Having defined the basic concept, I started drawing neuron-branches on varying levels in such a way that they would not obey to conventional logic and disregard the laws of nature. I composed these forms in a variety of ways, starting with a base and creating complexes of intertwined branches as I moved upwards. However, I avoided making them too dense, because I wanted to preserve a bit of the misty horizon in the background.
Having completed the draft drawing, I had all the basic elements that I needed for the final concept design. I started by preparing a cloudy sunset, deciding on the color palette I would use for the final render. I then created a huge planetary disk, masked it, and placed it right behind the masses of cloud, so that it would be quite dim.
I then created blurred neuron shapes on four different layers, increasing the amount of detail as I worked with the front layers. The third layer that lies just behind the front layer was the one into which I built the detail of the elements that composed the organic material of the neurons. I applied an embossed plasticity to it, so that it would not look like stone and added pores and glands, drawing stylistically from photos of galaxies that I've seen in the past.
Throughout this process, I worked on each of the neuron shapes in such a way that they would form a desirable profile in a landscape composition. I also used a larger gland to evoke the impression of an eyeball, adding to the overall effect of the composition. While creating all these pores, I had the notion of incorporating a ‘hidden’ face in the texture map, as well. So, I shaped the lines and pores like faces which helped bring the scene ‘alive’.
I darkened the tones in the front layer, as I wanted to place more emphasis on what lay behind. The shape of this layer was meant to create an arch–like element to frame the subject. I also added a few tentacles for additional detail.
Detail from colored concept sketch
Modeling and Texturing
The approach I took to model this concept was to create the clusters of neurons with low-poly geometrical objects. I used multiple extrusions, or extruded along paths for additional geometry and added more detail to the neurons manually. During this process I smoothed the mesh a few times, getting new, smaller faces and extruded these also.
When each polygon object had sufficient detail I used sculpture tools to deform it to contain complexity, and distorted the original symmetry of the model. I also tried to combine a few elements from different layers in the concept design to get a better result for the composition in 3D.
I generated a texture map from two or three different reference materials in different layers in the concept design. By combining these materials, I managed to create a skin-like texture with cuts and scars all over the texture map and an acceptably realistic result. I then started drawing in a new layer over the combination texture, adding veins and holes that looked like faces, using the property bevels of the layer. I made three different textures in the same manner to cater to the needs of my scene.
The UV mapping procedure was really quite a nightmare given the deadline I had for the challenge. The most efficient way to undertake this process was to use different UV projections from camera views and create different UV sets for the areas where the texture didn't have a correct projection.
The 3D mesh for Mnemonia was modeled in Maya