The Saguaro house - Making-of
/ Images and article by Matus, FA team member
Ever since, I was fascinated by dinosaurs. From when I was a little boy, to a "grown up" man (LOL), head of the family I am now, I always admired these prehistoric creatures, their majesty, greatness, the secret around them and basically everything connected to these terrifying giants that walked the Earth millions of years ago. At the same time, I love the idea that was put into FlyingArchitecture name, that created our identity, however being in the loop of commercial projects, I did not find a spot to make another "Flying House" for years, since the very first project I did for FA.
With the global Corona crisis going around and "thanks" to being locked down at home, I finally had more time not only to develop the website a bit, but also I could dedicate some portion of my time to these fantastic projects.
Being able to combine some of my favourite pleasures, I enjoyed this project a lot. And I mean... A LOT. Dinosaur, Flying House, Rhino, V-Ray, Sculptris, Photoshop and some other tools, they all met together to help me to develop this project. Best thing is it's not assembled from any purchased products, public libraries... well, except only one - ours :)
At this point, I have to mention my amazing colleagues - mainly Lukas and Ondej for their great assets they provided for this scenery - since I did not do EVERYTHING just by myself. Plants are Ondrej's domain and Lukas is a master in Substance designer, so I used some of his textures.
Most of the assets are already published as products, so you can get them if needed and use them for your projects. All set for Rhino and V-Ray as usually.
This article is dedicated to description of the process I took to develop these images, so if you have some time, get yourself a coffee (short should be enough) and have a look :)
"Your strongest asset is an idea."
So I came with an idea of a f*!#ing flying house over the dinosaur site somewhere in Mexico. How crazy is that?
Let's summarise the input:
- flying house
- desert in Mexico
- dinosaur cemetery
- cinematic shots (21:9) and composition
As the very first step, I created a very simple scene in Sculptris and Rhino - a desert area with a small valley, that would lead to the area under the house.
If you don't know Sculptris, and you do not use any other sculpting software, I believe this is one to start with. It's a free tool, however it's a bit outdated and not in development anymore, with some limitations - but this is a piece of software that will teach you to hit Save more often than what you are used to ;) In any case, it helps you to build a nice terrains for your scenes at no cost. I found it's limitation at about 1.2 mil. polygons - it's when it started to be very unstable.
Back to the Saguaro House: These are some of the quick renders to show my colleagues for our online meeting, where I presented them a concept of what I was about to start working on.
At the very beginning, I had an idea in my mind for how the house should look like, or at least how the volumes should work: 2 separate parts, that are possible to move in any direction, or to rotate to catch the sunlight, but mainly, it would work as an elevator not only for the house's vertical position to connect to the ground level, but also as an elevator for it's own volumes - one of the volumes would be also a helipad and since there is no opening in the rooftop, the other part would move vertically, so Jose can step from the helipad rooftop directly on the terrace of the other volume, which will instantly come lower to match the terrace level of the first volume. No need of any stairs, just seamless movement between the volumes.
ENVIRONMENT - proof of concept:
At that point I started with putting the environment together - desert assets were used from our store (date palms, lower Mexican fan palm, helicopter, shrubs, saguaro cactus, opuntia cactus, small cactus, and also some dead trees, dead grass batches, sandstone rocks...)
I also had a look at SSS materials more properly to reach a better results. The final effect is nice and gives a beautiful translucent feeling when rendered with a light coming towards the camera.
Quick test with a part of the assets was made as a proof of concept:
Building the sculpted assets.
For this scene I had to sculpt many specific rocks - this is where Sculptris and Blender came handy.
The trickiest part was how to create materials - since i did not want to lose the time by painting each of them, creating UVs and to lose days... I was looking for more versatile workflow and I found it: V-Ray procedural materials!
Of course, I used the textures for diffuse, reflection and normals, but their mapping and overlaying was procedural. Not a single UV map was needed, nor box mapping widgets... Thanks to this workflow, each of them is unique - their mapping is changing by their location, rotation and scale! That simply means that even if you place 2 same objects next to each other, they will appear to look differently :)
All other rocks were created the same way.
To describe this more properly, I will elaborate the creation of V-Ray procedural overlays in some video in a short future. Meanwhile, here's a quick overview:
- All maps are set to Triplanar. No exception. Thanks to this you don't have to use UVs, nor box mapping and you will get a nice and seamless transitions. You can even set it to randomise itself automatically... how awesome is that?
- All master materials that are applied to objects, are Blend materials. This allows you to combine several different materials to get the needed variations.
- Each layer in Blend materials has a different procedural opacity map - thanks to this, each new layer will get it's own and very unique opacity, so it won't get repeatable.
- Curvature procedural map in opacity slot- gives you the specific option to create worn edges - it's visible only on the areas with this highest curvature amount and blends away gradually from the edges.
