Picture Real-Life, Only Better

Power Artist Eugenio Garcia Villareal creates stunning visuals from deep in the heart of Mexico

Posted: Tue 12 Mar 2013

If you read 3D magazines and frequent online galleries, you’ve undoubtedly seen the work of 3D Artist Eugenio Garcia Villarreal. While he’s a relative newcomer to the industry, he’s prolific in the creation of environmental 3D stills and generously shares his techniques and workflow with other LightWave artists in the global community.

Based in Monterrey, Mexico—a media rich industrial center in the northeastern province of Nuevo Leon—Villarreal is self-taught and self-made. In 2005, he began honing his craft through online tutorials and investing considerable creative energy in 3D modeling as a hobby. He has since parlayed his love of 3D environmental stills into a professional career that he loves by co-founding an agency called D10 Studio with a group of fellow artists, animators, designers, and programmers.

D10 Studio—a name he says was inspired by a famous Argentinean soccer player—regularly perform a wide range of creative services, including broadcast design, 3D animation, motion graphics, and interactive media, for television commercials produced by advertising agencies throughout Mexico, Latin America, and Miami, as well as print, television, and other media outlets.

“Clients like to use beautifully crafted 3D environments as backdrops for their talent or products in commercials, marketing, Web videos, and illustrations. Compared to finding and using real-world settings or actually building physical sets, the 3D environment lets them easily control all the creative parameters within the scene as well as hold the line on costs,” said Garcia Villarreal.

For an archaeology book by Mayo Moller, featuring Mayan pyramids that is still in production, Garcia Villarreal is creating 3D illustrations that go beyond what photographs can illustrate. Using LightWave 3D as his primary software tool, he’s creating 3D environmental stills that accurately portray the way the Mayan pyramids looked at the peak of their luster, before time eroded their surfaces and faded their colors.

While LightWave 3D is his preferred and primary 3D animation system, he often supplements it with software such as Photoshop for color correction, particle effects, and other postproduction finishing. He also uses a few trusted LightWave plugins, such as the fprime render engine from Worley Laboratories, which offers interactive tools for lighting, shadows, radiosity, and textures. Since he does not do 3D animation, most of his LightWave work takes place within Modeler, where he models objects that will be featured in his 3D environments. He then moves to LightWave’s Layout where he experiments with 3D camera angles, shot composition, and all types of lighting prior to rendering out the finished image.

A showcase of his 3D environments displays how diverse his creative vision can be in terms of subject matter, mood, lighting, contrast, and overall inspiration. The 3D stills and spaces he creates are not only painstakingly detailed and photorealistic, they are in some cases hyper-real.

“Most of the stills I do are inspired by things I see in nature, movies, and places,” Garcia Villarreal said. “I try to manipulate lighting to create nice contrasts, moods, and atmosphere.”

An image called Guanajuato Alley (above), inspired by his visit to a quaint old Colonial city in Mexico, is a good example of his approach to 3D modeling. The project, which took five days to complete, also involved extensive research about the architecture, buildings, tunnels, alleyways, and other characteristics of this special locale.

“For the modeling, I created some ‘primitives,’ and did a rough sketch with primitives, one per layer, which ultimately formed the buildings and floors. Next I refined the buildings by using basic LightWave modeling tools like band saw for making geometry, knife, edge bevel, magic bevel, smooth shift, and others to make my models detailed and believable,” Garcia Villarreal said.

While his 3D still environments are varied and distinctive, he generally follows the same highly efficient workflow. It typically begins by referring to photographs he’s taken while visiting interesting or exotic places or found by searching online. In many cases, he also creates 2D sketches to flesh-out his creative concept, and then bases his 3D modeling upon these photos and/or sketches.

In most instances, he uses box modeling, basic cylinders, spline guides, UV maps, and other simple, basic modeling tools to get the elements of his scenes started just right. Wherever practical, he saves modeling time by using existing 3D models, such as plants from 3Dplants.com, as well as elements like rich textures, gravel, and skies available from online 3D stock footage libraries so he doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time he needs to put something into one of his 3D stills.

For a 3D environment called “Desert Gas Station,”  (above) an image inspired by the roadside gas stations in old westerns and B-movies, Garcia Villarreal created the gas station with basic box modeling and then used tools like multishift, bevel, knife, and band saw to cut openings for windows and doors. He then built the scene up layer by layer by adding 3D objects like gas pumps and potted cacti, and embellished it with area and point lighting. However, he searched for and imported a mountain scene from CGtextures, as well as sunset skies from another online library, which he composited into the background. He used displacement maps to add gravel and stones—also 3D objects obtained online—to make the ground look uneven. To achieve a hot, desert look and feel, he used Photoshop color correction to give the overall scene the bright, orange glow of sunset.

For Detective’s Office (above), a work commissioned in 2011 as a step-by-step 3D tutorial for 3D Artist Magazine, Garcia Villarreal needed to create a vintage detective’s office. After researching online photos of 1940’s detective offices and creating a variety of sketches, he used these visual references to establish his basic LightWave 3D modeling setup, including historically accurate materials and textures to apply to objects in the scene. In Layout, he manipulated the natural light pouring through the office blinds, and the realistic way they reflected off surfaces and cast shadows and illuminated this retro setting to give it a moody, mysterious feel.

“I like to alter the volume and quality of the light, using area lights, global illumination and other lighting and shading tools that produce soft shadows, sharp contrasts, or any other mood I need. Once you’re proficient at using LightWave, you can create any object or environment you may want,” Garcia Villarreal said. “For radiosity, I use [fprime’s] Montecarlo radiosity, and then frequently check my lighting work in LightWave’s Viewport Renderer (VPR) before rendering. The VPR is great. It’s always nice to see your creation before pressing the F9 key.”

“I use my main computer, as well as LightWave’s native rendering engine, for most of the rendering, since my work doesn’t involve a lot of animation,” Garcia Villarreal said. “I like the way the render engine gets faster in every new version of LightWave.”

For 3D artists and animators just starting out, Garcia Villarreal says to read the manuals, look at online tutorials, and learn keyboard shortcuts that make the job go faster.

“Don’t be afraid to be adventurous and experiment with all the tools to learn something new,” he said.