‘Infinite Gallery’ – Blocking and Composition

Grads in Games Search for a star. Page 2: Blocking and Composition.

Blocking In Maya

The following posts will include my notes and screenshots development through each stage. My process and thoughts should be clear since I made notes as I went along.

Dimensional Accuracy

I will be using measuring tools to ensure that I can input as much architectural accuracy as possible, hence the floor plans I made. Namely the distance tool and universal manipulator. Maya unit dimensions should be set to cm, in Unreal I will make sure to do the same and then the measurements will line up correctly. 1 unit= the same unit in both software.

Figure 1. Measurements of human ref in Maya.

The modelling tool I will try first to create the curved stairs is with the bend tool.

How high should I make my staircase? Each step height is 25cm (rise) + 2cm (nosing) =27cm per step. Since I made the floor height at 2.7meters, then I have made this work perfects. 0.3 meters for the landing platform height.

The issue I had with the bend tool method was that I had to work out the length of the stairs when straight in order to be curved correctly. To find this length, I will attempt this method: π + D= Circumference.  Since I have already decided on the diameter, this will tell me the staircase circumference. Then I can half the number to get a semi-circle and I will use this for the inner stair area (the length of the straight staircase). So, my equation is π x 2.5 meters = 7.85 meters. Or in the current Maya units= 785cm.

I am attempting to loosely follow the method using this video. Making adjustments for my dimensions and intended style:

Figure 2.

I made my plane size W=785 x H=270 and subD W=10 and subD H=10.

Method I used:

  1. Make a plane of the correct height and width as your stairs from side view.
  2. Delete faces on top of stairs to make the stair shape.
  3. Delete faces underneath if applicable. Use multicast tool to create a sloping straight angle if desired.
  4. Extrude plane out to correct stair width from front view.
  5. Use bend deformer to curve the staircase.
Figure 3. Making dimensions for the stairs when straight.

After I set the appropriate height and width for the plane, I was unsure of how the subdivisions should be, though as you can see in figure 3, it doesn’t look correct at all. A single step is much too wide. According to my calculations the width subdivisions should be 10. It doesn’t seem to be matching up with the number of steps I have added. I modelled a single step to the correct dimensions in my notes to use as a stencil, a size reference. Then, used duplicate special and snapping to arrange them, like so:

Figure 4. Duplicating the stencil step.

The result was 36 steps. I decided to test out curving the stairs with this many steps, considering that I did originally was a wide central circle (where the infinity mirror is), so this many steps may be reasonable. Though, the height seems correct:

Figure 5. Step height

Which doesn’t make sense since there are too many steps for my ideal height. Even though they were too thick before I measured out the single step. So, my next thought is that the original number of divisions (10 x 10) was correct, and the stair mesh may fit into the correct width when curved. After all, when I apply the bend deformer, then the step will change shape slightly.

I made a quick reference for the inner part dimensions, so that I could check once the stairs were curved if it worked correctly. See figure 6.

Figure 6. Room stencil of inner stair area.

In figure 6 the oval walls represent the inner stair area, not the outer room wall. This way I can test the stairs I are by bending them around this model. So, now I will try the wide step division stairs out. First I made this shape by deleting faces of the under stair area and using the multi-cut tool to produce a flat, sloping bottom. I have added the bend deformer at 90 degrees curvature, but as you can see, the steps are too long.

Figure 7. First bend deformer test.

If I apply the supposed correct number of divisions then this happens. I cannot go up further unless I elongate the height. I do not really want to remeasure everything just to elongate this to work. So I think I will just keep the deep steps from the image above. I must be doing something wrong in my calculations.

Figure 8. Subdivided plane into correct width and height of the stairs.

As you can see in figure 8, the correct stair dimensions do not match the stair height. I must conclude that I cannot have the number of steps I want with the floor height that I have chosen. There just isn’t enough step depth, so the stairs would be too short for the distance I want to cover. They would not fill the whole 180 degree/ semi-circle space I want to fill.

