Welcome to Fishbone

Working on a little city scene in Cinema 4D, thought I’d share a few in-progress shots.


I guess my thing is imaginary places with stairs going everywhere. Must be some kind of jungle gym fever left from my childhood, something about verticality and exploration.

Drawing of fishmonger’s shop

It started as this doodle in Procreate (above), but at some point I caught 3D fever (see: hypomania) and started making a model of one of the buildings. Then I thought: “What if I can use a 3D model as an underpainting for a hand drawing”, and then it was too much fun modeling all sorts of little props and details and... so it’s grown into something else.

Screenshot of Cinema 4D viewport

Screenshot of Cinema 4D viewport

The idea is a dense, little borough called Fishbone, where everything is about fish for some reason. They have an annual Salmon Run Festival, where participants don colorful fish costumes, run up all the stairs and dive off the central building into the sea. Not pictured so far: any people at all.

A fishmonger

The fishmonger

I originally planned to draw the people in Procreate, but as the detail level started to rise, so did the need for proper shadows and reflections and stuff. I’m no good at drawing people, but I’m not very good at modeling them in 3D either, so I think I’m going to aim for something in the middle: block the bodies in with Cinema, then paint in the detail on the iPad.

I’ve taken some inspiration from cities like Hong Kong, but don’t want it to look or feel like any real place in particular, and definitely not some cyberpunk metropolis. I want it to be quite colorful in the end—it’s like a challenge for myself and the people of Fishbone: how can we liven up this drab pile of concrete?

Mural welcoming visitors to Fishbone

Mural welcoming visitors to Fishbone.

Most of the little brands (Uaru, Rasbora etc.) are names from a Wikipedia list of freshwater aquarium fish. Some textures are painted in Procreate, but the vast majority are just procedural materials using Cinema’s excellent noise shader.

You can get some stylized plant-looking stuff going with noise shaders, too! These petunias use layered noise for the leaves, but I still have to place every flower by hand.

Simple 3D model of petunia flowers

Using an old version of Cinema 4D, I don’t have any of the fancy tools for, say, distributing lots of small objects in a certain order... Making things like ivy is a real hassle. Quite relaxing, though, just listening to a podcast and placing leaves one by one.

Ivy-clad entrance

Placed each of these ivy leaves by hand, still not finished.

Speaking of shaders, I’m not really using any lighting here - all the materials are self-illuminating, but shaded according to a single light source. This gives me a lot of control over colors. I also use a bit of low-sample ambient occlusion to mark some nooks and crannies, and some fog volumes to separate background and foreground.

Back alley

CARP - We are garbage

I’m currently having a lot of fun with this piece, but know from experience that it might take a while to finish (if ever). Unlike other hypomanic obsessions, though, it feels within reach this time.