Environment: Canyon Pyramid


Hey all,

here’s some WIP that I’m spending all my hours on at the moment. Supposed to be an “eight wonder of the world” kind of thing - an Egyptian pyramid in a canyon somewhere in South America.

I’m almost finished with the bridge (which is not egyptian design, no :)) and the entrance. Will begin modelling the stones (and partial limestone cap, like the Chefren’s pyramid) on the pyramid today. After that comes the canyon environment (sigh- long way to go).

The final product will be a fly-by-animation for a demo reel.


  • Jonas


Click here to go to the gallery thread.


A little test on how to make the stones. So far they’re just steps, made out of one box each.

There are 2 issues here:

a) how big en effort is necessary to make each row look like individual stones - I doubt I can map my way through it all, but maybe I can get away with making “holes” for missing stones here and there, and then map the rest. Modelling the individual stones screams “overkill”.

b) UVW mapping: I’d prefer a one-mesh-solution, so I can fit it with a single map, as seen from top. -So I don’t really know how to go about this yet…

Comments, suggestions, feedback, critique is welcomed!


  • Jonas

(certain architectural elements have been disabled in this render, to focus on the new steps and lower render time)


could displacement be the solution?

if u r using Vray or renderman i think it should be an issuse for rendertimes.
just a hunch.


Thanks for the advice! I think I’m on to something here – I’m using random noise (which I guess you could call a kind of displacement, only not a map), and then - most importantly - I turn OFF smoothing groups, to preserve those variations in polygon shading, which smoothing groups are usually used to eliminate. That sort of gives the illusion of different sides of square blocks.

I think this is the technique I’ll go with, it’s fairly easy, and it won’t take long time to set up 100 steps on all 4 sides. :slight_smile:


  • Jonas


comin along nicely :slight_smile: good work!


Yeah, I really like this, too.

It’s begging for a detailed environment and volumetric lighting. Keep going!!!


Thanks for the nice comments! I’ve been struggling with the limestone cap all day, but can’t get it right… arg :banghead: . Here’s my reference photo from Giza.

I’m battling with two solutions:

  1. a very high-poly model, where each individual stones is a square polygon, and then some of them are extruded inwards, and at the 4 edges you can see se stones are “broken off”. This is a bitch to work with because of the high poly count, apparently the renderer - Max’s skylight/lighttracer - has a problem with the shadow.

  2. a more lo-poly, where the sides are completely flat, and only the broken edges are modelled. This is easy to work with, but apparently I took it too easy, because it looks really bad compared to the hi-poly of the rest of the scene.

I’m about to start over with #2, but just do a better modelling job and use the polys better. :slight_smile:


  • Jonas

REFERENCE PHOTO: (not a render, lol)


All right, I think I cracked the nut. Turns out the shadow error in the hi-poly version was a user error (thought I’d capped the underside of the limestone, but I hadn’t - so it didn’t cast any shadow - doh).

Anyway, here are the lopoly and hipoly versions of the limestone cap. -Guess which one I’m going for… :slight_smile:

NOTE: in both pictures the limestones seem to be hovering over the pyramid – I’ll pad that with stones later, once I finish the limestone cap entirely.


  • Jonas


Nice work so far jussing.

I think a lot of what is going to make of break the final render will be the way it is lit and the camera move. Be very careful with these to make sure you give it a proper sense of scale. It should look awesome. =)

I think the way you used noise to create the steps is just great. I’ve have officially tucked it into my gray matter for use in the future. Thanks.


This is a bitch to work with because of the high poly count, apparently the renderer - Max’s skylight/lighttracer - has a problem with the shadow.

oh yeah… dude the light tracer on the scanline renderer is really gay in how it beams light around and makes shadows. If you don’t optimize all your meshes so that solid objects are completely closed off and things like that, you’ll get light just “leaking” into objects and coming out through the backfaces of polies. Its really gay. I don’t use scanline renderer and it speeds up my workflow substantially because I don’t have to optimize my solid objects. I can just make them look good and then tell it to render and it works.

if you can find an alternative to using the scanline renderer, it would help you not only produce better results, but even alleviate stupid scene/rendering problems.

and btw, the use of noise on the stones is good. nice work!


