First VFM02 Environ Production Modeling


The VFM02 virtual set has officially passed from pre-production to production, as tonight I’ve made my first piece of complex geometry (ever) from a simple cube to begin replacing the graybox blocking. The previous tutorials really helped. When I hot-keyed the Extrude command, oh boy did that change my world.

To take it any further at this point, now… well… now it’s time to unwrap UV texture coordinates. Yay. Yayyyyyyy.

I tried the ‘Automatic UV Mapping’ command and it created a total mess. Some vertices went off into infinity, apparently. The command might as well have been called ‘LOL JK FU’. But then I deleted all of the UVs and did it again– with a fresh slate, it worked out really nicely. Surprised. Broke everything up by six sides and unwrapped those nicely. And I stumbled on that totally by accident– I could’ve spent hours trying to do Planar Mapping and pulling verts manually. Ugh. Next, I re-arranged the shells and changed their proportions based on what would be most visible and important, tested this with checkers, etc…

Later tonight, I’m going to burn through this tutorial from Digital Tutors, UV Mapping Workflows in Maya, and hope UV Unwrapping and Mapping can finally not feel like such a dreaded process.


I had gone through the sections about UV mapping on for Maya. While valuable for a fresh beginner like me, they ultimately weren’t nearly thorough enough on this. They never got into unwrapping complex geometry. Instead, there’s an example of using planar mapping to throw a flat texture onto the flat side of a flat mesh– a fish! C’mon… They do not adequately prepare you for, say, unwrapping a triple-A quality human character mesh, let alone this simple tech box. There were some better clues in Lynda’s Game Environment Modeling tutorial though. I’ll check out the 2015 Maya Essential Training sometime, even though I’m running 2012.

So I’ll give the UV tutorial a go later tonight. I just finished the Gnomon Game Environment Modeling tutorial, where Nate from Sony Santa Monica talks about how he’s modeling to prepare for texturing and how the modeling process is never really done until you finish texturing and even then it’s not really done… but the tutorial ends right when it should go on to the texturing part. And Gnomon doesn’t offer a part II texturing tutorial, but they do have several on the subject. It just would’ve been nice to have the continuity of process and see it through. I’ve yet to find a single or multi-part grouped tutorial that truly goes from start to finish at a fully professional level.

EDIT: Looks like Nate did do a counterpart actually, but unfortunately it’s all in ZBrush instead of Mudbox: Environment Modeling and Sculpting for Games. Still, would have liked to see the first tutorial followed through to the end, but this helps! Also just signed up for a Gnomon subscription!


Anyway, so I’ve got the UVs sorted and now I might bring it into Mudbox to make sure the polygons and UVs all play nice. If so, then I’ll do a quick texture pass between Mudbox / Photoshop / and experimenting with making a techy elements normals-baked kit in Maya. And just refine from there. Before I do this, I may also go back and refine the model as well. I’ll update this article if I make any further significant progress tonight.

02/26 — 3:30AM UPDATE: Refined the model, deleted unnecessary faces we never see, redid the UVs. Then brought it into Photoshop and sketched over it as a design pass. Will do the photographic texturing build in Photoshop tomorrow, and I think I can probably get away with doing a bump map in Photoshop manually instead of doing normals in Mudbox– but I’ll try both!


02/26 — 20:12 UPDATE:
Current Photoshop texturing and design progress:


02/28 — 21:15 UPDATE:
Had some time today to work on texture. Experimenting with bump maps– first tried simply turning off all the graphics from the base textures and creating a quick desaturated and levels-tweaked bump map. Not too sure about it really, so this probably isn’t going to be as easy. Might have to do a whole new bump map texture from scratch for it to really make sense. Want to also bring this into Mudbox next and see what can be done with normal mapping there. Also, this was rendered in Maya with Mentalray and getting VRay is on my list… This material is a standard Maya Blinn so I’ll look into experimenting with other materials later as well.


03/01 — 21:15 UPDATE:
Manual bump mapping. Much better, more like modeling by grayscale graphic design. Not as pronounced as I would’ve liked. Maybe I can get some more texture into it on a separate layer next. I tried bringing this into Mudbox, but upon upscaling its polys so I could sculpt it and bake a normal map, the UVs didn’t perfectly upscale as I had hoped and distorted the base texture. I have a few ideas for some things I can try to fix this next.


03/02 — 21:15 UPDATE:
Successfully upscaled the geo of the model in Mudbox without distorting UVs and did a bit of sculpting on the mesh. Then figured out how to export this to a normal map for the low-poly mesh target, and applied this in Maya. It appears I had to choose between using the Bump Map and the Normal Map. I couldn’t apply both? There’s probably a method to do that in the Hypershade.


