Online I am part of several communities and one of them is the Blender community.
As you might know, Blender is a 3d application that you can download for free. It competes with applications like 3ds Max, Maya and Cinema 4d and the speed with which the Blender Institution is pushing out updates I dare to say the it might become a better application that all those paid ones. Right now it is on the same level for most purposes and it has a great community that enables people to learn a lot from each other.
There are some major players within the Blender community and Andrew Price of Blenderguru.com is one of them. Being only 27 he has a great track record and accumulated a vast amount of followers and now has a team working for his brand. His tutorials were the first ones I used to get up to speed with Blender (I had experience with 3ds Max) and he still has tips and tricks that I learn from.
Now and then he sets out a competition. The goal of these competitions are to better oneself in the craft, learn how to tell a story in an appealing way and working with a dead line (I am used to it, but a great part of the Blender community are school kids. which is great!). Most of the time I don’t have time to enter, and the subjects of the competition are out of my area of expertise most of the time, but this time I immediately had an idea and I wanted to see if I could get my render skills on a higher level. The time for an average competition is about a month and a half, so I could do this in my spare time if I started immediately.
The competition theme this time is steampunk.
This is what Wikipedia says about it:
Steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.
So a steampunk scene should ooze a 19th century feeling. That has an effect on everything: colors, environment, peoples cloths, etc.
As you might have noticed scenes aren’t involved in most of my work. You might see a single object, most of the time an animal. So making a complex scene is a bit out of my comfort zone. I did made them in the past, I have, for example, made the interior of a complete building of TNO. But it isn’t something I do on a daily base.
So that was a challenge too.
The idea I had was making a huge Victorian-like greenhouse and and have a whole lot going on inside. I didn’t push my luck with having too complex details, for that the time was too short. But people should to have a lot to look at and love what they are seeing.
So I started to fill in the scene.
- It had to have a forge, so things could be made in the greenhouse.
- And a library. No Victorian scene can do without 😉
- And plants because it is a greenhouse.
- The zeppelin, in this setting, was mandatory of course.
There also is a strange kind of helicopter in the scene in the foreground. It is only there to add to the feeling, it isn’t really part of the story.
The people in this scene are merely accessories, they couldn’t look too artificial but shouldn’t need a lot of work either.
A month and a half
Normally I am used to work on a subject constantly. I submerge myself into it and think of it every moment of the day. I purposely didn’t do that for this one. For one it is “just” to learn and second I wanted to know if I would be able to stay working on it without being kind of addicted to it as I do with most of my work.
So I only worked on it when I had the time.
During the progress I rendered the scene, just to look if it was to my liking. I started out with the greenhouse itself and along the way I used things to speed up the process I learned over the years. I kept the materials rather simple for example and used “tricks”.
Here is the copper material I used all over the scene:
It is really simple and uses a setting I learned from CGCookie.com to get less fireflies. Given the fact that I didn’t want the scene to be completely realistic this material was good enough.
Here is a render of the first stage of the scene:
As you can see I started out with a very detailed floor, I used two materials that only differed in color. It was actually too much work given the result, so I switched over to a material with a checker texture. I used that texture to make a bit of grunge on the tiles, but didn’t do too much on that given the fact that the scene is so big.
I then added winding staircases and balustrades. I used a lot of arrays on these 😉
Above is all I made for the winding staircase. I then used an array and an empty that I rotated to make a winding staircase:
The trees I made for the greenhouse are rather big. They are actually 3 floors high. Having them any smaller would mean that I had to add a lot more of them or lose the effect all together.
As you can see I still wasn’t sure what the camera angle would be. I changed that a lot. In the end I only used 4 trees for the effect of which one only is used for its leaves to add dept. In this render the glass isn’t showing and I thought I wanted to add an environment to the scene but I decided to focus on the interior completely. Anything else was too much of a distraction.
