Working Late

or: ‘last train’, or ‘night train’ - haven’t decided on a final title yet.

Still have a lot of compositing work to do, and some modelling of the foreground etc. but looking for some overall critique of the composition before going any further. Render time is currently around 8 hours, due to the reflections, but just couldn’t make it look even half right with environment maps, so I don’t want too many versions!

May add a train coming out of the station and/or ne under the tunnel.



Yeah, your reflections on the rails are just not quite right. It comes off a little plastic-like and fake looking. Maybe go a little less uniform in the way they reflect the light, and maybe not quite so intense. What are your material settings like on the rails currently? 8 hours seems a bit extreme for the effect you are trying to achieve, it can almost certainly be brought down to a more reasonable render time.

I’d also try and limit the amount of color the railroad ties receive as well, they really shouldn’t reflect very much especially at any sort of distance. The ground texture could use some work too, as I really can’t tell what that’s supposed to be whether it’s dirt or gravel or snow or what.

Other than that though, very nice scene, I think with some tweaks on lighting and materials this could look really killer.

I like it but it needs some more work, i am not sure what exactly, but i am sure you have ideas right? 8 hrs??? woa!
Oh and i think last train fits this.

As the others have said - the render time is WAY too extreme, same for the reflections both on the rails and the walls. Overall the scene felt a bit too… not cartoon-ish but over-saturated/colorful for a night scene (maybe not the saturation). IMO the rails don’t blend well with the terrain too - try decreasing reflectivity/specularity hardness/strength, esp. on the terrain. Deff. increase specularity/reflection hardness on the rails.

And now about the render times - try splitting the scene in layers - that “sort-of” improved my render times. By sort of I mean from more than 4 hours to ~5 minutes max for a scene with a huge planet :slight_smile:
Anyways, good luck! The general idea seems quite nice :slight_smile:

Thanks for the input guys. I know I need to roughen up the rails a bit. The problem I have with this version is that the bulk of the light on the rails is specular, rather than reflection, as reflection is too invisible here. Need to render that separately to get some control.

The floor needs work to get the texture right and some shape to it as well. You are right that the texture doesn’t work and the ties are too bright.

Render time is because of the soft reflections on the rails. Rails and ties add 900,000 faces roughly, and they are all reflective, currently!

I need to see if I can composite the reflections/hilights onto the rails, rather than using soft reflections.

But the general composition is ok?


I think the general composition is okay, but there is nothing that pops out, catches your view, makes it intresting to watch. So add a train, which will improve it a lot. Furthermore I would add some lights in the buildings on the right. Maybe they have to finish something and want to stay at work the whole night.

900 000 faces… that’s a taaaaaaaad bit too much for this scene IMO… Try to optimize. As for the soft shadows - how many samples?
And as a side note - use reflection maps and it’ll look a bit like left 4 dead imo :smiley:

And if you’re not using this - try a wardiso specular shader and set the rms to 0.150 or something (actually more like 0.50 but it depends on the look that you’re shooting for). That should give you a pretty hard, metallic specularity.

The tops of the running rails should be shiny. The check rails not so shiny and possibly a bit dirty or even rusty. Also the running rails ought to to have a few dents and ‘wheel burns’ in them where wear is not quite even but these should be subtle as the wheels keep running rails quite smooth. The sleepers either need to be a bit dirty/grungy with oil stains etc off the train if they are concrete or they need to be weather-worn if wooden. Only brand new wooden sleepers are smooth and they tend to look oily as the preservative seeps out. The biggest ‘wrong’ factor for me here is that the ballast is nowhere near deep enough. It needs to come up to the top of the sleepers and some stones on the sleepers. The ballast stones ought to be bigger. Here are some reference photos which may help. The four foot is between the running rails. The six foot is between two four foots. The cess is the area to the outside of the tracks. is a crap pic taken with a point & shoot which gives an idea of rail reflectiveness. is a slightly lighter scene which may be useful as a reference. is a daylight scene with wooden sleepers which should show you what I mean about the ballast coming up to the top of the sleepers and the size of the ballast stones. shows the ballast size and concrete sleepers. Also note the way the ballast is not flat but humps up in the six foot. It also does this usually the other side of the four foot between the rails and the cess. This is done to help spread the load. As trains pass this will be shaken down over time helping the track stability.

In all these pics, ignore the hefty rail in the four foot and the one outside one of the running rails. These are traction current rails as the photos are all of the London Underground which has a four rail system and those rails would be absent on any railway running diesels or with overhead wires.

Anyway I hope these photos prove a useful reference for you


Thanks for the references.

