Join Adam Crespi for an in-depth discussion in this video Establishing visually permeable boundaries, part of Creating Cityscapes in Maya.
- When you're defining your city, the big thing is to stop building city. That may sound kind of strange, so I'll explain. If we look at Seattle, we can see it's bounded on the west and somewhat to the east by water. On the west, you've got Puget Sound. On the east, there is Lake Union, Union Bay, and Lake Washington. These really help to define the shape of it. It's big enough, actually, Lake Washington, that it's got an island, Mercer Island, in the middle of it. There's another lake, Lake Sammammish, on the east side again, bounding in east of Bellevue.
What we can see, then, is that this city is bounded. We have a couple of places that we can say stop building city. However, it gets tricker when we go north and south because, well, the land does spread out and pretty soon we can start building from Wallingford and Ballard and up into Northgate and Sureline and Lynnwood, and realize uh-oh, we're going to get in to Snohomish. On the east, we can see some mountains but those get pretty far away, so the big deal with a city is to say how do I bound my little section of it? Even if you have a dedicated team, there's still an enormous amount of stuff in a city.
We're dealing with a city down at car or pedestrian level, we really need to make as little city as possible. The trick, then, is to bound that city. I'll zoom in, again, in the Belltown area and take a quick look. What we can see here is we've got a regular city grid that intersects Alaskan Way, or rather is capped by it here at the south. There's piers that come out at an angle from it. I'll drop a street view and take a quick look around and then look at some reference photos.
Here is Wall Street, and we can see if we look up Wall Street, we've got hills. This is a really great example of bounding a city. When we think about making a city, we're going to make a small section of it, actually, because a city is, well, city-sized. It's enormous! There's a few games that do this very well, but really things take place in a lot smaller area. If you're dealing in a digital back back lock, for example, you may be dealing in just one street and really need to stop the view, so this is a great way to handle it. I'm looking up a hill, and aside from a tall building it's okay that my view just ends, because what we assume by seeing this condition right here, looking up to the top of the hill, is that there's a down hill side to the street just after where we can see.
We're okay with seeing a few buildings, something taller in the distance, and some trees. This is great if our action is going to take place right here on the Wall Street label because we're okay with sort of just ending the scene there. It's plausible because of that hill and it's reinforced by the details such as this building on our left where quite obviously to the eye this street slopes. We can't tell how much, but conveniently there's level markers for the window sills, and a sloped sidewalk and railing, so we believe that we are on a hill, and so it's okay to look up it and have our view end.
Here's another example of, well, ending a view. What we can see here just after that street is water, and way off in the distance is another part of the city. It's actually West Seattle, that we just can't get to. But again, we're okay with bounding our view with some water there. Even if we get a little bit closer, we can see, well there's a nice hotel there. We really can't see much. If we can get out here and look past it, there's Puget Sound and way off in the distance those mountains in the haze are the Olympics.
It's okay that our city is bounded because this is the last street here on the water. I'll take a look at some street view images from the reference folder as well and look at other end conditions in the city. Here in photoshop, I've pulled up some of the street view collages I have stuck together. These are multiple images that I've stitched together as panoramas and put in the reference images folder. In street view one, what we can see here is that this city is bounded by the change in street direction. I'll press Control Zero to zoom to the extents and we can see here that the street is fairly flat, that the distortion we are seeing is because of stitching together but in this case, the street does angle after that while building in the distance and beyond it we see just tall buildings and so we are okay with seeing the view ended here.
As long as we can see the tall buildings in the sky, we believe that there is still more city. Here's another example, street view two. Again, we can see that we're looking slightly down a hill, that there's a building in the distance and more tall buildings. If only we could just get to them, we could see more city but in this case, we're okay with ending the view here. Yet another example in street view three is a straighter street, but there's trees down in the distance and the white there is actually Seattle Center where the Space Needle is.
In this case, we're seeing a T, where the road simply stops at a T and we are forced to turn right or left when we hit that T, and we simply cannot go further. When we look down this street view, though, we can see a few city blocks. Considerable traffic, buildings, street furniture, and so on, but our view is conveniently ended. It's also limited by the tall buildings and we're okay with seeing that, especially if there is more than one. It's okay to block the view with a building, or two or three, and leave just a few little vistas through to convince us yet there is still more there.
In street view four, we are seeing uphill again. This, again, is a great way to end a view. We can be looking at a T street here, see buildings in the distance, and just can't quite get up to them. The other thing we can do in a city is densify it. In this case, this city is being taken over by trees. Well, at least in our view, the trees are really blocking things. This is a way to end the view in some streets to really limit down how far we can see. If there's simply enough mature trees in the scene, then pretty well we are standing in a linear forest and can see glimpses of the city beyond, and occasionally we can run into a T street and trees and just not get through.
Here's another example of a tree lined street, a few tall buildings, and just some sky and a hill off in the distance. Here's one more example. In this one, we can really see how the trees are occluding a lot of the street. That very mature tree after the traffic lights is enormous and is a great local block in the view. So, think of it this way. As long as we believe that there is more, we can cap the view with any number of things. The big deal is that this is visually permeable.
That is, we feel like we can see farther than we can actually get to. Here's one more example of a visually permeable boundary. this is the famous Seattle Monorail overhead from the '62 World's Fair. It's a neat little monorail. It runs back and forth over a couple of miles and really goes right down the street. Transit thoroughfares like this are a great block whether it's a freeway, whether it's a monorail, whether it's an overheaded railway like in Chicago, the L.
Maybe a subway or even a station is great because we simply cannot see past it or cannot get around it, but it feels like if we could just get far enough to look down, we could see a little more. This is linear visual permeability. We feel like we can see further than we actually can get to and so we don't feel consistently bounded in the city. Here's one last image, and this is a really great one. It's a building that's, well, not done yet. It's under construction, but the outline of it, because we've got scaffolding and form work and cranes and everything, is not defined, and so it's not that we feel we are seeing a defined block in the view, it's this sort of amorphous cloud of stuff that we feel like we can see little snatches of stuff beyond it.
Again, it's visually permeable. We see construction, and it's perfectly fine to have a fence around it, even a solid one, so that we think we can see it, we just can't quite get to it to look over, and it blocks the view conveniently. So keep in mind visual permeability. We feel like we can see more than there actually is if only we could get to it, but we don't feel consistently, evenly bounded on all sides. That it's a collection of things that bound in the city area we are going to make to keep our modeling load small.
- Conceptualizing the city
- Planning the city in Illustrator
- Drawing buildings
- Laying out the city grid and buildings
- Creating tree and lighting elements
- Building a reference structure
- Creating referenced objects
- Exporting layer markers for compositing