Personal Project

I spent some time thinking over potential ideas for this project at the start. I also wasn’t sure how to make the most out of it; whether it would be more beneficial to improve on a weakness, try something completely new or something that would maybe help me figure out what I would like to do long term. My team’s BFX application was also in the mix so there was also a chance that I would be focusing in on animation.

Initially I thought about the skills I have as a 3D generalist and thought of making a character because I haven’t done much with characters up until now and I am interested in rigging. However, after working on environments in the studio project I changed my mind. I’m not really that interested in characters but I am definitely interested in environments and props. I decided that I should work on a project I am interested in and will enjoy rather than something I don’t really want to do just for the sake of learning skills.

At the time I was listening to podcasts by 3D artist Ross Baxter. There was an episode where he was talking about portfolios, and I realised that my showreel should be my  priority. Baxter talks about how it can be good to show in your portfolio that you can make smaller personal projects to a high quality, rather than spending loads of time on a large project that is of lower quality.


The plan was to make a small environment with a strong concept. I find that my favourite pieces of environment or concept art are the ones that hint at a story and allow the viewer to fill in the blanks of what might be going on. For example, I was inspired by Gerard Dunleavy’s work and how it is narrative driven. I particularly liked ‘Four Brothers’ which is a 360 concept environment (see link in references). I love the lighting and the strategic placement of the four characters. I like how he has used the title and gives a little snippet of a narration on what is happening. For me, this brings the art to life and presents it in a professional way.

It piqued my interest in 360 videos so I looked into how they can be made using Unity or Arnold and was surprised to find that the process is really straight forward.

I went through a lot of ideas before settling on my final idea, it was more difficult than I thought to decide on a small environment that is contained enough. I wanted to make something atmospheric and thought back a sunflower field I had visited last summer, and the way the dyeing sunflowers tower over your head. I ran with this environment and decided I wanted to include some sort of other-worldly presence that would be left open to interpretation by the viewer.

End goal:

  • 360 video with animation – rain, sunflowers swaying in the wind, animated object with lights in it that moves around the scene
  • Semi-realistic style, high resolution textures and minimal assets that are medium-high poly
  • Using Maya, Substance painter, Arnold for rendering

New skills:

  • Making a 360 video
  • Using nparticles for rain
  • Using textures on planes

I was going to be making this within a limited time frame so I planned my workflow ahead to make sure I was working as efficiently as possible:

  • Draw the layout of the scene
  • Modeling – 4 different sunflowers, dead stems and leaves, plane for the ground. Reusing parts where possible
  • UV mapping
  • Prep for texturing
  • Texturing assets in groups
  • Rig sunflowers
  • Layout the scene, duplicating sunflowers, setting up texture maps
  • Make image planes for background sunflowers
  • Animate sunflowers
  • Lighting, physical sky and animate cube with lights
  • Rain particles
  • Render
  • Editing and sound

Below is the layout for the scene. The camera would be in the middle of the clearing, as if the viewer has just walked through the narrow path at the bottom, pushing through the sunflowers, and has come into this open space.

Environment plan


Modeling and Rigging

Modeling and texturing references:

During the modelling process I used a lot of the same pieces multiple times to save time. I UV mapped some of these items as I went along if I knew they were going to be duplicated multiple times. I learned more about topology, modelling cleanly and efficiently. I learned that I should apply materials to separate parts of a mesh before combining them, this would have saved time applying materials to individual faces.

I modeled the seeds on the faces individually because I wanted the sunflowers to be realistic close up. However, this was very high poly. If I were to do it again I would look into other ways of making the seeds, but I was limited on time so I did it the way I  knew how.

Screenshot 2019-05-16 at 13.10.28
Sunflower topology

I used parts I had made from the sunflowers to make loose dead stems and leaves that I could place on the ground.

Screenshot 2019-05-16 at 17.55.09
Loose stems and leaves topology

I rigged each sunflower with a simple IK handle and main control so I could adjust the scale. The IK handles also proved handy for quickly adjusting the shape duplicated sunflowers for some more variation in silhouettes.

