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3D Set Extension: Process Breakdown

One of the funnest parts of doing computer graphics is getting to work on one off shots (typically just one of many concurrent projects). As an artist you have to empathize with your client and deliver more than what is asked.


The client gave me a brief idea of what they wanted with a few reference images of hills and old buildings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and I pretty much had free reign to make the scene however I wanted as long as the freeway lined up. 


Invisible things you'd never know unless I told you:


I spent the good part of a day creating cars and animating them. I think they all got cut out in the final version. Often times you work with overscan, meaning you have to give a 10-20% padding around the frame and make stuff that might never be seen.


On this quick shot I did the scene assembly and environment, another artist gave me the building assets. I didn't have to make too many modifications except the windows. Often times other artists may miss something and its up to you to find the issue and it's really helpful if you can just solve it on your own without passing it back. 


Materials like glass can be tricky. Always make sure you don't have Z-Fighting - Where 2 pieces of geometry are sitting right on top of each other. 


While shots like this can be done with matte paintings, it often makes more sense for a TV studio to do it in 3D in case more work comes down the line. 


Occasionally they'll say - oh that really looks good, let's insert another shot the day before it comes out! Sometimes just to be safe they'll give a larger budget just in case.


Later episodes might utilize the environment as well so it's nice to have a 3D version. 


Plus... Matte Paintings are nice, but if you can do it in 3D, it's often going to look more realistic. 


Software used: 3DS Max, SpeedTree, ForestPack, V-Ray, Nuke. 

It's easy to assume what you see on TV is real. But most of it's probably fake. 


Often times CG gets pointed out as the bad guy. Oh that's just bad CG. When in reality it's more like you get a VFX Supervisor who is on set for several hours to make sure things are set up properly. But because things on set don't go as planned (If you're a producer you might be spending something like $800 a minute).


Sometimes the lighting doesn't match. Then even in CG if you want the lighting to match the plate, the client might not necessarily want the lighting that way, or the lighting has to make sense in the sequence. So even if they shot it a certain way, some directors will want the lighting to look worse. 

At one point while working on this scene the client asked us to build a blue house to be their neighbors house. We built it and placed it where the client said they wanted it, and then they asked us to move it back a bit. Then again... Oh how about over there. And again... Finally after three times I asked my supervisor to make a two minute phone call to the client and ask the decision maker about the Blue House. Turns out they didn't really want it or had changed their mind.


Often you work in this chain of information and your job as an artist is to provide the most value. It doesn't necessarily mean make the task you have been given the best, it means to understand the problem and deliver because you understand the purpose. It sucks working on things that serve nobody, so don't waste your energy and the client's money.


In a perfect world CG would always look good. But with tight budgets and not-so-ideal ways to shoot - CG is often an afterthought. That afterthought can cause thousands of hours on the back end. It's up to you to help the client understand up front what goes into the work and set them up to win.

I got one month to do this environment alongside another artist. My job was to take the house model and a bunch of random blue prints that didn't make any sense whatsoever, and take this scene which didn't exist, combine an onset indoor production scene, a real scene that actually existed, and an outdoor set. It was a bit of a nightmare project. 


The invisible stuff: 


This environment went through so many revisions. I have a hard time doing the same thing over and over again when there is a lack of purpose or if there's a good chance the work I do will just be thrown into the digital wastebasket. When clients can't make up their mind and don't have a clear vision from the start I've learned it's best to either find a different client, or if they are willing to take the time to brainstorm and develop a mutually beneficial relationship, you can both be set up to win. 


The best clients are those who can answer questions and get to a strategic outcome the fastest which benefits both people. If you are having a hard time working with your client and are just an order taker - rethink your relationship with them. How are you adding value to them? What is your expertise? 


Sometimes it's best to stop working with the client and other times it's good to have an honest conversation about what isn't working and how you can help them meet their wants, goals, and vision.

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