Work in progress - building a futuristic city.

The final result of this project is to create a wide shot of a city, looking just over the rooftops. For those who want to follow along and try and duplicate what I'm doing, please go ahead. Alternatively, just watch.

I have created a few cities in the past (here, here and here), but I'm gonna try a slightly different approach this time around. In terms of architectural style I'm drawing inspiration from Mass Effect, Halo, Mirror's Edge, Star Trek. Smooth lines, greenery, etc. Finally, the image should be big enough for a 3200mm  x 100mm print and look something like this first draft.

Lets begin!

Most cities are not square blocks one after the other, at least the interesting ones. They have grown and evolved over decades and centuries. I'm not an architect or a town planner and would not be able to create one that looks organic enough. Google maps to the rescue.

Find an interesting city, zoom in so you can distinguish individual building and take a screenshot.

Now go around the map and take screenshots of the surround area. I took 7 vertically and 3 horizontally. Make sure the zoom level is the same for all images. The next step is to put them together. I used Photoshop to stitch the images together for a final image of 8k x 9k. The image below is not that size, but should give you an idea of what you should have once everything is stitched together.

This image would cover about 4km x 5km. Bonus points for anyone who can pick which city I'm using as my template.

Now to create a polygon that matches the map size (in my case 4820m x 5720m). At this scale it doesn't matter if it's off by up to 100m. Make a UV from the poly and apply the map as a texture. The textured polygon can then be rotated to make the buildings match x and z planes, which makes the next step a lot easier.

It's time to define building positions. Single rectangular polygons will do. Just draw them above the map polygon on top of where any buildings are visible. They don't have to be exactly to size.

This will have to be done for all buildings.

Progress image. Only a few more here and there. Once they are done, its time to define the roads.
It will become more apparent further down the track as to why.

This is an image of the finished template.

Lets break it down:

    Red – buildings
    Blue – roads
    Yellow – train lines
    Everything else is vegetation. This is the ground layer.

I also put a label on to show where the camera will be positioned.
For those of you playing at home let me explain what comes a few steps after this. The plan is to punch holes in the ground layer with a boolean/slice tool and generate the vegetation on the polygon using an instancing tool.
But that part comes later. For the moment though its time to setup a preliminary scene to work out the camera angle and light position. Time to build the first scene.

The first thing is to gauge the height of the buildings. I know that taller ones are 22 floors and the smaller ones are 5. Here are my height calculations:

1.5m off the ground for the first floor.
3.5m for each floor. This provides nice high ceilings and some space for the dividing slabs.
3.5m for the roof space.
This makes my buildings between 22 and 80 meters tall.

Not all the buildings are the same height. 80-22=58 meters in variance. I'm using a simple bevel tool. The bevel value is the average of the height ((80+22)/2=51) with a +/- value of 29, which is half the variance.
Once the model is ready, lets send it to layout and render:

I used a free HDRI sky image and a distant light matched to the sun position as the light solution. The camera is a cylindrical panoramic cam with a 135x145 degree angle. The reason I'm going for a panoramic cam is i don't want all my buildings to "lean" due to the curvature of the camera lens, but be completely vertical. I'll explain why later. If anyone has any good suggestions with regards to camera settings, i would like to hear them.
And what futuristic city is without massive towers here and there. The ones in the background are just beveled polys and the one in the foreground is a leftover from a my last city project, which, unfortunately, was unsuccessful.

This may not be the final camera setting/position as the buildings will change, but I'm happy with it as a first step.

At this point i want to explain why i'm using a panoramic camera.
The final render will be between 28000 and 36000 pixels wide for a 3.2 meter print. An image that size would be a pain to hang on a wall (not to mention transport), so the idea is to split it into 8 vertical pieces like so:

The final pieces can then be split and hung on different walls if desired. A panoramic camera allows all the buildings to be vertical and match the edges of the pieces.
It now seems I'll have to move the foreground tower to not take up one region completely, but split over two.
And now begins the grind work. Time to actually model the buildings, vehicles, people, etc.

First of many building images:

A few thoughts on my design process. Cities aren't built one building at a time, but rather by a block or two. Each block would be similar to a suburb. Living areas, some infrastructure, school, shopping, entertainment. And each block would have buildings of the same style. The idea is to develop five or six styles with as many distinct building designs in each one and add a couple of "randoms" here and there as older, legacy buildings.
The building on the right in the above image (modeled after some halo concept art) is a good candidate for a style, while the one on the left would be a "random".

I used a similar style to the "halo" tower and made this model asymmetrical. This will allow me to reuse it more efficiently. A turn of 90, 180 or 270 degrees and presto! A different looking building.


The crescent facade feature (above) will make a good base for one complete block, the crossing beams in two other buildings - another, the pitched roof - another.

Now, while these buildings are ok, they probably wouldn't hold up too well in the foreground. For the objects that will be closer to the camera I have created something more detailed.

These buildings have a lot more greebles on them, most of which i pulled from my old sci-fi models. It's amazing how far the engines of a blockade runner will go...
Once all the buildings are complete, its time to create the blocks and put them into the scene. Load the original template object (the one that makes this image) and start matching the new buildings with the placeholders.

Just load the new buildings into a new layer and start pasting. By the end you should have something like this.

You will notice that i'm now using a cloud backdrop. This one was created separately and then composited into the scene. You can create one in a program of your choice or use a photograph.

Now for the foreground and distant towers.

This completes the buildings part. The next part is the transport infrastructure and vegetation.

Stay tuned.

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