Hey everyone! this is probably gonna be my submission to blenderguru video game competition. I’m putting it to wips, because I’m still open to suggestions, tho PLEASE HAVE IN MIND that the only way I can change this now is either via blender compositor or in gimp. It’s simply because I couldn’t take rerendering this for another 20+ hrs on my poor cpu (used this because of a cycles hair, but probably shouldn’t use it). Anyways any feedback would be great.


cool scene, man. the scale seems off somehow, though.

Very cool. I want to run around in that world

After watching the trailer to Spec Ops: The Line I’m much less confused about your image; it appeared nonsensical without that context.

To better represent the premise of the game, I would expect signs of occupation such as tire treads, dead people, fire, etc. If this thread had no title, I would think this was a scene where a man wearing camo pants and a strange vest was testing out the effectiveness of his new Velcro gloves by dangling his gun over the tallest building in the city of sand-people.

In all seriousness, buildings that had been hit by sandstorms long enough to bury them and render the entire city nearly uninhabitable would leave them crumbled and eroded. Yours look only slightly inconvenienced by the encroaching sand.

The environment also needs work – Sand dunes should look windblown and less like regular hills of sand. The waves are far far far too large. Ripples of that size make the water look like a pool rather than a sea. Note that water on the horizon should be completely flat.

Honestly, if the cycles hair is the only thing keeping you from making substantive improvements to this image, I’d turn off cycles hair, give him some poly hair and re-render with my adjustments made. You can’t even see strands of hair from this distance so there was no purpose for it. I see no reason why this should take too long to render.

If you really can’t do that, I’d suggest at least toning down the highlights – there is a “spec ops stands for specular, right” joke in there somewhere but I can’t figure out how to make it happen. Also, I’d play with the color balance and levels.

Finally, there is no excuse for using lens flares anymore.

Despite there being a lot of room for improvement, there isn’t actually all that much that needs to be changed to make it look significantly better.

If you showed your node setup, I’m sure we could help you optimize your scene to render much more efficiently so you don’t have to let the render time hold you back.

@ Zeeker: Thanks for critics. I’m going to try to fix the environment. Already turned off hair (truly it wasn’t necessary here). Actually at the moment I’m rendering new scene. With my gpu its quite faster. I’ve scaled down the ripples, also tried to change the dunes a bit once I’ll upload you’ll see (I used proportional editting, to change ant landscape generated meshes). You’re right cycles hair was the only reason for the slow render. Uhm about glossy and lens flare. Desert environments usually are highly contrasted between shadows and higlights. So bright highlights helps to push that out a bit (in my opinion). I’m not going to excuse for using the lens flare. I’m not sure whether your thought came from times when lens flare was overused (I know this from blenderguru only, because I was to young at that time to be interested in cg :)) anyways, in my image it’s a must . Once i’ll be back on my own pc I’ll also upload reference image that I’m using.

For the end I’ve a question. As far as i know cycles doesn’t have good smoke simulator yet, or at least there aren’t any tuts on how to use it. So, how should I add fire and smoke in my scene? Via blender internal and then somehow composite it? Or in gimp? I’d prefer to add it in gimp but with lens flare and smokes would that still be a minor post processing? Since larger pp is forbidden for this competition?

P.S. In the game and it’s photos some of buildings are relatively new looking (all shiny etc).

You are absolutely right about deserts – You did well with bumping up the highlights, but you neglected the shadows, which is why there is such little contrast in this image. With that said, I redact my comment that you should tone down the highlights. I see now that what really needs to happen is that you need to bump up the shadows.

I admit that I am shamelessly prejudiced against lens flares. In my defense, my position is one of practicality rather than unwarranted hatred: lens flares only occur in camera lenses, not our eyeballs – unless you are trying to communicate that this scene is being captured with a real camera, a more realistic effect would be bloom (another overused special effect, but more appropriate).

To answer your question:


I don’t know whether you would consider it good or not but it certainly is available (granted, I’ve never played with it).
Your other option is using texture sprites for your smoke/fire. At the distance we’re talking about in this scene it would look no less realistic than simulated smoke/fire. I am not participating in this competition, so I don’t know what the rules are, but an image texture on a flat plane facing the camera (which is what sprites are) by definition cannot be post-processing. Post-prowould be rendering the scene and then drawing smoke and fire on top of the raw render.

There may be other options I’m not aware of as well, and I think such an addition would be an improvement well worth the effort.

Hopefully that helps.

From what I have seen of the game, the tallest buildings that had escaped some of the damage from 6 months of sustained sand-blasting were still eroded at their lowest points. If you have screenshots to the contrary, the designers weren’t using much common-sense. It’s up to you whether or not you wish to emulate that design choice.

Regardless, I can accept that some would fare better than others, but I see no damaged buildings at all in your scene.

Okey, I’ll upload 2 images. one will be pure new render with no compositing nor post (which will be required to clean up something). And I’ll upload my reference image (note that I’m not following it directly). After you’ll see those Maybe then you’ll be able to suggest me something more. I don’t want to be too cruel in this image (with corpses etc, and from that far away any type of tires wouldn’t be seenable).

About lens flare / bloom uhm If I’ve added a little vignette (which is almost unseen) wouldnt that mean that this is taken with camera which would cause lens flare as well. Tho bloom could be an option


Like I suggested in my previous post, I think you should keep the amount of specular that you had and boost up the intensity of the shadows. Note how in your reference, everything below has dark, crisp shadows. In fact everything in the far off background is defined by specular highlights and shadow – you can barely make out any of the details. You also get a good deal of atmospheric distortion at a distance.

I also think that bumping up the building distribution to be closer to your reference would help sell the depth and scale of your cityscape.