In spite of the issues so far, I attempted another method. I can use the single step stencils I made, that have the accurate dimensions, and move them into a curved position with duplicate special. The difference between the two methods would be the resulting appearance. Whether the steps curved into triangles with the spiral shape or if they were block rectangles positioned in a spiral shape. I can decide later which I prefer.

I checked with this scale reference that represents the inner area (everything excluding the stair area). As you can see in figure 9 the stairs are too big for the area that it needs to fit around. And I cannot just rescale it since that would change the shape of the stairs. I am not sure now to figure out the distance I should make the straight stairs before I bend them.

Figure 9. Do the stairs match up with the inner stair size reference model?
Figure 10. Measurements of inner stair distance.

I realised my problem. That the stair width is actually delegated by the stair height, since the number of steps that the space is limited to is determined by each step height + number of steps until they reach the next floor height. On top of that, another problem was that I made my stencil step in the wrong dimensions.

I received feedback that I should try to make the stairs circular instead of oval, as I had originally intended. The shape would include a circular platform shape as well. I will try to work this out and see if I can make it work. In response to this feedback, I attempted to create a circle shaped staircase. Without the rectangle platform in the middle, instead one that continues the curved shape. I believe that I should use the duplicate method from here, to ensure faster workflow. Additionally, I rethought the dimensions of the mirror and inner stair area:

Mirror= 200cm

Inner stair= 250cm

Stair width= 110cm

I started by creating floor platforms, blocking out shapes other than the stairs first. Since, after modelling them I may change their size. It makes sense to decide on the size of the main structure before adding the stairs. At least now I have tested the stair model method.

Figure 11. Main structure, from ground floor to first floor.
Figure 12. Fig 11 from top view.

The smallest circle is the infinity mirror, which I think is rather small aesthetically. Whereas the stair width looks inaccurately too small in terms of dimensions. I have solved why this is, I was working out the diameter of the mirror and inner stair area but only adding the radius of the stair width. Since, in my stair dimension plan (in previous blog page), I took note of the stair width only on one side and now forgot to account for the other.

Figure 13. Stair width correction.

The correct equation to get the full diameter (up until the stair area) is:

Mirror diameter + inner stair diameter + (single stair width x 2) = full diameter of room circle.

200cm + 50cm + (110cm x 2) = 470cm

Figure 14. Stair width correction top view.
Figure 15. All platforms made with doors.
Figure 15. Platform area.

This area would theoretically be the space for the landing platform. Though I will see how much space I require for the stairs and platform, to fill the whole circle space. Form here on out, I will be using the faces on this cylindrical landing platform model as references for how large the landing is, and where the stairs will start from.

Figure 16. Adding stairs with duplicate special.

I tried a few times to adjust the step tread width. One reason for this was since the tread width of curved stairs like this seem too short. For another reason, because the stairs do not reach far enough as I wished To fill almost the whole semi circle space. If we use the faces in the platform spaces as reference, then it looks like this:

Figure 17. Top view stair step coverage.

It only fills 5 faces of the cylinder and I would want it to fill more. However a solution for this would be to extend the platform, however because it is an off number the platform would have to be 5 faces wide, see fig 18.. Which is not symmetrical/ repeatable for the other side and the next staircase for the next floor. This is something I wish for, to make sure that the staircase is a reportable asset.

Figure 18. Working out the planning platform spaces, by highlighting faces on the platform cylinder block model.

This is a little strange, I cannot use the stairs as they are now if the platform must me unsymmetrical to fit it in. To solve this, I will readjust the ‘tread width’ of the stairs and repeat the duplicate special action. making this adjustment to the step dimensions should not be a big problem, I can get away with that small detail since the stairs are curved, it makes sense if they would be a little wider. I will also reposition the stairs starting point, so that landing platform has four face segments instead of two Obviously the stairs will not cover much space, and the landing will need to be bigger, unfortunately.

After my second try I have worked out that adding 2cm to the initial ‘run’ of the single step adds about half of one of the landing platform face segments. Here is the result of the next adjustment:

Figure 19. Adjusted individual step tread width for longer stair coverage.

