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View Full Version : Seeking approach for a 3d city



Wraith
04-14-2014, 07:55 PM
Hi everyone, long time lurker, first time poster. First of all, I should congratulate you all on your fantastic maps, I am blown away every time I visit.

Now onto my question. Does anyone have any techniques for mapping complex 3d cities or structures. I am developing a setting on my blog The City In Darkness (http://www.cityindarkness.com) and I want to start mapping it.

Here's the header

Bathed in eternal darkness, the City in Darkness hangs impossibly in a plane of complete nothingness. Flickering light from thousands of lanterns and torches illuminates what one could only describe as a huge rock suspended in space. The top of this rock is covered in closely huddled buildings that aim ever higher at an empty sky

The city is a mishmash of buildings, tunnels, streets, all built on top of one another. I am thinking perhaps some kind of 3d modelling might be necessary to map it but all the programs I tried don't seem appropriate (mostly architectural modelling tools).

Does anyone have any suggestions,

thanks!

TheHoarseWhisperer
04-14-2014, 09:11 PM
Hi Wraith, welcome to the Guild.

If you are interested in making a 3d model of a city, be aware before you begin of what you are getting yourself into. My city of Birdseye was not originally meant to be a 3D city, but I have now begun modelling it (with help from another member of the Guild), and so can offer some advice (there's a link to the WIP in my signature).

I use SketchUp, which has the benefit of being easy to learn and use, and being free. The disadvantages are that it is not very good at handling textures/materials, it can get complicated if you want to export files to another modelling software, it often doesn't look great unless you have a more advanced kind of rendering software (which again raises the problem of exporting files), it is difficult to make terrain or organic-shaped objects, and it can get very slow if your city is large and detailed.

I'm not so familiar with other 3d modelling software. I know that Blender exists and is free, but has a steep learning curve (you get what you pay for). 3D Studio Max is an expensive option but I think it is reasonably powerful, although again, it helps to have a little background in modelling programs (which I don't have).

Overall, ask yourself why you want to make a 3d model (how will it be used, why make it in 3d and not just try to draw it etc), how much time you have to give to the project, and what level of expertise you have in 3d modelling.

Having said that, I can confirm that trying to make a whole city is exhausting but extremely rewarding, and the results can be absolutely stunning (if I do say so myself).

Good luck with it. And maybe you should post some work in progress pics here on the Guild.

THW.

Wraith
04-14-2014, 10:27 PM
Wow, incredible!

Are there any good tutorials out there for doing the basics like setting the scale? I don't know how big to make things as I have no 3d modelling experience.

I was thinking about 3d because I don't want to do 'levels' of streets that I could map individually, but have them run everywhere and be totally chaotic. Streets can spiral up 10 meters then plunge via a narrow stairway 20.

I also need to distinguish properties from one another, these are even more complicated than the streets as a person might own a room facing one street then, via a narrow staircase and corridor, another room in a completely different structure. I need to be able to visualise this.

TheHoarseWhisperer
04-15-2014, 04:33 AM
Another advantage about SketchUp, which may or may not exist in other 3d software, but certainly would exist in architectural programs, is that you can make things using the scale directly. For example, if I was to create a house that was 10m by 20m, I can enter those details into SketchUp and it will instantly be the size I want it (this is particularly useful if you also plan to add other models that are 'life size'). Because of this easy and useful feature, all of the houses in Birdseye are as close to historically realistic scales as possible.

I can understand your motivation for making a 3d model. I also embarked on that foolhardy project because I wanted to include streets that overlap one another, move around cliffs, etc, and conventional mapping techniques don't support that urban form very well.

I don't want to sound like an advocate for SketchUp (which, as I said before, has many problems for this kind of thing) but it is probably the best tool for you to use, especially if you are a beginner.

If you do go ahead with using SketchUp, my main pieces of advice are:
--familarise yourself with the use of Layers, and try to get them organised from the beginning (and keep them organised throughout). It sounds kinda dorky, but being well-organised is extremely important.
--familiarise yourself with Groups, and the Outliner: these are the best tools for keeping distinct parts of the model separate. I use them to distinguish properties from one another, and I suggest you do the same.
--make your model in segments. Cities can be easily divided into districts or wards, so try and tackle one ward at a time.
--post your progress on this website. There is a very helpful community here at CG, including people who are much better informed than I am about 3d modelling. Once you have started modelling, you will definitely encounter problems. Fortunately, the people here (including myself) have already encountered them, and can give you advice about what to do to resolve them.

