For this gallery, we've combined five of our newsletters from January, 2016. These email newsletters chronicled the creation of photo-real images of a vintage Aston Martin from a CAD model. The idea was to show a bit of the behind-the-scene of what we do. Here are the images and captions from the newsletters.
It's Detroit Auto Show week, so we thought it would be fun to "restore" a 1960 Aston Martin DB4 to illustrate the process we go through creating realistic imagery from computer aided design (CAD) files. More and more our clients are supplying us with their CAD files and asking us to create photo-real imagery, animations and virtual reality experiences for the web.
The process starts with a CAD file from the client. The first step for us is to bring the client's geometry into the KeyShot software we use and evaluate what we've got. Specifically, we want to know if all the parts we need are there, whether there are enough polygons to make the parts appear smooth, and how the CAD model is organized. To do this, we generally assign a single material to all the surfaces of the model. We call this claying the model. We'll also peel back that material and look at the wireframe as well.
Each newsletter ended with a Fun Fact.
Fun Fact: An avid Egyptologist, S.C.H. 'Sammy" Davis, was responsible for redesigning the Aston Martin logo. Egyptology was a popular discussion topic in the 1930s and the ancient Egyptians regarded the scarab beetle as a manifestation of the sun god. Davis used a pair of stylized scarab wings for the new logo.
One of the key first steps is organizing the model. There can be a hundreds of parts; for many of those we will create unique material finishes. The organization starts with knowing what end result you are trying to achieve. Individual images? On what kind of background? Is the model going to be in some sort of contextual situation? Is there animation involved?
Sometimes we strip away the detail and just look at the essence of the model. This gives us the opportunity to position the model on the set, experiment with material finishes, and apply some basic lighting. Real-time rendering is faster too.
The shape of the "shell" of this DB4 is beautiful. And, it's exciting to get it away from the rest of the car and see what happens when we apply a modern day automotive finish. Material finishes in CGI are tricky because they can look very different with even small changes to the lighting.
One of the great things about working "on set" in the computer is we can make adjustments quickly and we can share those in real-time with a client. Working in the real world takes time, inside our computers we can produce lots of "shots" in a lot less time. This means faster to market and more imagery for web and social.
Fun Fact: Well not so fun in this case. No one seems to know what happened to the famous, weaponized DB5 from the movie Goldfinger. The car was sold at auction in 1986 for $250,000. It was stolen in 1997 from an airport hangar where it was being stored in Boca Raton, Florida. The thieves broke in by pulling the hangar doors open with a truck and then dragged the car out.
When you start to add back the details, the car becomes a bit more real. As before, working and re-working the material finishes are the key to making this car look photo-realistic. For the chrome, very small textures are applied in combination with each other to create realism and depth. Many of the chrome parts are treated slightly differently depending upon their proximity to light sources, the camera, and to other reflective surfaces.
For this project, we've also built an environment to work on the car in. (It's not Jay Leno's garage, but it will have to do.) It makes the project a bit more complex, but fun. It also gives us an opportunity to see how our surfaces will reflect their surroundings.
At this point, this scene contains a custom made lighting environment as well as geometry in the scene that has been turned into sources of light. We do this to discretely control where light appears. This is particularly important in an animation or a virtual reality experience where the light needs to be right with each movement of the model.
Fun Fact: The name Aston Martin came from combining the name of one of the founders, Lionel Martin, with a place he raced: Aston Hill. The "DB" as in DB4, are the initials of one of the later owners of Aston Martin, David Brown. Brown was a British industrialist who owned a tractor company. He bought Aston Martin (the whole company) for £20,500 in 1947.
Car exteriors have a lot of parts and getting the materials and the light dialed in can be tricky. It takes patience, talent and luck. Doing an interior is a whole different beast. For our interior we turned to a teammate who is a true master of the CGI craft, Tim Feher. Tim split parts of this interior, made other parts for it and generally agonized over the minutest of details. The result is rich in texture and dripping with realism.
Tim and Mike James both took turns positioning the model and lighting the interior differently. These different approaches show the flexibility we have to be creative and to stylize the look and feel.
Fun Fact: Aston Martin celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013. In the last century it's survived two World Wars and the world's greatest spy. Aston Martins have been the company car for James Bond in nine Bond movies first appearing in Goldfinger in 1964. That DB5 featured advanced weaponry including machine guns on the front flanks and a rear-facing bullet shield.
With the car finished, it's now time to get creative with environments. The contextual situation determines the light and makes a statement. With our last installment of this weeklong series, we've put this beautiful 1960's era British work of automotive art in different locations. Each scene dictates the camera angle, lens choice, and lighting.
Once again, both Tim and Mike interpreted the same scene a bit differently for quite different results.
We're often asked, "How do you do that?" There are a number of tools that we use. The heavy lifting is done by KeyShot from Luxion. We also used Maya, 3ds Max, and of course Photoshop. A special shout-out to Maground for generously offering up their backgrounds for these scenes.
Fact: As you can see, we have the ability to make product CGI photo-real. And, typically, we can produce lots of images in the time it used to take to produce one. Our team specialized in creating unique, web-optimized virtual reality experiences that deliver longer engagement with prospective buyers. 2015 was really the year that it all came together. We hope you've enjoyed this little piece of demonstration art. It's been fun! And, we hope to talk with you in 2016.
You can find more of our work on our web site at: www.tboimagery.com