and assumes the artist has at least a basic grasp of post-production.

We’ve all done it at one time or another; scoured a search engine or Pinterest for hours on end, drooling over some of the 3D art some fantastic person or the other has posted up on there. ‘It looks like a painting’, we say to ourselves repeatedly, as though trying to convince our brain that it is not, in fact, simply a product of maths. That is, a series of geometric lines created using algebraic expressions and an elaborate co-ordinates system intended to give the impression of favourable aesthetic.

What’s that? You’ve never done that? I don’t believe you for one second. Not, that is, if you’re interested in 3D art to even the smallest degree. Since you’re on this blog reading this drivel, I’ll assume you are. So let’s continue.

I was always obsessed somewhat with the creation of ‘paintings’ through alternative medium. One of my favourite movies of all time, Barry Lyndon, establishes a strong oil painting composition; you believe it is genuinely the work of Constable or any other great landscape artist; not of some guy behind a camera. It was remembering the experience of watching this movie which encouraged me to give it a go myself on a few renders in a recent project I completed… afterall, how hard can it really be? 

Print22

This isn’t the first project I tried it out on. I have, somewhat successfully, incorporated it into past projects too.

Well, without copious amounts of post-production, it is fairly hard as it turns out. But so you can benefit from my many head scratches, here’s a concise list of things to consider when going for a ‘painted’ aesthetic in 3D:

Tip 1: Be mindful of the appropriateness of your subject. Sure, anything can be given the treatment if you know what you’re doing. But since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume this is your first rodeo. So keep it simple & orthodox; historical landscapes are an obvious choice here, though close studies can work too. For instance, a simple bowl of fruit on a table or something even simpler than that.

Capture

Sometimes, conveying movement; be it from the smoke or the blades in this scene; can make an image look more dynamic.

Tip 2: Consider how close to realism you want it to be. For example, do you want it to be a realistic painting or a more stylised one? This will heavily impact your decisions later on so decide now. I personally went for a more realistic impact, as the temple below demonstrates, though I can imagine that simply exaggerating the motifs used could produce a more stylised approach.

5

I made some of my renders look almost like miniatures, while in-keeping with the painted aesthetic. This seemed appropriate for the subject.

Tip 3: Don’t assume you can relax on the modelling just because it’s a painting. Great painters generally have an extreme eye for detail; cutting corners on the modelling will only gimp your overall look later on. So don’t do it. If you think a detail is required to make the object look better, do it. People will more easily forgive a missing cornice or wrong breed of tree in more stylised work, but you still need to get the material of the brickwork or the colour of the colour of the grass right regardless; don’t go full experimental yet. On the other hand, don’t add erroneous detail for the sake of it and try cramming this into your final image. The image above, for example, has a broken pillar lying on the ground which took me a good half hour to model. Can we see it? No. Does it matter to the aesthetic? No. Aesthetic before detail but detail is still crucial!

Tip 4: Texturing is the most important thing here. As with any good model, it’s the texturing which will ultimately determine if it’s a turd or a rock-star render. With a painted look, this becomes even more true as 2D art relies on an object’s texture to tell the story; there’s no modelling under the surface; it truly is just the surface! And so it is here, that it’s the texture which will interface with the lighting, the texture which will give the surfaces character and of course, the texture which will be what people see before anything else. Even simple texturing can work, though; so long as you understand what it is you’re after from the final product. For instance, simple solid colours could be used in a modern art piece so long as the concept is on point!

3

Texture and light come together to make a rusted old shield the focal point of this render; the model itself is really very basic.

Tip 4: Lighting ties everything else together. Lighting needs to come before composition and shot selection. I know this may seem backward to usual photographic logic, but it’s really the best way forward here. How can you set up a good composition if you don’t know where the light is going to be? In 3D, we’re completely free to set up any kind of lighting whatsoever; a freedom only afforded in live action to the most top-end production studios. So use it! For achieving a painted look, you need to ensure lighting looks as natural as possible, while also taking on its own form. A lot of classically painted imagery relies on shadow or volume to give it a realistic feel; in 3D, we don’t always have to do this; it’s a luxury of the trade, I guess. But if you want to achieve the painted look, you will need to make it absolutely clear where light is coming from and how it’s interacting with objects; the render above is a good example for this. Have several strategies lined up too; ie, different types of weather etc. This is vital for the next step.

Tip 5: Composition, Composition, COMPOSITION! I won’t go into the fineries of artistic composition here as this is a blog post, not a photography book. Needless to say, it’s extremely important you get this right. A fun way of doing it in 3D, I’ve found, is just ‘visiting’ your model; finding all the best angles which are most pleasing; then seeing how it looks under various light strategies.

