My name is John Malcolm and I live in Paisley in the southwest of Scotland. My background is in graphic design, but I've had an interest in art, drawing, and painting for as long as I can remember. This eventually led me to digital art and illustrating and then, around 2012, I discovered Blender. I dabbled with it a little but it wasn't until Blender 2.79 that I started putting a decent amount of time into learning about Blender properly. Then 2.80 came along and changed the whole game. I'm addicted.
I'm a member of a Discord group run by Clinton Jones, one of the Corridor Digital guys—it's open to everyone no matter what their software of choice, but the main two used by members are Blender and Cinema 4D. It's called 'Create with Clint'. As well as being a cool place to hang out and chat with people, there are weekly contests on various themes. This image was created for the theme 'video games'.
The goal for creating this image was just to recreate some beloved items from my teenage years. I started with the idea of creating a Commodore 64 computer (my second ever computer after the Vic-20) and, as the scene developed, I added more objects from that era (such as the posters and boxed Runequest RPG game).
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The first place to start with a project like this is with reference. Unless you are lucky enough to still own a computer from the early 1980s, photographic reference will be all you have. Google image searches are incredibly useful for finding suitable references. You can refine your search to include only large images and add search terms to make it more likely to find the useful stuff. I was lucky enough to find the images below, which gave me some fairly clean top, back, and side views of the C64 as well as one of the models of the tape deck. I also gathered some more general photos from a variety of angles. All of these images can be displayed alongside each other using software like PureRef, as well as being brought into Blender itself.
With my references gathered, I had to do a bit more research, again by Googling, to find and note down useful information like the actual dimensions of the C64 computer. With this at hand, I was able to start readying Blender for modelling. I switched to Front View in Orthographic mode and dragged in my main reference image. To get this to the correct size, I added a cube, switched to Wireframe View, and resized it until it matched up with the computer in the reference photo.
I then went back to Object mode, selected the reference image first, then the cube so that the cube was the Active object. Doing this means that its dimensions were displayed in the Properties Panel. I then hit S to scale and scaled both the reference image and the cube at the same time keeping an eye on the width of the cube in the Properties Panel until it reached 406mm. After that, the cube could be deleted. I then duplicated the reference image a couple of times and rotated and positioned the reference images to line up with the views for modelling.
Later, when it came time to model the tape deck, I was unable to quickly locate any accurate dimensions. I could have spent a bit more time hunting for them, but I realised that I could calculate the rough size from dimensions I did have to hand—those of a standard cassette tape.
The modelling in this project was all fairly simple. I did, however, make a conscious decision to try completing the whole thing without relying on Blender's Subdivision Surface Modifier. I wanted to see if I could avoid it altogether this time, being aware that although it's very useful it can also cause problems with boolean operations, which I knew I was going to be using a lot. I think the only object in the scene with a Subdivision Surface modifier on it is the coffee mug, and that was appended from a previous project.
All of the main objects in the scene—the computer, tape deck, joysticks, TV, etc., were created in a similar way. I started with basic primitives like cubes or cylinders and used Blender's Boolean Modifier to combine them or subtract them from each other.
Usually, after each boolean operation, I'd apply the Boolean Modifier and then clean up the resulting mesh, merging, and sliding vertices. As you can see in the image below of one of the joysticks, this left me with geometry which I could then add a nice bevel to with Ctrl+B.
As well as booleans I found myself relying on bevels a lot while modelling this project. An example would be the C64's case. Hard bevels with Ctrl+B were used to form the large smooth curves at the front of the case top and bottom as well as the tighter curve at the top back behind the ridged area. Almost all objects additionally had a Bevel Modifier on them. The computer, for example, has a bevel of 0.2mm which slightly rounds off all the hard edges. Ticking 'Harden Normals' on these Bevel Modifiers can also be a good way to resolve any weird shading issues that might arise.
I modelled one keycap, used Proportional Editing to make it slightly concave, UV unwrapped it in a way that would aid me later, and duplicated it as needed. If you are going to need a UV Map it's easier to do it now to one key rather than have to do it later to 66 keys. The larger keys were just edited versions of the single keycaps, apart from the space bar which had to be convex as opposed to concave.
