Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 2: Basic polygon modeling in Modo, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph, VFX, and Digital Art.
- It's such a small amount that breaks it up, but the 3D does most of the heavy lifting in terms of the rendering aspect of it. - It also adds a fair amount of scale to the image as well. These little details especially along that edge give you a sense of how big this structure is. - Yeah, I mean, the benefit to 3D is that it's actual physical real scale, so you know the dimensions, you know exactly how many kilometers this ship is long, or the distances that you're dealing with, so very easy to fine-tune all those aspects and make sure that the scale of the distant objects is right.
These aren't five miles across, these are the right size compared to this. - Let's take a look at the underlying structure, maybe in Moto and see how that's built. - Yep. So now we start off, very basic polygon modeling. You can see a little bit of subdivisions in the object that I want in closer to us just to have a little bit more control over those clean smoother edges and see stuff like that in subdivisions. The only reason why most of it is not in subdivisions is because it's just a little bit more time consuming to make sure that those control loops are all there and it's cleanly done so that it holds its shape well.
It takes a little bit more work to do that, but where it's needed and where you want that to happen, to really control those edge weights and stuff, I use it in a few key locations, unless you have a form that is super, you know, soft and a lot of soft edges, in which case you can't get around that, you're going to use a lot of subdivisions. A lot of it's just basic pieces that you can see I'm repeating over and over and over again, but that is what is so user-friendly about this, is that you can make the entire thing feel unified.
It makes it easier to have a consistent shape language when you're literally re-using pieces over and over and over. Each bridge is physically made up of the same components, I just kind of configure them a little differently to make them feel different, but it's identical. And then obviously scale. You can see that mesh back there is the same as the one up here, and it's just duplicated in the distance, so the scale is mathematically correct, which is nice to be able to know how to do by hand, but you don't need to anymore. - I'd love to know how you decided to set this up.
So it's obviously in low orbit, you're looking at it from the underside, and perhaps we're a ship flying into dock with it or something like that. I'd love to know your thought process in deciding where the angles are, and where the light's coming from, and that sort of thing. - I guess that's just kind of like specific to the artist. I just saw something in my head and I just started sketching and it just turned into what it is. I look at a lot of the old 70s and 80s sci-fi art, John Berkey is probably my biggest favorite. Just one of the best sci-fi illustrators in the history of humans painting spaceships, which it actually doesn't go back that far.
He's just my favorite. He has a very unique sort of vision, and also something I learned is a very good way to humanize these kind of things. A lot of the time they can get very abstract. The way to humanize it is to incorporate some of the shape language, just like 30% of it, that we sort of identify with as humans, so something from an aircraft carrier. Some of the genius designs out there, they incorporate kit bash pieces from real objects, Sherman tanks and Apache helicopters and things like that, but you tweak it a certain amount where it feels alien and unfamiliar, but that little percentage of what we recognize is what makes it feel like it was somehow built by some kind of life form we can relate with.
- Yeah, I definitely noticed that in the armada ships as well, if you zoom into one of those guys up close. I mean, that feels very attack helicopter, like something we've seen on the news before. - Yeah, this is definitely inspired by that a little bit, and definitely, I don't know, it's got a little bit of everything kind of mixed together with it. These kind of wheel well looking shapes, you know, you'll see in older kind of cars and things like that. Definitely some attack helicopter stuff, some Harrier jet influence, but I did those after, so I sort of wanted those to feel like they were built in the same vein as this giant space station here.
So that was kind of, I was just trying to keep the shapes in line and something that felt like it was built by them. So you can see one docked inside the little port in there. So that's the way I do the modeling aspect of it. Nothing technically amazing, very, very simple, and that's actually the point, is that we want to be able to just throw this together quickly, save the presets out, and re-use and re-use, and keep it consistent at the same time. As far as lighting goes, that's also a very user-friendly aspect of this because when I go into the render window here.
So that's the preview render that we get in Moto. Fantastic feature just to show a slightly lower res version of what you're final render is going to be, but it does it in real time, so when I want to play around with camera angles you can see that we are moving through the space in real time. The environment fog that I have set up here is real time as well, so it's all just extremely tailor made for iteration. You have a director standing over your shoulder, you want to lower the camera angle, you want to increase the density of the fog, you want to change the color of the fog, etc, etc, and it's just very easy to do that with.
