The final image of The Council with the textured borders and age tints applied.

One of the most valuable practices is to constantly ask, “is this idea still working?” More than once, we’ve come up with a concept that seemed genius, but as we pushed forward we found that an idea that seemed brilliant, just …wasn’t.

To avoid this *tragedy* when creating The Council, we repeatedly questioned our choices, which in the end created a stronger composition and concept.

Below is a step by step breakdown of the steps we went through to create The Council.

Typically we begin with a very loose sketch of our ideas. We then decide whether we should find the imagery on location, or build a set or prop in our studio or create in CG.

Initially we looked at using a photograph of a Banyan tree we shot in Japan.

We quickly decided it wasn’t quite right and that we should create a tree in a room from scratch in Maya.

The next step was to begin previewing colors and textures. We use Substance Designer and Substance Painter to craft and customize many of our CG textures. The birds were sculpted and painted in Zbrush and imported into Maya.

The tree was brought into Zbrush where we sculpted bark texture and painted the tree bark using reference from our personal library. In the previous iteration, we felt the chairs were too dark and sparse, so we added more chairs and lifted their tone. We also decided the room looked sterile, so we shifted the color palette towards green and gold and roughed in foliage, grass and moss. At this phase we were considering the exterior as a night sky. In all honesty, we were frustrated with the scene. It wasn’t working yet.

Nonetheless, we plowed ahead and began placing rough foliage into the scene and switched the lighting to be a brighter sunny day. But we were struggling! The composition was busy and the style of the chairs was not right either. Their style was too modern and took away from the simple beauty of the towering tree in room. Though we liked the “idea” of the circle of chairs, we had to admit – they weren’t working. We needed to simplify. It was the encouragement of our 12 year-old son (our best sounding board) who nudged us to “loose the chairs.”

We removed the chairs and paired the windows down to just one and it all began to click into place.

The tile floor we created in Maya + Substance Painter had a lovely sheen to it but it wasn’t quite showing up yet. To make sure it was as resonant as possible, we rendered the floor alone with very strong, direct lighting.

Next came the part of our the process when we stitched together the multitude of renders in Photoshop. The render of  “sparkly” floor was merged with the more subdued wall renders to hone the lighting direction. We also began painting a mural of an outdoor scene on the walls.

Clouds and cracks were added to the wall mural and the overall render texture was further blended.

Photographs of moss and grass from our reference library were painted on the floor using texturized paint brushes. We also made the window bigger to have a stronger emotional impact and provide more side-light motivation.

The CG birds and a digitally painted rope wrapping the trunk were added.

Finally, aging tints and the image borders were hand painted.

In the end, we are quite happy with how this came together. We feel our ability to be objective and let go of previous ideas were pivotal in helping this image find successful footing.