THW.

Midgardsormr
04-17-2014, 03:23 PM
Sketchup is an excellent tool for beginning 3d work. Its interface is clean and easy to understand, it has a free license, and it's possible to export its models to more powerful software if you decide to upgrade later. I've ported models from Sketchup into Blender, 3ds Max, and Maya.

3d software, like vector drawing software, is not locked to a particular scale. It's best to design at real world scale so that any effects work you do later will behave realistically. For instance, if you have access to a renderer with physically accurate lights, you can place a 60 Watt bulb in the scene, and it will give you the correct amount of light and the correct falloff. You can put your scene in the rain and not have to futz around with the gravity to get the water to fall at the correct rate. The 3d camera will work just like a real camera. And if you import other models into your scene they'll come in at the right size (if the other modeler has been following good practices).

jkat718
04-21-2014, 04:20 PM
Wraith; I agree with TheHoarseWhisperer, in that (if you end up using 3D modelling), you should definitely use Sketchup. In case you still want to try a conventional form of mapping, maybe a series of cross sections could be used? This is only really feasible if the city is in layers. If not, you will almost definitely want to use 3D modelling.

RedKettle
05-01-2014, 02:13 AM
Are there any good tutorials out there for doing the basics like setting the scale? I don't know how big to make things as I have no 3d modelling experience.

I was thinking about 3d because I don't want to do 'levels' of streets that I could map individually, but have them run everywhere and be totally chaotic. Streets can spiral up 10 meters then plunge via a narrow stairway 20.

I also need to distinguish properties from one another, these are even more complicated than the streets as a person might own a room facing one street then, via a narrow staircase and corridor, another room in a completely different structure. I need to be able to visualise this.

Others down in the 3D section have cities developing in sketchup, so you can see what is possible with this method. I think Man in the Funny Hat has one developing right now.
http://www.cartographersguild.com/3d-modeling-objects-maps/25472-city.html

As can be seen in nematode's thread, sketchup is decent for quick modelling but the rendering capabilities sometimes leave something to be desired (unless you purchase one of the rendering add-ons).
http://www.cartographersguild.com/3d-modeling-objects-maps/21593-sketchup-city.html

And a few examples of complex 3D action vizualized outside of sketchup would be:
Diyun City Map by Schley utilizes cross-sections to reveal the 3D complexity.
http://www.cartographersguild.com/cartographers-choice/16077-diyun-city-map-schley.html
The Bridge District by Dain which lays things out in an isometric view, and combines this with stacked floor plans of particular buildings of interest.
http://www.cartographersguild.com/cartographers-choice/23661-bridge-district-dain.html

From the tutorial section I know Ravells has a tutorial on cities in general, which might have some helpful advice:
http://www.cartographersguild.com/tutorials-how/2844-%5Baward-winner%5D-creation-depiction-fantasy-cities-parts-i-ii.html

Those are the projects I know of around here that might be helpful to look at and have not yet been mentioned, I am sure there are others as well.


I have trouble wrestling with design ideas and computer programs at the same time, so if I were doing a project like this I would probably start by sketching out some isometric drawings by hand to figure out the big picture (where the major landmarks are, how big of an area needs to be mapped, how the important parts interconnect, etc.). Then I would pick a relatively easy/unimportant section to start so I can learn the new software without worrying too much about the design.


Regarding the sizes of city stuff in general: I would pick block sizes (I think its worth it to study the city grids from different times/places to get an understanding of how the different block sizes work, even if your city is not based on a grid) and street widths you are comfortable with when starting development. Although you may not always follow the numbers exactly they can at least provide a good guide for a majority of the process.

