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Laying the foundations for a fictional village

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

The village of Amberwald (see previous post) is my sandbox for testing out ways of creating imaginative content from 3D and 2D tools. I also plan to write faux historical vignettes and perhaps some thumbnail biographies of Amberwald's more notable characters.

I've pictured this process occurring in quite an organic way; I might sketch a landscape or a building, or I might put together mood boards of images that evoke something that I want to capture. I thought I would create 3D models that I could manipulate and rearrange as the collection of assets grew. Beyond this I also thought about giving Amberwald some documentary depth in the form of postcards and literature.

I am toying with the idea of starting this organic design process by creating a map of the locality. On one hand it seems like a logical place to start; to create a terrain and plan out key features that I could either model from scratch or find digital ephemera to populate with. Conversely, a map is a representation of an existing space and I wonder if I might risk limiting my options by creating a prescriptive design at such an early stage? My instinct is, as ever, to push on without thinking too hard about it! Something about having unreliable and changeable maps appeals to me anyway.

For a project which is about immersive digital reproductions, it is interesting that I am excited about using a 2D format to get started. In the spirit of the endeavor I will attempt to create maps that at least look the part. I will use styles from the first Ordnance Survey county maps of the British countryside with their serif fonts and monochromatic symbols and arcane sheet systems, specific to single counties. Bizarrely, images of these old maps are still protected by copyright, so instead of providing an image, I'll add a link to an item in the incredible collection at the National Library of Scotland.

Still, where to start when inventing a place? Would it be possible to slot Amberwald into a historical gap on yesterday's maps? Why would there be a settlement there in the first place? Could it be raw materials, trade, agriculture, religion?

There is a garden ornament in my backyard which has become overgrown with moss and lichen. It sits among a bed of alpines; beautiful plants that challenge my sense of scale. I wanted this cheap garden ornament to take on some significance in Amberwald just as the slow encroach of nature has given the tiny bust a semblance of antiquity. I reminded myself that Amberwald was my playground and so, I decided to place a strange gargantuan relic squarely in the landscape as a statement of intent!

Our Lady of Amberwald. A first pass! (c) fieldWorks

It also seemed to me that a prerequisite for most settlements is the presence of potable water and so it was fitting Amberwald should have something at its heart that reflects a historical habitability. So the first thing I made to be part of Amberwald is an object found by the green in many English villages; a hand powered water pump. I spotted this particular one in the garden of cafe in the South Downs National Park.

For the technically interested, I modelled the pump in Blender, using Cylinder primitives, using Edge-loops to add the detail on the body. The handle was made my Extruding faces of a Cube object and Rotating and Scaling to follow the reference pictures I'd taken from the front and side. The whole model then had a Subdivision surface modifier applied to smooth out the edges, and I added more edge-loops where I needed to prevent the underlying shape collapsing into mush.

The texture is a simple black diffuse with eye-judged Specularity and Metalness, but to add the rust effect, I created a Noise texture that would be applied to "pointy" areas - i.e. sharp edges and areas of dense geometry. I'm not entirely happy with the result and the model is far too high a poly count to be used in a real time engine easily. I did reduce the complexity of the object using Blender's built-in Decimate function though, and then baked the Normal and Diffuse texture information to the lower poly version which you can see above via Sketchfab. So there we go. Two things I now know about Amberwald. I look forward to finding out more.