Adding Detail to a Scene

This tutorial assumes you have a basic understanding of MAX and a paint program (preferably Photoshop or Paintshop Pro) I will not be discussing how to create the example scene step by step. Instead, I will be discussing the techniques used to create each element and let you decide their placement and composition. My goal for this tutorial is to have you come out with some new knowledge as well as your own unique image rather than just a cookie cutter, paint by numbers sort of deal.

When creating a highly detailed scene, it helps to have a good knowledge of the subject. I have decided to use the example of a basement in the process of being renovated for this tutorial. I have been doing renovations and landscape construction for almost 10 years now and know the subject inside and out.

The Concept

Before attempting to create a highly detailed scene, I always try and come up with a very clear image in my mind of what I want the final product to look like. In this case, I want to create an old basement; one that was in the process of being finished when it was abandoned.

Now that I have an idea of what I want, it's time to go looking for reference material. My first choice for this would be to go and take pictures with a digital camera if possible. Not long ago I was renovating a basement a while back and that is what gave me the idea for this scene. Unfortunately I didn't have access to a camera at the time, so I had to go online to search for my reference material. The image search on was my first stop.

A side note about keeping organized; whenever I start a new project I always create several directories before doing anything, the first being the root directory for the project. Anything I use or create will go in one of its sub folders. In this case, I'll call it "Basement". In that folder I create 3 more, Images, Maps, Reference, and Scenes. Images is where I put any renders I create (usually filled with progress renders), Maps is where I store any texture maps I create for the scene. Reference is where I save all my reference images. Finally, Scenes is where I store all the sequentially saved MAX files for the scene.

Here's a shot of the directory structure for this scene:

When searching for reference, I try and find images of the subject from as many different angles as possible. With this you should be able to create a very accurate and detailed representation of the subject. Throughout this tutorial I will show the references I've used as I talk about creating the matching parts.

Setting up the Scene

Alright, so now that we've got our references organized, it's time to get to work. Since we're going to be working on a scene that involves real world objects I find it helpful to change MAX's coordinate system to something a little easier to relate to. Although Canada uses the metric system, the construction industry still sticks to the old Imperial measurement system, so that's what we're going to be using. There are a number of different options, but I choose to use Decimal Inches.

By changing the units this should make it easier for us to keep the scale of the scene consistent.

Now we actually get to start modelling something. For an indoor scene like this I like to start off with creating a box that represents the outer dimensions of the room. I created a box 240"x180x"90" then added a Normal modifier to it and checked "Flip Normals". The box is now reversed and looks more like a room. At this point I try and choose my final camera angle. It usually changes a couple times throughout the creation of the scene but it gives you something to work from. Once you've picked out an angle you like in the perspective window, create a camera anywhere in the viewport and press Ctrl+C. This will set the camera to your active viewport. Usually after this I will create a light to define my main light source. For this scene I want the light coming in through a window behind the camera, so I will create a spotlight pointing into the scene. Make sure that shadow casting is on.

Here's a quick shot of what I have now:

Build it Up

Now that we have the dimensions of the scene set up, we can start building the framework. This tutorial is meant to demonstrate one method of creating a detailed scene, however, you might learn a thing or two about building a house as well. First we need to create the wooden frame to which everything else is attached. Wood frames are typically made of 2"x4" studs on 16" centres (16" apart). The studs run vertically and are connected to a 2"x4" on the top and bottom (ceiling plate and floor plate respectively).

Now to create the first 2"x4" that we'll clone the rest from. Although they're called 2"x4"s they're actually 2"x3.5". Depending on the manufacturer, lumber typically has a rather large chamfer on the outer edges and a sharp machine cut on either end. There are a number of different ways to model this, however I chose to use Splines and the Bevel modifier.

Typical Lumber Profile:

To start, I created a rectangle spline with 2" width, 3.5" height and 0.21" corner radius. Next I added a Bevel modifier using the following settings:

This creates the board with a slight chamfer on each end. The highlighted box is the actual length of the board. Remember to subtract 0.2" from the actual length you want to accommodate the chamfer. The chamfer is a bit exaggerated so that it will show up in the final render. Now why didn't I just box model this you might be wondering? If you notice this object is entirely parametric now, meaning that if you want to change the width or length you just have to type in the number and it's done. It may be a little slower to set up the initial board, but creating and modifying others from this one will be much quicker.

