Gnomon Creating a Sci-Fi Alleyway

Creating a Sci-fi Alleyway. Detailed Environment Techniques with Devon Fay  – great inspirational tutorial on the gnomon workshop.

What a beautiful piece of art Fay’s “Sci-fi Alleyway” is. I love this feeling of rain-slick, beaten up alleyways filled with old tech and Japanese references. The image has really stuck with me and I can’t help but think of it when I look down narrow alleys in Belfast. Even during the weekend, I saw a poster in The Ramen Bar in Dublin and immediately thought, sci-fi alleyway!

This is the VR (or AR?) dream.


Summary of my notes from the tutorial:

01 Refine your idea

Define your idea. Find as many references that you can, e.g. stills from movies, images from real life culture. Pick some shots/photographs that you like and do block out studies of these to get inspiration from how they’re constructed. Start to narrow down the themes that you like and want to see in your final image. Photobash/create concepts of these themes.

02 Blocking

Use a human model for scale and start to block out the composition that you want. This will require a lot of iterations of how walls and blocks are placed. Bookmark the possible camera angles that you want. Constantly consider how balanced the composition is and other compositional aids.


03 Finishing the blockout

Research the different construction elements of your scene. Try different blocked constructions in different layers. How is the place lived in? Consider story.

04 Find the crack:props

Jump into something that’s doable like a chair. Make quick concepts. Keep a constant eye on composition as the addition of detail might unbalance the scene. Consider how much time needs to be spent on an area. Will this be visible in the camera? It’s not one prop but the culmination of all the props that make the environment feel like a real place.

05 Detailed prop creation

Examine lots of references. Reuse old models that you’ve created.

06 Initial lighting set-up

Fay uses VRay. Use the optimal settings for speed. In Vray you can save irradiance maps instead of re-rendering these every time. For speed you can choose to only update this before bed at night.

07 Scene modelling

All the little details will make your scene seem real. Reuse materials and textures from past work as much as possible and from references that you’ve already gathered. Think of having a range of materials. Overall composition is more important than making a single prop perfect.

07b Storytelling

Keep thinking about the weight of areas in your composition and how the relative amount of detail draws the eye. Keep your environment functional for your characters. If something is off then maybe the character is explaining it through an action e.g. reaching a high shelf with retractable arms. Always consider the story aim. Is it about a particular character or is the story about the place? How do the characters live in this scene? How is this world inhabited? Continually ask these questions. Consider how depth is created with overlapping objects and avoid tangents.

Screen Shot 05-31-16 at 12.06 PM.JPG

08 Tools and Scripts

Useful scripts: chain creator, wire creator, zoomerator, spPaint 3D, rock gen

Fay uses Marvelous Designer for cloth simulation and Quixel Suite for texturing. Quixel suite uses maps for creating masks.

11 Custom photshop textures

Cut out bits of textures and reblend them together edges, adjustments and cloning.

12 Texture sheets and tilables. 

Create a texture sheet for assets that appear a lot around your scene for example large sheets of sticker, logos etc. By working this way you only need to use one material for all your stickers and only need to adjust one material. Look for materials that you can download online and dissect why they look so good.

13 Final Lighting

Tweaking passes is a lot faster in Photoshop. Fay also renders the lights into separate passes.

14 Putting it all together in Photoshop



Storyboards and Hitchcock

Week 05

This video has a useful side by side comparison of the storyboards and the the final shower scene in Psycho (1960) (Alfred Hithcock and Saul Bass). It’s interesting to see how the storyboards capture the key facial expressions and actions of the scenes but then the final camera work takes extra shots to develop/take advantage of other compositions on set.

Who Directed the Shower Scene in PSYCHO? from Vashi Nedomansky on Vimeo.

I found this other article with examples of storyboards used on Hitchcock films.

I liked the simple use of tone on these and how some of the backgrounds are impressionistic but still effective.

The Art of Storyboarding with Ridley Scott

The Art of Storyboarding with Ridley Scott


Week 05

This week we are focusing on creating storyboards to show a scenario that demonstrates the choice mechanic in 13 Songs. I consider storyboarding an important skill that I haven’t got the grip of yet. With this scenario between Julie and William, the challenge is to make a quite mundane scene really connect with audience while still remaining interesting visually. This short video from Ridley Scott has a few directions to think about/look into.

I like how attentive Scott is to the shape that light makes. Even from the storyboarding stage, Scott is crafting the scene with an attention to how light will shape the composition. Even on a car journey he is “reading the performance of light on objects”.

Storyboards help Scott to articulate exactly what he wants to achieve with the team.

Look at what Hitchcock did with storyboards.

Get rid of the white immediately. Bash through and get the idea down straight away. Then there is something to improve upon. Storyboards get you sucked into the scene so that you can see opportunities e.g. acting and staging.

Even two talking heads can be made more interesting but they can also be interesting by themselves. You should know when to pull back.

Eytan Zana Graphic Compositions

Week 02

I wanted to try a different approach to building compositions and liked the look of Eytan Zana’s simple and graphic shapes in his tutorial on gumroad Graphic Compositions for Environments.

