Çatalhöyük – The making of F.V.I: Part 1 – Modelling

This has been modified from the MSc Dissertation “Photo-realistic Reality: Focusing on artistic space at Çatalhöyük” (Cox 2010)

This post documents the research that was used to create the visualisation found on our gallery page. Before checking out this post you might want to familiarize yourself with a few other precursory posts, including the history behind the Shrine of the Hunters. If you wish to know more about research at Çatalhöyük, you can also find site reports from the current excavations here. 


Modelling ‘The Shrine of the Hunters’ (Also known as F.V.I).

CombinedGrayscale to colour transition of F.V.I

The site of Çatalhöyük boasts a very particular style of structure and one of the immediate observations that emerged from looking at photographs of the background (And also visiting personally) of both the site and F.V.I itself is that the architecture boasts a very naturalistic feel, a factor mentioned by Ian Hodder in his introduction to the 1994 season, “There are almost no true right angles and the feeling is of an organic, cellular agglomeration of buildings over time rather than a unified planned layout” (Hodder 1994). It was therefore very important that this style was represented in 3DS Max as closely and effectively as possible and one of the main challenges behind creating the room was achieving this look. Usually, when working with 3D software, creating the basic geometry especially in regards to standard architecture (doors/windows/walls etc) is a fairly straight forward process and 3DS Max in particular is very good at creating this kind of model from basic poly modelling as many of the tools that are native to the program have been built around constructing everyday buildings and common workflows like using AutoCAD plans for example etc. Traditionally, to do this very basic poly modelling techniques are used and to add believable details modifiers such as chamfer are applied to create a natural rounding effect on edges and hard corners.

F.V.I ChamferingAn example of a standard box with chamfer applied

The image above shows an example of applying such a modifier and its influence on the linear features of a model. Of course, this was an option for the F.V.I room, but one of the drawbacks of using the chamfer command is that it can often become quite messy to deal with when models begin to become complicated in their design and once committed it was found to be somewhat inflexible. Although you can use modifiers like edit poly to separate it out to a layer to keep it in the stack, this is often used as a representational tool once the core form of a model is finalised, to quickly keep multiple iterations viable and often when working with complicated models it is common to need to go back into the initial editable poly base input and making changes at this level can adversely effect other modifiers on top.

Using Mesh-smoothing

Alternatively, Turbo-smoothing provides a framework for a very natural mesh based on the subdivision of polygons using constrained edges and outside of sculpting programs is a standard workflow for creating very complicated and organic geometry in 3DS Max. It is mainly beneficial because it allows control over the level of detail and can be refined down at multiple levels using a low underlying level of geometry that can be freely edited without negative results to modifiers above it in the stack. Traditionally, the trade-off to using this technique (Unless you are using Pixars method of open subdivision that has been included in 3DS Max 2015) is that it requires more attention to detail than using modifiers like chamfering and one of the requirements for a successfully smoothed mesh is a strict understanding of polygon modelling, due to a requirement for four-sided faces. This requires a tight, organised network of edges to pinch certain parts of the mesh and tell it how to create soft edges, which can often be very time-consuming and fiddly. If you want some very detailed insights into applying this kind of approach to modelling smoothed surface it is advised that you to check out Grant Warwicks work on mastering hard surface modelling.

SmoothingModeled recess with constrained edges for Turbo-smooth

SmoothedSame model with Turbo-smooth applied

Smoothing was especially important in achieving the organic nature of certain elements from within the room, such as the oven and the recessed paneling (below). It is clear from looking at the modelling how useful being able to merge the walls, floors and platforms together is in recreating the homogeneous nature of the architecture.

OvenSmoothingExample of the smoothed oven

PanelsExample of the smoothed wall panels

Wicker Baskets

To create the wicker baskets, splines were created to flesh out the basic shapes of the interlocking wicker and then copied/arrayed along the z-axis until enough were present to create a basket. These were then made visible both to render and in the view-port, which allowed the adjustment of size for the thickness and height. Individual vertices were then broken and manually varied to create the effect of pieces of wicker that stuck out from the basketry and as a final step a 3×3 FFD box was applied to the whole object. This allowed for the widening of the middle part of the object and overlayed a secondary cage that was used to influence modifications, such as tapering.

WickerBasketsDifferent stages in the basket modelling

Wicker Roofing & Wooden Beams

In a similar fashion to the baskets, renderable splines were used to create the basic shape of the wicker ceiling. These were then copied using snap commands until they ran the length of the room and then welded together to create one singular long piece of wicker. These pieces were then arrayed until they created an entire network for the roof and everything was connected into a single spline, which then allowed the roof hole to be cut out very simply from the spline vertices. The wooden beams were simple cylinders that met the length of the room and had enough resolution to have noise modifiers applied and then varied across each object. This can be done manually, or through using maxscript using the following command on copies, or references: for obj in (selection as array) do (obj.modifiers [#Noise].seed = random 0 100). Small pieces of plaster were modeled onto the ends of the beams (see below), this was to mimic the effect of the plaster merging with the wood, as is often found in this style of construction. Small details like this are what really add a convincing element to models as it helps to break up the perfection that is usually seen in basic cgi.

WickerRoofingWicker and Roof models

WickerRoofCloseClose up of wicker roofing

Ladder & Props

The ladder was created using a combination of the two techniques detailed above, first cylinders were created for the beams and then renderable splines were created from the loops around the shafts. A good way to do this quickly is by using the ‘create shape’ function in the editable poly ‘edges’ sub-object roll-out (Press 2 when you have an editable poly selected to enter this). Torus knot primitives were then added to the back of the ropes and splines created for the hanging pieces (See below). Much of the other objects in the scene were created using standard poly modelling techniques, the skins were fleshed out using planes that were then extruded out/shelled to give depth and provided with constraining edges so that they could be smoothed from the image references.

F.V.I Assorted PropsScreenshots of the props from the scene

LadderCloseLadder close up


Finally, to create the dust a particle cloud was created using a cylinder emitter around the opening in the roof. These were facing type, a selection that is always perpendicular to the camera and had a gravity binding applied to them to mimic the gentle effect of them floating around. There was quite a lot of chaotic variation applied to them in terms of direction and speed to create the effect and to make sure they were fully in the flow of things they began their emission 30 frames before the beginning of the animation period.

ParticlesA screenshot of the particle cloud dialogue

DustA shot of the particles inside the model

Other views of the room

F.V.I Geometry 01

General shot with cutaway

Shot_01_WireframeAnimation camera 1

Shot_02_WireframeAnimation camera 2

Shot_03_WireframeAnimation camera 3

Shot_04_WireframeAnimation camera 4

Shot_05_WireframeAnimation camera 5

I hope you have enjoyed the first part of this multi post breakdown of the Shrine of the Hunters. In the next part of this series, textures and materials behind the objects shown in this post will be explored, specifically in relation to the recreation of murals found throughout this structure. Further posts will also examine why certain choices were made regarding interior fixtures.


Hodder, Ian 1994 site report introduction

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  1. […] of the information behind how 3D models are constructed, an example of which can be found in the Çatalhöyük ‘Making of’ posts, but they don’t go far enough to express the amount of time, work and personal involvement […]