Now that we have created one board, it's time to space them out.

To accomplish this, I simply used the array tool and set it to space them out every 16". I chose to make them instances as well in case I need to change something on all of them. With the studs spaced out, it's time to create the floor and ceiling plates which are just 2"x4"s on their sides.

Something to keep in mind, lumber typically doesn't come in any length longer than 16'. Although not likely that someone will notice I still like to keep that in mind with my work and will use more than one 2"x4" to make up the length. After creating the frames for the walls, you should end up with something like this:

I guess this would be a good time to talk about level of detail in a scene. While working on personal projects on your own time, this might not be as important, but when you've got a deadline to meet, this is something you should always keep in mind. In short, model what will be seen. There's no sense modelling a beautiful high-poly car if it's going to be way off in the foggy distance half hidden by a fence. All your time spent detailing it will be wasted and most likely will never be seen. At lower resolutions the detail might disappear completely if it takes up less than a pixel of space.

Getting back on track, we now need to create the ceiling joists. These are boards on their side that run horizontally across the ceiling. They are generally made of either 2"x6"s or 2"x8"s. In this case, I used 2"x8"s. Like the studs, these are also placed on 16" centres.

With the joists in place, it's time to add the cross bridging. There are a few different types of support that can be added between joists, but I decided to go with cross-bridging since that's what I'm most familiar with.

I created the cross-bridging with simple box modelling. The bridges are usually made from 2"x2"s and usually don't have the chamfered edge like 2"x4"s.

With the joists and bridging in place we can now start filling up the walls. The walls consist of the wood frame, tar-paper, insulation, clear plastic vapour barrier and finally drywall. The tar-paper is a thick course black sheet that goes between the wood frame and the concrete behind it. For our purposes we will just use a texture to create that.

The insulation turned out to be easier to create than I thought. Most of the work is in the material. Fibreglass insulation generally comes in sheets 16"x48" and anywhere from 4"-8" deep. I created a box with those dimensions and placed it in between the studs. I gave it plenty of height and width segments then used an FFD Box modifier to make it bulge out from the frame. After that I gave it a Noise modifier with the noise on only 1 axis. This keeps it even along the top/bottom and sides, with the noise only on the side that faces out.

This is what I have after adding the bridging, tar-paper, and a few pieces of insulation

The rest of the insulation and the vapour barrier will be left until later. I plan on having most of the wall covered in drywall so there's no sense in putting insulation in everywhere (cutting corners like that with real renovations will get the building inspectors after you ;)

About drywall. Standard sheets of drywall (often called Sheetrock) are 48"x96" and 05" thick. It's made up of a hard white material called Gypsum and it breaks easily. The gypsum is wrapped in paper to help hold it together. When hanging drywall you try to stagger the vertical joints as much as possible. Long vertical joints are more likely to crack so you want them to be short as possible.

To fasten the drywall sheets to the wall they need to be attached either using screws or nails. These go through the drywall into the studs behind them. This ends up creating a grid of dots on the drywall.

Another important thing to note is that the ends of each sheet of drywall must be over a stud. You can't have ends floating out over nothing. This means that the end of each sheet of drywall will share a stud with the next piece. If necessary, the sheets are cut to make this possible.

I started hanging the sheets from the top left corner of the wall. This makes it so that if you need to cut a sheet of drywall horizontally in order to fit the wall the cut will be against the floor and covered up.

Here is the scene after hanging a few sheets of drywall. Notice how the bottom left sheet is cut up and down so that it offsets the vertical seam. The sheets on the bottom row are also cut horizontally so that they fit in. (If it were an 8' ceiling you wouldn't need to cut them, but since it's 7.5' they need to be). The drywall is all modelled from chamfer boxes. Unless adding in holes or cracks there is no need to even convert it to an editable poly.

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2004-2006 All content created and owned by Mike Lambert, unless otherwise specified. Do not sell, use or re-distribute without express written permission.