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Seven Steps to Modeling a Detailed Building Asset in Maya

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Creating environment assets is going to be vital whether you're working on a video game project, or a 3D animated film. Just like character modeling, environment modeling can pose its own unique challenges. Simply starting the model can be the most difficult part. Knowing the techniques and workflows involved with environment modeling and asset creation in general can greatly increase the quality of your models, and allow you to work more efficiently. In this article, we are going to take an in-depth look at the environment modeling process as we create a detailed building asset from start to finish. By the end of the article you should have a stronger understanding of the techniques involved so you can approach your own projects with confidence.

Step 1: Blocking

We are going to be creating a small shed, a shed that's seen some better days, so it's going to be pretty dilapidated. It's also going to be made up of old and weathered wood planks. However, we don't want to just start out right away by beginning to model each wood plank individually and try to place them in the basic shape of a shed. It's better to first establish the base shape for the shed, cut out he windows, etc. image_01 For this, I've dropped in a poly cube and cut out the door, as well as another open area on the front that is a little wider, and will be a double door. I also cut out the area where I want the window to be, and I dropped on a basic roof. As you can see from the image above, it resembles one of those simple houses you used to build with Legos. This is just the basic shape of the shed, and it gives us a much better idea of where we want to place the wood planks, eventually this rough building shape will be deleted, once we have the rest of the building modeled. So imagine it like a guide to follow along with.

Step 2: Adding in The Front Wall and Shed Doors

image_02 Now that the basic structure of the shed is established it's now time to begin adding in the wood planks that make up the sides of the building. For this I took a simple cube, scaled it roughly into the shape of a 2x4, and added a few edge loops to create the basic shape of a chipped up and cracked wood piece. I then duplicated this several times down the side of the shed. I'm not worried that each wood piece looks exactly the same, I can tweak them individually later when I'm working on the finer details. image_03 I also created the small pieces of wood that will run up the sides of the shed, and this is what the wood will be nailed to. You can see from the image that I hid the shed structure momentarily to give you a better view of what it looks like inside the shed. I also deleted a few pieces of wood along the structure, so that there are a few holes in the shed, which will help sell the fact that this is a very old structure. image_04 I also created the shed doors by duplicating several wood pieces, with a slight gap in between each one. Right now, they are in perfect shape, however, later on I'll break up the symmetry a bit.

Step 3: Adding the Roof Frame

I've gone ahead and added the rest of the wall, as well as put in the window just want to get the basic wood pieces placed. image_05 Before I continue with the rest of the structure, I decided to create the frame of the roof first. To do this I created a simple cube, and lined it up with the top of the triangle structure we created earlier. You can see from the image how I duplicated it across the top of the roof, creating the basic frame.

Step 4: Finishing the rest of the structure

With the roof frame completed, you can now add the wood planks for the other two sides of the building. You'll want to remember to add in those support boards that the wood planks will eventually be nailed to. Finally, the last step that we need to take before the shed is pretty much completely blocked in is to create the shingles for the roof. I did this by duplicating one of the sidepieces and tweaking into a slightly different shape, with the lip of the board pointed slightly up, which you can see in the image above. image_06 I went ahead and duplicated this several times across the rooftop, creating the shingles for the roof. I also repeated this on the other side of the roof. This gives us the basic structure for our shed; we have four walls, and a roof. Of course, this doesn't mean it's done, we've really just established the structure, now it's time to go in and really add the finer details, break up the building more, and really make it feel run-down and old.

Step 5: Adding Lean to the Building

One thing we can do to begin making the building feel a little older is to add a little lean to the shed. By this I mean making the structure kind of tilt to one side, to show that it's been there for awhile and the overall structure of the building is slowly starting to give way. image_07 One thing I did to start to show this was take one side by the doorway, and rotate the wood pieces up slightly, as well as rotate them backward, so they're slightly pointed inward. Another technique you can use to get a lot of geometry to tilt in the same direction is to utilize the lattice deformer. This allows you to made broad changes to the structure of the building, without having to individually manipulate each piece of geometry. To do this I first selected all the geometry I wanted to have an affect on, which was the front of the shed with the window, and I grouped all the geometry. I then created a new lattice deformer with the divisions of 3, 5 and 2. image_08 Now just select the lattice points and start tweaking the shape of the wall, adjusting the shape, as well as rotating the lattice points to create a bowed out look on the wall. image_09 Finally, I selected all the geometry, except for the double doors, because I'll tweak those after, and created a new group and applied a new lattice deformer, this time with the divisions 4, 5, and 5. I created a learn for the entire structure, as well as lowered the roof slightly until some of the roof structure boards became visible. For the doors, I did the same thing; I grouped each one, applied a new lattice deformer and tweaked it into the shape I wanted.

Step 6: Breaking the Model Up

breaking up the model With the building having a slight lean to it, I've done another pass over the entire model to break it up a bit more, deleting various wood pieces, as well as separating them to create a broken look. I've also gone through and added things like nails broken and bent, as well as small shattered wood pieces hanging on a single nail. You can really take this as far as you want, depending on the look that you are trying to achieve for your building. The key here is that you don't want things to look perfect, which is something that can often happen with CG. Instead, you want everything to be imperfect.

Step 7: Sculpting

Now that the shed is completely modeled, it's time to bring it into a sculpting application to add in the wood details. Right now, the wood planks are simple cubes so we need to sculpt in details like chips, and create a more realistic wood texture. This step is optional, if you're creating a game asset, stopping at this point and beginning the texturing process may be best, especially if you want a low poly asset. image_10 However, bringing it into something like Mudbox allows you to sculpt in all the fine details, and bake out normal maps for the texturing. For this, I used Mudbox, but you can use any sculpting applications whether it's ZBrush, or even Blender. Utilize various stencils and alphas to easily create a chipped up wood look for the planks. Luckily, there isn't really a right or wrong way to sculpt wood, as it's organic you just want to cut in details. Pull up reference to get an idea of this. Now that you know some of the basic steps involved in making a old worn out building, trying using them for your own projects. Remember, it's a good idea to start with a very basic shape, like we did at the beginning and use that to build from. If you want to learn more about environment modeling in general check out the hundreds of modeling tutorials at the Digital-Tutors library.