With this model, I have reached even closer to an acceptable outcome. I will do it one more time though, so that the last step can meet the edge of the platform face. That way I can make the asset symmetrical on both sides. New dimensions are: tread width= 28, run= 26.

From the edge of the run (not including the nosing- in the inner stair point) the translations with duplicate special were= TY= -18, RY= -6.3. I am keeping a record of these in case I want to redo the stairs or handrail spindles later on.

Figure 20. The result, with the stairs reaching to the same platform distances either side.
Figure 21. Wireframe view.

I duplicated the staircase and snapped the model into the same position for the next floor to check. Now, I have a. repeatable asset for the ground to first floor and first to second floor. I simple have to: TY= 300 (3 meters to the next floor) and RY=180 degrees. I maintained the centre pivot in the centre of the room/ grid for most assets, this made moving and duplicating assets into positions very quick and easy.

Figure 22. Added repeatable assets into environment so far.

At this stage I am finished with the stairs. Next is the landing platform.

To create the landing platform inner circle hole I thought about adding edge loops to the shape I already have, then deleing faces in the cylinder that I do not need. Though after I realised that I can’t do that without deleting, extruding and multi-cutting the top of the cylinder faces so that there aren’t too many faces in one place. A better method is using booleon with the cylinders I have already created, which are already the perfect dimensions. Then, using target weld to fix the rogue vertices. See figure 23.

Figure 23. Creating boolean hole.

I used operation>difference to produce this result.

Figure 24. Creating boolean hole.

I am considering the need for a room outside of the staircase. Originally I would not have one, however, I may need more space when capturing the renders. Otherwise, I cannot have any wide establishing shots, only close ups of details. Relying on high and low angles that barely show the structure as a whole perspective, and only on the inside. Although that will mean more work for me since I may have to fill the room. For now, I will not change the composition in relation to this, and see how it feels in Unreal. I must find a solution to this issue by the end of the blocking phase, with some screenshots made of potential rendered angles. The preliminary lighting in Unreal will also help me to determine how I should appropriate my camera angles.

Furthermore, based on feedback I received, I am considering changing the infinity mirror size so that it covers the whole floor. This way it will save me time on floor and ceiling assets, and most importantly, the main feature will get the spot light of the scene. Also, there will be enough viewing room to properly appreciate the reflection inside the mirror.

Figure 25. Progress so far and composition changes can be seen.

Another idea – I could theoretically make the walls out of glass (with dirt, dust and hinger prints on it). That way I would not need to worry about creating a surrounding room that the stairs are in and this will get a better camera shot. I believe that with the size that I have made the stair case, this should be enough to see from the outside. Also, I would need some sort of lighting to show the outside, whether that is a Skydome (I think not) or spotlights to gently illuminate it. It would mostly be lit from the inside though. Perhaps a low lit night scene would be most appropriate to appreciate the scene, and most impactful. The glass wall idea originated from the Geissier tube ides, especially the glass dirt surface quality that I wanted to achieve.

However, if I used this idea, the doorways would not fit with the walls. I would need to somehow fit doorways into a glass wall. Additionally, there would need to be additional supports for the mains structure somehow. Not to mention that I need to consider whether I will smooth all of the models so far to be perfect circles, or leave them with intensionally low subdivisions, like in the blocking models.

Test camera angles

As I suspected, my maximum camera space within the this space is extremely limited. Most of these shots were taken as close as I could get to the wall. I would prefer to have more room to take the final camera angles from. During this process, the issues I faced incited me to produce large exhibition pieces on most of the open walls, to fill the space. Just to clarify, although I added my exhibition drawings and plans on the previous blog post, I actually thought this though and planned the exhibition pieces now. With these types of forms, I can be more freely creative with how the model looks. Additionally, this will emphasise the purpose of the environment.

Next – Handrails

I used a helix mesh to create handrail spiral form.

Figure 30. Helix handrail.
Figure 31.Helix handrail.

The helix polygon tool required a 180-degree curve as the minimum, though my stairs do not cover the full 180 half circle. Coil= 0.5 minimum value. Therefore, I created the shape and position to match and then adjusted the distance by deleting unnecessary faces not the ends. 

