Telling a Mysterious Ice Adventure Story in Blender
CG Boost announced the winners of its 13th 3D challenge, “Discovered in Ice” Challenge on April 1st. This challenge.also sponsored by the TPN-Accredited cloud render farm, Fox Renderfarm. The brilliant award-winning artworks bring us to discover creepy monsters, broken ships and many adventure stories in ice. The champion artwork created by Benjamin Roman, a hobbyist 3D artist from Paris, shows us an isolated and mysterious church in the glacier.
Last Church by Benjamin Roman
“At first, I wanted to create a more scientific-looking image showing a modern expedition. I started to search for photos but after a few days making a PureRef project, I changed my idea to go with a more Viking style artwork,” Benjamin talked about his inspiration for the project.
Due to the great composition, lighting and colors, the artwork done in Blender 2.81 stood out in the challenge. Let’s find out what went on behind the scene in the interview.
Fox Renderfarm: Hi, could you briefly introduce yourself?
Benjamin: Hi, my name is Benjamin Roman, I’m 21 years old and I live in the south of France. I do CG art as a hobby and I never followed art courses. Actually I’m a physics student at Paris Saclay University. University and I temporarily live in Paris.
Fox Renderfarm: How do you feel about winning 1st place in the CGBoost Discovered In Ice Challenge?
Benjamin: I feel really excited. Participating in this type of contest is a great way for me to complete a full project and improve my skills. Also, some prizes will enable me to create environments and nature art which was hard for me before (doing everything by hand is a nightmare). So I think it will give me more freedom with my creativity. I really push my skill on each challenge I enter, so it's cool.
Fox Renderfarm: What’s the inspiration behind the award-winning work?
Benjamin: The idea of the cave was the root of everything. I wanted it to look huge and to be a peaceful place where something was protected. Then, since it was an icy challenge, I decided to go with a Nordic-looking architecture. The main inspiration here were great photos from my brother he took in Norway. Initially, I wanted to show a scientific discovery with some sci-fi looking explorers but I thought it was not coherent with the little church so the character had to be lonely to let the church be the greatest part of the image.
Photos by Benjamin’s brother
Fox Renderfarm：How long did it take to finish the artwork?
Benjamin: I spent a bit more than one week finishing it with around 7 hours a day. So I guess it took me around 70 hours in total. Due to the current situation, I had quite a lot of time to do it.
__Fox Renderfarm: What software and plugins did you use to finish the artwork? __
Benjamin: I mainly used Blender to build the whole scene and Photoshop to do the composition, color correction and slight additions like fog, light rays and so on. In Blender, I used the BlenderKit addon which was quite handy to quickly find ice and snow materials. During the project, I used PureRef on another computer to keep an eye on my references. PureRef is really a great piece of software! But overall, I think the most useful “software” I used was a pen and a piece of paper. It was a great way for me to stay focused on what I wanted to do and improve.
Benjamin’s hand-written checklist
Fox Renderfarm: The lighting of the artwork is so great, which made the building and environment full of mystery. How did you make it? Any ideas behind that?
Benjamin: The lighting was quite hard to set up. Actually the scene is very open but I wanted to create the illusion of a cave. I used a pretty uniform HDRI (from hdrihaven.com) to light the main scene with some modifications: I tweaked the tint to get a more bluish light and drastically dropped down the intensity to create this ambient light. At this step, it was crucial to have a split render: the background was rendered separately. This has two advantages: it reduces the render time and since I tweaked the HDRI to get a cave lighting, I needed to have light coming from everywhere.
Then I added a strong spotlight to mimic some sunlight coming from a hole inside the ice. I drove the intensity with some noise to avoid an obvious big circular shape. Finally, I lit the background with a very large area light to create a diffused lighting coming from the end of the cave. It had to be quite bright to grab the viewer’s eye in this area.
Fox Renderfarm: The beautiful composition and color use are perfect and well received by the judges, how did you design it?
Benjamin: Obviously, I wanted the whole image to have a blue/aquatint to match the theme. Then the red of the church came from the reference images I showed before. I tweaked the colors with some RGB curves and levels. For the composition, I created two main elements which are facing each other. To keep a balanced image, the explorer is very dark and does not pop out too much. This way I keep the greatness felt for the church. I tried to build a spiral shape by playing with the cave elements that lead the eye toward the focal element. Also, the fact of putting the church on a high place creates some greatness and serenity. On second thought, I think the stairs were not a good idea since they break the reading path I created. I wanted them to be a secondary detail to add some interest to the image but in the end they were not necessary.
Fox Renderfarm: Technically and visually, which is your favorite part of this work? Why?
Benjamin: I’m pretty proud of how the snow interacts with the roof tiles on the church. The snow is quite low poly and I roughly sculpted it but I used micro polygon displacement to create the roof so that wooden tiles interact with the snow and create this cool pattern. I must admit that it was not intentional but since it looked good, I kept it.
Fox Renderfarm: Have you met any difficulty in the creation? How did you overcome it?
Benjamin: I met the same difficulty I meet at each render I make: optimization. I have a good gaming laptop but some scenes can be heavy and the software becomes unstable. So I have to do some optimizations, and always think about “Is this texture resolution necessary?”, “Do I really need that amount of polygons here?”. But it’s a great way to learn how a render engine works and how to cheat.
Fox Renderfarm: When and how did you encounter CG?
Benjamin: I don’t really remember when it was. When I was a kid, I was reading a magazine about science called “science et vie junior”, and I came across an article about Blender explaining how to create a very simple dinosaur but I didn’t have a computer at that time. So a few years later, I downloaded Blender (it was version 2.62) and tried this. Then I did some other work but I never really put effort into learning more about CG. It was around 4 years ago that I really started to learn Blender and discover the CG world.
Fox Renderfarm: Could you briefly tell us the story of your education along your CG journey?
Benjamin: I never studied CG with conventional courses. I learned a lot with YouTube videos by Gleb Alexandrov, Zacharias Reinhardt or Andrew Price. I think the best thing I learned was some art theory like the use of color and composition. In parallel, I started to enter small contests like the weekend challenge on blenderartists.org. They were quick and a good way to improve my skills. Then I started to enter bigger contests like CG Boost ones. The first time I entered this challenge, I had the chance to see my render being smashed down by Zacharias Reinhardt in one of his review videos, it was very instructive.
Time to play with snow by Benjamin Roman
Fox Renderfarm: What do you do to improve your professional skills?
Benjamin: Usually when I start a new project, I always have to do something challenging. So I have to do some tests with simple setups to find the best way to do what I want. This way I can create a technique that can be useful in the future. For example, I’m currently trying to make a photorealistic coast with rocks progressively fading into the water so I did some tests with some weird node-setups but I think I found a good way to do this.
Fox Renderfarm: Any other things you wanna share with CG enthusiasts?
Benjamin: Keep doing what you love and what you are passionate about. Experiment, try new things and challenge yourself!
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