Grid plan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_plan)

Some numbers I like to keep around for Urban Planning Emergencies are:
100' - the lenth/width of the smaller greek/roman city blocks
14' - the typical? width of a vehicular lane here in America. This makes a two-lane vehicular street roughly 40' minimum (at least 2 lanes and 2 sidewalks).
30' - natural light penetration depth in a room with 8-10 ft ceilings. This makes building widths around 60'-70' without good artificial lighting. One reason why apartment buildings get developed as elongated 70' wide bars, and when the bars can't go straight they are folded into Ls, Cs, and Os.
6" - approx. of typical stair height, so 2 stairs per 1' of vertical distance
4-5 stories (50') - the upper limits allowed for stick frame construction (which has been around since the 1840's?)
215' - height of monadnock bldg in chicago with the tallest commercial load-bearing (and iron-braced) masonry. I think some earlier cathedrals have taller spires/towers, but this is a good upper limit for my masonry-building-based cultures.

Sounds like an interesting project, good luck!

lostatsea
05-01-2014, 04:26 PM
RedKettle In the us modern code for modern height humans. Rise height is to be between 7" and 8". Of course if your inhabitants are significantly smaller or bigger than that would be adjusted accordingly. Historically people were shorter so door frames and stairs etc were made to fit the stature of the inhabitants.

RedKettle
05-02-2014, 03:09 PM
RedKettle In the us modern code for modern height humans. Rise height is to be between 7" and 8". Of course if your inhabitants are significantly smaller or bigger than that would be adjusted accordingly. Historically people were shorter so door frames and stairs etc were made to fit the stature of the inhabitants.

My understanding is that the range for stairs is 4"-7" for US code, with exceptions for residential stair maximums to be a little taller. It was also my understanding that the maximums were typically avoided in outside stairs, especially in areas with climate extremes.

If you have information that counters this, I am certainly open to correction!

I guess I should add that these numbers are here to makes sure you are working within the right order of magnitude, I know it can be frustrating to simply -not know- even generally how big some of these things are. There are exceptions to all my numbers, the greeks/romans used many different (and sometimes much larger, like Alexandria) block sizes; modern block sizes are typically much larger than 100' square; vehicular lane widths are wider on US highways and probably smaller in Europe; you can always add skylights/atriums/clerestory windows to allows larger building footprints with natural light; stairs can get pretty steep (I am looking at you Mayan Temples!); and I have already mentioned that some masonry constructions (like Cathedrals) are taller than 215', not to mention monuments like the Pyramids (Giza is, I think, about twice as tall).

No set of numbers is absolutely correct, especially when working in a fantasy environment where our mundane concerns probably do not take precedent. These numbers can hopefully give a place to start from, and hopefully once the design develops far enough, a new set of numbers more appropriate to the situation can evolve.

Besides, who really wants to sit there counting inches in the middle of designing a convoluted metropolis? :P

TheHoarseWhisperer
05-02-2014, 04:54 PM
My advice, speaking from what I have learned in working on Birdseye, is to mix up the numbers a bit. It is more historically realistic, and allows you to have stairways of different lengths, which in turn makes the architecture more varied (and thirdly, nobody is going to measure your stairs, so don't worry about it). I tended to do stairs in Birdseye between 8--10" and sometimes as much as 1'. Strictly speaking, they are too high, but that simply emphasises the verticality of the city.

One trick I use in SketchUp is to select a line, right click, and then go to Divide. SketchUp will allow you to divide the line into equal parts, which you can guesstimate as accurate.

As far as coming up with measurements for other things, like block sizes and street widths, you might be best not using them. Few cultures built cities according to regular principles except the Romans (only in a limited number of situations) and post-Industrial civilisation.

And now I am oing to partially contradict myself by saying that in Medieval Western Europe, houses were often approximately 30' wide or, if I remember correctly, two poles. The size of house plots was, in other words, based on something other than numbers (the approximate length of a measuring stick, which might just be a nearby branch, or the amount of land a person needs to grow enough food for a family etc.) My point is, if you are making a 3D model, you will Ned measurements. I suugest you either, don't give them too much thought, or you develop an in-world reason for them using those dimensions which makes sense to the culture.

Sorry if this post became a bit rambly.

THW.

Wraith
05-26-2014, 09:35 PM
Thanks all for the great resources and replies. I haven't made any progress of note so far, but I will be sure to post once I have something to show.