When I tested this in Maya, the results didn’t quite transfer as effectively as they appeared in the Mudbox sculpt. So I’ll have to experiment with this more. Currently, I’m fairly happy with using the Bump Map instead, as I was able to get very precise cuts (plating seams and vents, etc…) and extrusions (bolts, etc…) in a very straightforward manner directly over the 2D texture map in my PSD. That method was also very fast. I’d probably entirely rely on Mudbox for more organic sculpting needs instead of hard surface stuff. The bump map just didn’t deform negative values as much as I’d like, and increasing the bump value in Maya introduced distortions.

Lots to keep experimenting with as I learn this stuff. For environment art, I’m starting to see how you can go a little more high-poly than I was expecting (especially these days) and not have to do all of the detail in bump maps or normal maps, especially if the goal is to make a movie and not a game with these assets. I’d like to figure out the game method, though, as it’s most optimal and seems like a best practice for getting an asset done efficiently and effectively in both arenas. Plus, I’m looking into actually using a game engine like Unreal Engine 4 to render scenes in realtime to save enormous amounts of time and bypass the need to buy and build a renderfarm– will have to test if this will hold up in 4K.

I’ll keep digging and continue messing around with it. But as far as a pipeline, I’ve never gone this far, so that’s cool.


I think at this point I can probably move on and build out the rest of the set with low poly objects and bump maps. Especially for a movie, where I know the camera never gets in too close on any of this and details are lost, even at 4K. It’s important that they’re there, but I think they don’t have to be as in-depth as a model you could walk right up to if this were a game.

Alright– moving on!
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WIPs: VFM02 Environ: Concept 2


Had about two hours available tonight to quickly photobash together a totally different concept for VFM02’s test environment. This is a great test project to get on with learning how to make production environment art in Maya / Mudbox or ZBrush (which I have but am hoping I can stick with Mudbox as the UI seems a lot more logical to me right now), so I wanted to move fast with the concept stage at this point.

As mentioned in the last post, this Virtual Filmmaking 02 test scene is set in an aerostation in the upper atmosphere of Earth instead of the typical space station. So to try something totally different than the last environ concept (which was very dark), I thought I’d open the space up with windows and go bright. Strong colors. Blues, oranges, yellows. I wanted to see the atmosphere and the exterior of the station.

I ended up selecting, morphing, and combining elements from about a dozen or so different references (also giving me ideas for who to reach out to for future collaborations). I’ll let this settle and come back to it– If I’m still happy with it and decide to go with it, then it will be onto the more intricate process of designing out this stuff as the direct original assets.

I like this so much better. It reminds me a lot of how refreshing Mirror’s Edge’s art direction was over the usual drab cyberpunk fair– here bright, airy, and also nicely striking.

Alright, timeboxed and out. Later!
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WIPs: VFM02 Environ: Concept 1

For this snowy Saturday, I’m gonna do a bit of VFM02 Environ concept art.

To kick this off, here’s a recap of the conceptual WIPs (works-in-progress) I’ve done so far. I’m not really satisfied with it yet, so today I’m going to start over and try some new things. But here’s what I had:

After Effects build of First Styleframe from 2015.01.31:


Here it was rebuilt in After Effects from the photobashed styleframe concept below. This is still just a styleframe (though from a full video version at this point), as the actual shot would have everything modeled out as original assets.

For years, I have been studying my favorite cinematographers the Cronenweths (father / son who did: Blade Runner / Fight Club, etc…). I have this inverse method, where I love shadow and prefer to ‘work with shadow’ more than light (even though technically they’re two halves of the same whole), which is very apt for a future noir look. But it clearly needs refined here. For this scene, the characters are in what I call an ‘aerostation’ floating amongst the clouds, instead of the usual space-station, and it’s sunset with a possible storm brewing and maybe some light rain going outside (the reverse shot on Hale shows this through a window).

So, I was also referencing Blade Runner frames, particularly when Rachael and Deckard meet in Tyrell’s office to get that color noir sunset look– but the cinematography on film in the 80’s is a lot less sharp than, say, that in Elysium, where a lot of detail is packed into every frame. I think I’m going to pop in the Elysium Blu-ray and do some reference capture next. I had also reframed this shot after matching the Maya virtual camera’s film back to a standard 35mm film camera.

At this point, I want to start over on it, and play around fresh with concepting the scene. That’s what I’ll start on today.

First styleframe concept from 2015.01.31:


This is the first photobashed styleframe concept done in Photoshop. After letting this rest for awhile, I can now really see how this first pass was pretty fast and loose– it’s kind of a mess, isn’t it. Less future noir and just kind of muddy. You can compare it with the After Effects build above and see how I really tried to clean it up though.

Overall, I don’t think the giant brains in vats really work here, especially out of focus– you can’t really even tell what they are. I really love that idea and find I keep coming back to it, but it’s not really working here (or I haven’t made it work).

Base Plate: Graybox Composite from 2015.01.27:


The base plate I started with to concept over.

Any feedback is appreciated. Hit me up at @XanderDavisLive.
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