Vickers Hangars 2

A moody image showing a truck and airfield hangar against an overcast sky. Simple, yet thanks to its interesting composition and use of light, effective too.

While we’re on the subject of composition, if you find yourself unsure of what a good shot looks like I would suggest immersing yourself in a spot of research. Every great image has a commonality, regardless of genre; composition. Even artwork made famous from using ‘bad’ composition has nailed something in its execution. A general rule to start off with might be to consider the story; the ‘narrative’, if you will, of your scene. Once you’ve established that, you’ll find that choosing on a valid angle or type of viewpoint becomes significantly easier. For example, I wanted this shot to feel isolated and foreboding; it is, afterall, set during WW1. In another similar shot involving an abandoned truck of the same model, I tried pushing a value of hope:

Dead Truck

The airfield in the distant background and the clearing skies give a sense of hope and feeling that all is not lost. This is how you need to approach composition. I also cranked up saturation in this image, for reasons made clear below.

Tip 6: Post-Production saves time! Sure, we could do all of the following in our modelling application of choice, but why? We’ve modelled and textured, set up lighting and created shot which is pleasing to the eye. Now we need give it that final series of touches which suggests it’s a painting. Don’t worry if you’re new to post-production; these are very simple tips which the smallest google search should be able to instruct you further on:

  1. Contrasts: Establish contrasts; be it colour or light. This is very important as most artists will verify. Ensure your composition speaks to this too, as in the above examples.
  2. Go easy on the filters: The only ones I ever use are de-noising to soften the image or remove sampling grain and highlight priority to give darkened corners; emulating photography. This is my style, you need to find yours; but try and keep artistic filters sparse as very quickly you’ll find the work is no longer yours, but whoever coded the software’s!
  3. Don’t be afraid to use crop! Art has no standard size and this is especially so with painted work. A good artist recognises that they don’t need to fill up the canvas to create a great image. A good piece of cropping can improve composition, focus the eye and even alter the narrative! A bad piece of cropping can also destroy a perfectly good image. So use sparingly, but by all means, don’t be scared of doing it.

 

That about wraps this up. As always, let me know if there are any burning questions by contacting me via the R&H website: rhviz.com.

 

 

 

Modelling Tips: Designing Fictional Architecture

When I was still learning to 3D model to any kind of standard (a few years ago now), I designed and built a large Mid-Victorian factory for practice. It remains my proudest piece of work to this day; so much so I gave it a full video animation, which may be viewed here. The aim with this project was to get a feel for modelling larger architectural environments but without the confines of using a specific historical structure for design. As such, I progressed with creating my own from a mixture of memory and real engineering principles of the period; to this end I also set myself a strict subject, period and location (Major Lockworks, 1871, Birmingham).

Roofing 3

The central roof is my pride and joy on this project as it was done almost completely by memory and just proves how powerful 3D is as a medium for recreating technical history. It also happens to look surprisingly realistic in black and white!

I wish I could say it is a complex and well informed set of events which led me to follow the design I finally went with, but really that would be a bare-faced lie. I knew I wanted a long, bright, red brick and terracotta central building finished in the Victorian Classicist fashion, flanked by smaller ‘child’ structures. I had a very strong idea of what i wanted right from conception.

 

It was important to me that I found the building attractive, to make it easier to maintain solid creative direction.

The finished project can be found here in its entirety.

———————————————————————————————–

Let’s just rewind though. Something occurred between planning and presentation; the modelling process!

Upon gathering the necessary guts to ascend to this bold undertaking, the first stage was creating the iron frame and base elements:

 

From this stage it was a matter of developing the central complex out and of filling in all the details from there. However, death by words is never a nice way to go, so this is a long process better suited to a slideshow with steps:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stage 1: Developing ‘filling’ walls for the main structure.

Stage 2: Confirming dimensions and major bodies.

Stage 3: Adding basic structural detailing including base skeletal elements from external skeletal model.

Stage 4: Completing structural detailing including brickwork finery and roofing.

Stage 5: Adding window detailing.

Stage 6: Internal filler walls, doors and brickwork sign-writing.

Stage 7: Finer details for main complex, texturing initiation, windows and roofing for auxiliary buildings.

Stage 8: Main factory complex completely finished; depot block detailed and textured. Props and detailing added (drey wheel, hoisting beams etc).

Stage 9: Creating alternative lighting & environment.

Stage 10: Landscaping and earth development.

Stage 11: Landscape detailing, background additions and canal (off-screen left).

Stage 12: Final polish, texturing and rendering.

As an added challenge, I also elected to create a ‘Boardroom’. This involved carved wood, interior lighting and careful texturing. In fact, I more specifically wanted to use this opportunity to develop my then horrible knowledge of lighting:

 

Stage 1: Space plotting and deciding on a basic design.