Thanks for the advice! Unfortunately, my posibilities for expensive 3rd party renderers are limited – is there a free one you can recommend?

I’ve never really played with renderers before, so when I did my first renders with the skylight, I was awed at how cool it looked. But, like you say, it turns out pretty gay sometimes. :slight_smile:

  • Jonas


i use and strongly recommend Brazil. www.splutterfish.com They have a full-featured free version called Rio. The only limitation is that it won’t render larger than 512x380.

Vray is very good and has a free version but i know nothing about it.

3ds Max 6 comes with Mental Ray, which is also a top quality renderer. The only problem with it is that its incredibly un-user-friendly. Several CGTalkers use it to get beautiful results but i often hear about the frustrations of working with it. I tried it myself for a day and gave up pretty quick.

Don’t use Final Render – unless you can’t get anything else better than the scanline renderer. :stuck_out_tongue:

There are some low profile free options out there… but i know nothing about them.


OK, here’s the latest update.

What’s happened is I’ve finished the shape of the limestone caps. They’re very hi-poly right now, and I’ve applied a noise to the tile-corners, as I did with the larger stones on the “main” pyramid.

Now, to avoid having to work with the VERY hi-poly limestones (which seems unnecessary, because the sides are pretty flat anyway), I’ve baked the shading on the tiles to a 4K texture, which I’ll apply to a much lower poly optimized version of the caps.

So the next steps are:

  1. optimize the limestone caps to lower poly (with some tiles extruded inwards, to simulate missing tiles and flaws)
  2. “cap” the caps, so they have thickness (they’re flat polys right now)
  3. Finish the stones on the rest of the pyramid
  4. Finish some more details on the bridge

(and then comes texturing & canyon modeling…)


  • Jonas


That’s coming along quite nicely. IIRC from Arch. history properly, the cap at Giza is there because people had been breaking off limestone to build other buildings wiht over the last few thousand of years. Not sure…

I like your setup with the model so far. It will be interesting to see the look of this when finished. Are you going for something stylized or photoreal?


Yes, I think that’s true. So with my pyramid you might ask, why is there still something left at the bottom of the pyramid? Why didn’t they take that first? :slight_smile: -Well, I’m taking artistic license there. I just want it to look cool. I’m not sure that bridge would hold up either.

I am pushing myself towards photoreal as hard as I possibly can. Don’t know how close I will actually get, but as a minimum, I’m expecting Blizzard cinematic-style “psudoreality”.

Thanks for the comments,

  • Jonas


I use brazil. BUt Vray is another good renderer. Check it out at vrayrender.com. They have a demo version and a free version.

Your model is coming along nice, Keep up the good work. Hope you can solve your lighting problem.


Hey all!

Thanks for the render advice. I got the free VRay, played around with it for a while, but got impatient really quick as I got some nasty artifacts that I didn’t know how to get rid of. So now I’m back with the lighttracer. :slight_smile:

Anyway, it’s been a bit slow on updates, but I’ve got a lot coming up the next few days, hopefully. Here are the - completely - finished limestone caps, and one side of the pyramid filled with stones. I opted for a slightly different technique for the stones, where I also modelled the sides and individual corners, so they weren’t all aligned corner-to-corner, with no space between, as they originally were in the pics on the previous page.

Here they are… (arches and pillars on the bridge have been disabled in this render, I’m only focusing on the pyramid shape)


  • Jonas


Here’s another, plus a screenshot to show how the stones work.

Every stone is an element in a mesh - and there’s a mesh for every “step” in the pyramid.

This way of doing it allows me to paste a whole wall full of stones in a matter of minutes, but still allows me to modify a single stone, or a group of stones, by editing the mesh in “element” sub mode.

And then of course there’s the noise, to make each stone’s shape look a little random.

  • Jonas


Almost ready for texture. :slight_smile: Weee.

The left side has exactly the same noise patterns as the front, but it’s looking weirder for some reason… propably the angle. I’ll look into that tomorrow, 'cause right now it’s bed time for Bonzo.


  • Jonas


Damn, that’s coming along really nicely :slight_smile: .