Taming clouds with Florin Botea

In this post, Florin Botea takes us through the process used to create his striking series of cloud images. He’ll also discuss what inspires him, from early childhood memories to more recent holidays and films, and how these influence his life and work today.

I remember growing up with a pencil in my hand, drawing and sketching pretty much anything, on anything! Including the walls of the apartment buildings back in Craiova, my hometown. Despite this, architecture and the world of Archviz were not always my passions or something that I wanted to pursue.

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

When I was a kid, across the street from where I was living, there was this huge construction site with a lot of cranes picking stuff up, like sections of precast walls from trailers and placing them where they should go.

That was amazing for me as a 10-year-old kid and I got really determined to become a crane operator. Even now I still like cranes a lot and dream about giving it a try. I don’t have a photo from that time, but this one depicts the construction site that I’m passing by every day, right next to where I live now. I don’t know what they’re building, but they sure have some cranes! : )

Cranes have been an inspiration for Florin - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Cranes have been an inspiration for Florin

Another example, maybe more artistic, would be that before starting high school I was very drawn to the idea of acting on stage. After actually being in some plays, I wanted to be an actor. But, back then (I don’t know how it is now), in order to be accepted at any school or university for acting it was mandatory to be able to sing too – I can’t do that even if my life depends on it. Not in a pleasant way, at least! : )

So I went back to the drawing board, literally, as I found out that those sections of wall lifted and placed properly by cranes in order to become buildings are designed by people called architects. So I decided to become one of them.

After studying industrial design in high school I went to Bucharest in 2002 to study architecture and interior design.

In my second year of university, so 2003 – 2004, I discovered Adobe Photoshop, CorelDRAW, ARCHICAD, Allplan Nemetschek, Autodesk AutoCAD and 3ds Max with V-Ray as we started using all of these for drafting our projects.

From Florins project 'Small Apartment' 
 - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
From Florins project ‘Small Apartment’

That was the moment when a new world unraveled for me and I fell in love with it. I just found it amazing that with the help of a computer I could express my designs in a much faster and cooler way. Since then even though I worked in architectural and interior design companies, I consider myself to be always learning and exploring.

Some of Florins very first renders - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Some of Florins very first renders

These are some of my very first renders. Yes, I know, they are quite bad, but they did help me pass my diploma exam back in 2006 : ) I think they were made using 3ds Max with Scanline but also with V-Ray too.

The tools that I regularly use these days are 3ds Max with Corona Renderer or V-Ray, Adobe Photoshop and sometimes Adobe Illustrator when I’m working on a logo, poster or anything related to graphic design.

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

What I also discovered about myself during studying and working for years is that I really like basic shapes, therefore I’m always trying to base my designs and projects on them. Especially the triangle, which I used in designing my personal logo.

I am really happy with the career path that I chose, and right now, since the 1st of June 2017 (yes, on Children’s Day), I work as a 3D artist at Brick Visual, but not in Budapest.

The company has a new office since September 2019, in the beautiful city of Cluj-Napoca in Romania! We have a pretty cool office here, in a quite large open space attic.

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

Prior to this, I had the brief opportunity of collaborating with other cool Archviz studios from Romania like Panopticon, Pixel Enlargement, or Tegmark.

All of this gave me the chance to meet some really cool people, artists that I’m learning from, and getting inspired by, which is something that I’m really grateful for.

When I’m not in the office, creating images for really cool projects from world-renowned companies, I spend most of the time working on personal projects or competitions from the Archviz world.

I don’t set up a goal of winning any sort of prizes, I just really like to do this because it gives me the chance to explore other ways of expressing myself or to learn something new, which doesn’t happen so often otherwise. It also makes me happy which I think is the most important thing : )

'The Janitor' - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
‘The Janitor’

Other things I like to do, that are not really connected to Archviz, but also make me happy or inspire me, include going to the theater a lot. So when I have some time and there’s a cool play in town I’m in the first row (or the second, or the fifth, it doesn’t matter).