I finally ended up with this angle:
This one had it all: a complete view of the greenhouse, a sense of size and a way to be able to have a focus point. From this point on I could work on that focus point.
It had to be the zeppelin. I first placed it in the middle near the big hangar door on the right. The reason for this was to have the outside light shine upon the zeppelin. A great effect (see the composite below) but the zeppelin was too far away from the camera.
So I needed to adjust the placing of everything.
I moved the zeppelin towards the camera but that gave some other problems: since the greenhouse was so big, I needed some filling that also made sense in the scene. So I asked my Facebook timeline what to add. Two things came up: a Tesla coil and a clock. I didn’t have time to do both so I choose the one that made the biggest impact and frankly was the easiest to do: the Tesla coil. I added the Tesla coil because it could light the scene in a way normal lamps couldn’t. It gave dept and emotions.
As you can see the scene now has a great setting, if you look closely you can see people on the balustrade clearly working on getting the zeppelin flight ready. But the zeppelin itself is a bit murky here. There is a bit of light shining on it from above but that is it. Plus: the scene is still too empty and lacks a complete story.
So I wanted the zeppelin to be boarded. for that I needed a staircase or an escalator. And there should be more people to make the zeppelin getting ready for a journey more believable. I used the make-human add-on to place two kinds of man into the scene and one woman. The clothes of the woman I completely made myself to get that Victorian look. I did a lot of tweaking on the clothes of the men to get a similar result.
I also added a randomness to the colors of the clothes of the men to get a more believable scene and I sculpted all the people to have the sense of individuality upon them.
Because it needed to be a “real” Victorian scene, I sculpted horses to add to discrepancy of 20th century technology and that 19th century feeling. The horses aren’t very detailed, just enough to be believable.
So, this is the whole scene before rendering within Blender. I forgot to mention that I added a fire and smoke into the two forges. That is why the scene is rendered at frame 80..:
Because it was a lot of work and took a few weeks to finish, most of the props were scattered all over the layers. For the final render I had to put everything onto a layer that made sense. So I placed everything that had to do with the greenhouse itself onto a layer, the Tesla coil because of the lightning got its own layer, the zeppelin and all the props got onto several layers that I incorporated into a single render layer and the plants had to be on a separate layer because I want to be able to tweak everything into the extreme after rendering. I also added the outdoors onto a separate layer and ended up not using that one at all.
In Blender one can tweak the final image into the extreme if one wants to. You can save an image into an .exr extension what gives you the possibility to use every pass available in Blender and every layer.
Since my pc is a bit crappy (that’s an understatement) I had to split the render layers into different files. So I ended up with 3 .exr files: one with the greenhouse itself and two with the rest. Strangely enough those last two are (almost) exactly the same but one is almost 3 gb and the other is “only” 222 mb. I would have like to use the later for all of the tweaking but the people looked a bit strange on that one, so I had to use the 3 gb version also. The total amount of render time for all 3 was about a day and a half.
Now I had all the render layers it was time to composite the final render. Here is a screendump of what that looks like:
Cycles, one of the internal render engines of Blender and the one I used for this illustration, is great but you have to take into account that you get artifacts named fireflies in your render. Because I split up all the passes, I could see per pass if there were fireflies and use the “despeck” node to get rid of them. I added sunbeams to the light (I had to split up the lights because of perspective, so I gave the first light above the zeppelin a separate treatment.)
With masks I solved some errors I made with the layers itself (I forgot to use the content layer as a mask layer for the plants layer for example) and I used a mask to give the zeppelin a little bit extra.
Composing the final render took me a whole day but I think the result is worth it! I love the color setting and I think I succeed in getting a Victorian atmosphere. I also did succeed in what I was aiming for: getting a better grip on the compositing possibilities of Blender.
Funny enough I was doubting if I would send the render in for the competition because I never win anything, but I’ve gotten this far and I might as well.
So this morning I have indeed send it in!
Here is the final result: