Art Spotlight: Cudillero Diorama

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

‘Sup, my name is Thomas Kole and I’m a 20 year old student at Digital Arts and Entertainment in Kortrijk, Belgium. As I write this, the exams of the first semester of the first year have just ended, and one of those exams was 3D. If you click the large play button in the widget below, you can see the result said exam. I’ll walk you through how I made this little diorama, from inspiration to finished product. I’ll be sure to include many pretty (and not so pretty) pictures of what the scene looked like in it’s early stages, and I’ll explain my thought process along the way. Let’s get to it!

This project started with a school subject, but not 3D. In the previous, smaller exam week, we had to draw a diorama of a town of your choice. I went with Cudillero, a small picturesque town in northern Spain. From the get-go, I already had a vague layout in mind, with a small beach in front, and 3 buildings going up the mountain. Generally, once you’re this far, you’ll find that you have enough grip to work your way trough the project. I did not know yet that we would be given a similar assignment later for 3D. I started of by looking up reference material on the internet. Trying to get a feel for recurring themes, architectural styles and just the general feel of the area. I think that half of the Google Streetview requests of Cudillero can be traced back to my PC. Once I thought I had a pretty good grip on the look of this town, I started drawing little studies of buildings and objects in the reference material I found. Now that the city is in my mind and in my fingers, I felt ready to start the final drawing. It took me a long time to finish it, because I spent a lot of time “zooming” in and out to see if what I was drawing looked good by itself, but also in context. Several days later, this is the result:

I was pretty glad to hear that our 3D assignment was similar, because I was happy with the way my perspective drawing turned out. Now, before we go any further, I must admit that I am not new to 3D. I think I started doing 3d when I was about 12 years old maybe, and I haven’t stopped since. This was my first real project in 3DS max though, but I must say I’m not very fond of the software. It seems a bit incoherent, especially compared to the open-source software Blender, which I used prior. I hope open-source in general becomes more mainstream in the video game industry in the future. It would allow for a much more open industry, as newcomers won’t have to purchase very expensive software to train themselves for future jobs. Besides that, it’s much easier to build upon from a technical standpoint.

During various classes, I tried to work out an entire building, just as practice. I already had some props ready, and with those assets I began blocking out the scene.

<blockout 1>

Very crude, yes, but it’s a start. It can be difficult to look trough how sloppy your scene is at first as an artist, but it’s a very important skill. You need to let your imagination fill in the gaps, and replace that imagination with actual content later. I started working on the ground and water, and redid the lighting while I was at it. I really wanted to capture the feeling of a warm summer day in this town. The foam on the surf of the beach was tricky. I ended up just making a ribbon of foam and wet sand from photographs, and stretched that along the shore.

Up next was finishing the second building, and blocking out the third. I kept little green rectangles in my scene which were the height of a human, to keep everything in proportion. Making buildings is tricky, especially when the ground is uneven. The main trick though is trims: separate areas of the building with details, give it depth. A roof is not just a plane, it has depth. A wall is not even, it has all sorts of horizontal and vertical elements breaking it up. People sometimes go overboard with making their scenes dirty, making even the most pristine environment look post-apocalyptic. Don’t do that! Feel free too add some grime and grunge, but don’t push it too far.

<blockout 4>

2 buildings down, 1 to go. The process of this building was no different from the previous ones. I imported the blockout into a new file, and started working from there.

Now we’re pretty much complete. Make sure to make your scene looks lively by adding some props here and there, reflecting signs of life. My latest addition to the scene were the blow up crocodiles. A very simple addition, but a cheerful one, it’s the first thing people recognise when looking at my scene. After a few last tweaks we end up with this:

I added a layer of ambient occlusion to simulate some dirt buildup. Then I exported the whole thing to Sketchfab (of course), using the 3DS max exporter. I first exported the scene without any transparent objects baking the lighting, then I downloaded the uploaded model, inserted my transparent objects again and then uploaded that as a whole. And there we have it! The final scene on sketchfab.

For more renders check out this ArtStation post – just scroll down.

If you want to ask questions, you can just leave a comment here on the blog, comment the Artstation post or weight in at this Polycount post.

Hope you enjoyed this!

About the author


Bart Veldhuizen

Head of Community at Sketchfab. 3D Scanning enthusiast and Blenderhead. Running BlenderNation in my spare time.

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