I didn't bother modelling the back of the computer in detail and, once I realised the tape deck would block the view of most of the ports on the side, I kept that area fairly simple, too. All the visible cables for the computer, tape deck, and joysticks were created with Curve objects.
While putting the scene together, I made sure to take advantage of Blender's Collection system, creating new collections as needed and keeping the whole scene organised. A great new feature in 2.91 is the ability to colour code these collections.
As well as the models created specifically for the scene, I rounded it out a little more by appending some objects from older scenes: the books, the coffee mug, and the magazines. The remainder of the scene was the simplest stuff of all. The desk is five simple pieces and the wall and floor are merely planes.
I'll start with one of the simpler materials, many of which are shared by more than one object. The dark grey plastic material used by the joysticks is a relatively simple Principled BSDF shader. To make it a little more interesting and give it a used look, I used a smudge texture that also incorporated some fingerprints. This I got from Poliigon. This was just fed into the Roughness input of the shader via a ColorRamp node, which I used to fine-tune the effect.
For the stuff like the keycaps, I took advantage of one of my favourite Blender features—its ability to utilise layered PSDs straight from Adobe Photoshop. I commonly use PSDs in texturing, most usually when I'm working with textures that require text and other components, such as labels or boxes and packaging. Blender's ability to use the PSDs while they are still 'live' and retaining all their layer information is very handy. It makes making adjustments very easy. I normally drag a PSD straight into the Shader Editor and just plug it in. If I make a change, addition, or adjustment in Photoshop, then all I have to do is hit Ctrl+S there, return to Blender, select the Image Texture node for the PSD and do an Alt+T to refresh or reload the updated PSD.
For texturing anything like these keycaps I typically first export a PNG of the UV layout from the UV Editor. I bring this into Photoshop and drop a coloured background layer behind the UV to allow me to see it properly. I then often bring in a couple of reference layers. In this case, I had a layer to reference for colour and another which clearly showed the keyboard layout—most importantly, it showed all the weird glyphs on the front face of many Commodore 64 keys.
When doing the UV layout for the keys, I did spend a while laying them out. The top faces of all the keys were arranged in the correct position in relation to each other, making sure each key was rotated correctly. After that, I isolated the UV islands for all the key fronts and again I arranged these so that they were positioned properly in relation to each other.
In Photoshop it was a simple matter to flood fill the canvas with the dark brown required for most of the keys, after which I coloured the areas required by the lighter function keys. Then it was on to using text layers to add the letters and simple drawing tools to make the glyphs. The font used isn't accurate to the original, but it deserves its purpose at the size the image would typically be viewed at. Here you can see how the PSD looks while editing. After an edit, all I have to do is turn off the layers containing the UV guides and any reference and do a save.
The material for the keys (and case) also had an image piped into the Roughness. This time more of a sort of dusty, spotty looking image.
The TV was textured in a similar fashion to the computer with the exception of the screen. This, like many of the materials, used a smudge image, controlled by a ColorRamp, but as well as plugging a screenshot of the original Elite game into the Base Color input of the shader, I also plugged it into the Emission input.
The lighting for the scene is mainly provided by an interior HDRI. I think it's actually a kitchen, of all things. I use the Gaffer addon for managing and using HDRIs. It provides me with a one-click way of turning HDRIs on as well as a very convenient way to change them, compare them, and fine-tune their rotation.
In addition to the HDRI, I have a small area light positioned above the scene in lieu of any ceiling geometry, just to provide an extra bit of light and some highlights on the front of the TV. There's also a spot light positioned inside the shade of the desklamp. The only other emissive objects in the scene are the computer's power light and the faces making up the channel number on the TV.
I was pleased with how this scene turned out and by how it was received. I had a lot of fun making it and I hope you enjoyed reading a little about how it was put together. If nothing else, then perhaps you've learned that layered PSDs are very useful in Blender.
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