I would like to master conveying a narrative driven design through building from simple graphic shapes

Eytan Zana Graphic Compositions

  • Use clipping masks to add light to a shape.
  • Start with big shapes.
  • Paint in the dark value only so that it can be used as a clipping mask (i.e. one value per layer).
  • Think about what shape the light will make on your forms. Start clean and get messy later. Restrict your values but use more if that’s what you need to sell it.
  • You can turn autoselect on with the select tool!
  • Smudge elements like water and clouds.
  • Try using s-curves to lead the eye.
  • Think of light falling/cutting across your composition.


The Five C’s of Cinematography

Mascelli, J. (1965) The 5 C’s of Cinematography. U.S.A. : Silman-James Press

This book is quite dense with information. It’s split into camera angles, continuity, cutting, close-ups and composition. I read the first four sections after Christmas and picked it up again to finish the composition chapter. I took notes this time for quicker revision of concepts as I think I’ve lost bits of what were in the first 4 sections. It’s probably worth re-reading anyway.


These are my rough notes for composition:


  • motivate audience reaction according to scripts intent. Balanced or unbalanced?
  • Space and time dimensions: movement holds the viewers attention, guard against insignificant/undesirable movement. Secondary actions such as dialogue also attract attention.
  • Compose the shape of motions
  • Language: lines, forms, masses, movements. Imaginary transitional lines are created from following action – these are important too.


The different types of lines and their possible effect:



  • Lines can lie flat on surface or recede into picture. Diagonals are dynamic. Line sharpness is connected to speed and forcefulness.
  • Form: abstract forms can be created from the arrangement of physical objects: triangles wide, based triangles, inverted triangles, circles, crosses, radiating lines, L-shaped composition.



  • Mass: the pictorial weight of an object. Light mass on dark bg or vice versa. Large versus small mass. 
  • Movements: right to left movements are harder to follow, moving against the grain, should be used for actions which are difficult such as moving towards the villain. vertical movment: upward or downward? Diagonal, opposing forces, stress, the use of force. Curved; fear. Pendulum; pacing, monotony. Cascading. Radiating; growth. Interrupted or movement which changes direction. Towards or away from viewer.
  • Balance: unbalance upsets the viewer. A large static object can be counter balanced by a small moving object.The two sides of the screen are like a see-saw. A moving object possesses more weight than a stationary object. The upper part of a picture is heavier than the bottom. The left side of frame can support more weight. An isolated object has more weight than crowded or stacked ones. Warm colours carry more weight than cold ones. Light values are heavier than shadowed objects.



  • Formal and informal balance: symmetry versus asymmetry. Gravity inflluences balance; an objects center of gravity.
  • Unity; perfect integration of elements.
  • One center of interest. A group of people or objects can also be one center of interest.
  • Positioning center of interest. Avoid vertical or horizontal lines cutting the image in half. Diversify: horizon placement, position of center of interest, player and camera movement.


  • Attracting or switching center of interest: Position, movement, action and sound. Lighting, tonal value and colours. Selective focusing.
  • Eye scan: within the frame and also from one frame to another. Usually smooth and orderly unless you want to add shock and abruptness to a subject.
  • Image placement. lead room. head room is determined by image balance. Avoid cutting joints with the edge of the frame.
  • Image size: give a clue (objects of known size) to scale. Framing influences how you perceive the size of a subject.


  • Integrate composition and camera angles: continually revise player/background relationship.
  • Perspective: linear; convergence of parallel lines. Aerial perspective; gradual lightening and softening of distant objects.
  • How to increase perspective effects: camera angles which reveal the greatest number of planes/facets; angle plus angle. Choose angle and lens focal length that gives best linear convergence. Partially overlap players/props so as to convey spatial relation. Overlapping on movement introduces motion parallax. Move toward or away from screen to indicate spatial depth. Light a scene so as to get contrasting planes. Light an interior scene with a ‘hotter’ background for something similar to aerial perspective.


  • Backgrounds: actions in foreground should be tied in with background. The background should be a constant subtle reminder of setting.Use lighting, tone and colour to separate the character from the background.
  • Frames: Compose an internal frame at an angle for depth. The frame should some tonal contrast with the subject it”s framing. Keep large foreground frames in sharp focus. Avoid wildly moving frames that detract from subject such as leaves in a high wind. Frames relevant/connected tto story may aid story telling and convey setting.


  • Dynamic composition: move from a quiet scene to one which contains sudden movement close to the camera. Use this for dramatic situations.
  • Suspenseful composition: Show a few frames where the action is hidden from the audience.
  • Catalog pictures: grouping and arranging shapes.
  • Compositional variety: variety in composition, camera angle, image size.
  • Always think in terms of creating depth.
  • Simplicity: be economical in terms of line, form, mass and movement. Have one center of interest and employ one unified style. Get rid of anything in frame that’s not needed for the storytelling. “If a vast number of compositional elements must be photographed then they should be harmoniously grouped.”
  • “remember that the viewer mst be affected both pictorially and psychologically.