Creating Japanese Mountain Shrine with 3ds Max

Manuel Fuentes, architect and aspiring games artist, breaks down his process for creating his Japanese Mountain Shrine. Turn up your audio and press play, we hope you enjoy this Zen and charming scene as much as we do.

Hi, my name is Manuel and I am an architect and aspiring games environment artist from Mexico. In the beginning I started working with 3ds Max doing mostly architectural visualization. Over the years as I got more familiar with it, I’ve used it for a variety of details such as rapid prototyping of buildings, rendering realistic architectural scenes, and more recently to creating game ready environments. The scene in this article was created as my entry for the Artstation Feudal Japan Challenge in the real time environment category.

All the architectural elements, the rocks, and the small shrubs where modelled in 3ds Max. The detail sculpting of trees and rocks was done in ZBrush, and the texturing with Substance Painter/Designer. Later, the meshes where adjusted in 3ds Max for final optimization and UV adjustments before exporting to UE4 for the final rendering of the scene.

How to build the scene

The initial blockout of the scene was done using boxes with very low subdivisions to easily adjust the proportions and properly balance the scene. After this was completed, using 3ds Max’s Modifier Stack I could easily add more complexity to the models without destroying the original geometry. This allowed me to quickly adjust general proportions as the scene grew more complex by going to the first levels of the Modifier Stack, and then back to my higher levels and continue adjusting the higher poly details.

Adding in the elements

The roof and wood details around the scene were created using a basic spline with a Sweep Modifier and then some edit Poly Modifiers to create the desired final shape. Again, this non-destructive approach allowed me to duplicate an element and reuse it somewhere else in the scene. I would simply go to the lower levels of the Modifier Stack, adjusting the spline to fit the new building, and then use edit poly to modify it and rotate it into place.

I used V-Ray to render some previews of my scene during the workflow, and before exporting the elements. All the modular terrain elements where first modeled and dimensioned in 3ds Max to make sure they fit together to shape the mountain and landscape scene. They were modelled using basic boxes with edit poly modifiers in 3ds Max, and later the detail sculpt was done in ZBrush.

Character animation

Once the scene was complete the final step was to do an animation with a ghost dragon flying around the scene. This was a first for me as I had never animated a character before, but the CAT rig was very easy to understand. After applying a skin modifier to a model I imported from ZBrush, and a basic motion animation modified using curves, I changed the default walk into something that resembled a flying motion. The model and animation were ready to export as an FBX and integrated into the scene.

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