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Behind the Scenes: Thanksgiving Cornucopia

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About Me

Hello! My name is Karl Beiler. I’m an aspiring 3D artist working as an IT professional in the United States.

If you would have asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you that I wanted to be an artist! However, that is not the direction my education or career went. I never lost my love for art though, and in 2017 decided to do something with it.

I had picked up Blender a few times in the past only to “rage quit” a few minutes later. This time I found a certain guru on YouTube and decided to commit to learning 3D with Blender and have been practicing a few hours a day since.

Inspiration

The idea for this project had been in my mind for more than a year before I thought my skills were at an acceptable stage to attempt creating it. I like classical art and still life, as well as holiday-themed scenes from time to time. With our Thanksgiving holiday coming up, a cornucopia scene allowed me to try both of these in my own style.

Since my aim in most of my art thus far has been realism, and photorealism, in particular, that was the direction this scene took. I drew most of my inspiration from a Thanksgiving decoration that would hang on our front door as a kid and a painting that now hangs in my dining room. I also scoured the web for other examples to get a well-rounded idea of what I wanted the end result to look like.

Modeling and Layout

Most of the modeling in this scene was fairly simple as far as geometry and technique goes. For example, the pears, apples, and pumpkins were extremely straightforward; they were UV spheres with some vertices moved around and a few added edge loops.

I had originally tried sculpting the walnuts, which went badly, so I just edge-modeled those and used the materials to make it a little more convincing. The corn and pine cones were a little more complex as they were a matter of repeating a small part of the mesh using radial and linear arrays, and there was some manual editing afterward to achieve a less uniform look.

The wicker basket is where I started with this scene and it managed to get quite a bit of attention on social media, mostly because people perceived it as complex. It looks complex, but it really isn’t! This is a great example of the power of Blender’s modifier stack. By combining array modifiers and curves I was able to create the body of the basket in only a few minutes.

I tried to place everything around the mouth of the basket in an aesthetically pleasing way while being mindful of where the visual weight was. Since no single object was to be the focus of the scene, I needed to ensure that no part drew more attention than the rest while presenting an attractive arrangement. I’m not sure there is any real science to this. The grapes served as a center to a roughly radial arrangement.

Materials

While modeling the objects and working with curves in this scene provided some challenges, the materials and lighting phase is where I grew the most. I had never hand-painted a model in my life, but I have a Wacom Intuos and recently started playing with Krita for digital painting. I painted each of the diffuse maps over the UV layouts in Krita and converted them into the various other maps with Gimp. Some materials used manipulated photos as their base rather than being painted. Everything had a healthy dose of subsurface scatter applied, especially the grapes. The basket material is mostly a photo of a bamboo cutting board with some procedural textures mixed in for variation. In some cases, such as the table, backdrop, leaves, and walnuts, I was able to simply download some PBR maps through textures.one.

Lighting

Lighting is another area that is new territory for me—“good” lighting, anyway. I had a “final” render prior to this one that got nixed after asking a photographer friend how I could better light it. I followed his advice on using two large area lamps for the key and fill and added a bunch of rim lighting using spots so that the arrangement did not just melt into the backdrop.

Final Render

You would think that all that subsurface scatter and translucency would make for a long render time. This was the first project on which I was able to use the new denoiser node in Blender 2.81 which allowed for a much lower sample count than I would have used in the past. That is a magical piece of code! The final render took three hours at eight thousand samples. I combined two different renders for the final presentation. I rendered all but the backdrop with a transparent background in one render, and just the backdrop in the second, then combined the two in Gimp. I used a simple gaussian blur on the background layer and used the smudge tool to blur the back edge of the table a bit.

Why not just use the depth of field settings for the camera? Simply because I was not getting a satisfactory result with that. I have to cheat in areas where my knowledge comes up short…right? I did nothing to the color in post. The warm feel is the result of color choices and black body nodes in the area lamp materials.

Conclusion

This project was a lot of fun, and it allowed me to advance my skills to the point where people besides myself can enjoy my works. It’s not perfect (and no art is), nor is it ever finished. You have to find a place where it looks good and call it done. I think it’s important for any artist to not get bogged down in the details of some piece and to press forward to a timely conclusion. Practice, practice, practice! Share your progress often so others can tell you where you are doing well and where you need to improve. These two things have been the greatest help to me.

My Hardware

CPU: AMD FX-8350 8 Core @ 4Ghz
RAM: 32GB
GPU: GTX 1080 ti

About the Author

Karl Beiler, 3D Generalist using Blender 3D

 

 

About Author

Abby Crawford

I've been a part of the BlenderNation team since 2018, producing Behind the Scenes and Meet the Artist features that highlight Blender artists and their work.

13 Comments

  1. Aaron Fjerstad on

    You did a very good job. I love the end result and the aesthetic. If you're open to suggestions, I do have one:

    You'll notice that the modifier stack you used made wicker strands towards the tip a lot thinner, whereas in the reference images the wicker strands are of a uniform thickness.

    You can achieve uniform thickness by:

    1. Making your pre-modifier mesh consist of only edges (like infinitely thin wicker strands) instead of pipes and half-pipes.
    2. Adding your modifier stack as you showed it.
    3. Converting the edges to curves.
    4. Adding full bevel with a high resolution.
    5. Converting the beveled curves back to a mesh.

  2. Aaron Fjerstad on

    I'm curious how you achieved your spiral look on the wicker border. In the quickie example I sent you I did a 3 iteration unsubdivide on dense torus, selected one of the resulting spirals, beveled it into a spiral of faces, added them to a vertex group, and used that vertex group in a displace modifier.

    I did this roundabout approach because scaling the spiral along individual normals was producing weird artifacts.

      • My approach was not so complex as all that :) I created two overlapping circles and merger them, creating a chubby hourglass shape. I Added a screw modifier to it, followed by an array. The last modifier was a curve modifier conformed to a circle. tadah!

      • Aaron Fjerstad on

        That's a lot simpler. Tried it out with some subdivision, and pre and post screw modifier displacement. The UVSquares addon made it easy to do the spiral texturing. The result looks more like bread than wicker. Maybe I'll play around with it more later.

        https://imgur.com/crEfS68

        • looking good. A more elongated material with some more contrast would look less like bread. I have not used that add-on. I think I have heard of it. My approach to spiraling patterns is to skew the UV.

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