Art Spotlight: Bordeaux City Scene

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In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs.

My name is Pablo Sánchez and I´m currently studying Digital Arts and Entertainment in Kortrijk, Belgium. I always loved video games, films, books, music and every expression of art! However, it wasn’t until last summer when I realized I wanted to dedicate my professional life to this fascinating and challenging world of art. After finishing my Biotechnology´s degree at Zaragoza´s University and with some experience working in a research laboratory, I felt that I wasn’t as passionate about the work as I would have liked to have been. So instead of continuing my science education, I decided to change completely the direction my life was taking and start creating art. I hope this to be just the start of a long and exciting journey!

This piece was my final assignment for my first 3D course. The goal was to create a small city scene (only 3 buildings) using all the techniques learned during the semester, including low poly modeling, unwrapping and texturing. The main reference look was Half Life 2 game, so we needed to avoid stylized stuff.  With these few guidelines, I started thinking on what I wanted to show with my scene and the overall mood.  A few years ago I could spent some days in the French city Bordeaux and I found this wonderful city to be the perfect reference for my city scene. I was looking for a scene which represented the kind of hidden place you discover by walking through the city and which had its own story. Therefore, I tried to avoid thinking about open streets and big buildings that could spread the viewer´s attention in too many things. At this point, I had an idea of including a second hand store that could bring to the scene some interesting props and character. For the other two buildings, I thought about a small flower shop and an old and cheap hostel. Then, it was time to start looking for reference!

Searching for references

During this year I understood how important this step is, not only for being able to reproduce what we see the way it is but also for designing and creating new things in a believable way. During this stage, I was looking for all the references needed to create a French style scene. At the beginning I was mostly searching for pictures that could help me identifying all the elements in the streets, buildings, cafes, stores, and small details that could provide a French vibe. Some of these elements were the typical blue-plate roofing of the houses, the bricks used for the walls and streets or even the street lanterns.

Some reference pictures I used in order to identify some typical French elements

Some reference pictures I used in order to identify some typical French elements

After collecting a bunch of pictures that capture the overall feeling I wanted to recreate, I started looking for reference pictures of each object and prop I was planning to model as well as the second hand store. Those pictures would help me in the modeling phase in order to be more accurate and close to reality. Of course, this last step was repeated every time I wanted to model a new object.

Some of these reference pictures also helped me to think about a good composition by studying how the buildings were placed on the street. But hey! That’s the next step!  

Finding good composition

A big amount of time and effort was spent on this step. I had some guidelines I wanted to follow and putting it all together was a difficult task. First of all, I wanted my second hand store to be one of the focal points. As it was going to be a small building and I wanted some of the props lying on the ground outside the store, I needed a good balance between the buildings. Very tall buildings would pull away this focus point, forcing the viewer to zoom in to see the different props and I didn’t want that! Second, I wanted my scene to be interesting from every angle and not only from the one facing the second hand store. To achieve that, I decided to make the scene on a circular pedestal and include some interesting elements all around it. This way the scene looked more complete for me, as everything was happening inside the pedestal and the viewer doesn’t have the impression of missing anything! Lastly, I wanted to include some height differences and make sure the proportions were consistent. With all of this in mind, I started sketching different possibilities on paper and later playing with some cubes in 3D Max until I had my final composition.

Modeling and texturing

The workflow I followed to model and texture was quite different between the buildings and all the props present in the scene. Therefore I will explain how I approach them separately. However, for both I used the same tools: 3Ds Max for modeling and Photoshop for texturing.


For all the props and especially for those that form part of the second hand store, I always started checking the references I’ve already gathered or looking for more if needed. Then I planned a bit on paper the way I was going to approach the low poly modeling of the prop (different meshes I’m going to use, optimization, details…). But of course this initial plan would change and update during the modeling. While modeling the props, I put special attention on the proportions of my model to make sure they look right. Here the reference comes to play! However, on some of the props, I exaggerated a bit more the proportions of certain elements to make them more interesting and easy to identify. I guess you can always find a good balance between your reference and your own point of view!

