Tutorial: Making of 'Where Did You Go?'
Posted by Akajork, Sep 20 2009, 07:51 PM

Welcome to the Making of 'Where Did You Go?', a piece made for the Luminarium Exhibit 'Genesis'. In this tutorial I will be explaining the general theory and methods on how to create this image. See it as a peek into the process of creation, a peek in which I hope to show you enough to get a good idea on how to approach a full scale cg image combining 3d elements with digital painting, photography and 2d effects.


Some facts about the final image:
- final resolution: 2800x1200
- creation time: 1 month on and off
- software used: Maya 2009, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects
- additional hardware used: Canon 40D

Things we will be covering:
- Concept
- Sketch/design
- Modeling
- Lighting
- Texturing
- Rendering
- Alphas
- Passes
- Setting up a Photoshop Document
- Color Grading
- Texturing
- Painting additional dirtmaps
- Adding detail, signs, windows etc
- Adding atmosphere
- Final Touches

Final Image

Step 01Concept

Whenever I start a new image I always ask myself a few questions: what do I want to say with this image? What story do I want to tell? And what is the main focus of my image going to be? These are very important things to know before starting the creation of your illustration. Sometimes you find yourself answering these questions during your sketching but I generally try to figure these things out before I put anything down on paper. It makes things a little easier.
So for this piece I wanted something with big scale, a big scene with an epic story. On the other hand I wanted to keep it small and personal, so that the viewer can relate. One of the ways I tried to do this was by choosing a lower camera angle so that you are in between the people, but more about that later.

The story:
In a near future, humanity finds itself covered in darkness. Pollution in the atmosphere caused a thick layer of smoke and dirt around our planet. On many places on earth sunlight is unable to reach the earths surface, causing a constant darkness for the population. Months without sunlight passed and people in big cities started to get depressed and society came to a hold. People stayed inside their houses and left the streets behind, empty. Now, after all hope is gone and plants and trees are almost all vanished, humanity tries one last effort to save their society. Building gigantic artificial sunlight's to bring light once more to the big cities. In this scene, we witness one of those cities being supplied with their first artificial suns, creating light in the streets for the very first time in almost a year. People gather on the streets and gaze out to the bright light in the sky, although it is not a real sun, it almost feels like one, the warmth of the rays falling on their faces.
Little do they know that these suns won't fix anything, and that the governments already realized it is far too late to save the planet. So for now, the only thing they could do is to bring light into peoples lives once more. Even if it is false hope, it is better then none at all.

Once I figured out my back story I could start thinking about how this world would look, what kind of influences its history would have on it, and how the overall feeling of my image would be. All things that are important and will determine how your image will turn out in the end. So lets start sketching!

Step 02Sketch/Design

Sketching your idea out is one of the most important steps and is not something to be rushed. Sure a sketch can be fast and it should be, but make plenty of them, consider all your options and explore them. It is a step where you can discover new things that you can do with your concept and where you design the overall look of it. So have some fun and bust out as many sketches as you can!
Unfortunately I did my sketches for this piece on paper and lost almost all of the pages I made. Luckily I could find my very first digital sketch! It exists out of a few models I made referenced from my sketches and photography reference (more about that later in this tutorial). This digital '3d' sketch formed the final lay-out and composition I was going to use.

Lets talk about some of the decisions I made, first the sketch:

As you can see I used my 3d models in this final composition sketch. The easy thing about modeling your piece in 3d is the amount of freedom you get with your camera position. You can make a lot of changes really fast and instantly get an idea of how your new camera angle will look. I found that this angle would work well and has the right feeling of scale and drama. Like I mentioned earlier I chose a lower camera angle to give the viewer the idea of being on the street right there, in between the people gazing up to the light. This will influence the viewer without them really knowing it, giving it a more dramatic feeling then for instance a top view camera angle.
In every image you want to create a visual path to walk for the viewer, in other words, you want to create a successful composition. In this piece I tried to create that by framing my image and making use of the elements I have to guide the viewers eye. Lets take a look:

The 2 red circled on the left indicate the starting point of the image. Here I tried to create 2 points of high contrast close to the viewer to create a take off point for the eye. Then by the use of lens flares, contrast points on the buildings and overall perspective, I tried to guide the visual path towards the main focal point, the artificial sun.

So now that we have a visual path we still need some framing. Here you can see the main 2 elements I used to frame this image and keep the viewers eye in the image and not wondering off the canvas:

Now that we have a good sketch going on I would like to talk a little about the design of the buildings in this world. As you can read in the story we are looking at a scene taking place in a near future. I had this in mind since the very start, I wanted things to feel realistic and not too sci-fi. I tried to accomplish this by keeping the design of the buildings more modern day looking, these are all buildings you could find in modern day cities. So before modeling anything I went of to find good reference for my buildings. Here are some of the images I used to reference from:

Always find reference before creating an image! Using reference will make your life easier and will make your work just that much better.

By taking existing designs and altering them to make them a little more sci-fi or 'different', I maintained a realistic look that felt different but still possible. This is exactly what I was looking for.