Now that I have the bulk of the film plotted out and most assets worked up to close to final, I think it’s a good time to look back at how they have developed. So let’s compare the current versions with some of the beginning concept work I did.
Here are the Tree plans I did early on. When I started the project the theme and story was drastically different, I was still trying to maintain a 2d aesthetic within the world. After revising the story I moved away from this, but I kept some of the 2d inspiration. Most notably within the shading nodes, displacements and bump maps were all a direct result from experimenting with my hand drawn tests. The diffusion for most assets in the film was created to double as a lighting network to really make silhouettes and rim lighting pop. I used a combination of a ramp colour shader with a facing ratio plugged in to respond to the placement of a locator. This allowed me to dictate at any time how the colour of the trees were defined, the same way I would have drawn the rim lighting by hand. You can see the early example of this on the far right below.
The early 3d work for the film was created using the MASH network feature in Maya. In order to create things on a large scale I first tried to create a procedurally built forest. As creating a full forest for a single person project was quite daunting, this seemed like the best approach to begin with. the early 3d trees were a lot more simple and basic but worked well from a distance, up close was a different story though. I quickly realised that this approach left me very little control over the composition and placement. So I scratched this idea and began anew. I’m still using an adapted version of a MASH network for the backgrounds in some shots, but adjusting the workflow considerably to keep the composition in mind.
And below you can see the final version of the tree models and the charcoal roughs that inspired their shape design.
One really important element for me was to make sure these trees didn’t read like Christmas trees. I wanted them to feel old and ancient, great tall pines, however translating this into a 3d model took a lot of trial and error. To make things easier for rendering, I put the most foliage up high, and kept their shader maps low weight and cheap, from a distance and with simple lighting the effect works really well. The tree bark is where I put a lot of time into getting just right, as this is what we see through most of the film. Below you can see some of the process into making these designs, keeping in mind overall shape design, and pleasing shadows.