Making Of: The Axel House by Ark Visuals

For those of you that aren't aware, as well as creating content for The Lumion Collective I'm also the founder of Ark Visuals. Because of that, I figured what better way to start the Projects portion of The Lumion Collective than with a neat little write up of one of my favorite Lumion projects I've completed at Ark Visuals to date. Enjoy!


Axel House Blog Title, Render of Axel House by Ark Visuals
The Axel House by Ark Visuals

About Ark Visuals

Ark Visuals is an architectural CGI boutique based in New South Wales, Australia. Ark Visuals specializes in creating bespoke architectural imagery for project, design, and development marketing through creative illustrations with an emphasis on producing a sophisticated and cinematic look.


Introduction to The Axel House

The Axel House project was created as a collaborative project that was made with the help of the 'Axel' design created by sustainable home builder, ArchiBlox. What started out as a relatively relaxed exercise to experiment with creating detailed environments, quickly turned into one of those obsessive projects that continues to evolve as i worked on it.


After I had chosen the Axel design to work with, I then had to make the decision of what type of environment I was going to create. After exploring various tree species and forest photographs, I ended up landing on a pine forest theme. As well as loving the way that dense pine forests look, I felt that this environment allowed for a pretty broad range of weather and composition options and would give a good contrast to what was a fairly modern and rigid building design.

The whole point of the exercise was to effectively position modern architecture into an otherwise untamed environment, which really does justice to the sustainable ethos that ArchiBlox embraces.


The Workflow

The software used for this project included:

  • Modelling: Sketchup Pro 18

  • Texturing: Lumion, Substance

  • Rendering: Lumion 8

  • Post-production: Photoshop


Modelling

The project required some planning in the modelling phase in order to achieve the desired look of the terrain. The idea was to have the mulched garden seem relatively natural and follow the grade of the land which would gently slope away from the house before leading off into the unkept paddock.


Unfortunately the current terrain sculptor integrated within Lumion isn't overly accurate when it comes to making small adjustments, so I decided to sculpt a square of terrain inside of Sketchup which I could then blend into the Lumion terrain later on. I added in a very basic mesh for the building so as to get the correct placement and height and then sculpted the terrain around that, being sure to add some variation into the areas of interest. These areas were primarily beneath the building where the home stood atop support posts, and also in front of the house where the mulch garden would be.



It's important to angle the edges of the terrain sculpt downwards inside of your modelling software before importing to Lumion. This ensures that the Lumion terrain can be blended in without any edges clipping where the two areas meet.

Since I wanted the mulch/wood chip texture to be fully editable, I was unable to use the terrain painter feature in Lumion. To get around this, I had to rough out the approximate areas using separate textures in Sketchup before importing into Lumion. I knew that I would be able to blend/hide these edges in the final images so I wasn’t too concerned with the blocky texture pattern.

The end result was a 28m x 26m footprint for the terrain and model which gave plenty of room to populate and edit the scene.


After completing the terrain, I went onto model the rest of the building. This was a fairly straight forward model so I won't spend to much time on the details. Essentially the design is segmented into a few different spaces, however since the shots were going to be all exterior scenes I only modeled the portion of the interior that would be seen through the windows (The living room and kitchen in this case). Otherwise, it was essentially the basic shape shown above, with a timber cladding added to the exterior. The bulk of the magic is going to happen inside of Lumion.

Axel House Sketchup Model by Ark Visuals
Axel House Sketchup Model

Lumion - Texturing and Populating

Populating the scene was done a little differently to my usual methods. In order to achieve the look of patchy dried grass, I wasn’t able to use the standard Lumion grass feature. To combat this, I used the dry grass model that is included within Lumion and 'hand placed' these throughout the environment. At the time of this project I was using Lumion 8 and as such did not have access to the cluster placement tool that was released in version 9. This resulted in me placing hundreds of individual grass objects throughout the scene (a real pain with the current tool set as anyone who’s created big Lumion environments will know!)


The terrain itself had a patchy grass texture image applied to it, which as well as providing a base colour, acted as a guide to which parts should be populated with grass and which should be left bare. The texture itself was actually quite low res and poorly tiled over large areas, however since the models placed on top were so dense, it's hard to notice any issues. The lighting render pass did a good job of showing what is modeled and what is textured as this gets a little unclear in the beauty pass (which is a good thing of the final result!). As you can imagine, a lot of clicking was involved.