I watch movies a lot (my girlfriend is a film addict), I go out biking as I really enjoy doing downhill and recently I’ve started practicing kickboxing. Sometimes I even play around with the guitar as well, but I’m not that good at it! : )

Speaking of downhill it inspired me to participate in Evermotion’s “The Perfect Getaway” competition back in 2017 with an image called “Disturbing The Paths” (which I used V-Ray for, but after the competition was over I made some cool interiors with Corona).

One other passion of mine is wood. I dream about having my own workshop someday and becoming a part-time carpenter and designing things like furniture or toys out of wood (somehow I feel like I’m still a kid that just wants to play while creating something).

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

I didn’t get the chance to go up in a crane yet, but I’m still looking forward to that : ) Maybe someday I will literally have my head up in the clouds.

Until then we can talk about the clouds inside my head, the ones I’m taming using 3ds Max, Corona Renderer and Adobe Photoshop.

But before that I would like to say a few words about how I first discovered Corona Renderer. The first time I heard about it was maybe in 2016, at a job interview back in Bucharest.
After spending three days in their office as a trial, I turned down their offer as it was not something that I wanted to do anymore (interior design), but I remained intrigued regarding this Corona thing (thank you Stefan Mantu).

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

I remember telling my girlfriend (also a 3D artist at Brick) about this new render engine and she tried it out before me. Right from the first try she managed to do a really nice interior image with not one but two different moods using LightMix. I was hooked. I started watching tutorials, gave it a try and fell in love.

You can still find on my Behance account the first image that I did. It’s called “Cello In The Corner” and it has three different moods. Since then I gained more experience with Corona, but I think that there’s a lot more to discover or at least to explore what this render engine has to offer. So every time I get into a personal project it’s clearly Corona time : )

'Cello In The Corner' Florins first Corona Renders - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
‘Cello In The Corner’ Florins first Corona Renders

Back to “Taming A Cloud”, I would like to say something that many of you might or might not know about the project, but for which I’m really grateful and honored by.

Towards the end of 2019, as the winter holidays were approaching, Brick Visual wanted to be a little bit different in relation to their clients, so they held an in-house competition with the goal of achieving some cool images that they can gift them as art pieces. 

So I submitted the first four images of my project (alongside other images too) and in the end I was surprised to be the winner of that competition. So big “thank you” for Brick Visual.

Another pleasant surprise was the fact that in the first few days of January and later on February 2020, CGarchitect.com had two of my “clouds” as editor’s choice/pick of the week on their website. The images are Taming A (Colorful) Cloud and Taming A (Minimalist) Cloud. So big “thank you” for CGarchitect.com  too.

Taming A (Minimalist) Cloud -Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Minimalist) Cloud

Working on the project in my spare time, after office, on the weekends, sometimes it meant sleeping just a couple of hours a night and then having to go to work, but I was very determined and happy to learn. What I wanted to do with this project was to dive in a bit further into the depths of CoronaVolumeMtl and see what else is possible apart from fog.

I didn’t really know what to actually do, I just watched a bunch of tutorials till one day I accidentally saw a post on a social media from Berndnaut Smilde and the way he’s creating indoor clouds. My first thought was that the idea is pretty abstract and yet very cool and very real so I should try something like that.

Berndnaut Smildes Indoor Clouds -Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Berndnaut Smildes Indoor Clouds

Quite fast, I found this video about making clouds with Corona tutorial and I said to myself: “Easy! I can do something cool in just one weekend!” All of this happened in the first week of April 2019, by the second week, I realized that was just a silly thought.

If you follow the tutorial step by step you will end up with kind of the same result, but when you change the environment and parameters of the clouds, things become a bit more complicated. Especially if you want to achieve a certain shape for one cloud. I was actually ready to quit as the first iterations of the cloud were not looking like Smilde’s.

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

I kept trying for more than a month, still with no real success and in the second half of May I took a break and we went to Berlin as a 4 days holiday trip. I didn’t have a name for the image but something clicked in Berlin, while we were having our morning coffee I compared my struggle of achieving a realistic-looking cloud with William Shakespeare’s “shrew”.

So from “Taming of the Shrew” my image was dubbed “Taming A Cloud”. In those four days, in my mind the image evolved into a set of images as the city kept inspiring me.

After visiting Daniel’s Libeskind extension of the Jewish Museum, we attended a James Turell exhibition inside the museum, which was quite a unique experience as we first entered this rather small room with a bench and some steps.

