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Making of Natanz Minaret

History of using Adobe (or Raw Adobe) refers to 11000 BC in Burned City Civilization (Zabol Civilization) in Zabol City/Iran. Afterwards, Adobe and Brick were used as important materials for making Monuments all over Iran and Mesopotamia. But public Brickwork decorating starts in almost 100-BC with rising of Parthians dynasty and reaches to its highest and most complicated levels in 1100-1300 AC (as seen in image). 

Art of Brickwork or Brick Tilling has been the main method of decorating different Architectures such as Monuments, Tombs, Hospitals, Mosques (Mosques have been schools or scientific centers at same time in Iranian tradition), Minarets, etc.. at those ages. Bricks sit beside each other based on a geometrical plot that`s obtained from accurate mathematical calculations, finally they form the entire shape of buildings in many different creative forms. Even the Inscriptions are made from different brick pieces with different scales.

In fact as a sacred material brick plays the most important role in Iranian Architecture. Other famous materials/techniques such as Stucco andCeramic Tiles come then. It constructs and forms façade, interior/exterior and structure of a monument and “unlike the stone” it`s easily accessible at every Place. Of course after one or two centuries brick were gradually replaced by Stucco and Ceramic tiles for decorating the façades. Finally ceramic tilling with plant forms (instead of geometrical forms) was established as dominant method of façade decorating in around 1500-AC. However, brick didn`t lose its historical place in Iranian Architecture... Well, now after centuries we are facing many semi-ruined or very old brickwork monuments. Which making them in CG could be a good sources and attractive subject for every artistic historical based mind. However it has not been so easy to do in CG all the times... 

Challenging with ruined brick monuments in CG

Making bricks in a regular or fresh form is not a problem. You make a Normal Map for your bricks if they`re far to camera and render them very fast, or you make a Displacement Map and apply it to your model to use in close shots, Of course finally you should spend couple of times for Rendering Displacements. At all you have a plan and that`s only time that matters. But when you decide to make an Old Looking or Ruined brick covered buildings problems start to appear. It cannot be achieved by just a simple plan, so you need to choose some more complex or multi-method tactic. There`s a rule that applies to every ruined human made thing that`s: “You have to make something that`s a combination of Regularityand Irregularity 

Reaching that point in CG has not been so easy all the times. As a CG/Architecture fan I have always been looking for the best and fastest tools/ways for making ruined bricks, but I should admit I was not successful in getting what I want from softwares at past. But nowadays with improving softwares doing it is very easy and really worth of time. After lots of tweaking and trial and error in 3ds Max and Mudbox I`ve found some tricks that might be useful to “Ruined Architecture” fans. That`s what I am going to share with you.


Natanz Minaret

Natanz is an old city in Isfehan state/Iran. Main Architecture of the city is concentrated in a complex that contains Jame Mosque, Sheykh Abde Samad Shrine and the Minaret. All belong to 1100 AC.

The Minaret was almost ruined until 70s but it was restored later (as seen in picture). I had a rare photo of the ruined time that was really interesting.  So I started to make the entire Minaret. But the head part gave me a good shot and details of bricks were really interesting. So I just focused on head and left the other parts. That`s what we are going to do in this tutorial (as you see in picture below). It also let us to focus on more techniques of brickwork creating by focusing on a limited area. 

Our general plan is:

  1.     Modeling the head based on image in 3ds max
  2.     Unwrapping Model and export to Mudbox
  3.     Sculpting and texturing Model in Mudbox and photoshop
  4.     Generating Normal Map & exporting Model to 3ds Max
  5.     Lighting and Rendering final Model in 3ds max using Vray


So let`s start. 

  1. Modeling the head part using image in 3ds Max

After launching Max we need to change our viewport layout from four to two viewports. It makes our process easier to do by having one viewport for image background and one for Modeling. To do this at the right corner down, right click on viewport tools to open the viewport configuration window. Click on layout tab and choose the second layout that`s the two views type and press ok.

