Join Adam Crespi for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating a reference structure, part of Creating Cityscapes in 3ds Max.
When you're ready to build your city, transitioning from a flat plan, over to actually building in 3D. It's important to get a good reference structure set up, as you're going to be dealing with a lot of assets in building a city. And this is true whether you're dealing in a digital backlot, or visual effects, or green screen work, or if you're dealing in a large scale city for a game. Either way, there's a lot of stuff that just goes into a city. I've taken out my example here in Illustrator to a few more blocks in size. I've also created a foreseries of buildings, the large, pink rectangles in the top half of the city.
My thought is that this city has transitioned somewhat from smaller, lower buildings that are. Grouped together to bigger high rises, larger plazas. There's some inter mingling but we can definitely see a transition in the neighborhood. And this'll give me an opportunity at least to the, we'll call it north, but the top of the drawing. To be able to block the view more and more. I can even create a super block spanning street and really limit down how far we can go. We can see in this that by taking the idea of the city out and using some of the long blocks to block streets.
We can create some short avenues that are only a couple of blocks long. And it looks reasonable to look down it. You can also see in here, once I start to clone out buildings, how many buildings there are on a city street. What I've done here down at the bottom where we can see the repetitive two A, two B, two C buildings, is to put in a row house condition. My thought is that maybe a developer built a series of these buildings in a row. Row houses, town houses, something in that range. And they've been preserved in some groups, so we do see some repetition.
I've also included some blank spaces which could be anything from parking lots to a gas station or other one of a kind kind of shop. And I can still keep putting more buildings in if needed. I put in some trees. I put some street lights in. Varying the rhythm from street to street so every street looks a little bit different. Now I'll create my reference structure with this in mind. How much of a city I need, and how much I'm going to be building. I've opened up Autodesk 3DS Max 2015, and the first thing I'll do is just set the project. I'll click on the application icon, and choose Manage, and set the project folder.
In here I browsed into the exercise files and into pro city and that's my three DS max project. In here, we have our standard max directories and what I've also done in the scenes folder is create folders for each chapter and a references folder. And in references we've got things like buildings, street fixtures and trees. And in street fixtures are. Bus stops and signs and street lights and traffic lights. My thought is that as part of my reference structure I've got directories for the different kinds of objects I'll be referencing in.
And this way if I got folks on my team who can sit there and make some street signs they can put them in this directory and I can reference them in. Multiple times. I've also got a folder for example for street lights. My street lights will go in, and again, it references one object, or a couple of street lights, many times. This is all in my scenes folder, and we'll see similar things in the scene assets folder for example for texture work. Keeping them separate, or even ganging textures together in master texture sheets.
Now that I've set this project folder over to Proto city. I'm going to do some quick placement. Really to get the feel for the city and how big it really is. I'll go into one big view by pressing alt W while clicking on one view. And in here, I'll block out one of my typical blocks. I'm working in edges. And if you go to customize, and, customization. And here's Unit Setup, you can see it's set to the generic units. And in the System Units Setup, the default is inches. So I'll leave it alone. Alternately, we could switch to feet if that's easier.
I'll block out a couple of my blocks, just to see the size of things, and get a feel for the scope on my city. I'll make a box, and click and drag out a box in the perspective view. What i'll do in the parameters for this box, is put in a length of. Two hundred feet. Here's a width of four hundred feet and height of point five or six inches. This is one typical block and as you notice here, three D S max is converting for me between feet and inches.
As so I'm fine staying in inches for working in a lot of my buildings and things because I can always put in a foot measurement if needed. Here's the real test then. If I take this street and introduce in a street spacing and put a camera in it and see how this really is, I'll hold shift and clone this down. I'll clone it as an instant for now. And I'll probably come back and replace these entirely. But it's a good experiment to really access the size of things. I'll press Spacebar for selection lock and S for snap.
I'll also hold Shift and right click and turn off my grid point snap. And turn on my vertex snap. Personally, I also like to use the axis constraints in my snaps. So I'll enable that. Now I'll snap this together. And I'm going to snap from bottom to bottom on those blocks. I'll hit F4 to turn on wireframe on shaded and then press w for move. And down here on the bottom, I'll change over from absolute mode transform type in to relative. We can see here that I'm moving on the x axis.