Here we had to take our shoes off, and while I was doing that I was looking at these steps that were leading towards a wall.

Taming A (Timber) Cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Timber) Cloud

I thought that the wall had a screen on it and when the curator told us to go up the stairs I was thinking that the “screen” will interact with us and I wanted to touch it. I don’t think you can imagine how I felt when my hand went through and we found ourselves immersed into this endless, seamless and colorful oasis of light.

After spending close to one hour inside this world (we just didn’t want to leave), I began wondering what a cloud would look like in it and I just knew that I had to do something similar. That’s how Taming A (Colorful) Cloud came to be.

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

3 out of 4 episodes from the first season are inspired by the visit to Berlin. The first image depicts kind of a brutalist museum interior, inspired by details I was picking up from all over the city, but I think I was mainly influenced by the new extension of James – Simon Gallery made by David Chipperfield Architects, even if the building is white.

In the third image, I’ve created this metal structure that has some details similar to what Mies van der Rohe designed back in 1968 for the Neue Nationalgalerie. Only the 2nd episode, Taming A (Stranger) Cloud has a different source of inspiration, which I think it’s pretty obvious.
Even in the second season, the last episode, Taming A (Classic) Cloud, makes a reference to Berlin, as it is inspired by the Bauhaus movement.

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

But architecture done by great architects, movies and contemporary artists is not the only source of inspirations (and references) for my personal projects.

If you would go on my Pinterest page, you will discover that I also like to look at stuff made by photographers, sculptors, illustrators, graphic designers, concept artists from the automotive industry to the games industry, or even tattoo artists.

Sometimes even writers can be a source of inspiration. In Taming an (Ominous) Cloud, for example, I’ve merged together two completely different worlds, one of the contemporary sculptor Richard Serra and the other of the long-gone cool writer that Edgar Allan Poe was, just so that I can have the perfect background for a dark cloud that I wanted to experience creating.

Taming An (Ominous) Cloud -Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming An (Ominous) Cloud

After our return from Berlin, I still didn’t have a good looking cloud, so I came to realize that if I get that done then I can move forward and create any kind of space that I want to place it in. So I’ve watched that tutorial a few more times, I started browsing the internet for any other ideas, techniques, and stuff that might help, like VDB files, but the process still took almost two weeks.

After exploring with different ways to create the cloud, like roughly sculpting it from a box by extruding and turbo smoothing, I’ve ended up finding the “perfect” solution. It’s a bit of cheating and I’m pretty sure that many other artists would do this differently, maybe even better, but it has the look that I was aiming for.

Taming A (Brutalist) Cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Brutalist) Cloud

The main body of the cloud is actually made out of two different objects with two different volumetric materials. The first object is a geosphere that has a few modifiers on it (basically just like the ones that are used in the clouds tutorial) and it’s placed behind the second object which is a bit more complex.

It’s a mesh made out of a group of different sized geospheres that are describing the rough shape of the cloud. This also follows pretty much the same technique from the tutorial as far as it goes for modifiers and materials applied but with some other parameters.

I like doing this so that I could easily control this shape by scaling, moving or rotating parts of the cloud, using the interactive frame buffer. The first object, the single geosphere, has a volumetric material that is a bit more translucent as I wanted to have the effect of seeing through in some areas around the edges of the cloud.

Setting up the cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Setting up the cloud

For extra details and for more of a smokey look, that is visible in SmiIde’s clouds, I used some free VDB files that I found here (https://www.openvdb.org/download/). They were loaded on some Corona Volume Grids which have similar parameters as a Volumetric material.

All of these are completed by one Corona light as a disk that is affecting only the cloud objects. This light is important because it acts as a spotlight for the cloud, revealing its details, as it is not affected by the Sun in the scene.

The global light setup is made using a Corona Sun with Corona Sky for most of the scenes (some are globally lit only by a Corona Sky), which is intentional as my goal was to create these images only with what 3ds Max and Corona Renderer have to offer. I rarely use HDRIs when I’m working with Corona Renderer, as I think that the Corona Sun and Sky are realistic and easy to use.