Now that I can see the kind of scale you were referencing, it’s clear that you wouldn’t see much going on down below. That smoke and some crumbling buildings will be key to making the scene look right.

Also, this is a minor quip, but your flag is being hung backwards. In your reference, it is clear that the flag is hanging from a flagpole upside-down, which I assume was done on purpose since my understanding is that you are primarily fighting against other Americans in Dubai. The point is, there isn’t any way to really hang it backwards and I can’t think of any way it could possibly be attached to that wall looking thing that would keep it from being blown away from the winds…Also, whoever decided to do that must have had no fear of heights…

Lastly, It would inject a much greater deal of character into the one and only subject of the image by making him hold his gun properly rather than having it dangle over the edge without actually grasping it in any obvious way. That is probably the only thing he has to protect himself with, after all.

I guess this leads me into how I view the purpose of composition. I believe whether it is conscious or not, in organizing the elements of our images, we are really telling a story. In your reference, the “story” being told is about what happened to this once great city. You see a torn banner advertising the Burj Khalifa – a picturesque and pristine setting juxtaposed to the actual structure seen towering behind, surrounded by smoke, sand and death.

Your image tells a different story – The focal point is not the city, rather a lone man overlooking it. Your goal should be to tell us as much as you can about the man only using the composition.

This is running on too long, but a few more minor things I see is that the building he’s standing is a little too glossy all over. Note how in your reference, they used a specular map to vary the glossiness of the building. It also seems like the water is too reflective and it seems like there are buildings coming right out of it…speaking of which, I know Dubai is near the sea, but I can’t tell if the reference actually has any water in it at all. It looks kinda like sand as far as the eye can see, which I personally like. If the water doesn’t work out for you, maybe just remove it altogether.

I’ll leave it like that for now. I look forward to seeing this progress.

So this is what I came up with. I’ve already uploaded it (I still may try to change something, but I don’t now if i have time or skills)… I know now it seems that sun is way too bright, but that’s how I wanted to do. I wanted to move the focus from character to the city. I wanted that the viewer could imagine himself standing on the building (that’s why there aren’t defined facial structure). Also I wanted that buildings on right would have those light streaks. I’ve added smoke and fire in gimp as well as text on the building.


No, stop what your doing and go back a few steps! firstly it’s not my fault so don’t try telling me it is. second yuor desert scene is now a nuclear apocolypse scene, take out that ridiculous colour correction. go back to your last image and remove the sun reflection from the water and instead create a reflection that merges with the water, stretched with some distortion due to the water movement. and using glare and blur recreate the bloom effect. and augment it with a nice lense flare, bring back the hot sky that you had in the first picture and use more lamps to bring up the contrast in the light and shadows.
your main building texture needs scaling down, de-specularising and the bump needs to be brought down a ton too, i would consider using a completely different texture altogether.
a fire sim is easy enough to render to a png- alpha image and composite over the scene, painting them in with gimp is banned in the rules.

Ok I’ll do it, thx for feedback

In older versions of blender, there was a setting in world buttons, that allowed to to set the ambient color. adjusting it gives that color influence over the whole scene. I didn’t notice such a setting in recent versions, but I am going to ask in the support subforums. It would be a good way to give your scene the orange look of the pic you provided. Of course you can also do this with an external application.
(edit) looks like the setting is now called ‘environment lighting’

What about now?


Uhm, I’m getting starnge artifacts in sky image, probably because of an imperfection of image. How could I clear them in gimp?

ok cool, thats a lot better! but i think it is still too yellow. tone it down quite a bit then use the mist settings, i think that is something to do with the Zdepth in cycles (google atmospheric falloff in blender). good that you have removed the cruddy political statement, and the building itself now looks a lot better. try adding a gradient map to the image to get that semi mono tone look. basically you put your image back to kind of its default look without any colour correction then use a gradient to highlight the colours. to kill those fireflies in gimp (your strange artifacts) just use the heal tool. thats the thing that looks like a plaster patch in the tool pallate.

Post #9 the main menu image looks the best. As for the path you are going right now, your problem is simple: Your ground has too much specular, it looks like it is a shiny gold bar (metal) and not sand. If you made the specular of the ground just about 0. I see that your other image is for reference nvm. But you can look at that. See how the streets are shiny in that but not the ground around it.

You also have pretty big noise over your terrain making the lighting look off scale.

well, for me those roads aint that much reflective. Simply they have sand particles on them. For sand i’ve set the diffuse to .4 and glossy to .2 as far as i can remember, cuz i’m writing from mobile. Other settings were not working well. The noise comes from the texture, which is dunes (as far as i can see that noise). Dunes are quite small, so a lot of place for light to bounce off. Tho from this scale perhapse it should look like smooth surface. I might be wrong with my arguments, cuz i’m a bit tired today, can’t think properly.

I forgot to look back to this thread again, but I see you’ve made major progress. The composition is almost just right.

I think the man should be turned more with his back to the camera to give more of the illusion that he’s looking into the scene, which would further bring the viewer into the scene. It would kill two birds with one stone, as his face has such little detail that the side view does him few favors.

I like the sun’s intensity but he would be completely silhouetted in such a scene – I feel like it would be more natural with him almost black against the sun. I also agree that the bridge is blown out. It needs a little less color contrast and a lot less saturation.

That’s about it for the compositional elements, but there are a few physical issues in the image.

Only the building to the right has flames, but either has no smoke or the smoke is too faint. The flames are far too large too. Really, you could get away with having no visible flames at all, because the only way the outside of a building would be burning is if someone was intentionally burning something on it, which is what seems to be the case in your reference.

It’s more important to crumble some of the buildings a little to make it seem like they -should- be on fire.

But anyway, great job so far. It’s come a long way already in my opinion.