Making of Inside Out

by Jamie Holmes

JUNE, 2018
3dsmax, ZBrush, Corona Renderer, FloorGenerator, Forest Pack, GrowFX, Photoshop
I have been doing arch viz for many years now, and over that time I have found that I enjoy the nature part of any project the most. I like the challenge to mimic nature and create a believable environment in which architecture occupies. So, this was an exciting prospect to me, not only to create an environment for a cabin but to visualize it in VR and get access to trial the Megascan assets.
I am going to break my entry into three parts :

  1. Nature – Above
    • Cliffs
    • Trees and Plants
    • Beach
  2. Nature – Below (Underwater)
    • Water
    • Sealife
    • Corals
    • Shipwreck
  3. Cabin
    • Design
    • Modeling
    • Texturing

And after all that I’ll cover the overall :

  • Lighting
  • Rendering
  • Post Production

“My goal for this entry was to create a secluded tropical paradise with a similar feeling to the amazing islands located around the equator.”

Because I live in New Zealand, I wanted to create something that was removed from my comfort zone. We have a lot of beautiful beaches but nothing quite like what you might find around the equator.

Let’s start then!

Nature Above the Water
The idea was an inward facing island with single boat access through a cave. This was quite important to my overall entry. It allowed me to focus on the foreground, and midground without having to deal with the vast expanse beyond the island, especially when it came to the VR’s.
The VR’s are where I wanted to focus my output. We had dabbled with VR for a couple of commercial projects (mostly interiors), but I wanted to have a go at producing something a little different. After mocking up the scene with basic shapes, I decided early on where I wanted to have the VR viewpoints from.

3d Modeling

To be honest, my idea grew as I progressed with the scene. I work organically, always trying different things quickly. I like to focus on the bigger picture first and add details as I go. Having said that I still follow a basic formula where I model all the significant elements and build upon those.

The first item I modeled adequately was the surrounding cliff faces. I sketched the basic shape in 3dsMax and then took it into ZBrush to sculpt the details. I tried a few techniques before I settle on using some rock alpha brushes created by JROTools.

These brushes helped to create a more realistic rock look a lot quicker than manually sculpting the mesh.

I ended up remodeling the cliffs about 3 or 4 times throughout the competition. At one point a week before the deadline I contemplated modeling it again, but I didn’t (I felt the overall shape wasn’t natural looking). I am always playing with different parts of the project at any time, and I don’t tend to finish one piece then move on, I like to evolve all parts together. For example, I would model the cliff, bring it to 3ds Max and play around with texture until it looks okay. I would throw in some basic trees and see what they look like knowing full well I won’t use them and then move on the water.

The seabed and water are just basic poly modeling with a turbosmooth modifier applied.


The three main textures in the scene are the cliffs, the sand, and the water.

Cliff Texture

The texture I created for the cliff is a mixture of a standard Megascans texture (Rock Jagged) with a procedural gradient ramp map I created to make the cliff walls look like they have an eroded look with a definite edge where they meet the water.

Sand Texture

The sand texture is pretty simple too. It is made up of a few noise maps and then has various mask bitmaps I painted in Photoshop to differentiate between wet sand and dry sand. I have a displacement modifier for where the sand is softest.

Water Texture

I spent an obscene amount of time on the water during this project, mostly playing with the shader in Corona, but also playing with the seabed model to make sure I was getting an exact depth change with color and visibility both above and below the surface. The shader, after all, is so simple. It just needed a lot more adjusting per shot compared to the other shaders in the scene.

The waters edge is simple some geometry I cloned from the water mesh to sit slightly above and have applied a shader to simulate a foam look.

Trees & other Plantings

The trees and plants in my entry are modeled in Exlevel GrowFX apart from a few smaller models from Megascans and the Palm Trees from another, 3rd Party, asset maker. I like GrowFX – once you have made a tree you are happy with, you can create many different variations at the click of a button. I have been using it for years, but I am still to master a perfect tree model.

Its simple to use but challenging to get the tree you want but the resources are great from their website & forum.

All the textures I used for the trees and plants are from Megascans. For the trees that cover all the cliffs, I used an atlas map set that contained many different leaves in one map. I learned a great technique from Juraj Talcik that he posted on the Corona Renderer forum.
‘ATLAS’ type shader for using Megascan maps in an easy way.
Check Juraj Talcik’s original thread on the Corona Renderer Forums – “Impremta Garden + Breakdowns
There is no point me recreating it here, check out the link. Basically, you can use the crop function in the bitmap for each leaf and then use float controllers to make sure each map (diffuse, reflection, refraction, opacity, normal, bump) have the same crop coordinates. It saves a lot of time.

This here is a prime example of amazing artists in our industry sharing invaluable knowledge.

Here is the shader I created for the trees. I find that these sometimes need to be tweaked based on the light direction and viewing angle. Usually the translucency and reflection. Not Overly complicated – just slotting in the Megascan maps in their corresponding slots.

The Forest

I can’t mention the trees without mentioning the forests component. All my trees are placed using iToo Software’s Forest Pack except a couple here and there. In fact, all the underwater plants, small stones, and debris on the beach and underwater are all placed using Forest Pack.

The technique I used for scattering the plants over the cliff mesh was pretty standard as far as setting Forest Pack goes. I had three trees and a null object to create some gaps. I used the altitude range, so the trees didn’t grow out of the water. I did not use the slope range as I pretty much wanted the trees in most places on the cliffs.

The נeach or sand is another element I spent a bit of time on mostly trying to get the colors right and painting the various masks for the transitions of wet to drying to dry.

