home about gallery publications education links contact

..::futuristic cityscape::..

Firstly, we should decide on how old our cityscape is, just to keep the building design consistent. I’ve gone for a clean-looking non-industrial city (slightly dirtied up using environment fogging and subtle material effects), mainly so I could knock it up in a few hours. Should you decide to make the city a lot older, you will have to introduce aging into the construction process of the building, such as textured weathering effects (dirt, grime, mould etc) and damage to buildings (chipped edges, cracked windows etc). All of these add to the realism-factor and make the end result more convincing.

Before we start modelling anything out, to keep our designs similar, we should start by roughing some sketches down on paper. Try to keep it as simple as possible for the most part; a city consists of buildings of varying complexities, so create a fair amount of low detailed structures to ease your workload or to allow you to create detail such as window frames, inset panelling or ventilation grills easily. As you’re designing the structure, think about how it would function, such as how internal rooms would be laid out, is there adequate ventilation, stability and can water drain off the roof and any crevices you introduce, can you walk on the roof and if so should there be any walls around the top to prevent people falling off the edge! By adding these elements to your design your building will appear more convincing. Create one or two “hero” buildings that break up the skyline; these can be more detailed as they will stand out more than the others. Depending on their design, you may be able to get away with using more than one copy of the object in your scene.

Once the rough sketches have been laid out, we can start modelling them out. Again, keep it as simple as possible; a lot of the fine detail can be done with texturing, depending on how close the structure is to the camera. As you designed the building you should have a rough idea in your head how it can be formed. Basic buildings can be constructed from basic primitives such as boxes and cylinders, but for more complex designs you will have to resort to using extruded shapes, then collapse down to begin pushing polygons around. Don’t forget to remove any harsh edges from the surfaces of your buildings; all corners should be chamfered which can be performed easily by selecting all the relevant edges and chamfering them all with the same amount. Again, try to keep the modelling process as simple as possible, if you don’t need to have everything in one mesh, then don’t. Make use of additional objects to form extra panels, ventilation piping and so on, but don’t go overboard as some of these buildings will only be seen from a distance.

Texturing the buildings is pretty much a simple operation. Once UV mapping is applied, it can be unwrapped and painted in Photoshop before re-applying to the object. Again, take into consideration the age of the building, so add extra grime where water has collected or run off the buildings, weathering effects on the materials assigned to the structure and extra dirt around areas where traffic may pass close by to it.

Arranging the buildings is slightly more difficult than you might think. Take into consideration the shape of the structure and what part it will play in the skyline. Typically you won’t want to leave too much sky showing as this will suggest that the city is not as densely populated as you might expect. If this occurs, use copies of buildings that have been transformed slightly (slightly scaled or rotated) to fill in these gaps.

Light the scene using one main direct key light, a hemispherical dome of low-intensity lights to simulate GI and a few omni fill lights to simulate bounced light and to illuminate any dark areas slightly. Alternatively you could use a lighting solution such as Light Tracer, but be prepared for large render times. Finally surround the scene with a shy dome and add environment fogging and a few other elements such as cars or other means of transport to give the scene a sense of scale.

Enlarge Screenshot
Before we even start modelling, sketch out some rough concepts of how your buildings will look like. Try to keep the designs relatively consistent as not to create a mish-mash of building styles which would make a futuristic cityscape unrealistic. From these base sketches you should have a rough idea of the construction methods required to build the basic structure of the building.
Enlarge Screenshot
This building was based on an existing design found in an image sourced off the net. The original geometry was a simple box with a number of iterations set in the primitive, which was then collapsed. Rows of faces were extruded to create the ledges. Polygons above these ledges were inset to create the window frames, then extruded back to create the windows. Using the Symmetry modifier enables us to just work on one side then to mirror our amendments across to the other side. Finally a Bend was added to make it look more futuristic.
Enlarge Screenshot
This building originated from another box which was chamfered several times along its side to create the curved side. Polygons were selected lengthways and extruded slightly to create a panel running right down the side of the building and to create an inset for the windows. As with the previous building, the window frames were inset then extruded back to form the individual windows. The wall on the roof was created by insetting and extruding up, insetting again then extruding back down.
Enlarge Screenshot
A little bit more complex, this building made heavy use of the Symmetry modifier. The original shape originated from a rectangle spline with additional rectangles along the sides and circles on each corner which were attached and Boolean’d to the main rectangle in Editable Spline. After being extruded with several height iterations, windows were inset as before and the top wall added.
Enlarge Screenshot
No futuristic cityscape would be complete without some kind of weird-looking machinery, and this one is no exception. The original shape for this was a simple spline which was then extruded and collapsed to an Editable Poly. After extruding, insetting and refining parts of the mesh, additional piping was created with bent cylinders, and the grill added which was created with an another extruded spline.
Enlarge Screenshot
After modelling the rest of the buildings, they are all arranged so as little sky is visible as possible. The main “hero” buildings are most visible, and our power-plant machinery thingie is also situated in the foreground. Extra elements like cars, roads and road lighting with (slightly) damaged wiring are also added, giving the impression of a highly populated and busy city.
Enlarge Screenshot
The final render has been processed and colour corrected somewhat to saturate the colours and to add a high contrast between shades.
Download the max file!
Zip file to accompany (sample buildings).


The materials in the rendered scene are quite basic to say the least! There are about a total of ten unique materials, each with pretty much the same properties, assigned to the buildings specifically to give the impression of a consistency in design, but are also assigned to emphasise certain areas and to bring out finer detail like piping, wires and windows.

As the majority of the buildings in the scene were created using Editable Poly, individual faces had to have materials assigned to them. All buildings in the scene shared the same window texture which was a semi-reflective material with a high specularity and subtle raytrace reflection map assigned to reflect the opposing buildings. To keep render times down, the amount of raytrace bounces was reduced to about 2 instead of the default 9.

The platforms in the rendered scene were created with a simple extruded spline with several iterations. This was sculpted around the buildings by using a spline to control a Path Deform modifier assigned to the road geometry. Additional detail such as the wires and street light structures were also controlled by the same Path Deform modifiers. In total, there are about six reference copies of the same road in the scene, each with a unique Path Deform modifier.

The cars were distributed in a similar fashion to the roads. Utilising the same spline that controls the deformation of that particular road, the cars were set to be animated along this spline. After copying and offsetting the animation of the cars, multiple cars were generated for each road which utilised that road’s own spline to control their distribution and animation.

Initially published: 3D World magazine, Issue 44, November 2003.

Copyright Pete Draper, November 2003. Reproduction without permission prohibited.