I had a little trouble with the ends of the hand rail. I placed a box as a height marker on all of the stair end blocks (where the banister ends would be connected to). Then adjusted each handrail to join at the same height. Although the handrail on the ground floor was a little tricky, since the end block should logically be beside the stairs instead of in front of the stairs. As it should be for the second floor. I though about curving the handrail at the end, to fit in the correct position. The height of the block was another reason for me to do this, at least I wanted to try out the method to see which way of connecting the two models would be best.

See figure 32 for what I mean, I could not curve it directly onto the side labelled no. 1. As there wasn’t enough room. The curve would not have had enough space to look pretty.

Figure 32. Making curved handrail.

So, instead, as I have seen through my secondary references, I deicide to curve the handrail around to the front of the stair block. To do so, I used the bridge edge tool repeatedly, by arranging and determining the path with faces in figure 32, on side no.2. Of course, I could have used the CV curve tool, but this is faster than having to plot the points on each of the axis. And this way I can control the topology of the vertical edges more accurately with this method.

I just need to combine all of the objects, bridge them one by one and delete the end face before bridging a connection to the next one. Also in this method, I find it easier to control the twist and rotation of the pieces, since I predetermined the path.

Figure 33. Finished curved handrail.

For the block out at least I will make the shapes simple, so all I did to edit the handrail was select all of the lowest vertices and lift them up slightly. This produced a flat edge to the bottom. See figure 34.

Figure 34. Flat bottom handrail.

On second thought, I realised that if I want to make the stair asset repeatable there is a problem. If I use this curved banister end then the stair end block on the first floor would have to be in the same position as the ground floor, which wouldn’t work. The first floor block at the bottom of the stairs must be in the same position as the one at the top of the stairs for that asset. Therefore, I cannot use the curved banister but in fact must try to match the bottom and top block positions. They must fit on the ground floor and on the landing to be repeatable – usable in all circumstances. In conclusion, I need to find middle ground in the positioning. Like this, in figure 35:

Figure 35. Handrail done without curving the end.

The ground floor stair block is slightly in front of the stairs, but that will have to do for now. I will check later if this is truly acceptable which the blocking is finished. Here I have duplicated the asset repeatedly and moved it to the next floor to check if it is usable and it is.

Figure 36. Making landing spindles.

Next for the landing railing spindles, I ensured the same distances were maintained as on the stairs. The method I used was to duplicate a single step which already had the spindles attached. Then, I moved a single spindle into position on the end, at the correct height, and calculated the correct distance and angle to use for duplicate special. See figure 36.

Figure 37. Spindles made with duplicate special.

Duplicate special: RY=-4.44. For the result, see figure 37 and 38. As you can see, all of the railings are in the perfect position.

Figure 38. Spindles made with duplicate special.

To made the handrail of the landing I used a torus mesh. The exact size and shape does not matter at the moment since this is only the blocking stage, though I believe I achieved accurate dimensions in relation to the stair handrail mesh.

Figure 39. Landing handrail with torus.
Figure 40. All handrails done.

Next – Stair Side Blocks

The next step

To make the side panels of the stairs, I used duplicate special to add one block to each stair. This creates the correct shape and angle of each step area.

Figure 41. Side panels.

My intention was to merge these blocks into one straight line that would cover the side of the stairs. Though this method proved harder than I originally thought. There would be much tweaking needed. Another method would be to use the CV curve tool, starting with a long rectangle face and extruding along a path.

Figure 42. Side panel CV curve tool.
Figure 43. Side panel CV curve tool.

However, I found too much unwanted twisting in this method that I could not use it.

I even tried using the lattice deformer to create the shape, although this was an unlikely solution.

Figure 44. lattice deformer.

Next, I decided to try bridging correctly positioned faces, just as I did with the curved handrail end. To complete this method, I used the cubes from earlier, deleting all faces apart from one. See figure 45.

Figure 45.