I actually have two materials on the rails, though not obvious in that render, - one greyish and shiny and the other red-brown and much less so. For some reason on that render they both came out very reflective. - must have messed with the specular somewhere! Only the inner half of the running rails are supposed to be ‘shiny’ whereas the rest of them, and the guard rails, are all the duller colour. There is no texture applied as yet.

The ballast is not modelled at all in this version. I definitely need to model at least the foreground to get a proper shaping. Also need to try to find a workable gravel texture, or model some gravel, which could be a pain!

900k faces is not really that huge. 8 tracks with perhaps 300m run, at even 1m spacing ( actually they are closer than that) each with a bevelled cube, thus 26 faces per cube, plus each has two rails sections totalling 40 faces, and two chairs with I think 43 faces each, That alone reaches nearly 300k faces. Then add the crossings, which are complex, and there are 18 of those…


I would still tend to agree that 900k is excessive. It’s a straight rail until it gets to the crossings. Even if you were using a really detailed shaping, I’d imagine 50 vertices for the cross section of the rail would be sufficient. You’d be looking at 100 vertices per straight rail section, maybe 200 for the crossing sections. You’d be easily under 5000 vertices for the entire rail system and there would be no visual difference between the two.

OK, new version, Reflections and metal textures much improved, though I still want to add a bit of flare in places. This version gamma corrected a bit to get a nicer balance too. Plan to do this in compositing, but this was in Photoshop

I haven’t started on the ballast yet. Removed around 500k faces and dropped render time to 3h27min, so an improvement there!

Not sure whether to put the train coming out from under the bridge on the left, or from the station. Logically it should be from the station, but then it blocks the view. On the left is would be placed in the 1/3 position that gives a better visual composition, but not so logical.



Right. I have to say I prefer the second version The thing is that the rail reflections in the first one were pretty realistic but the second one is dark enough that it’s not easy to see the sleepers sitting on the ballast rather than in it. Also some of the other bits such as the camera angle are better though a train op would see all angles in a quick space of time.
Last night I was looking at the rails at work and what surprised me most was just how much they are not a flat plane on top. Especially in the dark when you get reflections. The shiny line on the top of the rail varies in width depending on wheel unloading quite apart from the wheel burns/dents/etc. If you intend to animate this I would suggest bump mapping the rail tops a bit with a very subtle amount of cloud texture. You might get people saying it doesn’t look realistic but unless they’ve been up front in a train in the dark they might not be aware of how wrong they are. I don’t know where you hail from but if it is London then I suggest taking a few trips on the DLR in the front seats at night. Videos just don’t capture the realism.
It’s an impressive bit of lighting work anyway - both versions. Well done.


I think overalll it is too dark. Just IMO.

The covers of the running rails ought to be gleaming. The check rails not shiny and perhaps a little dirty as well as rustic. Additionally the actual running bed rails ought to to have a couple of dents and ‘wheel burns’ in them wherever put on is not very actually however these should be delicate since the tires maintain running bed rails quite sleek. The sleepers either have to be a bit dirty/grungy along with oil stains and so on off the educate if they are cement or even they need to be weather-worn in the event that wood. Only new wood sleepers are sleek plus they often appear greasy as the additive seeps away. The biggest ‘wrong’ factor for me right here would be that the ballast is nowhere near heavy enough. It must come up to the actual top of the sleepers plus some stones about the sleepers. The actual ballast stones ought to be larger. Here are a few reference photos which might help. The 4 foot is between your operating bed rails. The six feet are between 2 4 foots. The cess is the region to the outside of the monitors.

Added the train. Still working on the ballast. A few other alterations to balance the image. I feel I might need to add something above the lights on the left of the image. Opinions? Still trying to get the composition right.



Looking this over from my works computer, rather than my home one, my thoughts are:

  1. Raise the levels of the darker areas slightly, as they are becoming completely black on this machine ( though there is detail there on my home one)
  2. Add a driver to the train.
  3. Possibly move the train closer? Alternatively rotate it so that it is coming out of the station, though still with the head of the train where it is now. That means modelling the entire train, though, - at the moment it is just a front and a set of boxes to throw shadows. :slight_smile:
  4. Finish the ballast. ( Did a lot of work on the shaping and textures, but still rendering the results.)
  5. Give the polished section of the rails a slight waviness, especially across the diamonds.
  6. Increase the specular on the train.
  7. Drop the reflection sizes of the yellow and green lamps on the right
  8. Add some buildings on the left.
  9. Add a slight wiggle to some of the tracks in the distance. (real rails are rarely perfectly straight)
  10. Put in some speed restiction signs and other stuff in the cess.
  11. Increase the light levels thrown by the train lamp on the rails/ballast.

