Snow White’s Coffin – or getting vintage right
Since I haven’t posted anything substantial here for a while, and since I’m now up-and-running with the new workstation, I thought I’d answer a few questions some people have asked about the vintage materials I’m using on a lot of my assets. Clearly, this won’t be “Materialism 2″, but it will show you a few recipes that work for me and can be extrapolated to other models.
The image above shows the SK4 record player by Dieter Rams, also known as “Snow White’s Coffin” because of its transparent perspex lid (though my daughter tells me this is actually not the exact same perspex as used in Snow White’s original coffin).
I’m not the only one to hold German-born Rams as a design hero. His “10 principles of design” have found their way into the DNA of many Apple products via Johnny Ive, who has acknowledged Rams’ role as a design pioneer. This is not the last time you will read about him on this blog.
The SK4 was devised by Rams in 1956 for Braun, a few years before he was appointed as the company’s Head of Design. So if any piece of consumer electronics deserves the vintage treatment, the venerable SK4 certainly qualifies – although if you own one, I hope you’ve kept it in a better state than I have mine, which, incidentally, you can acquire here.
Before I start, here are a few close-ups to show you what we are talking about.
The key for vintage stuff, as for many realistic materials, lies in high-quality texture maps. Which means you won’t escape having to UV-unwrap your object – a tedious but unavoidable step. Once you are done, the fun can begin. I’ll start with the body of the beast, an off-white painted metal with relatively faint (as always, you want this to be rather subtle) streaks in places that make sense (think about how the object would have been used, or better still, get yourself some real-world references). This is how my material tree looks like:
The material includes three maps: The diffuse, off-white with darker streaks, the glossiness map and a decal map for the button labels and Braun logo. The diffuse and the decal map are merged together using a composite map (the black-and-white decal map is on top with the blend mode set to “multiply”) and plugged into the material’s diffuse channel. Note that the decal map uses different UV coordinates from the diffuse map (if it used the unwrapped UVs of the body, it would have to be enormous in order to retain sufficient resolution). The extra UV set is a standard square UV map that is applied to the model like this:
Note that the diffuse map, without the decal map, is also used for the reflection channel. In many instances, this map would also work fine as a glossiness map. But you can add an extra ounce of realism if you actually customise your glossiness map. This map, shown below, differs from the diffuse/reflection map in one important respect – it is additive as well as subtractive. In other words, its base is a medium grey with both darker streaks (blurrier reflections) and lighter spots (sharper reflections). This can nicely mimic parts of the metal where the rugged surface has been flattened through use, resulting in more polished reflections. The decal is used here too (inverted, with the blend mod set to “screen”) as reflections on the text should be a lot sharper than on the body proper.
The settings for the body material are as follows:
Now to that perspex lid. Mine is a bit over-the-top as it plays with refraction and reflection glossiness, which are fiendishly difficult to tune in a subtle way. The material itself is very simple, with just one map used in both these slots for a scratched and smudgy look. You may want to use a slightly less messy map for this and lower map multipliers.
The wood on the SK4 would have been nicely varnished before receiving the stress of age. So it had to be quite reflective with relatively sharp reflections, especially at a grazing angle. Again, most of the work here is in the map, which was painted in Photoshop using a clean wood texture blended with a grunge map showing scratches and bumps. A lighter and a darker version of the diffuse map are plugged into a VrayDirtMap, with “inverted normals” checked and a low radius (1 cm or less) in order to mimic some aging at the sharp corners of the wood box. That effect is quite faint and more perceptible than actually visible (it is best seen where the perspex lid and the wood meet), yet it still adds quite a bit of authenticity. It is one of these effects that you do not quite see but miss if it isn’t there.
One challenge was the LP record, whose mat setup is shown below. I settled on a three-layer material. The final mat is a MultiMat that includes a very basic paper mat with very dull glossiness for the label and the vinyl mat proper. The latter is a VrayBlend mat, which uses a mask to merge between two vinyl types: the “blank” parts of the disk, with more intense, sharper reflections, and the pressed spiral grooves, a Ward mat with higher glossiness and high anisotropy using a spiral falloff map to guide the anisotropy rotation and a “groove” map (in Photoshop: make noise, radial blur a few times) for reflection and bump. This one remains a work in progress as I’m still struggling to get the anisotropy to do exactly what I want – namely to converge nicely towards the centre. Any suggestion on this would be much welcome.
This is it for now. I hope you can find a few ideas here. As always, I’m grateful for comments and for any image you may come up with using these techniques.
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