This tutorial was written by the amazing Gurmukh Bhasin and appeared in issue 107 of 3D Artist. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!
Maya, Marvelous Designer, KeyShot, Photoshop
This tutorial will cover how to create your own 3D pirate ship from scratch. We will be using Maya for most of the modelling work, rendering in KeyShot and finalising in Photoshop. We will progress step by step, finding ways to add our own twist, tell the story we want to tell and make our own unique pirate ship with final renders.
We will learn how to save time by creating a library of reusable parts and realistic details. We’ll use UVs to upgrade our wood textures and prepare materials for KeyShot. Finally, we’ll head to Photoshop to add some mood and atmosphere to the final image. Let’s get started!
Step 01 – Start with the hull
Everyone knows what a pirate ship looks like, so there isn’t going to be too much to design on your own. But it is also important to note that you don’t have to model something exactly – you can create your own version. Collecting reference images and drawings of existing pirate ships will help you to know where things go and roughly understand how things work. From there you can create your own versions of parts that you like from your references and fill in the blanks where you have to. To get started you can use a base image (I chose a profile view because it has the most information for a flat view of the ship) to start building off of, and once you have a solid 3D base to work from you can continue on your own, using your artistic intuition to decide proportions and how you want things to look.
Step 02 – Build to the human scale
When creating a pirate ship, it is important to show the human scale through details. These boats are huge, and it can be hard to get a good feeling of how big they actually are without the correct amount of details. Things like ladders, handrails, stairs, doors and windows reveal how big the ship is by relating it to a human scale, without having to show a scale figure.
Step 03 – Use UVs to your advantage
Hand modelling the wood planks that make up the hull would be very time consuming. Using a texture from textures.com for this step saves a lot of time. By flattening out your UV maps and then manually bending them when needed, you can easily control how the wood texture flows in the direction you need as if it were being built in real life.
Step 04 – Model simple and then adjust
One of the benefits of working in 3D is that you only have to build a part once and then you can duplicate it wherever you need. Model the parts flat and simply and then use tools like the lattice to move them into place and change their orientation after duplication.
Step 05 – Model your ropes square
Start by modelling your ropes square, then hit 3 on your keyboard for a smooth mesh preview to make your ropes round. This makes it a lot easier to UV and use a rope texture from textures.com, and it keeps the poly count manageable since there are going to be a lot of ropes in your model.
Step 06 – Build the sails
When starting the sails, it is important to determine the height of the masts in regards to the overall balance of the ship. I decided to go a little taller with my masts and slightly larger with my sails for a more exaggerated look to my ship. I knew I would mostly be rendering this ship from a low view looking up with a fisheye lens, and the taller/wider sails would make for a more dramatic look. When modelling the sails, it is important to model all the parts that are needed in real life. The small metal rivets and pulleys will catch nice highlights when rendered from a distance. The ropes need to be modelled as if they are working for real, by wrapping around and tying to parts for a specific purpose. As you can see, I manually go in and move ropes around so that they bend around the parts they are holding down, instead of just letting things intersect. These adjustments are tiny and mostly won’t be seen from a distance. But by putting this much care into the model, the overall ship will feel more natural and believable in the final renders, instead of feeling too CG and fake.
Step 07 – More ropes
When working on the ropes, it is really easy to start to feel overwhelmed, especially when looking at your reference images and scratching your head while you’re trying to figure it all out. Start out simple and slowly build up the complexity. Find the main set of ropes needed for the sails, then move your way to the ladders and continue to the rest. Remember that you don’t have to model everything exactly as you see it, but you definitely want to do as much as you can to make it feel real and interesting overall. Sometimes there can be too much detail and the whole composition becomes disorganised and distracting, so use your artistic intuition and decide which ropes you want to leave out and which ropes make sense to show. You will have to hand place, rotate, scale, lattice and move individual parts so that they feel natural and believable – definitely take the time on these subtle elements as they will come together and really sell the believability of the ship.
Step 08 – Add the figurehead
By adding a figurehead to the ship we can add another level of story to our creation. Do you want to go with dragons or lions for a more aggressive feeling, or do you want to go with an angel for a more peaceful story? When adding the figurehead, I searched online for a 3D model of an angel and found one made at Stanford University, free to use from graphics.stanford.edu/data/3Dscanrep. I downloaded the model, removed the
wings and the base, then latticed the model into place so it fit with the shape of the bow.