 Press “P” for on right viewport to make it perspective and leave the left view that`s the Top view. The result should be as below:

Now open the material editor by pressing “M”. Click on an empty slot then push the “get material” button to open the “Materials/Map browser”. Under the standard Maps click bitmap and load the image from hard disk. In coordinates tab change your image from texture to Environ. Press the “8” key to open the “Environment and Effects” options. With your material editor opened click on the Minaret image you loaded and drag it to the empty map slot in Environment and Effects rollout. Close this window and in perspective view press Alt+B to open the “Viewport Background Options” window. Check the use environment background and display background checkboxes then press ok. Now you should see the Minaret image in your perspective view.

As you see the image background is stretched. So we need to match the view frame size to image size. To do this first press Shift+F to show safe frame window, then in material editor with active image slot click on view image button in “bitmap parameters” tab to see the image. Now right click on it see the image dimensions, then enter the image`s height and width on your render output size.

Finding the images Perspective (Camera lens/Angle)

Now that we came up with viewport image background it`s time to find the images perspective or the camera lens and angle. There`re some ways to do that, but we`re going to choose the easiest one. First press Ctrl+C in perspective view to create a camera for it and press C in perspective view to switch the camera view. 

As you see the overall shape of the Minaret is cylindrical so create a cylinder in top view. In camera view, press F3 to see the cylinder in wireframe. Now try to match the perspective of cylinder to the Minaret`s shape using different camera zoom/pan/orbit tools. It`s not so hard and after some tweaking you`ll get there. If you notice the image there`re two important guides that will help us to find the accurate position of the camera:

One is that the camera position is in a low angle (photographer has taken the photo from below), and the other one is that the camera lens is a Tele-lens, so the photo is almost orthographic.

After finding and fixing the camera position and lens we start to model the details of head from this cylinder so we need to know the number of Muqarnas Slices. Before finding the slices number let`s talk about Muqarnas a bit more.

Muqarnas is the most complex Volume in Iranian Architecture (Its shape reminds the beehive`s form). Iranian Architects invented this form to decorate different monuments such as Schools, Castles, Mosques, Minarets, etc.. to express and transfer the highest and deepest dimensions of Iranian philosophy and.. In practice it`s created on ground separately and will be moved to its accurate position on the monument and will be fixed there. You can see some different types of Muqarnas in Iran here:

About creating Muqarnas in 3D we have to ways. A) Making them from their geometrical plans, B) Common way of image based Modeling. We`ll choose the second way because our head part is an easy Muqarnas form and we can continue our modeling without the need of any geometrical calculation. 

Ok, we were trying to get the number of slices. So press F3 to get back to edged-faces view, select the cylinder and press Alt+X to activate the see-through mode for it. Now you can easily find the number of head Muqarnas slices by changing the number of cylinder sides in modify panel and then rotating the cylinder to match its edges to Minaret edges. Result is 16 that means we have 16 slices.

Now that we got the correct number let`s convert the cylinder to editable poly. Decrease its height and Remove all polygons except one. Later, we`ll array instance copies from this model to make our modeling faster and easier. You can see the modeling process here:

Now that the base slice is ready lets array it in instance. Then we`ll add some edges and attach all models and weld seems to get a unique model.

After that delete the shown polygons at down part of the Minaret that would be the entrance and finally add a shell modifier to give our model thickness and convert it to editable poly. Tip: try to keep polygons in square form that`s the best case for mudbox.

As the down Muqarnas is not in our focus and also we`re going to make it in its ruined form, we just need to make it very simple. So unhide the cloned cylinder and match its size to the Muqarnas as shown below. And convert it to editable poly and add some edges.

Now that we`re done with modeling you can remove the background image from your viewport get ready for next phase that`s unwrapping.

2. Unwrapping Model and export to Mudbox

Unwrapping Minaret model would be easy. I used XrayUnwrap plugin that`s a very handy and easy to use. Just define the edges in xrayunwrap then by just pressing unwrap we`ll be there and all UVs are wrapped and ready to pack.

Do same thing to another model that`s our cylinder and export them as .Obj file for use in Mudbox. But in export options select mudbox in presets to make our model ready to use and compatible in mudbox.

3. Sculpting and texturing the Model in Mudbox and photoshop

Open the Minaret .obj file Mudbox. As you see we have 2 main area of focusing in our sculpt process. Top part that will be decorated by geometrical forms and down part that will be decorated by pure brickwork

A) Sculpting top part:

At start let`s subdivide model by pressing Shift+D twice or three times to increase the model resolution and make it ready for sculpting. Now make a new sculpt layer and start to make erosions using scrape tool, sculpt tool and smooth tools, also you can make cracks using knife tool.