Stage 2: Expanded internal wall. Toyed with the idea of creating furnishings and a stained-glass ‘skylight’ for natural lighting, but couldn’t make it look convincing enough so scrapped the idea.

Stage 3: Joinery, gas lamps and wall texturing took no time at all once I’d gotten the hang of it! Gas lamps were created using Subdivision and tinted ‘glass’.

Stage 4: Creating alternative lighting & environment (for this room only)

Stage 5: Experimenting with external gas lantern lighting.

Stage 6: Experimenting with internal & external gas lantern lighting.

It was surprisingly tricky keeping a balance between the inefficiencies of Victorian lighting and making the exterior appear as anything more than shades of black. The lanterns are actually physically correct in their modelling; there is a correctly shaped bulb given a sphere of luminant material inside! Sadly, this did kick up a lot of issues with refraction and so the final effect wasn’t perhaps as perfect as I’d hoped:

 

Following this learning curve, it was at this point I realised something was fundamentally wrong with my design. In my quest for light, I’d given too little thought to space on the actual factory floors!

 

Upon beginning my experimentation with volumetric lighting, I ultimately chose to leave it though and to sacrifice a tiny amount of practicality for aesthetic. Afterall, it did come together so very nicely once the lighting became involved:

2

The final stage was landscaping, prop additions and environment. These range from sign-written crates all the way to a steam crane! I used a variety of sources for the props, especially the sack trolley and street lanterns:

 

Once completed, I took a critical step back and took a good look at the finished design. The building was just as elegant and aesthetically pleasing as expected, though most certainly lacked an effective ‘purpose’. I designed it with rows of steam-driven lathes and powered tools in mind (I even toyed with the idea of building a steam engine but decided against it due to time restraints so ultimately only modelled the drive shafts). Indeed, the very reason I designed it with a glass roof and mezzanines was because of its lock-working designation making a need for good lighting conditions during the day. Upon conclusion, however, I realise it became much more a study of industrial atmospherics; creating the *feel* and *scale* of being inside a newly build Victorian factory such as this attempts to represent. To this end, I feel I succeeded in creating a purpose for this project and left it satisfied I had also expanded my modelling expertise.

To quote the late Rose Dawson, it’s been 147 years and I can still smell the fresh paint…

Window Stack 2

All 3D Art is (C) R & H Visualisation.

3D Modelling for Edwardian Design

3D Art (C) Rob Nutter 2018

The Edwardian period in Great Britain is generally well known for its decadence; be it in technology, art, entertainment or even in war machines. Architecture wasn’t forgotten about either, and the period saw an interesting transition from the embellishment so familiar of Victorian opulence, to the increasingly pragmatic, forward-looking designs of a modern nation.

Enterprise House, the Technical Institute constructed in Dartford at the turn of the century, is one such example of this. Its classical and neo-palladian features are reminiscent of a grand country house, yet it is a bright, practical building designed for learning in the 20th Century. Iron radiators, bare brick and green-tiled internal walls couldn’t contrast more with the Ionic columns and limestone arches of the exterior.

And so, when I was asked by Dartford Library to model the building, complete with its un-built southern wing and following original architect blueprints, I snapped their hand off. This was to be a complete model; with a full interior and exterior. But with 60 rooms, 116 windows and a lot of fine decor to make from scratch, I had to approach this carefully. Below is a quick guide to how I went about doing this; click the images to make them larger.

My first stage with any larger architectural model is to block out scale and placement. This usually involves following footprint plans to insert structural walls and stacks, like so:

 

Once this is done and I’m sure I have a good foundation from which to continue building the model up, I will add roofing and floors. Again, this is mostly so I can get a good idea of scale and placement before adding further details:

 

The model is still very basic, yet it is now the perfect canvas to continue building from. My next step is to add the floorplan and create window slots in the walls; internal walls are three separate models (one for each floor), for ease of future editing.

 

It’s beginning to look more like a building and less like several blobs of clay now! Time to start adding some windows:

 

This structure uses no less than 15 different types of window and 6 different styles of door, as is typical for this style of building. I try to keep projects as modular as possible to allow for future re-use of assets. Below is a break-down of one such window module:

 

While it is tempting at this stage to start embellishing the rest of the exterior and carving chunks into and out of it, it was important to ensure priorities were kept in check. In this project, the classically appointed grand entrance features sandstone double alcoves, Ionian columns, a barrel vault, an arched pediment and even a mosaic and carvings. It is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the building and needed to be completed first:

 

The very next thing to do be done was of course add doors:

I then began adding polish. This time-consuming process, while laborious, gave the building the elegance so symbolic of this type of architecture. The bell tower, facade, structural and even guttering detail needed the utmost attention.