So that I reuse something I already have, instead of manually repositioning the faces. I double check to make sure it fits with the landing and the duplicate staircase. See figure 46

Figure 45.

When using the bridging tool, I came across some issues. The faces twisted and connected incorrectly. Inside the bridge tool settings, I tested if I could fix it. Such as using the ‘Twist’ value or the others setting values. the issue was most likely caused since the target faces are flipped backwards. After much testing out different methods, I found that extruding the edges and target welding them onto the next face worked.

Figure 48. Finished with the side panels.

To make the underside of the stairs I repeated the process. This time I made it faster by creating these shapes:

Figure 49. Modelling stair underside.

If I recall correctly, they are simply duplicates of the stairs that are repositioned to be under the stairs or made from scratch using duplicate special. I target welded one side the next, this made it much faster since I extruded and deleted unnecessary faces all at once before moving onto the target weld part.

Figure 50. Modelling stair underside – done.
Figure 51. Skirting board.

Considering that I may make the walls out of glass, I made sure that the bottom and top of the skirting board fit well. I left out the skirting board along the landing where the door is since it would be easier to make a repeatable asset that way. I will test if that works or if I need to put a separate skirting board around the doorway area. I made the skirting board very quickly using the inner stair side panel mesh.

Next – Lighting

Although the stair lights are a small detail, I will make simple models provide position references for when I make the preliminary lighting tests. I used the ref board images to design and model this. Dimensions:

  • 17 cm tall (roughly 3cm+12cm_2cm in frame height between light).
  • 4cm side (2cm light).
Figure 54. Single stair light model.

Next – Support Beam Structure

I must design and figure out how the structure will be supported, since the walls are made of glass.

Figure 55. Support beam – how to design?

In figure 55, you can see how I thought about supporting the landing platforms with diagonal beams that would connect to the outside space. I quite liked this idea for its originality, though the end result would look strange to have so many beams sticking out of the structure – impractical.

I gathering some image reference and feedback to provide me with another perspective. Reluctantly, for the sake of logical architecture, I settled on full length vertical beams in the landing platform areas. They way the ceiling mirror can be properly supported also.

I deliberated on their positioning, see figure 56-59.

Figure 56. Support beam – placement.

In the middle of the platform faces?

Figure 57. Support beam – placement.

Less beams?

Figure 58. Support beam – placement.
Figure 59. Support beam – placement.

Feedback on the topic of placement told me that I should have the beams in-between the glass panels. On the edges of the landing platform faces, instead of the middle. That is because I decided to not smooth the walls more than I have now. Therefore, each face would be a panel of glass. For this purpose, I should also move the doorway in to a single panel instead of in the middle of two. At least this way the doorways will be less symmetrical (not directly in the centre of the landing). Then for the doorway, I will simply add a single beam on top of the door. The main beams will be placed in beside the door, so I won’t need to add more there. Then I can have right angle beams under the landings. That all should suffice.

Figure 60. Support beam – placement done.
Figure 60. Support beam – placement done.

Next – Exhibition Pieces – reference planes for both

I will directly use my hand drawn sketches as a texture on a curved plane (fitting with the wall) as reference for these models:

Figure 61. Exhibition – Branches.
Figure 62. Exhibition – Branches.

I will start off with the ‘Twist’ exhibition piece.

Figure 63. Exhibition – Twist (AKA onion).
Figure 64. Exhibition – Twist (AKA onion).
Figure 65. Stencil.


This way I can apply the shape to a curved plane in Maya and use it to create my CV curves from.

I used sculpting on a duplicated and smoothed mesh with the reference image. With this implemented, I can move the CV curve points to predetermined places, using this stencil for increased speed and efficiency. It is not neat but is enough to see the necessary curve thickness and shape.

Figure 66. CV curve tool.
Figure 66. Testing twist deformer.
Figure 67. Testing twist deformer.

The twist deformer won’t work with this form, which I realised too late. Initially, I thought I would be able to twist the shape from the extrude, though I could not find the driven value control. After some research I found that it may be possible when extruding multiple faces, like with rope. On second thought I found the twist control in the channel box additional settings. I can do it normally now. I just need to extrude all of the curves again.