Once my model was done, I always spent extra time to optimize it as much as I can removing polygons that I don’t need or fixing the N-Gon´s I could encounter. Once I was happy with the entire model, I unwrapped it, made an Ambient Occlusion (AO map) and UWV map and start texturing in Photoshop!

My texturing workflow is more or less defined by the group layers I normally use: base colours, textures, damage/dirt, and details. I tried to texture in the less destructive way as possible, using masks and playing with the different blending modes. Here you have a lot of room for experimenting! Among the other awesome tips I learned during the semester, I discovered that putting some damage or dirt localization in your objects and props really makes a difference. I’m sure there’s many different ways or workflows to texture but what I would recommend here is don’t rush with this step, experiment as much as you can and don’t be messy with your layers in Photoshop!

Diffuse maps used for texturing the old lamp, gramophone, lantern, and cello. As you can see, there's a lot of room for improvement!

Diffuse maps used for texturing the old lamp, gramophone, lantern, and cello. As you can see, there’s a lot of room for improvement!

Following this workflow I modeled props like the gramophone, the cello, the old bike or the street lanterns.


Main elements that compound the flower shop

Regarding the modeling of the buildings, I always started with a plane for the main body and by extruding and cutting I got the main shape of the windows and doors. Elements like the rims, chimneys, doorsteps, windows frames or details were modeled separately and put together later. During this step I didn’t try to copy a specific French building of some random picture. Instead, I was trying to combine different elements and characteristics that I could see in the reference to design my own buildings and make the three of them different but consistent in the French style. What really helped me to give a bit more character to the scene was considering the buildings as big living things with their imperfections, injuries, and stories. To achieve this I tilted the walls and roofs and exaggerated some elements, as well as tried to make an interesting texturing later.

Main textures used in the old hostel building

The big difference between the buildings and props workflow resides in the texturing. While all the props (excluding the very small ones like bottles and cans) had their unique diffuse map, the buildings used 3 different ones: One and two dimension tileable textures maps (1D and 2D maps) and unique diffuse maps. I used the 1D tileable textures mostly for the rims, window frames or wires, while the 2D tileable textures were used for the walls and roof tiles. However, I reused these maps for more than one building or parts of the ground and sidewalk. They are really useful! In the unique diffuse maps I textured all the details and important elements of the buildings like windows, doors, posters or decals. By following this workflow you avoid using a big and heavy unique texture for the entire building, which could result in an overall worse quality and bad optimization.

At this point I had the big elements of my scene ready and one of the most fun parts of the process was following next…

Putting everything into the scene

Just like a Lego construction, now I had most of my building blocks I wanted to use, so the only thing I needed to do is play with them! I started here to put everything in its right place, trying different positions for the props and finding the best overall feeling and composition.  Also I modeled at this stage some small props that could add detail and life to the scene: rocks, some boxes, wine bottles, cans, leaves, ivy, papers, cigarettes… it was a really fun and creative step!

Lastly, I modeled the pedestal, balcony, and ground floor as well as the sidewalk. After some more details here and there and some finishing touches, the Bordeaux City Scene was finished and ready to land in Sketchfab.

Uploading to Sketchfab and final thoughts:

Uploading my model to Sketchfab was really easy! I used the 3Ds Max plugin to upload the city scene and tweak some parameters. Once in Sketchfab, I could choose the background image that better fit my scene and check that all the materials used and models were correctly displayed. Once I was happy with it, I uploaded my first model! And I can tell you it won’t be the last one.

This was my first 3D scene I´ve ever created and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I learned lots of things on the way and every new prop was a step forward in my workflow. The feedback I´ve got from my classmates, friends and family was extremely valuable and I recommend everyone to always look for some fresh points of view. There´s a lot of room from improvement (some flying objects and underground props confirm it) and new challenges to face, but that’s the best part! Lastly, I want to thank Sketchfab for making our art more reachable and accessible to others and for being an awesome place where you can always find inspiration, awesome artists and a big community!

If you have any questions, you can contact me via my email or message me on Sketchfab! See you around!

Thanks, Pablo! How French is this? What have you learned from his process? Leave any questions and comments in the comment box below!

About the author

Seori Sachs

Community Person!

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