Anyone think of anything else that would improve either the realism or the composition?


No need to add a driver. You can’t see the driver this late at night unless the cab light is on. The reflections are fairly accurate so don’t drop them too much. If you add a wavy texture to the rails make it subtle. The rails are straight but the waviness is caused by variations in the shiny surface due to wheel burns, dents and unloadings which are dependent on how the train rocks from side to side in different areas. The headlights on the train seem to be throwing a wide beam. This ought to be narrower because it only needs to illuminate the track and also where you get multiple tracks with trains in either direction on both sides of a train the lights mustn’t dazzle the drivers of other trains. The only other thing is that I would rotate the scene very slightly anti-clockwise so that either the horizontals at the top of the station are perfectly level or the verticals on the signal gantry are perfectly upright. One thing this scene is not, however, is too dark. You’ve got the lighting near perfect. Compared to the reality of the Amersham road at midnight during the depths of winter, this scene is lit up like Las Vegas :slight_smile:



Thanks for the input. It’s nice to have feedback from someone who actually knows what something looks like. I’m working from memory as I live in the country, miles from a railway.

The only part of the driver I planned on doing was the hi-vis, which I noticed on a truck driver last night, - still shows slightly even when everything else is totally dark.

I think the camera is still completely horizontal, so it is the perspective that is throwing the horizontals/verticals, but I’ll check when I get home.

The headlight is actually a very narrow angle beam, but it doesn’t show in this render very much. The bulk of the light is from the carriage windows, spreading out to the sides. Perhaps too much?

On the subject of speed signs etc, I have seen both yellow cut out letters, and a white disc with black letters. Which is most likely, and would there be one for each track? Date for this pic is probably late 80s as that’s a class 47, and if I do turn it around and model it, I’ll probably put Mk3s on the back.

I suddenly realised that where the picture is taken from would be a really bad place to be if that train was real!


I suggest: (and I would say the same things about a photograph …)

  • The picture, first of all, is “too damm dark.” No way around this: you’ve got to be able to see it.
  • There needs to be a point that the viewer’s eye is quickly and directly guided to. This will always be: “the brightest and most contrasty point.”
  • The rails can be used as a visual guide, to that end, because they form a diagonal line. If you subtly make one of the rails slightly brighter, slightly shinier, what have you … even subliminally, it works.
  • You’re trying to include too much detail; too many things. Is the guy in the window supposed to be significant? (How many of you noticed him?) Who is telling the story and what is that story?
  • When I finally (take the time to) sort through the various competing elements on the scene, I finally settle upon the very disquieting realization that there’s an outbound train heading straight toward the camera, which seems to be in the middle of the tracks.
  • “The moon is quite bright …” So are the headlights of trains.
  • “Crop! Crop! Crop!” Use cropping boards. Hell, use scissors. Cut away every inch of image that isn’t 100% pulling its weight. “Less is More.”

This composition (and the brightness problem) would ordinarily prompt my eye to look away rather quickly, if I were not purposely critiquing it. And I don’t mean that as a slap: it’s just what the eye would ordinarily do.

There may be some confusion about what you are trying to achieve here. If it is an arty pic then it is probably too dark. If you are aiming for realism then it definitely is not.
I still wouldn’t bother with a driver. I don’t know many drivers who wear hi-vis when driving.
The brightest, most contrasty point will be the tops of the rails. They are not a guide to that point. They are that point. Because of the darkness you needn’t worry too much about the ballast but make sure the sleepers sit in it and not on it. If I were doing this I would use the asteroid script in 2.49b which I think I got from graphicall to create the stones and then a particle system and weight painting to add them to the scene.
I noticed the bloke in the window. If there’s a window with a light on you look into it. Human nature, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t crop either. It really is realistic to have a wide angle of vision and this scene is something I cannot capture in real life with my point & shoot camera. The darkness draws my eye in and, far from making me look away, makes me look harder if only to spot any signal not showing an aspect or obstruction on the track.
As for being in a bad place, it looks to me like you took it from the cab of a train going the other way. To this end you might like to add a little light from behind the camera to simulate the headlights of the train you are on. Not a lot though as train headlights are generally crap. Only recently do the manufacturers seem to have woken up to the fact that they are headlights and not marker lights.
The position of the train is also no problem. Anyone who has driven through Stockwell on the Northern Line or southbound on the Met local approaching Preston Road will have had that head-on view of another train, seemingly on the same track. It happens. Make sure the route does go around the viewing point even if it isn’t necessarily obvious straight off from the active camera angle. Then if you do change the camera position you won’t have embarrassing errors to fix.
It still lookd good to me.