- Dirt procedural map in opacity slot - may give you the look of a dirt in between the objects, or where they simply get closer to each other - kind of AO effect.
- Thanks to Triplanar mapping in opacity for blend material layers, you can limit specific materials (layers) to be visible only on specific direction of the surfaces! That means you can have a single Blend material that shows different textures for horizontal areas (ground) and for vertical areas (rock walls), while keeping them as a single object. How crazy is that?
Basic Blend material setup for the ground was easy to assemble, here's the result:
But I wanted to push it a bit further: This is how the terrain looks with a more advanced blend material applied : For the layers I only used the colours (not actual materials), to see how their visibility will be mapped. As you can see by yourself, these colours are only mapped on horizontal surfaces - while all objects in the scene have the very same material applied.
Previewing the scene and the effects:
So let's see how it all works together - base model for the house, plants, rocks, materials... we are almost there ;)
At this point I was a bit unsure if to add the background in Photoshop, as we usually do at FA, or if to make this one 3D as well... I decided to explore this further, and to decide what is more suitable. Of course, we are kinda good in PS and it wouldn't be an issue to add a nice backplates, but doing it in 3D and still keeping the scene efficient... that was a challenge :) And I don't usually give up challenges.
So I created a base surface in Rhino and pushed - pulled control points for each of the pre designed cameras, so the mountains in the back work nicely with the composition. once I was happy with the rough shape, I exported the surface to Sculptris, where an additional realistic detail was created, such as surface irritations, creases and sharp edges, exported to Blender to cleanup and to extract polygons facing up (for easier scatter (I am using RhinoGrow - a free, simple scattering plugin) in Rhino 5, since we still do not have any professional scattering plugin in R!) and then back to our Rhinosaur. Scattering plants, applying the same material as for the rest of the ground and voila... I made a few previews to finally see how it works with all layers on :)
T-Rex... or better say double-ribbed T-Rex look-alike?
Now the most enjoyable part... Blender, Sculptris, Rhino & V-Ray - going back and forth thousand times - to create this fallen king of prehistoric world. It's not anatomically correct, I even scaled it up... by a lot... and added double amount of ribs... but man... don't judge me, it's a 100 million old creature that no one ever saw! Dare to question it!
Again, lot of effort was put into creating materials - I took the ground materials, adjusted their color tones and added more and more layers with different opacity procedural maps in Triplanar mapping in a master Blend Material... Again, I would like to prepare a video to show how this works... meanwhile - have a look - here it is, in it's full glory:
1. Preview from the material creation part - I always use the vivid colour first to test out the opacity in Blend materials.
2. Precise positioning on the ground - since I am not a technically skilled and I know nothing about using Grasshopper (and Kangaroo, to be specific), I had to make it "fall on the ground" by hand - and to manually position each of the bones. Took a few minutes to complete, but I enjoyed every single second of the process :)
3. And here comes the test render with all other layers on: (Please notice I am still using a V-Ray Sun to get quick results, it's not even rotated for specific views... this will come a bit later).
Coming to this point, I made a few tweaks (plants and rocks positioning around the skeleton, adjusting a few materials a bit) I cut off this part of the scene and capped it as finished. Next step is to design a house and insert and blend it into the environment. Therefore it won't hurt to render 2 final shots (that I planned to make this way) with specific lighting, since they do not contain the house model. And here are the first crops:
As a last adjustment for the terrain, I decided to add an additional layer of detail - displacement. Despite the fact I do not usually use it, I gave it a try and I was amazed, see for yourself:
Result without displacement (Lighting render channel)
Result with displacement (Lighting render channel)
If you miss any information or if there's anything you would like to know, feel free to post a comment!
Last 10 days I spent working on assets for interior, so this is the right time to show some progress: Some are already in, some are still in separate scenes, but the houses are being built up :)
The image above is just a hovering house with the Dome light background, but the image with the real 3D environment is the following one:
... starting to look OK imho :)
At this point, I can share a final image with a part of the house... yay!
For the illustration, I believe it's good to see that the initial concept idea didn't change at all - the first image was done a month ago, while second one is a final shot I just finished. I am super happy I was able to hold the idea towards the very end :)
I am just finishing my works on postproduction, when most of the shots I planned to make are rendered and are awaiting postproduction. Just wanted to reach you with a thought:
SAVE! For God's sake, don't forget SAVING! I encountered with some stability issues during final renders and had to spend a whole day cleaning up materials table, blocks, layers, curves, basically everything... During the process I created 50... yes, FIFTY progress versions of Rhino 3dm file (many gigabytes of backup data), to be sure not to lose any of the steps, so I can get back to almost any point in the process.
... and here's a preview of the VfB:
... And it's done. It's May the 6th (almost made it for the Star wars day, yay!) and here comes the selection of final shots done for this project:
The scene is also published in our store, so you can get it now, including all 3D models, scene setup and even postproduction PSB file!