‘Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers’ Wire-Frame Screen Grabs

November 15 2011//

This post looks at some of the process involved in making my recent videoMapping London’s Subterranean Rivers including a few wireframe screen-grabs from the work  which  illustrate how work- in-progress appears within the open software window when work is in-progress.

The video was created using Maya Autodesk which is a 3D animation program offering extensive tools for modelling, dynamics, visual effects and rendering.

I found this software quite difficult to grasp initially, as the interface and layout is very different to regular video editing software. Maya does contain an animation timeline but most other features seemed almost like learning a new language, very different. I finally discovered a small corner of the program where I could operate creatively and develop ideas, and experiment.

The main difference between Maya and 2D animation or video editing software is that the artist can construct 3D objects in virtual space in Maya. Once models have been created and
placed on the ‘stage’ multiple cameras are set up to film the  3D object from as many different viewpoints or angles as desired.

For this video, only 1 3D map elevation was ‘drawn’ in Maya and various cameras (coloured in green)  positioned around it to record and create different viewpoints/ scenes within the video.

(Above) Wireframe scene in Maya showing a section of the 3D map created for Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers.  This is an aerial view showing the City, river Thames and various subterranean rivers and overground
ancient tributaries.

Using wireframe views of the scenes in Maya enables more rapid rendering, editing, rotating and viewing of the scene in real time. Maya takes up a lot of processing power and RAM and this viewing mode means that work can be speeded up a little. The drawback is that it is rather like working in the dark as colour, texture etc is not visible while you are working.

To view full texturing and colour whilst working in Maya, frames need to be rendered individually. I find doing this now and again is enough to retain in memory exactly what the scene looks like and how it will appear later after the final rendered sequence for video is created.

This kind of view shows a little more detail when working within the software window than is available in wireframe mode – Some solid areas are displayed to highlight more of the model’s detail.
This aerial view is used right at the start of the video when the camera begins to descend onto the map.

Near the centre of the map can be seen a yellow textured object which is a 3D model tree, later assigned a ‘wind dynamic’ so it appears to be swaying quite strongly in a gust of strong wind. Many other dynamics are available in Maya to simulate gravity and movement iof water or ocean waves, for example. Used a flowing water dynamic to simulate the River Thames in the final work.

The red cone-shape to the left and solid grey cube-like objects positioned bottom-left on the map, depict the placement of lighting object (spotlight) and architectural buildings respectively.

Aerial view showing the King’s Scholars’ Pond Sewer (KSPS) – near bottom centre of the image
Highgate hill (blue wire frame object) and the Thames to the left (Wiggling, thicker, solid white line object)
Side view showing cameras, tree & 3D signage depicting London place names
Another aerial wireframe view
 The cluster of bright pink, solid shapes are tower block buildings in the video.

It is not possible to see fully-detailed, textured image sequences until frames are fully rendered and exported from Maya, either directly into Quick Time. Or as a series of TARGA (individual images, 24 or 25 frames per second of footage) files which can then be imported into video editing software such as After Effects to create a moving image sequence.

AS previously mentioned, a quick and dirty view of any individual frame can be viewed (very slowly) live within Maya by using the IPR renderer, but testing out a full animated sequence is beyond the processing power of my rather humble PC.

However, I do enjoy working somewhat in the dark with this process as it allows for certain unexpected results that would not be possible otherwise. A certain Serendipity…

This is a composite map that I created from 2 different maps. Showing the Thames and various tributaries, many of which are now underground or completely lost. It formed the template to create the 3D map in the film.
Please see previous post for more information about this map…

Click here to view Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers