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Thread: Forest lights at night

  1. #1
    Motion Design Lead Iaian7's Avatar
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    Forest lights at night

    Just a "quick" personal project, based on a location photo shoot I attempted exactly a year ago — after spending hours out in the frozen woods behind my apartment till the early morning hours, losing feeling in my hands, and with only some problematic long exposure shots ruined by wind to show for it...I decided a CG approach might be more practical. And comfortable.

    Starting with some quick Google Images research, I found examples of the light bulbs I wanted to use, modelling them by eye (and a rough length guesstimate) using CC subpatch. Internal wires and filament were all 2-point polygons set to 2mm in Layout. The fixtures and cables were saved as separate layers so I could exclude the internal geometry and glass pieces from shadows and radiosity.

    Shaders are mostly a mix of modified specular (heavily processed Blinn and basic Anisotropic shaders) and reflections (combination of heavily diffused reflections and anisotropic reflections). While it'd be nice for the close shots to hold up nicely, I know my primary shot will be a wide view where physically accurate reflections won't help so much. I haven't optimised the shaders properly for distant shots, but they should work well enough. Using lights instead of luminous geometry is rather painful when it comes to what one might call "product shots," but will give a lot more control in the final render (since it'll give me so much more control over falloff, diffuse, and specular).

    The attached preview was rendered in Lightwave with camera DOF and using DPont's Node Image Filter (for recursive bloom and highlight compression curves), and saved to OpenEXR for final editing in Photoshop (noise reduction, additional bloom, grading, and sharpening). Took a little over an hour to render on my 2011 iMac i7 (this is actually from last weekend, I'm just catching up on posting ).
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    John Einselen
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  2. #2
    Motion Design Lead Iaian7's Avatar
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    Also from last weekend, I started on the location...

    Trees were created in ngPlant, averaging I think between 100k and 200k polygons each. I exported scores of variations and culled the results down to 10 select models. I finally realised I could set custom UV bounds in ngPlant, which saved me a significant amount of time in Modeller (I used to manually scale up each set of branches in the UV editor to create the correct repeating frequency...sheesh). Bark is a combination of images from CGtextures and Lightwave procedurals, with normal maps created using a custom texture tool (sorry, probably won't be released unless Vuo finally gets full image processing and publishing capabilities...Quartz Composer really isn't an ideal distribution platform :P).

    The snowy mounds are a heavily subdivided mesh that started as a tesselated sphere that was tapered and flattened. It gives much greater detail at the centre while gradually decreasing the further away it gets (I've attached a sample object for reference). I used a combination of procedurals in both the nodal and shader displacement systems to create the shapes. I also attempted a ton of different shading styles, like super-diffused reflections, fractured specular highlights for bits of fleck, and SSS...all pretty much worthless attempts. Lol.

    The ice (fine, it looks like water) took a ton of work, and it didn't turn out how I wanted. I even spent a Friday evening trying to develop a fake-volumetric shader. Nope. Not worth it. What's visible here is a combination of a number of procedurals and several LW materials (dielectric and basic) all mixed together in a far too complicated node tree. It's rather rubbish.

    The leaves were pretty basic, using more CGtextures stock photography and adding procedural frost patterns around the edges. Unfortunately that kind of detail doesn't really show up in the final render, but the camera can push quite a little closer if needed (it'd be cool if I can pull off a series of images, but I'm not holding my breath...first the main shot!).

    The 20 trees closest to the camera were all placed by hand, with all of the background trees (all 640 of them) using randomised instancing based on elevation (populating only above the water line). The leaves were instanced from a model with 10 layers of random leaf piles that were then displaced and instanced based on elevation (populating only in lower areas where they wouldn't have blown away). I used proxy geometry for the leaf instancing, which wouldn't have been necessary except to reduce the number of instances needed to fill the foreground (otherwise I'd have to instance millions of groups just to cull most of them based on distance)...the trees were instanced directly on the snow surface and that seemed to work better (albeit I needed far fewer, and they could extend to the horizon!).

    The scene was lit with an overhead area light (slightly blue), and centralised spherical light (pure white for general illumination), and small spherical lights inside each lightbulb (slightly golden, with the lightbulbs ignored by all shadow and radiosity rays, while all of the lamp fixtures were populated as instances). Rendered with no radiosity at all (this time), and plenty of render samples (clearly not enough to resolve the bits of lightbulb reflected in the water!). I left it to render over night, but I think it finished in well under 4 hours (same iMac i7 as above). Final compositing was handled in Photoshop at 32 and 16bpc, where I compressed the highlights (using layered exposures), added ground fog / haze, atmospheric particulates, bloom, vignette, grain, and grading (in that order).

    The mood is actually pretty close to what I was looking for, though the details in the lamps of course can't be seen at this distance, and it's far too slow to render at this point to work well for anything animated (again, I'm focusing on getting the still image done first...might try animating later on).
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    John Einselen
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  3. #3
    Super Member SteveH's Avatar
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    Hey I think it looks pretty cool John. An animation would be great - but man it would take months to render....
    Somewhere between the Darkness and the Light

  4. #4
    Registered User tyrot's Avatar
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    holy cow I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! GREAT !

  5. #5
    Motion Design Lead Iaian7's Avatar
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    Thanks! Unfortunately all of my improvements yesterday did not actually improve things, at least not a net improvement. I do like the ice better (snow now correctly feathers into the ice surface), but the addition of more fill lighting and radiosity rather killed the mood. I'm working on some more updates right now, but pretty soon Sherlock is on...at which point my productivity is over.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    John Einselen
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  6. #6
    Registered User kadri's Avatar
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    The second one looks great too.
    And the ice is really much better.
    Nice explanation too.
    I am curious how much faster you could go for animation.

  7. #7
    Steam username: Carm3D Carm3D's Avatar
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    Very pretty!
    Carm
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  8. #8
    Big fan of coffee raw-m's Avatar
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    Lovely stuff. Your texturing is amazing, esp your breakdowns on your website.

  9. #9
    RETROGRADER prometheus's Avatar
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    lovely john, I don´t want to go in that path of the lights though, Im sure the snow and the frozen water(great ice) would crack and I would get my feet really wet and cold, so the mood works nice there
    and I think youré right to avoid radiosity or fill lights to much, in a forest like this..it seems that the ambient/global light from the sky hardly can illuminate the forest, if it´s an open field at night you might expect
    more of that, but in reality..going in to dark forest wintertimes, is quite dark and strong contrasted.

    Good work.

    Michael

  10. #10
    Robert Ireland bobakabob's Avatar
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    Really nice work, a very interesting project with impressive results. Maybe lose the fill lighting if it's washing out the impact and you could try turning the radiosity down to say 50% if it's too overpowering. Artistic license 'n all.
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  11. #11
    Super Member COBRASoft's Avatar
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    Very nice!

  12. #12
    Valiant NewTeKnight Matt's Avatar
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    Very cool John, you should submit it to the gallery!
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  13. #13
    Very pretty, nice work!

    Your snow attempts are pretty cool. It's hard to get that kind of shading to look right, especially in differing lighting conditions!

  14. #14
    Motion Design Lead Iaian7's Avatar
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    Thank you everyone! I really appreciate the input and am so glad you like it.

    Thankfully I figured out why the radiosity was so washed out in one of my comps. I was rendering out to linear and forgot to adjust the gamma when I was compressing the highlights. Lol. Whoops. The fill light towards the front was still way too bright, though. Somewhat fixed now.

    Attached is the latest comp from last night, with fallen branches, grass, more heavily cracked ice (I hope the look communicates that, at least subtly?), and modified lighting. I want at least one more revision before I start on the photography component. Fine tuning some of the lightbulb positions, tweaking the fill lighting a bit more, etc. Granted, a character in the centre may just be too cliché, but we'll see. I'd like to try it, along with some front projection on proxy geometry to create the correct shadows and reflections.

    Specific question:
    What do you think about the scale of the lights? I want them large enough to be visible (and at full res the filaments are just visible!), but small enough to feel roughly correct (the bulbs are currently around 6" in length, the trees are...I can't remember, and the space in the centre is plenty of room for a 5'10" character). Right now the lighting emanates from the centre of the scene, while a number of lights are actually much closer to the camera but contribute almost nothing to the trees around them due to falloff. This kinda gives the effect that the lights are further away than they actually are. In other words, I've really cheated the lighting, and I'm afraid it may have gone too far.
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    John Einselen
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  15. #15
    I think the lights look fine. You can get such massive lights for decorative/theatre/film work etc. Obviously they would normally be smaller, but you can get huge bulbs.. well used to be able too There's a war on incandescent

    I'd say put a little more film grain in the dark areas, as it's a very low light environment, and tweak your S curves a little, just not too much, but otherwise it is very pretty!

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