With the overall goal of simplicity in mind, I started to consider objects for the main focus of the image. For this image I thought that the sphere was an ideal choice due to its variability and infinite shape. For me the sphere already has some sort of enigma in it – it’s a self-contained object – so the steps that followed were more about boosting this feeling through other aspects of the image, such as the environment, lighting, colours and details.
For me, the most fundamental decisions in every visual creation are composition, lighting and colour. It’s the reason why I always choose to spend most of my pre-production time tweaking these areas of an image. By changing the composition, position of objects in relation to the rest of the scene, I feel it leads the eye of the viewer through the image and enables you to tell a story through the image.
I really enjoy using mixed media a lot in my work – this comes from my specialisation in print media and matte painting. In this particular scene I’ve blended the strengths of 3D with a photomontage to get the desired effect. I began this process by searching through my collection of photographs and picking some shots of the desert that I felt were suitable for the mood I wanted to achieve. I also purchased some images from Shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com) to strengthen the selection. When I had all my references, textures and other resources gathered, it was finally time for some real fun.
All the 3D elements were created using 3ds Max, with rendering completed in V-Ray. The creation of the spheres themselves was incredibly simple – it also helped that I knew I could enhance everything by painting later in Photoshop. No additional passes were rendered, only the image itself with the Alpha channel.
In terms of lighting, my setup consisted of a VRaySun and a VRaySky map in the Environment slot. V-Ray was set on usual GI settings with Lightcache and irradiance map. The settings, meanwhile, are on Medium to produce a nice result, but balanced with an acceptable render time.
Now the base renders are fully prepared, the environment creation can begin and fuse everything together. I used Photoshop for the compositing and postproduction stages of this process.
Default circular brushes were used for painting and retouching. To start with I placed all the CGI elements into place, set the horizon line and began building up the environment using photo references and painting. The spheres themselves also had a lot of painting on them to improve the level of detail, lighting and overall result of the image.
As I previously mentioned, colours are a key area of my work and I ensure they’re focused on through the whole process of creating any image. One thing I had to bear in mind with this scene is that it’s a day scene in the desert – as a result, there would be lots of direct and indirect light in the scene.
Due to the image’s composition there was a nice contrast between the cold colour of the sky met with the warm colours of the desert sand. As such, I mainly focused on balancing these colour tones to keep the overall result consistent. This involved colour correction on the 3D elements, as well as additional light bounced on the spheres by the sand. This was painted in Photoshop using an orange colour in layers with a Soft Light overlay style.
Despite the sci-fi theme, I still wanted an element of believability to exist in the scene. So, after the colour corrections, I decided to add a slightly visible lens flare from the Sun, glow effects on the brightest parts of the sphere and train, plus a slight vignetting on edges of the image. I also added an almost unnoticeable amount of chromatic aberration through lens distortion effects in Photoshop to finish the piece off.