You can see I have several different meshes here, but they are all grouped by what they're doing for me. So I have these bridges in the background grouped together, I have the main body of the thing in one mesh, and then I have, maybe I can go back into the modeling mode and show that a little easier. So you can see I have a layer of detail on top that is the tertiary level of detail. I've got some bridges on their own layer. This blocker is actually a fake piece of geometry that isn't part of the scene, but that gives me that nice shadow overlapping cast over, so something that I wanted to do that I decided in the sketches, I wanted to have this big looming shadow cast over the space station as if there's a much bigger form off camera, right? - Something even larger.
- Just a little bit of a hint at that. So in order to do that, when I put the directional light in I realized that I was going to need to create some kind of a shadow blocker, so I modeled it to a specific shape just to tailor that exact shape the way it falls onto the environment. You can play around with these things so easily in this tab, moving that object over in the scene and seeing exactly what it's doing to the render in real time, or you can also do that by having the preview render open in a separate tab and working on the model in another-- I'll have dual monitors set up at home or in the studio, having the preview render on a separate monitor and just constantly looking over at those updates for those minute changes that you get it just right.
In terms of lighting, I knew that this was going to be in fairly low orbit, you know, getting a little bit of atmosphere. That's why I added the environment fog. So when I was doing the lighting I wanted to turn down the radiance, the power of the light just a little bit, just so that it wasn't just blasting it with light the way you get that really crisp white light in outer space there's zero oxygen, there's zero atmosphere. I wanted to somewhere meet in the middle so it felt like very strong light source like in outer space, but a little bit of particle in the air. - Some atmosphere.
- Yeah, so you can see that that shadows been nicely softened just a tiny bit. The way I do that is by going into your actual light itself. I have two different directional lights, two different options of how the lighting would be. You can see that's feeling a little bit more Darth Vader, a little more sinister, the glowing red eyes and a silhouette, and I wanted to go a little bit more Rebel Alliance if you want Star Wars metaphors. I don't know if you do, but I'm giving them anyways.
So very convenient to be able to play around with the lights that easily, especially the light material, being able to change the color of the light and the nature of the shadow color, and all those different ways to control the color in the environment. The other element here that I wanted to show is the use of replicators. So when you look in my 3D model, the polygon modeling mode, you see these messy little rectangles everywhere, which seem like they're not doing anything. That's because they're actually not doing anything in the view port.
They're not adding to my gL, they're not adding to my actual geometry in the scenes. So it doesn't slow down performance even though those replicators are representing hundreds of these ships being duplicated into the environment. So you can see how they're all kind of bent and twisted in different ways, and that is because they are populated by this mesh that you can see. That super messy, choppy, triangular mesh is a mesh that I made and cut holes out of and basically populated that.
Each vertex is populated with a ship. So I move that out of the way, that's why it's up there now. - So that mesh is controlling the ship location? - Yes sir, yes it is. So if I go back into the render tab and I show you this scene here, and then turn back on that replicator mesh, you can see it go back on and off in the environment. - Oh yeah, there we go. - That's where it's existing in the environment. But that's sort of irrelevant, because you're using it as a source for where the replicators are going to appear.
You can do that, and then also, in the actual replicator itself, you can control these transformations, these different offsets. So you can move them, you can twist them, and you can adjust how they're instancing. So this right here is controlling the ship itself is one of these, that's the mesh that is the prototype mesh, and the point source, the replicator mesh, which is the mesh I was showing, is what's controlling their movement. It's literally infinite, the possibilities of being able to populate a scene, because literally your mind is the only limit of what it can do.
It can do anything you want in terms of duplicating a very geometrically complex mesh in an environment. Any possible pattern that you can come up with, it can do it, and that's the beautiful thing. It's just a concept artist's dream, because it is something that you would have to do by hand 10 years ago, psychotic, you know? And now you can do these kinds of things. You can populate a field of grass, you can have a little mushroom forest with thousands of little mushrooms varying in their individual sizes because of those transformations, and can populate any shape that you want.
So even a human body. You could have a human body populated in armor shapes all over it, or just about anything. So I realize that if I actually tried to do it with arrays and physically having shapes in this environment, it wouldn't be able to withstand that level of geometry and rendering of the flat materials that I've got in there and the fog as well, starting to calculate a lot of stuff. So when you go back into the render, you can see that those are all showing up. And they are being affected by the fog as well.
And being affected by the light, but they're not real geometry. That is something I use a lot.
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