With this, the model is mostly complete externally and is ready for interior building. Due to the close observation of my exterior modelling however, this should be a significantly more straightforward job:

 

 

3D Art (C) Rob Nutter 2018

 

 

Rebuilding a lost aeroplane factory

It was an interesting series of events which led me to working on this project. After approaching the local town Archive to express my interest in working on Fabric of Our Town, I in fact found myself working on a completely different type of commission. Funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wilfred Salmon and the First Blitz project was an ambitious attempt at educating the citizens of a little-known London town, Crayford, in their incredibly influential local history

To view the finished project please follow this link.

Home to a major Vickers Ltd (Later, Vickers-Armstrong) factory from the turn of the century onwards, the town played host to everything from the first proven powered flight to Maxim’s Machine gun, right through to the part manufacture of Battle-Cruisers! There was also an airfield – Joyce Green – in nearby Dartford on the Thames, used primarily to train recruits and test new designs.

Vickers III.jpg.gallery

At its height, Vickers Ltd’s Crayford factory was the workplace of over 15,000 skilled British workers and a major employer in the area. The complex itself was one of the most substantial armaments factories in the World, arming everything from Machine-gun Riflemen to Super-Dreadnought Battleships. The image above, taken on Armistace Day in 1918, demonstrates this incredible scale beautifully; Crayford today is sadly a mere shadow of this.

WNJAP_14-45_t41_Kongo_pic

HIJMS Kongō; one of Vickers’ more notable exports, she would later be used against Britain and her allies in World War 2. 

However, sewing machines and ‘Pom-Poms’ aside, down the road from all of this was an experimental aeroplane factory in nearby Bexleyheath. Operated by Vickers, it was most notably responsible for the initial design and manufacture of the now legendary Vickers Vimy Heavy Bomber.

ed80d173956ea915f36b8e64d0951286-rimg-w1199-h684-gmir

A modern replica Vimy, based on the prototype designed, built and tested in Crayford. Note the larger than usual wing span.

It was during this time in its history that I was commissioned to represent the entire factory and surrounding area in 3D; alongside Joyce Green Airfield. Below is a link to my full video contribution in the project:

For those interested in the 3D process, it’s first important to note that I had very little to work on. The first stage, as with any large project, was to get a feel for the ‘lay of the land’. This was easy, as the land itself still exists…albeit under a modern Hotel! Nevertheless, once I’d mapped this area out I started digging for maps.

Bingo!

An original architect’s plan from a proposed redesign of the complex in the mid 1920s, courtesy of Bexleyheath Archives! The factory buildings were originally intended as temporary wartime structures, though they actually survived until the early 1970s so this remains a valid article for use. However, no photography survives from ground level of the complex and the single 1960s aerial photograph that does exist is too late and too distant to be of any serious use. Nonetheless, Vickers used a fairly standard formula in their architecture which I followed here as close as I could. Below is a link to a ‘SpeedModel’ video I made, demonstrating my process for modelling the ‘Stores’ Building to look as close to historical reality as possible. Note my use of the original ground-plan to line everything up before even considering laying the walls:

Certain buildings, especially those situated along the main road outside of the complex, took a little less research as, gracefully, correct period photography exists of this road. However, it was still challenging to work out the details of entire buildings from single photographic angles and since a video is worth far more than a thousand words, I also created a SpeedModel video demonstrating the creation of one such building:

Fast forwarding quite a fair amount, it eventually came time to create the animation itself. The addition of a functional Vickers Vimy Hispano Suiza engine was an exciting, if complicated at the time, prospect; which ultimately paid off dividends in bringing up the overall production quality. The animation of the propeller was done by playing on the human eye’s nature when it comes to fast motion; instead of making the prop physically turn fast, I made it alternate direction randomly to give the appearance of high speed.

Capture

Smoke and dust was created using basic compositing in DaVinci Resolve; this proved far easier than creating it physically in the model.

Finally, I shipped the whole thing from C4D’s Physical Renderer into DaVinci Resolve for cutting and grading.  I went for an unsaturated, gritty feel while also trying to maintain the image beauty in objects such as flora and building texture. Depth of Field was achieved in-renderer; however, I also made some adjustments to focus and ratio in Resolve…there’s nothing worse than an image which looks ‘perfect’ and computerised, afterall! Topped off with a 35mil ‘fine’ grain, it was ready to be sent for approval.

Overall, the feel of the complex was achieved here using a mixture of scratch-made assets and models alongside real period plans and photography. The true factory itself may never be seen again, and it’s hugely unlikely another project such as this will be commissioned again; at least without our life time. So my closing thought is that this may well be the closest anybody will come to seeing the birthplace of British heavy bomber history…and that’s something really special.

Print22

All 3D Art is (C) Rob Nutter 2018.