How to model and render a surrealist scene

Enrico Cerica uses Blender to bring his imagination to life in this surrealist image, from modelling to rendering.

I've always been fascinated by surrealism. I often have Magritte in mind when I create my work, in the way he distorts reality to create ambiguity and push the viewer to search and find the hidden messages, as can be seen in this image Cyber Destiny: Repairing GrandMa.

Often what is really exciting is when you start rendering and progressively discover your idea becoming reality. With this kind of scene I enjoy the whole process, beginning with the research, which may require several weeks of maturation.

I usually don't have a precise plan of what I will create. The start point is an idea, then I let my imagination lead my work. I may change my mind during the process to achieve an attractive result, but without straying too far from the core idea.

"It's hard to get light inside a room so I tend to place some emit planes in front of the windows to increase the light entering the room,"Cerica comments

The next step consists of creating the overall environment to get an idea of the space. I then create the models and furniture and proceed with the details. I model everything I'm using in this scene, from the vase to the more complex rigged robots, so I tend to reuse existing models to make the process quicker.

I use Blender for almost all the modelling and texturing, including UV mapping, texture painting, sculpting and fluid simulations. In this image I used particle systems for the carpets and plants. When accurate cloth is required, I use Marvelous Designer as it produces high-quality meshes, then use Blender's Decimate modifier to reduce the amount of polygons without losing quality.

As I use Octane to render, I always consider the memory and texture limits during the modelling process. I use Instances Scattering for the high amount of objects used in carpets; here I used the particle system for the carpet but the rest is standard modelling.

Making the scene's furniture

01. UV mapping

Unwrap the chair and organise the unfolded parts over the mapping space

I unwrap the chair and organise the unfolded parts over the mapping space. I then use the Texture Paint function to paint the texture map directly on the model.

02. The maps

Improve the map that was generated by Blender to add some more scratches

I improve the map that was generated by Blender to add some more scratches and also to create the bump, specular, mask and eventually the normal maps.

03. Octane Node

The OctaneRender for Blender plug-in offers a Node Graph Editor similar to the one used, with Cycles

I create the Octane Material Node. The OctaneRender for Blender plug-in offers a Node Graph Editor similar to the one used, with Cycles. It relies on the same interface.

Words: Enrico Cerica

While Enrico Cerica has worked in IT for 24 years, not touching CG in his day job, he creates stunning commercial still images and arch-viz projects in his spare time as a freelancer. This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 182.

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