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



Introduction to Substance Painter

Week 06/07

After finally getting Substance Painter to work on my laptop, I watched this tutorial on digital tutors Introduction to Substance Painter. I felt like I got a lot out of this tutorial as I haven’t painted using channels like this before (at least knowingly haha). Hopefully now I can test to see if Substance Painter is good for our needs.

These are my notes for reference.

02 Creating and Saving a Project

A texture set is created from a material I.D. Apply different materials to the sections of the creature/object which you need to isolate for ease of painting. This will create separate texture sets for exporting which can be combined in Photoshop. When importing maps, make sure that the root name is the same as the corresponding texture set name. e.g. textureSetName_mapType. You can manually plug in maps in the document settings. For the normal map settings, make sure you’ve chosen the right one by checking if your detail is moving in the correct direction.

03 Getting around in substance painter’s interface.

In the document setting: base color, height, roughness and metallic is a basic pbr set-up. ‘Viewer settings’ pertain to the viewport. The image based lighting can be changed from here. The environment can be hidden through ‘opacity’ but still display lighting information. Height force applies to intensity of normal map.

04 Overview of the painting workflow.

The brush uses an alpha: like a hole which the paint gets pushed through. Choose a brush shape and then the material to paint with. The material will be painted into all 4 channels by default. The channels e.g. height can be remapped to e.g. base colour. You can view each channel separately by clicking solo in the view settings. Use ‘c’ to cycle between views. You can remove the material from your brush (under the material tab) and go into substance material mode to make a custom material. You can use ‘shift’ to rotate the lighting sphere and see how the shifting light behaves on the material. Right click on the brush preview to save your tool, brush or material settings. Look at layers as containers for channel information; base color, height, roughness and metallic. You can change the opacity of each channel on each layer from the dropdown.

05 Painting the worm’s mouth.

Create and name a new layer. Is is a metal? If for example not, set the slider to black. Will it be rough? Will this layer have height information? Start with a darker value and gradually layer in the lighter values. Don’t jump into high contrast too soon.

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06 Painting additional roughness in the worm’s mouth.

Enable pressure sensitivity with the little circle beside flow.

Create a new layer for painting roughness. Under the material tab, turn off the color, height and metal channels so that you’re only painting into the rough channel. You can adjust the slider from black to white to adjust the degree of roughness. By not painting into all the channels, the data can never be recorded. Instead, for the layer settings, disable the channels that will not be used.  This way the strokes will be recorded in all channels but will not be visible. Use roughness to make a shiny surface appear less wet. Preview your strokes on the solo viewer/’c’.

07 Projection painting and the worm’s body

M key for material view. The projection tool is found next to the brush on the upper tool bar. Start by thinking of the channel properties that you want your material to have. Choose an image for your base colour. Crop the image into a square before importing. Go to file>import image and load the image into base colour. Cycle to the solo base colour. Hold down the ‘s’ key to modify the stencil image.  Keep a look out for texture stretching when you paint near borders. Add a white mask to your layer and paint in black with a hard brush for cleaning up edges that transition to different colours/materials.

08 Painting and masking the worm’s body.

09 Colour correcting textures.

Click on the bubble icon above the layers to add a substance effect/filter of a levels adjustment.

10 Adding additional height information for the body.

To add more height, first create a fill layer with black to cover what’s underneath, ‘heightReset’. Create a new fill layer above and fill it with a material.

11 Painting additional roughness for the body.

You can copy layer masks using the pencil icon.

12 Painting textures for eyes.

The brush is 1 and the eraser is 2. Eyes are very wet and therefore you want your roughness to be smooth. Black = less of a strength. White = more. Therefore use a blacker roughness value for the eyes to make them appear wetter.

13 Finishing the eye textures.

The geometry decal tool can be used to fill areas. Select the colour to be black. Select the selection mode and then e.g. select the UV shell from the 2D viewer. You can also create a mask by using the decal tool to make a quick selection of faces.

14 Adding texture to the teeth.

You can add a substance effect to a mask to reveal an underlying material with a textured shape. You can then plug a map into the position to only have the masked texture appear in certain areas.

15 Adding texture to the sewer platform.

Think of a material in terms of layers e.g. the base material, the paint overlay and rust. Think about where the wear would occur. Create selections of faces, etc and fill.

Note: To create a traditional paint effect, how could we use layering of materials and masks to create textured reveals?

Experiment with the different brushes and also their settings. Remember to watch out for paint stretching on borders. You may be able to use one of your maps as a mask. This mask can be adjusted e.g. with levels and inversion. Remember that each channel’s opacity can be adjusted in the layers panel.

17 Texturing the sewer grate.

18 Texturing the bolts

For revealing paint underneath a rust layer you have two options. You can reveal the underlying paint by masking the rust above. Or you can paint rust above by, but change the height map from the underlying height to something like roughness.

19 Adding wear to the platform with particles.

Emiters and receivers are included in the particle brush. In the tool panel, look at the physics rollout so see the emitter and receiver. Paint into the mask of a fill layer. Expand physics with advanced settings. These are good for weathered/aged effects. The particles will naturally pool in crevices so this can be useful when combined with a rust mask on a fill layer.

20 Baking texture maps out of Substance Painter.

Go to file>export. You can upscale the size of your texture map without loosing quality. Uncheck the maps for height, all PBR diffuse.., Unity 4 and Unity 5. Set the export path. Png 16 bit max. In photshop, combine similar files into one using masking e.g. all the base colours.