Step 09 – Full ship with sails deployed
After all of our hard work, we are finally done with the modelling of our ship. All of the sails, ropes, wood planks, cannons, life boats and more are there to make this ship exciting and believable. We are almost ready to start rendering, but there are a few more things to do before we send our model to KeyShot.
Step 10 – Fold the sails
We didn’t do all this hard work just to get one render from our ship. With a little extra work we can create a version of our ship with folded sails. Using Marvelous Designer for this step, you will quickly be able to create realistic-looking folds and wrinkles. Start by creating a flat pattern of your sail that closely matches the shape when it is fully extended. Next, pin the sail at multiple points, so that when you start pulling the sail up into the folded position it will hold the rest of the sail down, and you will be able to control your folds with more precision. Keep pulling the rows of pins up to the top where they would be tied to the sail yard and let gravity naturally create the folds.
Step 11 – Full ship with sails retracted
Once you’re done folding the sails in Marvelous Designer, export your sails as OBJs and bring them back into Maya. Now you can add the ropes that tie the sails up and adjust the pulley ropes to hang naturally. With just a little extra work, you now have a version of the ship that will render and feel new and interesting for an extra image or two.
Step 12 – Add some sailors
The last thing we want to do before sending our ship to KeyShot to render is to add a few sailors to the deck of the ship. You can use Daz Studio and pose some of the characters into positions to place around the ship. These are going to be used as base models to Photoshop over in your final renders, so they don’t have to be perfect. Get them good enough so that you can keep some of the clothing and anything else you can, without needing to Photoshop over them too much.
Step 13 – Jump into KeyShot
We are now ready to head over to KeyShot and start finalising our materials and lighting. It is important to clean up your model in Maya first, organise your outliner into groups that can easily be turned on and off in KeyShot and use Blinn in Maya to predetermine which parts of the model will get what material. This way you can easily drag and drop materials from the KeyShot library to test out different looks. KeyShot is an almost real-time renderer (depending on how heavy the scene is) and a really fun and fast way to try out different options for your final renders.
Step 14 – Look dev in KeyShot
Exploring different render directions in KeyShot is so easy and lots of fun. Once your basic materials are set up you should start playing with your lighting and camera position. Drag and drop different environment HDRIs into your scene to see which lighting setups work best with your shapes and materials. Once you stumble upon a mood you like and a story you want to tell, you can go back and adjust your materials to work better with the lighting environment you chose. Lighting plays a huge part in how your materials look, so it is always good to readjust your materials to look the way you want instead of worrying about them being physically accurate. Remember, the renders you get out of KeyShot are just a good base to start Photoshopping over to then create an original piece of art. You will be altering a lot of your final render to disguise and naturally adjust your image to tell your story and be more believable.
Step 15 – Final render parts
We finally have our render passes out of KeyShot and everything is looking beautiful. The renders are an excellent base and we can now finalise our images by adding a bit of life, natural textures and controlling the focal point of the story in Photoshop.
Step 16 – Add photos and textures
Start adding life to your final image with the help of photos and textures. We can use a dirt brush to lightly add dirt streaks that would appear from years of wear and tear to the boat and sails. This helps naturally break up surfaces that feel plain or have too many repeating textures. We can also start adding photos of ocean waves and mountain textures to make our CG-looking parts feel more real. Remember to colour correct the photos to match your base render so that everything feels like it is in the same environment and lighting conditions.
Step 17 – Add depth and atmosphere
After we have added all of our photos and textures, we can now add in our atmosphere to push things in the distance further away and to subtly mute the details that are further from the camera. Use your Z-Depth Pass as a mask on the layer to gradually build up the atmosphere, and Paint Bucket the colour of the sky as your atmosphere colour. Make sure to lower the opacity of the layer so that you don’t make the haze too thick.
Step 18 – Finalise your image
To finish the image, you can use a few layer adjustments to add a bit of contrast and tie everything together. I usually use a photo filter to really set the mood, and adjust the brightness and contrast to make things more lively. Just be careful that you don’t blow out your light areas and lose detail in your final image