Personal Project TESF: Modeling

I want to do an introduction of one od the personal projects I am working on now.
Since I finished the VFX course at Lost Boys and started working at Goldtooth I must recognize that I kind of stopped working on my personal stuff, but I thought I needed to rest a bit. In fact, I have a bunch of ideas for future projects that are going to make me be busy for several months.
Plus, sometimes I dedicated my free time to study more about photoreal shaders in mental ray and the mia_Material_X, which is cool to learn and do some dev, but is not as fun as working on an actual project.
Also it is summer and I have to work doing something similar as this, so in my free time I don't really feel like sitting in front of a computer, I'd rather spend the time outside enjoying the unusual nice weather of Vancouver.
Anyway, what I want to say is that this project is going slow, but it's going.
I named this project  "The Earth Surface" mainly because of this image:

When I saw this beautiful image, which, by the way, I don't know the author's name, I thought it would be very interesting to create some animated version of it. I could practice techniques like projecting the surface of the planet on to simple geometry, work a matte painting for the clouds and create a feeling of parallax, model the SR-71 Jet which has an interesting design, add the flames, make it interact with the atmosphere and of course, working on the lighting and the shading of the different materials of the model.
So basically, nothing new that I didn't try before. Yes, is another "plane-spaceship-flying object" project. And I am not really a jet/spaceship nerd, but I think it's actually some subject to create attractive shots. In fact, my interest of this sort of vehicles appeared when I started learning 3D techniques for hard surface.
I do this just to keep practice the same techniques that I like and try to improve them.

And the frist stage of this project is done!
I am talking about building the asset of the SR-71 jet when I say "first stage", although I did some projection setup and camera layout before, but I know I am going to change all of that.

I decided to work on this asset, first of all because it's the plane that appeared on the image that inspired me to start this project, and, to be honest, I thought it would be such an easy task to do. If you see some reference you will notice that the overall shape is like very flat, long and triangular. So I felt very confident with the task of model this guy, but soon I noticed that the SR-71 has a lot of details and components.

Of course, before I started modeling searched for a lot of references, which is one of my favorite parts, since I don't learn only about computer graphics. A good reference research makes you learn about many details and extra information thad is not really relevant to make a 3D image, but it is interesting after all.
I found great images from professional photographers on google and cool documentaries on youtube like this one.

Problems and challenges:

Every time I start modeling something I have a hard time with some certain areas of the model. As I said before I underestimated this jet. From far it looks very simple, in fact, compared with other air vehicles like helicopters or fighter jets, this one looks way more simple. But after watching several reference images I noticed all the details this plane has. And I must mention that it is modeled mainly for the shots I have in mind, so there are actually many pieces I didn't work at all.
I started by building an overall shape using blueprints to create a proxy model, and then I continued adding detail in the engines and the wings. All this process was very smooth and took me half a day. I had the chance to experiment with different modeling techniques, like using deformers to bend straight pieces into perfect cylindrical shapes with lots of detail, or making one high detail piece and duplicate it several times, pivoting it in one axis so it will end up making another great cylindrical pattern. By doing this I could easily make cool shapes fast and easy, so the engines weren't really hard to do.

The problem came when I started doing the cockpit. I spent a whole day working in that area and when I finished it it didn't even convinced me. So I would have to started it from the beginning... big depression. This is how the cockpit was looking in my first try:

Not really good... I didn't follow correctly the image planes and it  didn't look correct.
Due to the amount of work at the studio I didn't have the chance to keep working on it, but that actually helped me a lot. On my free time I focused on study the anatomy of the cockpit by looking at the references, and thinking on how could I model it without being inside the 3D software. I decided I would do the cabin separately, and then I would combine the different pieces and merge the vertices to try to have a nice topology in the mesh. Also, when I was modeling the cockpit shape and the doors, I didn't care of having triangles, or n-gons with a very dirty mesh, first I needed the correct shape, then I would clean up the topology.

What was the most tricky part of this piece? It has a mix of hard and soft edges, which for me is very difficult to control, I always end up with creasing edges and a not very clean mesh. Even thought I could get a better shape, I wasn't really happy with the final result of it for all the effort that it took me, but I considered it good enough after all.

Now, there is something here. I am always fighting with the idea of how the asset is it going to be seen on the final shot and how much level of detail I am going to put into it. 
For the shot I want to do, which is the image that inspired me (seen top above), the overall shape of the plane would be enough, and that took me actually half a day to do it. But I thought I needed to practice a bit more of modeling and, since I was going to create an this asset from the beginning, it wouldn't hurt to add a bit of detail. Who knows if I want to use this asset in the future, or if I want to do shots from different angles. And, in fact, as I was modeling I had this idea of making a couple of extra shots, having a small sequence instead of having just one shot. In contrast with the image that inspired me to do this project, the other extra shots I want to do are not so wide angle, showing just a portion of the plane, which is the back side of one of its engines. That's why I did put some of extra love on modeling details of this area.

Working as a 3D guy I have learned a couple of things this days. You can get nice details with textures, bump maps and normal maps, but sometimes you really need to get that detail using actual geo. And I actually like that, shadows will look better and the ambient occlusion will define better the model. Plus, the more details you work in geo, the less details you will have to work in textures. 
Also is a good thing when modeling, to think what materials are the different pieces going to be made of, and separate or combine them using this principle. That way, you will save time when creating materials and textures. 
Some areas are going to have very specific textures, therefore the UVs will have to be laid out strategically so then the texture map will fit in the correct point. But some other parts only need a random texture, so we don't need to suffer with the UVs too much, as long they are laid out nice and flat. And some pieces don't even need textures, just a good shader, and no UVing. I think I'll make a post about this topic another day, when working of the textures and materials of this little plane.

As a conclusion of the modeling stage, I wanted to practice my modeling skills and try to apply what I'm learning at work on my own projects. I could have done more details, like screws, and different panels of the plane, but I don't really like to get stuck with one thing for a very long time. I was thinking about doing the interior of the cockpit and the wheels but I decided not to work on them for now. For the interior I put some seats and control panels of another plane I have (downloaded from internet) but is not even going to be seen in any shot. I did wanted to make the wheels, but I am going to wait until I start learning the cool art of rigging, because I want to make sure that I model the extra pieces correctly to have a good rig. But since this plane is going to be flying and not landing or taking off, I will leave that task for the future.

I think the overall shape is good enough for the shots I'm going after. Once again I had to fight with vertices edges and faces to make it look decent, but I am pretty happy with the result so far, and I had fun and learned new things, which is basically why I like doing this.

I hope the next stages of texturing, shading, lighting and compositing will be as interesting or even more as it was modeling.
I'll try to keep this project up-to-date in this blog.

Thanks for visiting!

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