Ian Stewart

Computer Science 3710 - Spring 2010
Ray Tracing Project


I've included a number of images taken throughout the modeling process, if you would like to skip these and view the final renders please click the link below:

Link to Final Renders

Project Introduction:

For this project I decided to model the Vulcan Tourism & Trek Station in Vulcan, Alberta. The reason I choose this building was because I felt its complex geometry and unique architecture would result in an interesting project. I knew that this landmark would be difficult to replicate in ray tracing software but I was confident that I would be able to successfully complete the project within the one month deadline.

The ray tracing software I decided to use was 3ds Max from Autodesk. After receiving the project description I began to look at the different programs that were available. Having no prior experience with any of them I choose 3ds Max because it had a very powerful toolset, there wasn't a shortage of tutorials, and there was a free 30-day trial version.

More information on the building and Vulcan can be found at:



Vulcan Tourism & Trek Station:

Vulcan 1



Once I decided on the landmark for this project I took a road trip to Vulcan. I took approximately 50 photos of the structure from every possible angle and spent about a hour measuring as much of the building as I could with a tape measure. Also, I anticipated that guessing the angle of deflection on the buildings exterior panels could make the modeling process very difficult so I made a crude angle finder and measured several bend angles on the exterior panels. This trip was done on a Sunday, the day the building is closed, at approximately 11:00 am as I felt that time frame would give me the largest window to work in without someone calling the police to report the weird guy walking around the building measuring angles and dimensions.

I started my modeling with the large panels near the base of the structure because they were fairly simple objects that just required rotation and sizing to construct. The dimensions from the actual building made the process easier however it was still quite difficult to get the walls to fit together properly.

After the walls were assembled I beveled the edges to create a lip above the walls. I then created another set of walls on top of that; these walls would reach up to the bottom of the roof eaves. In the center of this wall I created a tan colored tube to mimic the LED lights on the building.

Next I constructed the eaves. They were quite difficult to create as they are convex and each of them bends relative to the wall panels. From the eave edges I built the edge of the roof and then the roof surface itself. The roof is also a curved surface which bends relative to the building walls, similar to the eaves.

Once the roof was completed I built the base of the spire and then the spire itself. The spire is quite complex geometrically, so I used 3ds Max's boolean tools to create a triangular shaped punch and then cut the tower out of a triangle with the punch. These tools allowed me to make a very complicated object within just a few hours. On top of the spire I added a base plate and a light to match the landmark.

I then constructed and added the spiked extrusions that hang off the roof edges. The triangluar concrete blocks around the building were constructed and added, and then I began the arduous task of creating the front window and doors.

After the front door was constructed I built the two rear doors and built the environment. The ground around the building is sloped so I built a sloped terrain and added all the concrete, sidewalks, grass and brick to the model.

Following that, I began to texture all my geometry. I used a number of texture maps I found on the internet and used 3ds max's built in textures for the remainder. I added light sources to all sides of the object and adjusted the intensity multipliers to get my building's lighting as close to the pictures as I could. A brighter light source was added with shadows enabled to create the appearance of a sun in the renders. I then placed 12 cameras around the building to take renders of all the features and angles I wanted to present. A sky background was added and the images were then rendered one at a time.


Final Renders:

Comparison Shots:

Shots from other angles and close ups:


Difficulties Encountered:

The complexity of the 3ds Max tools presented a significant challenge in this project. A good example of this is the curved roof and eaves on the building I modeled; it took over 5 hours of research and experimentation to find the correct set of modifiers to reproduce that shape.

The doors and tinted glass window at the front of the building was the most difficult part of this model. The front of the building is made up of nine panels, each is rotated so they form almost a semi-cirle; the window frame is an arch in the middle of this semi-circle. This means that the glass window is arched along the y and z axises, which makes it extremely difficult to work with. By that point in the project I was proficient with 3ds max but it still took about 15 hours and 6 attempts before I managed to build one that worked on both planes.

I also had a great deal of difficulty with the texturing on the building walls. If you look closely at the building walls in the photographs they have faint vertical lines on them. I planned to add a texture with vertical lines to the model but despite my best efforts I couldn't get the texture to render. It would appear in my working copy but not in the render. After many wasted hours in the render setup menu I gave up.

The final challenge with this project was the lawn. Prior to adding lighting, I had a Hair and Fur modifier that produced some incredible 3D short grass (although it was so detailed it added an hour to my render time). Once I added lighting the grass turned from green to florescent yellow. After many hours of wasted effort trying to correct the problem, I discovered that the problem would persist as long as my model was illuminated with more than two light sources regardless of what lighting settings I used. Rather than having nice grass and a poorly lit building I decided to change the grass. It took two full days of experimentation with different methods for creating grass before I found one that worked correctly.


Final Thoughts:

I'm fairly happy with the final results of my ray tracing project considering I'd never used any program like this before. By the time I finished rendering the images I had put over 100 hours into the project, so I feel I gave it a solid effort. There are small flaws I would have liked to correct but there was only so much time I could devote to this project.


Resources Used:

Most of the tutorials I used came from the CD in the 3ds Max book I ordered from Amazon: Link to Amazon page

I used a number of textures from http://www.photoshoptextures.com and http://www.sharecg.com

The background images came from http://www.cadtutor.net/

After I realized my grass wouldn't work with my lighting I attempted to create grass using this sample/tutorial file:


The grass in the sample file didn't work out but I liked some of the lighting settings and worked them into my lighting.