I started with an underlying mesh and then turbo-smoothed it, so I could add some subtle noise displacement but quickly realized that wouldn’t work with the water’s edge. The waters edge required the sand mesh to be completely flat all the way around, so I didn’t have the water mesh crashing through the sand mesh. I made sure I had a suitable plane to sit the water on with some subtle variation in the waters edge.

From that point, I sculpted the seabed to drop away quite quickly. Where the sand got soft I added a noise modifier only to those faces well away from the water’s edge.
Nature Underwater
For the underwater look, most of the time was spent playing with the fog parameters vs. the Light vs. the Volumetric scattering in the water shader mentioned earlier.
This was to create the effect of the visibility underwater dropping off at a certain distance.
I had to raise the Volumetric Scattering value a lot to make the water seem more transparent so that you could see through up to the surface compared to the aerial shot looking down through the water. A value of 50 looking up and 9 looking down.

Because I only rendered the underwater scenes in VR, I created a tube container that the camera sat in so that when you rotated in any direction, you had the fog effect. A Corona Renderer Volume material was applied to this container to create the effect. This is also the reason you get the light rays coming through. The light rays a created by adding a caustics bitmap to a standard light like a projection. Corona Renderer doesn’t support caustics yet, so these had to be faked.

All the fish, sharks, crustaceans and the diver are all low poly models accumulated over time. They weren’t decent enough to have up close, so I always placed them at least a few meters away from the camera.

It would have been awesome to have a great model of an octopus or something in the foreground, but time is always an issue. One thing I realized during the project is that you don’t want objects too close to the camera when outputting VR’s which was the case of the Shipwreck scene.

I found out while wearing VR goggles, and it does weird things with your eyes!

All the coral was made using GrowFX and some basic poly modelling, I initially was going to model many different types of coral, but that also got away from me, I felt the underwater section was a bonus to my scene and a fun part of the VR presentation, so I ended up not going too overboard with it.

The material is fundamental too. It has a strong falloff to create a soft and microscopic look. The coral sits on volcanic rock assets from Megascans and some necessary poly meshes I built for a little more variation.

For such a small portion of my entire scene, the shipwreck was quite time-consuming. I modeled the ship from splines and floor generator. Initially, I wasn’t going ever to get close to it, so I never added detail like you would if you wanted it to look amazing. But It felt wrong not to do one VR inside it.

I modeled up some pirate treasure and placed on board – this sort of created a story (a subtle tale) my scene where it may have been an ecological site where one could dive and discovered the treasure or is the treasured cursed and cannot leave the island?

The shipwreck VR was the last output I did right before the deadline. I may revisit this one day and see if I can make it better.
And now… to the cabin itself!
The Cabin Design
The Sheats – Goldstein Residence heavily influences the design of the cabin. I have always been a big fan of John Lautner’s work. I was unsure where I was going with the overall design, but I could not go past the floating triangular canopy.
Although the Californian house is constructed of concrete, I decided to make mine steel so that it still had some weight but did not need to appear as if the concrete had to be poured on site alluding to a more prefabricated design.
I wanted the cabin almost to feel like it had been constructed from parts of a ship but in an elegant way. Although sophisticated in design it is straightforward in spatial planning, One central living space with two utility rooms on either side of the entry at the rear.
The modeling process for the cabin was pretty straightforward, nothing special to report here, the softer models like seat cushions, throws, and the bed were 3rd party assets. The central section of the roof I modeled as one piece.
The shaders were probably where most of the time was spent. The cabin is made up of a few materials, steel, a few different concretes, brass, timber, and glass. All the shaders are straightforward apart from the steel shader which has some layering to create the weathered look.
Would the glass sliders work?

I doubt it 😊

Lighting, Rendering and Post Production
Not much to report here too. My aim is always to get everything to look good in the buffer before saving and doing as little post as possible, usually just color correction.
I know everyone likes to see Raw vs. Post, so here you go.
That’s all really 😊
Final Notes
I really enjoy these competitions. You always get to see a vast array of ideas from all the other competitors. I would like to thank Ronen for putting on another awesome challenge and to all the sponsors who provide their fantastic products for prizes and use during the competition!
I would also like to congratulate all the other winners and participants – it is not an easy thing finishing these things!

If anyone has any questions, I will be happy to answer them if you would like for me to cover something I missed in this making-of.

“I like the challenge to mimic nature and create a believable environment in which architecture occupies. So, this was an exciting prospect to me, not only to create an environment for a cabin but to visualize it in VR.”

So, what do you think of all this? Let’s Talk about it!

Notable Replies

  1. Kudos @jamie and welcome to talk!! I personally do think that growfx is an industry standard in order for a studio to push their standards apart from other studios. I like how you modelled your cliff , any difficulties you came across when texturing it so it won’t look repetitive?

  2. Cheers!! For the Cliff I just used all the rock alpha brushes at varying sizes and overlapping each time I brushed. Also I focused heavily on the parts I thought may not be covered in trees which were the 90 degree plus surfaces. I think if you look closely without a texture on you may see a little repetition but once the texture is applied the repetition pretty much disappears then you have the problem of the texture map repeating.

    It really came down to making sure wherever the cameras were placed, trees had to be appropriately placed to hide the bad repetition. Its a juggling act!!

  3. Cool Thanks! Here is a how the light was set up for the daylight shots with the corona post and lightmix. Nothing too crazy - just some colour tweaks and I have the sun at a lower value. I have a HDRI for the environment light but I have override the GI (with the same HDRI) to make it a bit brighter using the output settings.

  4. It sure is a juggling act! Anyway thanks for sharing. Looking forward for your next project !

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