Le Gouffre: Painterly Camera Projection

Week 05

Sorcha found this short film from Lightning Boy Studio, Le Gouffre (2014). Molly, Aidan, Sorcha and I have been discussing for a while how we would like to create a painterly look, especially since our visit to the Ulster Museum and seeing Rembrandt’s self-portrait. We agreed that Le Gouffre is a good example of the direction that we would want the painterly look to take.

Le Gouffre from Lightning Boy Studio on Vimeo.

I found this blog post, Week 55 – Camera Projection Technique,  which goes into detail about how Lightning Boy Studio create the textures for Le Gouffre. They create a scene with low detailed textures, create a new camera which covers all of the the views from the shot camera and then use this for creating a render which is painted over in Photoshop. This painting is then projected on top of the scene.

They use this technique so that their computers aren’t overloaded with large texture sets. This method also gives them control over the amount of detail in fore, mid and back-ground.

I’m not sure if we should try and use this technique for the pitch video or try and create a similar solution which will work in real time.

Landscape Sketching with Nathan Fowkes

Colour and light design will of course be very important in the user experience. The quick colour and light that I painted over my 3D renders still feels very unnatural and doesn’t capture the best mood and quality of light that the scene could have. I saw the video above on Bobby Chiu’s channel and really love the quality of light that Fowkes creates by layering of textured light over less saturated hues.

  • Primarily in nature the beauty is in the greys – warm and cool greys.
  • Paint the colours in the way that they really exist e.g. lay down the warm local colours and then paint over with the cool shadows.
  • The deep shadows are almost always a deep warm colour e.g. the crevice in a log.

For this scene with backlighting and a warm sunset:

  1. Start with vibrant warm tones.
  2. Start to apply greys, letting the highlights and brightest tones shine through.
  3. Add subtleties to the darker tones.
  4. Apply light over the forms.


Image from Fowkes’ DeviantArt journal:

Matte painting techniques for set design

Week 02

After blocking out rough layouts for the apartment design in Maya I thought it would be a good idea to look at different options for moving forward. I came across this tutorial on Gumroad yesterday: Matte Painting techniques for set design by Simone De Salvatore

I was quite surprised by this workflow as it doesn’t involve any rendering with paint. Salvatore uses mental ray to do almost all of his shading and material rendering and then composites the different passes in Photoshop and layers textures on top of the different forms using different blending modes, adjustments and masking.

I had intended to just draw and paint over the basic 3D forms that I had blocked out but been able to mix with this approach might also be helpful (if I have time to develop my blocks into better models.)

These are my notes from the tutorial:

02 Mood Painting

Create a rough painting of the mood and colours. Start to sculpt forms with these rough colours.

Always keep colour perspective in mind. Also keep bounced light in mind and how it affects the values on surfaces.

Design loosely in the initial mood painting and then develop the designs more precisely in Maya. Material decisions can also be made later.

Play with adjustments at the end. During the production, don’t go too bright or dark. Leave modification to adjustment layers.

03 Design Elements

Roughly sketch a number of different designs (create 3 different versions) and then choose your favourite elements from each. Re-sketch one side of this if it will be symmetrical.  Try over and over again to get the best line possible. Pay more attention to the silhouettes and negative spaces than the details.

04 Modeling

You can play with curvature using the ‘create bend deformer’ from the animation menu.

05 Set Modeling

Salvatore uses a focal length of 15 for a more dramatic perspective.

Use a figure to determine how objects can be scaled in relation to each other, especially in perspective. Take some quick renders to check if the composition is working. Continue developing the design of the space.

06 Set Lighting

Use direct lighting for more control and to create a more cinematic/illustrative look.

Instead of using an ambient light for a soft fill light, Salvatore uses and ambient occlusion shader.

For lighting outside a window, create a sphere with a lambert shader, the colour set to black so it doesn’t respond to the light and the incandescence set to the light colour that you want. Also add a slight glow.

Now create bounced light using area lights set to low intensity and emit specular turned off. Use depth map shadows.

Create fill light coming in from the windows using area lights facing through and towards the window.

You can add scene fog using the fog under the maya software render tab.

Render passes: Ambient, beauty, diffuse material colours, diffuse without shadows, diffuse, glow source, incandescence, reflection, scene volume, specular without shadows, specular and camera depth.

07 08 and 09 Compositing and painting

Layer the passes: ambient, diffuse material colour, diffuse, diffuse no shadows, glow source, incandescence, reflections, specular, specular no shadows, volume, z-depth render pass (which he leaves invisible but keeps for later). Experiment with the blending modes; overlay, linear dodge, screen, multiply etc.

Add photo texture using the transform tool and mask the areas that are not needed. Remember to scale textures in perspective. Textures that are further away will need to be duplicated more and blended at the seams. Try different blending modes with the textures and adjust the levels as needed.

To add shadow/relief within a texture, create an adjustment layer e.g. curves and then mask this layer and paint in the shadows that you want so as not to loose any detail. Continue layering textures and adjusting their contrast, blending mode and colour as needed.

Going back to your render passes, mask out areas of the ‘diffuse without shadow’ layer so that dark areas appear in front of light ones and light areas appear in front of dark ones. Mask areas of the ambient layer to bring out the shadows.

Transform cloth into place – warp tool.

Jeremy Vickery Colour Keys

Imagine FX (2015) Explore Colour Keys in Your Art

This tutorial and video has some helpful tips for quickly laying down colours and experimenting with the mood of your painting.

Jeremy Vickery chooses references that he can apply to his own concept depending on the mood and time of day. He picks colours from the references and lays them down in large strokes under the line art. After a few colours are blocked in, squint your eyes to get an impression if the scene is working. Stay loose and fast so as to discover the colours that you want. You can add a soft glow to areas of the painting using a low flow soft brush set to linear dodge.