Screenshot 2019-05-16 at 13.08.27
Final sunflowers with rigs

UV Mapping and Texturing

I textured everything in Substance Painter. I’ve really enjoyed learning to use Substance this year, but I think my UV mapping tends to let me down when it comes to texture. There are a few places where the maps weren’t great, like the leaves for example. Perhaps I haven’t fully grasped it yet, so I’m going to learn and practice my UV mapping during the summer.

Textured sunflowers
Textured loose stems and leaves

I sourced the base of the ground texture from here:

Scene set-up and image planes

I used my layout drawing to lay out my scene and used a human model as a reference for how big the sunflowers should be. I used renders of my sunflower models to make image planes. The first time I tried it, there was a problem where the image was almost completely transparent when I created physical sky lighting, but the image looked fine when I used an area light with high exposure. I spent a while trying to figure out what the problem was because I thought it was something to d with the type of light. Then I tried making the alpha maps again in Photoshop but followed a different tutorial this time, which was the solution (tutorials referenced at the bottom).

I wanted the sunflowers closest to the camera to be models so that they would be realistic, but in hindsight I should have cut down on these and used more planes. The amount of models made the scene really slow to work with. It was also difficult to get the right balance between having enough planes to fill the gaps but also letting enough light come through.

Screenshot 2019-05-17 at 16.50.20
Scene layout

Animation, Lighting and nParticles

When it came to animating the swaying sunflowers, I thought I could make one master control for all of the IK handles and animate this one control. However, this only animated the joints and not the meshes. I ended up having to select handles individually and animating them all at once, which was a bit time consuming and made Maya lag a lot. If I were animating a lot of models like this in the future I would look into alternate ways of doing this, perhaps using expressions.

For an atmospheric look, I used physical sky and tweaked the colours a bit to get a dark sunset look. For the floating cube, I wanted the blue to be a sharp contrast and used atmosphere volume to exaggerate the low spread of the lights.

I used a tutorial to learn how to make rain with nParticles. Unfortunately I mustn’t have sent it up to render correctly because they aren’t visible in the final render.

Screenshot 2019-05-17 at 16.51.59
Rain nParticles
Screenshot 2019-05-17 at 16.52.12
Rain nParticles

Rendering and Final Outcome

I had some problems with the second half of the render which I set-up on a different computer. Some of the background planes were showing as transparent. I couldn’t find a solution at the time, but it might have been because I accidentally saved the file as Maya binary before moving it to another computer. I will find a solution to this problem before  rendering it out for my showreel.

Spherical camera render
Render with planes not working in background

I rendered the sequence using a spherical camera and adjusted the exposure in Premiere Pro because the renders came out a bit dark


Overall I really enjoyed this project and was I’m pleased with what I achieved in a small amount of time. I learned new things and found learning about workflow and ways to work efficiently particularly valuable. I’m somewhat disappointed with the final 360 degree video, the quality went down quite a lot compared to the renders. I think the scene needs some more work to make the field look less bare in the distance


ArtStation. (2017) Four Brothers, Gerard Dunleavy. Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

Brian Danh. (2018) Maya 2018 – Transparent Textures in Arnold. Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

CreativeSalek. (2017) How to Change Background in Photoshop CC (Transparent). Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

Mike Hermes. (2015) Maya 2016 tutorial : How to create rain with nParticles. Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

Ross Baxter. (2018) The Student Art Podcast – Environment & Character Portfolio’s – Episode 003 – With Ross Baxter. Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

SJ K. (2018) Maya Arnold Opacity (transparent texture background). Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

SUN ACADEMY. (2017) 3Ds Max – How To Make Opacity Map in Photoshop. Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

TunnelvizionTV. (2017) Maya Tutorial – How To Render 360 Degree Spherical Renders For YouTube and Virtual Reality. Available from: [Accessed 08 May 2019].

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