As a 25-year veteran of 3D animation, Steve Bell knows a thing or two about working efficiently and not including extra workflow steps where they’re not needed. Those tricks of the trade came in handy when Bell’s company, Archiform 3D (http://www.archiform3d.com/), was hired by a property developer to create a three-minute video (http://www.archiform3d.com/3d-gallery/13-sanctuary-belize/) highlighting the beauty of a planned community in Belize called Sanctuary Belize.
With its tropical flora, mountains and abundant recreational options, the beauty of Belize is evident to the naked eye. Bell’s assignment was to bring the beauty of the country, which is on the northeastern coast of Central America, to life in 3D using Maxon’s Cinema 4D on a modest budget, and a tight deadline.The developers sought out Archiform after seeing other architectural visualizations the company has done for similar projects in Miami, Singapore and other locations. “The people who come to me generally are property developers who need to get an idea off the ground,” says Bell. “They don’t come to me for renderings or simple animations. They need someone to come up with a budget and see the whole project through.”
Because of the fluid nature of the project, Bell tackled the work himself over the course of about six months. “It was kind of a free-flowing project, so I wouldn’t have felt right about passing it off,” he explains. “Every day I was finding new angles and generating new draft renderings. It took about five months to get to the point where we could start processing our files.”
Creating the Lay of the Land
To create the striking topography around the Sanctuary Belize development, Bell used elevation data supplied by the client. Although the terrain is mostly flat in the area near the development, he pushed up the mesh in his C4D animations to create a rough idea of what the future terrain might look like in certain areas.
“They’re still developing some of those hills within the development, so the exact shapes and forms aren’t completely known at this point,” he explains. “But we got them to about where they need to be and then added the buildings.”Although he normally builds structures using ArchiCAD, in this case Bell used Cinema 4D almost exclusively because he needed to be able to break things down into shapes that would be easier to work with quickly.
Once the community was constructed in 3D, he fleshed out the lush look using models from his own handmade library, as well as stock 3D models of foliage and animals he found on TurboSquid (www.turbosquid.com) and Xfrog (www.xfrog.com). Animated human characters were made using AXYZ’s Anima (https://secure.axyz-design.com/anima-crowd-simulation-software-home/whats-anima). Using a cloner, he was able to populate scenes quickly.For the scenes of azure-blue sky, Bell again used images from his own library. “Whenever I find a location with a nice sky, I photograph it,” he says, adding that he always does 360-degree panoramas. That way, he can easily go through his photo library and find a good fit for the project he’s working on.
Keeping Up With Client Changes
Bell typically creates his footage using C4D’s editor view in an OpenGL format. Next, he turns the footage into video clips and edits all of the draft videos. For a three-minute video, for example, Bell says he usually generates 10 to 12 minutes of clips, resulting in lots of B-roll footage that sometimes comes in handy for future projects.
Knowing he would need to respond quickly to his client’s requests for changes, Bell opted to forego compositing for this project, figuring it would slow down the process. Instead, he set up each 3D scene with an eye toward making it look right from every angle from the start.
“Most people start a job and look at producing a rendering or a video clip,” he explains. “So they go in a direction where it would be easiest to get that picture or that clip out the door as quickly and economically as possible using a broad set of tools. I have a different workflow.” Bell also says he appreciates the way C4D allows him to handle massive scenes quickly, including rendering.
In addition to other projects, Bell is currently working on a few personal development projects (see the above image), “which is exciting as I am my own client—and what a client I make,” he says. “So far, I think the results are pretty good.”
Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the following related links:
Article by Dan Heilman
Dan Heilman is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based writer and editor.
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