Art Spotlight: Lava Run

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In Art Spotlight, we invite Sketchfab artists to talk about one of their designs. Today we visit Cityscape Digital’s spectacular Lava Run’ model!

Hello, my name is Danny Negus and I am a 3d Artist working at Cityscape Digital. I will be talking you through my process and workflow for creating the Lava Flow Sketchfab project.

From the outset the goal was to create a diorama that showcases Sketchfab’s exciting uses for branding. Being able to integrate Sketchfab not only on a website but also into a facebook campaign or post has massive potential to advertise products and brands in a new way!

After some experimentation we decided that having a product in 3d space was exciting but we wanted to take it further and tell some kind of story. At Cityscape we have previously done work with Jeep, this felt like an obvious choice due to the excitement that surrounds the brand and the adventures its products have. We also had a Jeep Renegade 3d model in our library.

Now that we had our product it was time to discuss the location and type of story we wanted to tell, it quickly became apparent that excitement and adventure were the key concepts we were going to go with.

LAVA! Yep as soon as it was mentioned we knew this was it! Its exciting, Its different, its visually interesting and it would be challenging!

Creating a diorama for Sketchfab is similar to designing for Video games, you need to be conscious of where the user can go and what they will be able to see. With Sketchfab we needed to create something which looks great from all angles. Damien Fennel Cityscape’s Creative Director is a trained sculptor and understood this concept deeply. He sat with me and created sketches that fleshed out the idea into something with form and function.

With this concept it was easy for me to block out the basic mesh in 3ds max paying attention to the shape from all angles and also creating channels for the lava to run down.

Once I had my blockout it was time to jump into Zbrush and sculpt in some detail. Before that I gathered as many reference images as possible looking at the forms and different types of rocks. Once I had gathered reference it was important to choose only 1 or 2 pieces that really capture the details I was looking for, this stopped the 3d model from becoming muddy and unconvincing.

In zbrush I used standard techniques to sculpt interesting shapes and details into the rocks and lava, I wanted the lava to look like it was piling up when it runs over an edge as this stood out in my references.

In Sketchfab the user is able to zoom in close to the detail, this meant I needed to have a high texture density so that the model stands up under close scrutiny. High texture density on a large object can be a challenge, using tiling textures on the rock rather than bespoke UV’s enabled me to get the density I was looking for. Not having bespoke UV’s meant that I could not bake a high poly mesh to a low poly, this influenced my choice to create a medium poly sculpt that I would optimise and use directly as the mesh.

Once I was done sculpting I created my uv’s in Zbrush and decided to moved into Sketchfab and apply some textures. Playing with the lighting early was very useful as I could get a good feel for where the end result was heading.

The rocks were starting to look good with a tiling texture but I felt that the Lava needed unique UV space so that i could add some of the iconic features that lava has. I created this texture in photoshop using the reference images I had gathered.

Now that I had the lava and rock looking 90% it was time to work on the smoke/pyroclastic cloud. This was definitely the most challenging part of the project as I had no pipeline in place to create a believable smoke cloud.

I scanned the internet looking for tutorials and found one on creating clouds, the idea is to create lots of spheres blocking out the shape and then use the Pro Boolean tool in 3ds Max to merge them into one mesh. Once I had the basic shape I used a displacement map to get some interest in the forms.

Giving the pyroclastic clouds the fleeing of danger was important as it gave the car a purpose and a reason for moving through the environment. Finding reference images that displayed an inferno burning within the clouds was exactly the kind of danger I was looking for. To achieve the same effect in 3d I rendered an ambient occlusion and used it as a mask for a fire texture in Photoshop. This was then overlayed on top of a cloud texture, this gave me the effect of flames in the tight central formations and then as the clouds started billowing out they would lose their heat.

Next I added some curved planes to the model to create the billows of the smoke. I used a simple smoke alpha texture to achieve this.

And finally I spent some time in Sketchfab tweaking materials and lighting until it was one coherent piece of work and everything made sense. Adding some post effects over the top pulled it together and gave it a more cinematic feel.

Lava run
by Danny Negus
on Sketchfab

This project was super fun to work on, I only had a week from concept to delivery and I am very pleased with the result. I had not used Sketchfab previously but it was extremely easy to learn with an intuitive interface. Its potential for brand engagement is very exciting and i hope to utilise this very soon.

Thanks Danny!

Visit Danny’s portfolio on Sketchfab and check out Cityscape Digital’s website to learn more about their work.

– Bart


About the author

Bart Veldhuizen

Head of Community at Sketchfab. 3D Scanning enthusiast and Blenderhead. Running BlenderNation in my spare time.

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