Making a Gorillaz-Inspired Island in Maya & Redshift

Johnny Fehr showed us how to create an island from Feel Good Inc. in Maya with Redshift and Photoshop.

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Hey! My name is Johnny and I am 27 years old. I live and work in Zurich, Switzerland. I work at Cloudscape GmbH as a CG generalist, and I also freelance for Quixel and TrueVRsystems.

Originally I learned the job of an Industrial Painter. At the same time, I started getting interested in 3D and photography and studying the world of 3D at the "Youtube University" as I call it for fun.

Windmill for the Land

Usually, an idea first develops in my head or I see something in a film that inspires me a lot. But the idea for this Gorillaz fanart came to me in the morning in bed, that you can simply turn the Quixel rocks around to make floating rocks with it. As a Gorillaz fan, it was then obvious to build the floating island from Feel Good Inc.

As a goal, I wanted something more realistic but still had the cartoonish feel and vibe of the original music video.

I didn't work much with references here. I just made some screenshots from the video so I could take the proportions from the windmill and the main rock.

Modeling the Island

I used the Quixel Megascan assets for the rock structure. I simply scaled them and adjusted them a bit with the soft selection.

For the upper part, I started with a plane which I processed to work on in Maya with the Sculpt brush to get an uneven surface.

The grass also consists of Quixel assets. I took a few different types of grass and placed them in different places as Instances with the Maya MASH tool. I made basic grass and a few others that only appear in certain places for a more realistic distribution. The trees are from an Architecture Visualization package I bought years ago on the internet.

The windmill was modeled completely by myself because the basic shape was very simple. 

I filled the scene with a few Quixel assets to add a bit more story. Unfortunately, I am absolutely untalented with characters so I was not able to build Noodle, the guitar-playing figure from the music video.


The textures from Quixel for the assets were already fitting very well. I just had to convert them to ACES because Redshift can't do that yet. In the shaders, I adjusted the materials a bit with Color Correction nodes to achieve consistency.

I simply unwrapped the windmill UV and made a screenshot of the UV shells with the screenshot function in Maya. I imported these into Photoshop and made the texture there. Mari or Substance Painter would not be necessary here. The Roughness and Bump map were made directly in the shader by desaturating the Color map with a CC node and adjusted until they looked nice. 

Rendering in Redshift

As already mentioned, I was working with ACES here. A cool side-effect of ACES is that the colors look a bit richer. This suited me very well for the mix of realistic and cartoonish.

The render settings were really simple. I used a sharper filter because it's just a picture and not an animation. When I work with Redshift I use the Automatic Sample mode at the beginning and switch it off later. For animation or if rendering takes a long time I would use Sampling Override to optimize the rendering time.

For the light, I just used an HDRI. It fit right out of the box so there was no need to place extra light sources.

I'm not a big fan of post-FX in the render engine. I'd rather do it myself in post-production in Nuke or Photoshop.

Painting the Sky

For the clouds, I used VDBs that a friend gave me a while ago. He created them in Houdini.

I have also made a lot of clouds in Houdini but his clouds are just much better than my attempts, so it was very clear whose clouds I should add.

I added the sky in Photoshop and adjusted and painted some parts. Of course, I had to adjust the sky plate with levels so that it fits the black and white point of my rendering.

Final Steps

Unfortunately, Photoshop crashed near the end and all that was left was the saved picture. That's why I can't show any screenshots from Photoshop.

After adjusting the photo-sky with the render, I started grading. This is something I would actually like to learn in-depth. Because so far it's just a bit of playing around until it just looks good. 

With the Curve, I adjusted the contrast and the highlights a bit. I often use a LUT in between which I then turn down in the opacity, this often helps to merge everything a bit together.

In the end, I darkened with a Soft brush the corners. And with a Bright Large soft brush, some bloom and glow drew. When I work in photoshop I also like to use the camera RAW effect at the very end to make very small fine adjustments for the final touch. 

Johnny Fehr, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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