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  • Writer's pictureRobert Sproul-Cran

Building a picture of the past

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

Let's start with a quick glimpse into how the 3D modelling is done. The process is totally laborious! But here's how the magic happens...


The software used is Blender - which is a free open-source system for Mac or PC. But this isn't just painstaking programming - it's fun! That sounds like a contradiction. But there's a real thrill in building a virtual model, then seeing it come to life as you add virtual cameras and light the scene.


If you want to build a house you might start with a cube.


Then you might cut it into slices.


Once you'd sliced it in the right place you could delete doors and windows.


And then you could apply a texture to your shape. This might have colour, a map of where it's reflective, a bump map to show where it sticks out or recedes and so on.


So far this is incredibly basic, but it should give the general idea. Once you've created all sorts of shapes you begin to build up a model of a building. Here's a wireframe of one based on Cardinal Beaton's house in the Cowgate modelled from a photograph from 1868.


It's all based on simple geometric shapes which have then been modified to suit. If you look at a flat white model below you can see that some elements have a modelled texture shape to them - a 'displacement map' of bumps and wrinkles.


You can then apply coloured textures to the different surfaces.


Finally you can create a suitable lighting setup. In this case the light comes from a sphere of sky surrounding the building, and you can also see that a couple of street lights are emitting light too.


So that, in a nutshell, is the process. In future blogs I'll show how you can then change the time of day, the weather, and all sorts of other factors. Yes it's painstaking work, but it's incredibly rewarding!




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