The busiest picture I worked on was a picture I never published, because I never finished it. It mainly consisted of failures, but it was the seed of my progress, and launched me forward. I called it 'Spawn Point Zero', and it doesn’t come without a story. On August 2014 I published what was my biggest picture at the time, ‘Rudolf the Gmod Wizard
I worked on it for five months. It had huge amounts of detail, and was packed with all the effects I could fit in it. It received a lot of attention on the Facepunch forums. Garry saw it and tweeted about it, and you ended up printing several copies of it, hanging one
in your studio, and sending me some of the prints as well. The amount of recognition I got for it was astounding. I wanted more of that recognition, so I attempted to go for something way bigger, and started working on Spawn Point Zero.
Spawn Point Zero was set in an abandoned Garry’s Mod sandbox server. It was supposed to portray what an average sandbox server would look like after years of not being reset. I opened up a document and started writing a list of ideas of what I wanted in the picture. I also drew a rough sketch of the “final” composition I wanted:
A wrecked contraption in the foreground, and a couple of more in the background. I started building, crossing off ideas from my to-do list with every new contraption I added into the scene. When I was done with the first layers, I realized there was still a lot of empty space left, and suddenly my ‘amazing’ composition felt insufficient. So I added more layers.
It was going to be a beautiful, gigantic render packed with awesome effects, top tier lighting and a story that tied every layer together with its neighbors in a scene you could lose yourself in. Every ‘layer’ would be an entire scenebuild of its own that you could zoom into, with each layer was filled with Human Players interacting with each other in crazy ways, causing complete and utter chaos.
With every idea I marked off my to-do list, I ended up adding five new ones. What started out as a relatively simple composition with ~500 props blew out of proportion into a composition that easily exceeded ~3000 props. I found myself a victim of my own idea. There were nights when I couldn’t sleep because my mind was still iterating ideas on what to add next. I was way too deep into it. It needed to be great, it needed to be mind-blowing… how else was I going to get the recognition I wanted? I knew it was silly, but I kept going because at this point I couldn’t stop.
I hit engine limits. It got to the point where I couldn’t save the game anymore, because the entity count would cause it to crash, so I had to rethink my strategy. I realized the only way I was going to achieve what I wanted was to separate every layer into its own render, and then stitch it all together in Photoshop. I then realized that if I was already rendering each layer independently, I might as well give each layer fancier lighting. So that’s what I did.
I knew lighting was important, and I knew it needed to look great, but I had no idea how to actually achieve lighting that looked good. Before, lamps weren’t an option: Source had an eight lamp limit, and there was no way I could spread eight single lamps on an entire map. But now that every layer could be lit separately, using lamps sounded more feasible. I loaded up a relatively small ‘catwalk’ environment I built, and tried to toy around with lamps and lights. I tried different things.
No matter what I did, it didn’t look convincing. Something was absent. I couldn’t settle, because there was no way I was going to compromise on something so important as lighting after so much work. So I kept trying different things. I then asked myself what would happen if I simply rendered the entire scene in darkness with the exception of a single shadow casting lamp, each time from a different angle, so I tried it out:
At first I didn’t fully realize why it worked; what made the picture look so pleasing? But I knew I was definitely onto something, and immediately tried it out on the different builds I already had:
By this point I realized I had re-discovered the core of 3D light rendering techniques - the idea of stacking different light passes together to replicate how light behaves in the real world. For the first time I was getting well defined, and convincing shadows, and suddenly all the details I worked so hard to put into my scenes, popped out. The world I built realized, and my contraptions came to life. I was in love with what I had discovered.
Once you go down that path, you’re bound to start thinking of rendering scenes differently. I later realized I could combine the technique similarly not just with light information, but with depth information. By rendering a depth map, I could add fog and sky into my renders.
Or that I could use the power of Photoshop’s layer blending to add textures to a scene by rendering texture passes.
Or create isolation passes and use those to change the base colors of props to my liking at ease:
By this point I was completely distracted from Spawn Point Zero. I discovered something I thought was amazing, and wanted to practice it ASAP. Having a lot more work left to do on the project’s scene building aspect before I could get to rendering, I started working on more immediate projects without ever finishing it. I ended up improving in my overall scene building techniques and styles, enough so that Spawn Point Zero’s scene builds were no longer adequate, and at some undefined point I dropped the entire project.
I may have never finished it, but it rewarded me like no other I've made, and I felt it was important to bring up. Spawn Point Zero was what launched me forward in my rendering techniques (which I still try to perfect), and it was the ‘big bang’ of the Sandbox Universe I still focus on today. I’m still marking off ideas from that same to-do list.
This is where Spawn Point Zero ended up.