I wanted it to be obvious, just by looking at the scene, that these creatures are living in harmony with their environment. It was important to me that this theme be evident. I have always been fascinated by worlds where the habitations and forms of conveyance are alive, and semi-organic. This is why I chose a jellyfish as my modeling reference. I needed a primitive organism from whose shape I could create an alien dwelling. I also liked the idea of using a jellyfish as a visual reference because it introduced a paradox: a marine animal floating in the air, meters away from the sea!
In modeling the ‘jellyfish’, I exaggerated the length of the tentacles and added a long digestive tract to show they could still reach for food in the water. I added an exoskeleton, supposedly created by the alien creatures, in order for them to maintain the translucent vault of their habitation. To me, this enhancement suggested the alien creatures are capable of moving as aircrafts or flying animals. I created everything using MetaNURBS to help the structure appear organic and complete in itself, as if it was alive.
To illuminate the scene, I chose a natural and realistic lighting similar to what we experience on earth, as I wanted the scene to maintain a sense of credibility. Although it is very bright, as if this place is closer to the sun, I wanted to have a yellowish image regardless. This dominant coloring could even suggest that there are two suns nearby or that the atmosphere is such that light of higher frequencies – the greens, blues and purples – are heavily filtered.
Later, after many different light and texture tests (since I always work on both processes at the same time), I decided to create a contrasted image with a bright foreground fading to darkness in the distance. I did some tests with radiosity but decided not to use it, as I didn't want to use this technique solely for its effect. Instead I used a single area light and some distant lights for a fast and controlled result.
With the lighting and model I had created, I felt it was important to avoid creating a ‘wet and brilliant’ look, with too many reflections and ray tracing as if it was a wet plastic balloon. Keeping in mind I wanted it to be more organic, I used real textures for the bumps. For example I used pictures of a rhinoceros skin – taken at a taxidermist – in building the texture for the main membrane and added a veined bump to create a ‘vessel skin’ illusion.
For the lower parts of the alien forms I used a lot of translucence and red, purple and yellow colored mapping, much like a human digestive apparatus. The result had to be very organic, maybe a little disgusting, so this was what worked!
Jellyfish model, created with MetaNURB
Untextured jellyfish models
Clouds test with DFX Nature tool (no color correction) sample (left);
Sky tracer background sample (right)