After achieving a good cloud in terms of realism (which is enhanced with quite a lot of post-production done in Photoshop) and finishing the first image, Taming A (Brutalist) Cloud, I really wanted to go ahead and start experimenting with the other tons of ideas I had in my mind. But some questions popped up.

Should keep the same position of the cloud? Should I explore other shapes too? Or should I explore other angles? Pretty fast I made up my mind.

I decided that I should keep the shape, the position, and the camera the same in all of my images as I thought that it might be cool to see all of them as a slide show, to see how the environment changes around the cloud and how that makes it look. I like the fact that although it has a constant shape and size, in some of the spaces it feels larger or smaller.

The complete series of How to tame a cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
The complete series of Taming a cloud

With this concept on the table I could finally start the journey. Although I pretty much had the ideas for the images all laid out, the process of nailing it down was more experimental. With cloud materials and light setup being tweaked mostly as a trial and error process until a pleasing result was achieved.

Taming a (Timber) Cloud had a more fortunate situation. After I finished modeling the basic shape of the space, I just placed the sun perfectly right from the first three clicks. I knew how I wanted the light to come inside the pavilion and I just did it without any further adjustments.

I wish I had the same luck with all the clouds, but I cannot say that I’ve found the perfect universal volumetric material for it that would work in any given scene. The only constants in this whole project are the shape parameters of the cloud and the scattering directionality value in the volumetric materials which are 0.5.

Taming A (Classic) Cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Classic) Cloud

Most of the tweaking has occurred for the absorption color and distance values but also for the disk light.

In Taming A (Colorful) Cloud I used a Kelvin temperature of 1200 with an intensity of 150 so that I can make the cloud reddish, while behind it there is another plane light that has an intensity value of 2.0 with a direct input color of a bluish kind of tone.

What I also did was to tweak the volumetric materials of both geospheres and they ended up being very similar between them. For the Ominous cloud I had a different approach.
This time I tweaked the absorption, distance and also the scattering color of the volumetric material in order to make the cloud dark gray.

In this scene, the disk light has an intensity value of 250 with a Kelvin temperature of 6500, just so that it acts somehow like a sun affecting only the cloud, given the fact that the global illumination is made just by a CoronaSky.

Material Setup - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Material Setup

All other materials in the scenes are pretty basic ones because I wanted to focus more on the lighting and the mood of the images. The red concrete was made with some Arroway textures, and on the diffuse channel I used Composite where I overlaid a CoronaColor and some dirt maps.

Other details, like leaking, mold, etc. were done in postproduction. The wood material from Taming a (Timber) Cloud is a free one from Poliigon, I tweaked the color of it and later I also applied some more dirt in post. The same kind of process was used for other materials too.

There are two reasons why I like to add dirt or other similar details in Photoshop. One would be the fact that the simpler the material the faster it can be rendered; and the other is that I have much greater control of what, where, and how to add.

Sometimes, using Corona Renderer might mean that some images are great right from the frame buffer, so it could happen that matte painting stuff is pretty much what you get to do in post. If needed : )

Taming A (Stranger) Cloud -Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Stranger) Cloud

A special material is the concrete floor from both Brutalist and Timber episodes. If you would take a closer look at some of Smilde’s photographs, you would find out that under the cloud, on the floor, there is a slightly visible puddle of water.

This is due to his process of making the clouds, by using smoke and sprayed water. I thought that this is a nice detail to add to my images as well.

So the way I did it was by using a CoronaLayeredMtl in which I combined the floor concrete and water materials. In order to have the water visible only in certain parts of the floor, I’ve created a black and white mask with the Map Channel number 2 so that I can have a different UVW Map for tweaking the position of it on the plane. Of course, the interactive frame buffer is very helpful in this case too.

Taming A (Tempestuous) Cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Tempestuous) Cloud

I always use a Physical Camera in my projects because I got used to how and what to tweak in it, therefore it’s easy for me to set up a camera fast and know what to do if something is not working as I want it.

In this project I used a camera with a 50mm focal length and a shutter speed of 1/200s. The EV has been the only thing I’ve adjusted according to the environment and the amount of light in the scene and it has values between 13.6 and 12.0.

To sum it up, pretty much this is the process of “taming” all these clouds and unfortunately, there will not be any upcoming season of Taming A Cloud (at least not for the moment) as my initial thought was to stop at eight episodes.

