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The Americana at Brand (Personal Project) Environment Recreation

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This is my very first post in this forum so please forgive any technical difficulties as I try to figure out how to link images and whatnot.
Sooo, I started this project all the way back in 2012 immediately after a trip to Los Angeles for SIGGRAPH. I was staying with friends who lived in Glendale and they exposed me to the prettiest shopping plaza I'd ever seen. Sometimes I enter a space and say... I have to model this. So I did.

Took tons of reference photos and some basic measurements by pacing things out like I was looking for pirate treasure. The store directory was also a handy reference.I continued to work on it over time.

Adding textures.
Then life got busy as I focused on other things for a while.

Picked it up again a few years later... Whether or not it was imrpoved at all was... debateable.
Those trees still irritate me... what was I thinking?
Several years pass. Technology changes, Maya changes, my life changes, suddenly I have a lot more time on my hands.
Sometimes that's all you need to start taking giant leaps forward.

I've still got a long way to go until my work is on par with some on the amaizing work I've seen here and on artstation.
but looking back at where I started on this project, I'm pretty excited to see how much farther I can push it.

These latest images were rendered in Maya, with Arnold. In the near future I'll be collaborating with a friend of mine to bring it into an Unreal demo.
I'm also converting it into a VR experience using Unity and Oculus. I have a few more ideas on how I want to move forward, but I'm definitely open to crtitique and will gladly accept some suggestions from fresh eyes.


  • CF2
    WIP - Storefronts with interior lighting.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    This is an interesting project. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

    I have a couple of quick questions. Are you planning to use parallax occlusion or any other method to add depth to your interior textures? Why do the lanterns in the nighttime version not cast shadows? Also, are you going to add the water jets and pool lights?
  • CF2
    Hi James.
    This is currently being rendered in Arnold for Maya. I haven't done any development in Unreal yet, so parallax occlusion wasn't something I'd heard of. It sounds similar to a displacement map, but in Maya it tends to have an impact on render times and requires fairly dense geometry to work properly..

    I do plan to have fountain lights so thank you for that reminder. I've been adapting the scene for Unity because that's the package I have some familiarity with, but a friend of mine will be working with me to develop it for unreal, he'll be adding some fountain effects.

    I'll have to take a closer look at the streetlamp shadows. There are some, but I may have a blur filter value set too high or something. The shadows actually look better in Unity honestly.

    I'm definitely going to have to give Unreal a solid go. In real life the plaza has tons of plants and flowers and I really wanted to go nuts and make it a rich and vibrant scene, but Maya gets really choked up if I add too much foliage. All the plant life in your Tuscan Village scene would probably be too much for my system to handle with Arnold.

    Edit: While I was looking up parallax occlusion I stumbled across this. I might use it for my apartment windows in Unity.

  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Yah, that video is the kind of thing I meant by parallax occlusion, though a bit more advanced than what I was thinking of(I might have to try this out too).

    If you make game-style foliage it might not be too hard on the software. It sort of depends on how you model and texture the foliage, how you balance between polygon count and quad overdraw. And having LODs and distance culls can help.
    In case you're curious, the way I did foliage for my project was to bake high-res foliage models onto a plane, turn them into a transparent material, then assemble them into a modular set of meshes. I'm in no way saying that's the only or best way to do things though. And I'm sure Unity can render game-style foliage just fine.

  • CF2
    Yeah, those plants look amazing, and thank you very much for sharing your process. I had tried card based plants in previous iterations, but I clearly oversimplified the process and the lack of quality really showed. I like how yours take that basic concept, but you've sliced them up and given them some shape instead of keeping it all flat. I suppose that also helps them stay visible from various camera angles.

    I'll have to experiment with this approach eventually, though for the Unity and Unreal versions of this project, I think Speed Tree will work in the short term. I'll definitely want to use this approach for the flowers especially.
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