Worfklow: Creating an ode to HER

By Design Visualization Team - 17 May, 2017 - 3ds Max

Guest workflow by Mateusz Adamski, a 3D artist living in Denmark.

After finishing my animated short "Home" a year ago, I began feeling the itch to get a new project going. As a workaholic who lives and breathes 3D, I began thinking about what's next. I'm a big fan of Scandinavian architecture and style, so I decided to go in this direction as I had with Home, but with a new twist.

Life after Home

With most images you see online looking like perfectly styled apartments by interior designers, I wanted to show that this is not how most people live. Creating a "lived-in" look and feel is a must for me, though I wanted to take it a step further and style an apartment as I would do it or like someone who doesn’t know a lot about interior design. I aimed for objects that most people could afford - this is where Ikea comes in! Its furniture looks good and, most importantly, it's affordable so it fit perfectly into my scene.

I wanted the animation to tell a story - I didn’t want to make just another arch-viz fly-through animation again, as I had with Home.

From the very beginning, I wanted my girlfriend Ania to be a part of my short. I decided to dedicate this project to her for being the best girlfriend in the world and being very supportive of what I’m doing.

I'm a very meticulous person; everything I do has to be perfect, and this doesn’t come easy. I spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect apartment and style before I was satisfied with the look. Long story short, I modeled a few different apartments before I was happy, and this is one of the reasons why the project took this long to finish!

These are some early test renders from the very first apartment I made:

This is from one of the later apartments where I tested different camera angles, styling and materials.


In every new project I take on, I try to push myself to do something better than before, and HER was no exception. This was the most complicated and time-consuming project I've ever created and a major reason was due to the modeling. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do in the beginning, I knew one thing for sure: everything in this project had to be made 100% by me, so no premade models were used in this project. I'm still unsure how many models I created, but I'm fairly confident I wouldn't be lying if I said more than 100. Lots of the models even went unused, since I changed the project so many times.

Overview of some of the models I created:

I know what you're thinking - why waste so much time creating models when you can buy great models online? My personal motto: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time,” and if you can learn something new from it, that’s even better. One of my goals with this project was improving my modeling and texturing/shading skills, so I was more than willing to put in the time.

Here are a few viewport images of the finished apartment:

An overview of the interior models:

My main modeling tool was 3ds Max, and I used Zbrush for some retopology/decimation and unwrapping, and Marvelous designer for things like pillows, blankets, etc.

One of the fun things about modeling was that I actually bought some of the objects in "real” life as a reference, so I could model them as accurately as possible. I ended up buying a wooden plane, two Lego sets, an olive tree, the Polaroid camera, and a few other things.

Some objects in scene proved to be too time-consuming or complex to model by hand, so I used Agisoft Photoscan to create the shoes, the croissant, and bread.

I had never done photoscanning before, so I didn’t have the equipment necessary aside from a camera. I got crafty: my brother had some studio lamps, IKEA had a rotating wooden board, and I was in business!


I used standard Vray materials together with Substance Painter, which I used to create black and white masks, later used as a blend mask for V-Ray Blend Material. I treated every model as a separate small project, and used Multi/Sub-Object materials with material IDs so that everything was perfectly organized.

About 95% of the scene objects had some amount of scratches/trace of use/fingerprints, etc., so nothing looked brand new.

It may look like it’s a lot, but when used in small amounts, it can give pretty good results.


At an early stage of the project, I wanted to use some nice cloudy HDRI, but couldn’t get my desired result. I changed it to a V-Ray Sky + V-Ray Sun with light portals in windows. After a few months of tweaking, I accidentally discovered that I forgot to turn on the sun and the only light source was the V-Ray Sky, so it stayed that way till the end. Sometimes mistakes can be a good thing.


I used V-Ray (version 3.55.01) with Brute Force and Light Cache. I did not use any special settings or tricks, simply (almost) standard settings. Because of the awesome (unchecked) “use local subdivs” option, I did not have to think about material/light subdivisions. With V-Ray doing a good deal of the calculating, I was able to spend less time on that and more time on the materials and story.

I had to play with the Burn Value in Color mapping to avoid too many overly bright areas.

Something worth mentioning is the depth of field, since it’s rendered out directly from the V-Ray camera. I was planning to DOF it later in the post-production process, but someone (thank you, Anders) changed my mind. I was a bit skeptical at first, mainly because I wouldn’t be able to change anything later, but from now on, I will always render directly from the V-Ray camera. Not only does it render a little bit faster, but the quality of it is way better, and I don't think a zdepth pass can compare.

What's the story?

Now a little bit about my favorite part about this project: the story. HER is so much more than a project about a Scandinavian apartment - I think it's a very poetic project. I tried to design the story in such a way so that everyone can interpret it differently. Besides the main story that I think is evident, there are a lot of “Easter eggs”, symbols and connections, between objects and Polaroid photos placed in different parts of the apartment. Most of the objects are not random assets meant to simply fill the apartment - they actually represent and mean something for my girlfriend and me.

As an example, the Polaroid photos show some of our memories/time spent together.

The ticking clock at the beginning and the end represents time passing as we're together. In the very last shot of the movie, four lights turn on, representing our four years spent together.

If you look closely, there is even a message for Ania hidden somewhere in there (see if you can find it!) Even the title I chose has two different meanings: HER, as the animation is about her (my girlfriend), but in Danish, it also means “here” as in “here with you”.

I'm hoping everyone who watches will interpret it in their own way.

Post production

There isn't much to say about the post production, because… there isn't a lot of it! I tried to get as much as I could out of V-Ray to avoid doing a lot in After Effects later on. I'm pretty happy about how the raw renders turned out.

The only things I corrected later were contrast/saturation, minor color corrections, I added a vignette, and small glow.

Here's a breakdown of a few shots:

A year well spent

As I've said before, HER was the most complicated and time-consuming project I have ever worked on. I learned a lot, had a lot of fun doing it, and I don’t regret any of the time I spent on it.

Software used: Autodesk 3ds Max 2016, VRay 3.55.01, Zbrush 4R6, Marvelous Designer 5, Substance Painter 2, Agisoft Photoscan, Quixel Suite, Phoenix FD 3.0, Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe After Effects CC 2015, Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Mateusz is our AREA Artist of the month for May 2017. Be sure to check out Mateusz' work here or follow him on Facebook.

  • 3ds Max
  • Film & VFX
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