And so I'll move over on the x by. Well, let's see what a minor street looks like at 45 feet. Here's the real test, then to really assess the size of this city. I'll select both blocks and shift clone them. I'll snap them onto each other, cloning as instances. And then move then out on the y by 63 feet, my major road. Let's make that negative 63, so they go in the right direction. It's important to keep those axis in mind. And, depending on which view you're in and, which coordinate system you're using, you may see some funny moves like I just did.
And that's okay. You can just undo, and I'll try this again now at a negative, 63 foot, move. Here's the neat test then. Take a camera, go to the create tab on the command panel and clicking on cameras. And, here's our standard cameras. I'll put in a target camera just so I can see how long it is in a perspective. Drag it out, and I'm going to use 35mm lens with a 54 degree field of view. In illustrator, our field of view was a bit closer to a 28, but either one will work for the time being.
Here's my 35, and because I created these blocks down at zero. I'll put this camera up at, oh let's say a z height here of eight feet, a little higher than a person. I'll go into my camera by pressing C, and it's really amazing how big that city is all of a sudden. This is just two blocks, and we can see I've got really a lot of city available in just this. When I stand here in the middle of the street and look down, here's a comparison to really assess and see the size of this city.
I'm zooming in on the far end of my block, and I'll go over to the systems button on the create tab on the command tab, and put a biped in. I'll snap this biped right on the corner, right-click to stop creating, and go to the Motion tab. And here in the Motion tab I'll go into Figure mode in the biped and into Structure. A 100 inches is a bit tall for a person, so I'll size this fellow down to, 72. If you'd like, you can give him arms and things, but really, I'm just after a figure. I'll get out of figure mode, and rotate this biped over.
I'll hit A for angle snap, and turn him 90 degrees so he's standing on the street corner looking at us. C for camera. And, de-selecting him, shows me the size of that biped. He's very tiny. It's interesting to see this, and the reason for doing this test is to really assess before we start placing high detail objects. Do we have enough city? Do we have too much or not enough? And what I'm confirming in this quick test, which I'd highly recommend, is that.
You really kind of implement a bit of your plan as a proof of concept first. It's very easy to get lost in the detail, to say let's start making buildings and let's make street signs and stuff. And suddenly you're modeling acres and acres and acres of city and what we can see here is that two city blocks is really big. Now for moving in car, we're going to go pretty fast. But if we're just dallying down the street in an establishing shot or something similar. Making sure that camera doesn't submerge underground, we can see right before the camera passes by the target that he's still way down the block.
That, what we're starting in our city and looking at small detail, even if we're up a little big higher, we really need. Not as much city as we thought. Again, if you're doing a game, yes, please, make more. It also depends on the nature of your travel. If you're flying around in hovercars, where 60 miles an hour in a city street is not a big deal, you'll need more city. But if you're in a city and showing a walking view or even driving slowly, two blocks is a lot of distance.
Now here's the big deal. I'll look a the cap. I'll take my block. I'll rotate it over and hold Shift. I'll clone it as an instance because I'm not going to worry about the size at the moment. And I'll stick down at the end. And, I'll make a known size of building to sit on this block. There's one nice big box. And I'm going to say that this box is 120 feet long, it has a width of 60 feet, and a height of, let's say 60 feet as well, and this is just really a rough test.
That giant building I just made, well. Fairly big. Caps the street nicely and is really fairly small in the view. So keep that in mind. You can even turn on your save frames to show how the extent of your rendering if you like. But this is a really good indicator of the size of the city and way off in the distance is my little biped hanging out. So do this test. Take your city, however you've designed it and mock up a couple of the largest elements very quickly as a proof of concept to say is this enough? You can even animate the camera down it if you know your shot and say does this work in a city? And really what kind of detail to I need and how many things do I need to make
- Conceptualizing the city
- Planning the city in Illustrator
- Drawing buildings
- Laying out the city grid
- Creating tree and lighting elements
- Building a reference structure
- Modeling streets modules and fixtures
- Creating referenced objects and mental ray Proxy objects
- Exporting layer markers for compositing