Axel House Lumion Clay Render Showing Environment Details

For the surrounding tree line, I created a small hill around the perimeter of the building so that the trees would sit on an incline as they move away from the house. This does two things; The first is that it gives a sense of scale to the building and instills that recurring theme that the structure is seemingly insignificant compared to the environment around it. The other is to remove the horizon line from behind the trees and give the illusion that the forest is far denser than it actually is.


The natural mulch garden used a mixture of models from both my professional library with Ark Visuals, and the integrated Lumion library, and was relatively simple in presentation. There are some little steps that are taken here to help sell the realism of the environment, but I think they warrant their own post so I'll hold off on that for now!

Axel House, Lumion Clay and Final Render Composite by Ark Visuals

The mulch texture itself was created by me and applied to its designated area, before being blended in with the same texture using the terrain painter. The logs and grass models were used as both a design option and to hide the visible seam caused by the two different mulch textures. Surprisingly, this took several attempts to get their colour to match as the Lumion terrain painter and material editor interpret the texture maps differently. As a result this step was a little more difficult than I originally anticipated!


After populating the scene with the bigger elements, I moved on to layering the environment with various pieces of debris such as twigs, rocks, weeds etc to give that sense of depth that is found in real life grass.


Lumion - Render Settings

When it came to render settings, I used a custom style that I had created during one of my previous projects. This preset is based on the 'Overcast' style, but is heavily altered to bring us away from the overcast look and into a more 'sun-soaked' atmosphere.


Reducing the cloud amount, as well as the fog helps to clear up the skies and make room for the sun beams which really help build up the tones of the hero image. The sun was adjusted and to an appealing height and heading so that I was able to capture that "morning glow" as the sun baths the tree canopy in light.


I chose to de-saturate the scene quite a bit to create a more natural colour pallet in the environment and building materials. I then countered this with the vibrance slider to bring back some saturation in the areas that were being hit by the sun to help balance the colour contrast throughout the image.


From there I made some last minute adjustments to balance out some of the scene elements and find an angle that would matched the composition I was after.


If you're interested in the entire breakdown of scene settings and how I manipulate the preset styles, I'll be doing a deep dive on my process for both an interior, and an exterior shot which will move step by step through the entire Lumion portion of the project. Keep an eye out for that in the future!

Composition

Before starting this scene I decided to take a look through some source images of homes that were 'off the grid'. I noticed a recurring theme that I really enjoyed where by the buildings seemed almost trivial compared to their surroundings. This was a big contrast to suburban and city areas where nature is few and far between the thousands of buildings that line the streets. This theme is definitely what influenced this project and so I wanted to capture that essence in the composition of the scenes.


The 'hero' shot, shows this best, as the building is dwarfed by the surrounding pine forest. I selected a lower angle to emphasize this and give more scale to the natural areas around the building. I elected to show quite a bit of the foreground to help center the horizon line that was lifted quite a bit with the lower camera height. Admittedly, a crop here could have produced a nice wide screen effect however I really enjoyed how the grassy areas were looking and I think this added some visual interest to the image.


The remaining images put a little more focus onto the building itself, but I still made sure to include the environment as a big part of the design. I made use of the window reflections here to add some scale into the close shots of the building and continue the theme that the surrounding land is vast and extends far beyond the confines of the building.


Post Production

After rendering out the final images I then moved onto some post production. This focused pretty much entirely on colour grading to help pump up the saturation in the sunlight and add a little more warmth the image overall.

I later went on to composite in a separate render pass with flowers in front of the camera and blended these in. In essence this meant combining two of the rendered images to create the one you see above.


By the time I was finished with the post production there was quite the layer stack left behind in photoshop. I'll try to follow up with another post in the future to breakdown my usual process for working a Lumion image into Photoshop as It's a whole different beast to tame.


Finished!

This process was essentially repeated for the other images in the set to create some type of continuity. This was a fun project to work with as there were a lot of elements that went in to creating a detailed environment. I picked up quite a few skills that have transferred over to several project since which is always a great outcome.


Here are some of the finished images!


If you want to check out some of the other images I've created over at Ark Visuals you can find them here. I try to bring what I can over to The Lumion Collective to pick a part and learn from, however not everything makes it across.


Hopefully you enjoyed this and were able to learn a few things from the process. I'll have more to come in the future so be sure to keep an eye out for the next post!


Thanks!