Number of divisions in the extrude: 50. Twist value of: 500, 800, 1000, 1500.

Figure 68. Twist amounts

I initially intended for the twist to be quite strong and visible, however, that would require many more divisions. So, I thought that at this level of divisions, about 1000 would suffice. Though after giving it some thought and taking advice from feedback, I decided on the 500 twist value. Since, it has the smoothest silhouette at low poly. I made this version for test out the process and final look.

Figure 69. Version used for blocking.
Figure 67. Higher poly vision – for final look.

This model could count as the low poly but perhaps could even be used for the final poly count. I will later see if it is necessary to add supporting loops. but, most importantly, the twist amount determines the subdivision level. For efficiency and low poly count, I believe this model will be suitable.

To quickly make simple supports for the structure, where it connects with the glass, I made cubes the correct size and elongated them into spoke shapes from the centre of the grid/room. With this strategy, I can create cubes that align with the curvature of the wall. Then, by positioning. the Y-height and RX-rotation, I can position them correctly to fit the curve of the exhibition décor and I can add edge loops at the correct distances to fit between the wall and the structure. Like this:

Figure 68. Creating supports for the twist shape.
Figure 69. Creating supports for the twist shape.

Next – ‘Branch’ Exhibition Piece

Figure 70. Multi cut tool on top of stencil duplicate.

I used the multi cut tool directly onto a duplicate of the stencil. This will make the process extremely quick and easy. Since, all I have to do is arrange the right shape that I want, delete faces that I do not want and then extrude the remaining faces. With this method, I already have the exact curve of the wall, which the décor will follow. And I do not have to worry about CV tools and their path. As you can see, I can also alter the multi cut tool path as I go on top of the reference image to create a more dynamic shape in the space than my quick layout drawing.

While looking at this, I thought that the cinematic shots in Unreal would look better if the smaller branches were close, in direction, to the main branch. That was it will seem more like the branches are following a path, and lighting in certain directions. There was only one issue with this method that I found. That I cannot close the loop in the middle of a face, although I can have vertices in the middle of faces anywhere other than the close of the loop. See below for the closes. I will just delete some the unnecessary faces later.

Figure 71. Can’t close multi cut loop in the middle of a face.

To reposition all of the triangle lights onto the ends of the branches, I used an extra cube with the triangle shape that can be used as a snapping to the correct vertices tool. And deleted later, see below for image. With this snapping method, all of the triangle lights will be in the same position on the branch ends. See fig are 72.

Figure 72. Triangle light snapping cube.

On another note, if I add edge loops to where the branches attach to each other, then I can save time on fixing edge loops when I extrude. See figure 73 and 74.

Figure 73. Places to add edge loops to before extruding.
Figure 74. Places to add edge loops to before extruding.
Figure 75. Deleted unnecessary faces around branches.
Figure 76. Scaling in the branch ends.

Se figure 76, I scaled down the branch ends and neatened up any branch sizes.

Another method I could have used to create this exhibition piece is the wrap deformer but I believe that there would be a stretching issue of the initial form. The method I used worked perfectly fine and I am happy with the result. I will leave it like this for the blocking stage and work on it more later in the high poly modelling stage.

Next – Final Touches

I though about how the bottom of the stairs would interact with the mirror, since I will try to recreate the realistic infinity mirror structure (made in real life). This will include a layer of glass before you see the mirror, therefore the stairs need some sort of platform to stand in, they can’t be placed on the glass directly. See figure 77. However, I will consider how this all should work when I place it into Unreal Engine and deliberate on the composition.

Figure 77. Ground floor under stair block.

Figure 78 shows the before and after of the composition, from the circle shaped stairs onwards. Changes made include size changes of the initial room, and the infinity mirror. Also, the glass walls and support structure.

Figure 78. Composition before and after.

Next I will move the blocking assets into Unreal Engine to add preliminary lighting. This will help me to think about lighting and composition changes that need to be made, as well as props additions. I added a quick cube mesh here and there to represent a bench of some sort.

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