The Burrow in 3D

Patryk Urbaniak explains how he used Redshift, 3ds Max, ZBrush and more to recreate the Weasley’s iconic home from Harry Potter’s universe.
By Logan Baker

Patryk Urbaniak is look development lead at ScanlineVFX, an award-winning studio with seven locations around the globe. He’s also a huge Harry Potter fan who enjoys challenging himself with personal projects that involve learning new skills.

Recently, he spent six months working on “The Burrow,” a highly detailed 3D recreation of the Weasley family’s home that is strikingly similar to the one in the Harry Potter universe. We talked with Urbaniak about being a “Potterhead” and how he used Redshift, 3ds Max, ZBrush, and other tools for the project.

Please tell us about yourself and your work.
I am a 3D generalist with a lot of love for cinematography, cameras, and lighting. Most of the things I do for work revolve around making characters, environments, textures, and look dev. Hopefully, I’ll be able to dive into FX and Houdini for the first time in 2022.

Why did you want to do this as a side project?
I saw the first Harry Potter movie when I was nine, and I still remember the feeling it gave me. I was speechless for hours, digesting what I saw and trying to understand if it was all possible if it was all real.

I had no idea that the movie, and that one evening, were going to decide what I would do with my life moving forward. I always wanted to be a part of the team creating visual effects in the Harry Potter universe, but I never fulfilled that dream. I’ve decided that it is the right time to pay a tribute to what shaped me as an artist.

One of the reasons I do so much personal work is that I don’t get to work creatively as much as I would like to anymore. When I was doing more hero stuff, I was totally satisfied with the amount of artistic work I got to do. But the higher you go in a company’s hierarchy, the less you get to do the creative work yourself. Personal projects help satisfy those artistic cravings.

What references did you use for this?
I dove back into the Harry Potter book and tried to find as many descriptions of the place as possible. When I was done reading, I watched documentaries and the making-of videos. I gathered as many camera views of the area as I could find and put together a massive photo collage. (Check out the project breakdown here.)

There aren’t a lot of closeups of the Weasley’s house in the movies, so I had to create a blueprint of it myself. Now, I know for sure that if it wasn’t a “magical house,” it would definitely collapse from being so unbalanced and skewed. The most challenging part of this project was making the house look as realistic as possible without that odd feeling of being a regular architectural visualization.

I was trying to break the image’s composition and symmetry, and I added weight to the model in places that would make the whole structure less resistant. I also tried playing with scale and used other models that would point viewers’ eyes toward details rather than flat surfaces.

Did you model everything yourself?
I did model everything by myself, except for a little bit of foliage and a couple of trees. Every single element of that house and environment is a finished asset. The window box was made using woodworking blueprints and joints with screws or nails. Each plank or wood piece was modeled separately, and then bent and put in a place where it would fit.

I didn’t scale the objects themselves. If the scale was too big or small, I changed each part separately so I wouldn’t skew the texture or break the visual appearance. If you added it all up—wood, planks, nails, screws, the glue between the window frame and the glass, stained glass, metallic frames, handles, doors, vent windows, dreamcatchers, railings, roof tiles, chimneys, brooms, car elements and everything else—there are close to 700 assets.

I prepared UVs for about 20 percent of the elements as I tried to texture a lot of stuff using triplanar nodes and Maxon Noises, which are very powerful in Redshift.

Talk about how you got the hyper-realistic look for the car and house.
I always start with lots of camera settings, different FOVs, and height. Camera is the essence of composition work, and it can deliver different emotions based on lens length, center of interest and F number. Redshift doesn’t need any specific setup to start making great images, and I like how robust the render view is.

I worked as a cameraman and a lighter on set before I started my VFX career, so that experience helped a lot in terms of setting up the scene and mood. For materials, I started with some previously generated textures plugged into the Redshift triplanar node and blended them with C4D’s Noises. There are some cool, organic-looking procedural noises. I use Naki Nutous, Luka, or Sema, which look like underwater caustics when set up.

I used a Redshift car paint shader to add depth to the car’s surface, and then I made it look dirty again on top. For the house textures, I used a lot of Megascans and hand-painted dirt layers with some leaks, rust, moss, and regular weathering. I also tried to add a feeling of directionality with a bunch of gradients supported by a world position mask.

Describe how you created the landscape around the house.
I completed a very rough landscape in 3ds Max, and there were a few camera views too. I exported the geo to ZBrush and sculpted some irregularities into the edge of the water. I also added more detail around the garage and house to better connect them to the ground.

I used the 3ds Max plugin called The Forest Pack for all of the trees, grass, foliage, and bushes. You can scatter everything with a great amount of randomization, which makes your greenery look organic and realistic. I had to do some planning for an area that large because each system had to look different, so I had around 50 splines and areas of effect in order to exclude or include particular vegetation.

Do you have another personal project in the works?
I’ve been thinking about creating the biggest 3D scene in the world, and I plan to do it in Redshift. I want to recreate the whole Hogwarts with everything we’ve around it, from the train station to the shore and the boats they took to the castle to Hagrid’s shack and the forbidden forest.

I have been planning it for a while and so far it contains around 2,500 assets, almost 25 kilometers square. I’ve planned 36 sections and gathered all of the references and aerial pictures I could find so, hopefully, in the future you’ll be able to see the fruits of that tree.

Logan Baker is a writer based in Denver, Colorado