Although I do have a lot more other ideas for it, at the same time I do have ideas for other projects too : )

Taming A (Colorful) Cloud - Taming clouds with Florin Botea
Taming A (Colorful) Cloud

A thought about the future of this project, which is more like a dream of mine, is to host an exhibition within an Archviz industry event with a print version of all my clouds, but for now that’s just a thought.

Right now I’m working on an exterior image called Le Modulor which is about a building designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret for the 1927 exhibition on Modernist housing in Stuttgart.

I don’t want to say or reveal too much about the project as it’s still a work in progress, but I can say that I will experiment with CoronaDistance, CoronaLayeredMtl, CoronaScatter and also with the CoronaVolumeMtl. I can also share this print screen, but I expect the angle will get through some changes. Or not, I don’t know : )

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

After this I’m thinking about an interior design project for a very small apartment that we have in Bucharest for which I have a very minimal design idea with what I want to explore a more photorealist approach.

Next will be something related to my favorite movie called Barfly (a movie about a part of Charles’ Bukowski life played by my favorite actor Mickey Rourke) and it’s going to be also an interior shot, or shots.

Till then you can still enjoy both seasons of Taming A Cloud by visiting my Behance page and if there is anything else that any of you might want to ask me, you can do it in the comments section there.

And to cheer everybody up in these hard times that we are all going through, I took inspiration from Fabio Palvelli and his car models that a lot of artists are “playing” with (me included), so I’ve decided to set up a basic scene of the cloud and give it to anyone who wants to play around with that too – see the end of the article for the download!

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

You can be creative and play with the cloud’s shape, color, size, environment, or you can just keep it as it is. Consider this as a base from which you can start something cool.

As Tom said when I suggested the idea of sharing the cloud, we will start seeing cars and clouds all over the internet now : ) which I think is not a bad thing if all of us get to learn something new while we are still in self-isolation.

Thank you all for reading this, thank you, Tom Grimes, for giving me the opportunity to write it, Russell Trail for editing up the article – it’s been quite interesting and fun, and many thanks to those who gave their thumbs up for the Taming A Cloud images!

Links

Behance https://www.behance.net/Florin_Botea
Berndnaut Smildehttps://www.berndnaut.nl/

Cloud Download:
Grab your copy of the cloud scene here.

IMPORTANT NOTES:
– The two OpenVDB files “smoke.vdb” and “smoke2.vdb” will need to be downloaded separately, from www.openvdb.org/download/

– On opening the file, do not select “Switch to new medium resolving” otherwise the cloud will not work. Feel free to enable the new 2.5D Displacement, though!

– You will need to point ‘Corona VolumeGrid001’ and ‘Corona VolumeGrid002’ to the “smoke.vdb” object you downloaded, and ‘Corona VolumeGrid003’ and ‘Corona VolumeGrid004’ to the “smoke2.vdb” object you downloaded

– If you share the scene at all, you cannot include the “smoke.vdb” and “smoke2.vdb” objects – simply include the same instructions for downloading and using those as given here

– The file is saved in 3ds Max 2018 format

– The scene requires Corona Renderer 3 for 3ds Max, or newer

LICENSING:
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/

Title of Work: Taming a Cloud – 3dsMax + Corona Renderer free model
Attribute work to name: Florin Botea
Attribute work to URL: https://www.behance.net/Florin_Botea

FAQ:
What does this mean I can do with the file?

Here is a general guide to what you can do with the file:

  • You may create and share rendered images and animations using this “Taming a Cloud” file, with any modifications you like;
  • You may use those renders in free or commercial projects, but you must list the name and URL as an attribution whenever you share any images
    or animations using the “Taming a Cloud” file, whether that is free or commercial usage;
  • You may share the “Taming a Cloud” file itself, but only without any modifications, and you can only share it under this license – this means
    it cannot be sold in any form, or shared in a modified form (including inside a larger scene file). You must include the attribution when
    sharing the “Taming a Cloud” file, and you must include this .txt document with the “Taming a Cloud” file.

Thank you!
Enjoy the cloud! 🙂

Taming clouds with Florin Botea

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