Try using different stroke size and pressures, also smooth and sharpen edges in their natural ways to get more realistic results.

Now let`s make our model more detailed by adding decorating geometrical forms. To do it we`ll make these stencil images in photoshop and use them as sculpting masks in Mudbox.

Go to stencil tab and add these masks to your stencils palette. Make a new layer and name it geometrical form or everything desired, then adjust your stroke pressure for a correct number and start sculpting shown areas using the mask.


Mudbox is a huge program with lots of possibilities. It let you add sculpt layers and change their opacity too. So feel free of making every layer you want for every geometrical form or every group of them. After that try to add some more ruins to your model and geometrical forms using erase tool with applied grunge texture and imprint tool. You can add lots of details to your model by just applying different grunge textures to imprint tool that`s a real powerful tool. Here you can see the final result, Also I have checked Mudbox Material, ToneMapper & Ambient Occlusion that all produce a very high quality render in Mudbox viewports:

B) Sculpting down part

Before start sculpting let me return to our ruined brick building topic and define our approach to get there. As mentioned before, to create a ruined brick or every ruined human made thing we need to work on model in regularity and irregularity. So, in order to reach that point we`ll work in 2 sculpting layers. One that`s the brick (regular) layer and another one that`s the ruins (irregular) layer. 

About bricks layer there`s two important tips. First, our Minaret is cylindrical and second, the bricks which have special geometrical pattern. So we cannot sculpt the Minaret manually and need one more accurate plan. In order to do that we`ll paint a map for bricks in photoshop and sculpt our model using this map in Mudbox sculpt using map operation options. So our UV coordinates should be so accurate to get most precise results. Here you can see the areas I painted bricks in my UV layout:

Again make a new layer for our coming bricks. Now in Maps menu go to sculpt using map option and click new operation. The “sculpt using map” window appears, choose the Minaret model as target and load the brick painted map in map option. Then apply a number between 4 and 5 for the Multiplayer that means the amount of extrusion. Finally press the GO button to run the operation of sculpting.

Now that the bricks layer is ready, make another layer for ruins such as what we did for the top part and add ruin and erosion to bricks using imprint and erase tools.

For texturing you just need to load a simple brownish old wall style map for all the model and use the Mudbox clone tool to remove and fade seems. That`s exactly the same as photoshop clone tool.

We`re done with Modeling. Do same techniques for the other model. As our main focus is on brickwork we`re going to finish modeling here and just export this model and its Normal Map to render in 3ds Max.

4. Generating Normal Map & exporting Model to 3ds Max

Now the Minaret model has lots of polygons (almost 10.000.000 polygons). So we`ll do the classic method of exporting in low poly plus Normal Map to be able render the model in 3ds Max. To do that press Page Down button two or three times to go back to level 1 or 2 for the model. Remember that if you`re going to render a realistic image you cannot keep the base model very low. If you do that you`ll miss lots of your details and volumes. But if you`re going to use the model in a game you can set the low poly at the lowest level that`s level 0.  I chose level 2 that`s almost 100.000 polygons. Now go to Map menu and choose Extract Texture Maps and then set New Operation. Then choose Normal Map in Extract Texture Maps menu. Now set parameters as shown in picture.

After generating Normal Map, from file menu export your already low poly model as .obj file. Also export your texture layer from paint layers menu as a .tiff or .jpeg file. Now we have one model, one Normal Map and one Texture Map ready to use in 3ds Max.

5. Lighting and Rendering final Model in 3ds max using Vray

As said before you can make other cylindrical model easily using same techniques. Now we import the Minaret and other model in Max. set Vray as your main render engine. Open a new VrayMtl and load the texture you exported from Mudbox as diffuse map. Then apply a VrayNormalMap to bump slut and load extracted Normal Map on it:

Choose a bluish sky for background, then create a VrayPhysicalCamera & a VraySun. Locate VraySun`s position to day time that means above your model and almost 45 degrees right. Finally set sun and camera parameters as shown below:

Vray Sun position and parameters:

Vray Physical Camera parameters:

Final step before rendering is setting correct parameters for Vray. You can see them here:

Now hit Render button to see the final image.

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