Apocalyptic City | 3D Environment Animation

Recently we created an apocalyptic city scene with 3D model, 3D animation, and visual effects (vfx).  Somehow working on the concrete jungle transported me back to my youth and my days in the countryside …

Summer Field for 3D Animation, 3D Model, Visual Effects (VFX)

When I was young, I sat on the roof of our garage and contemplated the horizon so vast and blue. In the countryside, there was a complete absence of buildings in the distance, and even the wild birds flew freely in the the open skies.  There weren’t any skyscrapers that took up any aerial real estate.  The skies, clouds, and birds didn’t have to share their native space with manmade things.

In those days, I meditated on only one thing – life in a vibrant city beyond the horizon.   I thought that no matter how far it was, I would someday leave the pristine fields and forests, and live in the city.

“Till we are asked to rise”

Not far from our house, there was a small river.  I would not even say that it was a river.  It was actually more like a stream.  So small and gentle it was that it was almost inaudible.  Only in the spring, when the trees were recuperating from winter and there was almost no wind and after we had periods of heavy rain, this stream turned into the rapids of descending water.  In size it did not increase.  Yet it was almost impossible to approach it, because all the surrounding land became saturated with water.

“And then if we are true to plan”

Winter Field for 3D Animation, 3D Model, Visual Effects (VFX)

Nearby there was a huge field.  In the winter, it became white and pure as the North Pole.  In the spring, it was dirty after the snow melted.

In the summer, it proudly wore grass like a crown on its head.  Even today, I can smell the scent of fresh grass in my mind.  I smell it each time we do a 3D animation and vfx project involving landscapes.  I find grass to be one of the most fascinating things.  I never thought that grass could be so diverse.  Because the laws of nature were created on the principle of Fibonacci, the logic of repeated numbers, all creation is incredibly diverse and awe-inspiring.

“Our statures touch the skies”

Creating photorealistic 3D animation, 3D model, and vfx

First, we create a few blades of different grasses.  Then using the Scatterer tool, we simply plant it in various locations within the 3D environment.

I almost forgot to mention the flowers.   The field next to my house was always with wild flowers.  In the spring they were yellow dandelions, and in summer blue cornflowers.   It’s interesting how our memories, observations, and experiences help us in our work.  What makes flowers and grass appear very photorealistic in our visual effects or 3D animation is the surfboard.   Because in real life, everything that surrounds us, especially organic things, often has an inner layer.  

Sub-surface for 3D Animation, 3D Model, Visual Effects (VFX)

For example, when you view a leaf or a blade of grass under a microscope, you will see a transparent liquid-like a gel and various veins through which water feeds the entire leaf.  In the world of 3D animation , the surfboard allows us to create this inner layer.  So when the light in 3D animation passes through the leaf, we don’t just see the outer green 

surface, but we also see how the light filters through the 3D model starts so that the 3D leaf almost radiates and you can see through it, just as in real life.  

“The Heroism we recite”

When I was sitting on the roof of my father’s garage, I didn’t even understand that everything was so complicated.  Interestingly, the skyscrapers that I dreamed of are not as complex as I originally thought.  In fact, they are much simpler, if you compare it with a single blade of grass on a field.

Can you imagine that in one building there are fewer unique elements than on a field of just one kind of grass?  It’s mind-blowing and awe-inspiring.  In a building, everything is typical and conventional.  Architects are creative, yet despite the best efforts, at the end of the day, it’s still the same concept of comfortable and logical passages, monotonous rooms, and typical building materials.  I can say this without bias because I have a degree in Architecture, and I practiced it for years.

Even in the world of 3D animation, vfx, and motion graphics, we understand that the most difficult projects are when you need to re-create and mimic nature.  Manmade buildings, no matter how large they are or how many floors they have, are not difficult to design, create, or animate.

Building for 3D Animation, 3D Model, Visual Effects (VFX)

For example, what does it take to create a 3D model of the Chrysler Building?   You can divide it into 3 sections.  The first is the lower base of the 3D model, then the middle section, and lastly the roof elements.  Indeed, you need to spend more time creating the bottom and the roof because they are unique.  But for the middle section of the 3D model, you just need to create one floor and replicate it.  Simple.  Also, the building material is generally homogenous, and the windows are almost all the same size.  So another simple duplication.

“Would be a normal thing”

Nature vs. 3D animation or visual effects (vfx)

I do not want to say that this is easy.   I just want to note that the creation of buildings, even the most beautiful one, requires some logic and repetitive elements.

But in nature, it isn’t as simple.  Even if grasses and trees were the same, they all look different.  Test it out yourself.  Go into the forest, and you’ll notice that there isn’t a single cloned tree.  Even if the trees are of the same variety, each tree looks different in shape, form, and growth.  Each tree is unique as a fingerprint or snowflake.

For a really beautiful 3D animation and vfx, the secret is always in the details.  Often we achieve photorealistic beauty, not by replicating one detailed model, but by using a variety of models each with unique details.  For example, to achieve a photorealistic field of grass, you can’t just model one blade of grass and duplicate it.  No, you must model a variety of blades, each with unique details, and then you seed the varieties in the field.

“Did not ourselves the Cubits warp”

Another example is our 3D animation of our apocalyptic mega-city with skyscrapers.  For the purpose of the project, it was successful, and we are proud of our team’s work.   But as an artist and nature-lover, I find it lacking.

If you look closer, you will see a repeating pattern of buildings.  Yes, this is exactly what makes the city appear expansive and attractive.  But the initial emotional response is short-lived.  You soon realize the streets are lonely, and there aren’t any people around.  Through 3D animation, we convey a feeling of empty, stone-cold buildings and a lifeless city lacking people.  You realize you’re the only soul in the city.  It hits you that this must be a sort of apocalypse.

“For fear to be a King – “

Now I, like many of you, live not in the house where that garage was, the field, the stream, and endless blue horizon.  I do not live where the world seemed so small and familiar to me.  I do not live in the world where I felt so very big, although I was a small child.  Now I live in a large place, where I feel very small, although already I am a grown adult.

We never know how high we are  
  Till we are called to rise;  
And then, if we are true to plan,  
  Our statures touch the skies—  
The Heroism we recite
  Would be a daily thing,  
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp  
  For fear to be a King—

by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Thank you for reading this article and enjoying our hard work to create 3D animations and visual effects.  Please feel free to comment on whether you’ve ever felt the same sentiments and share where you’re from and where you spent your childhood.

Also please join our group in Facebook.  We periodically post other works, including 3D product animations, motion graphics projects, and visual effects.  Public comments and feedback are always welcome.  We often do pro-bono volunteer work when we have time.  So if you have an original idea for 3D animation or vfx, let us know, and we might help you execute it.