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Recreating the 980-Feet-Tall Aspire Tower in 3ds Max & Corona Renderer

Ramees Muhammed talks about where the inspiration for personal projects comes from, explains the difficulties of sculpting real-life architectural objects in 3D, and comments on the importance of dedicating enough time to designing surroundings that can help the centerpiece stand out.


My name is Ramees Muhammed and I am a CGI Generalist from India and I've been living in Qatar for the past 10 years. I got my Bachelor's degree in Visual Communication and an Advanced Diploma in Multimedia in Chennai, India.

I've spent most of my time in Qatar working for Quantum Global Solutions, a company that is somewhat unique in terms of production. I am the head of a team that produces forensic technical animations that are used for civil arbitrations and construction tenders, etc. I have worked with some of the world-renowned engineers and agencies during my stint here (can not disclose any names due to the nature of my job, they are strictly confidential). This includes some of the major airports in the Middle East as well as some oil and gas and marine-related projects.

Aside from that, I do concept designs in my free time which includes aircraft (Sting R12, EVA X01), some architecture, and hobby renderings. 

Working on the Aspire Tower Project

The tower is always one of those landmarks I love to visit in the tiny country I live in. It was a major attraction during the 2006 Asian Games back in the day. I always wanted to do something with that and then I heard about the Hum3D challenge. I didn't have to think of a subject to do as this was in the back of my head.

The way the tower looked originally during the night always bugged me as the light colors used in it were too funky. I wanted to emphasize the beauty of the tower in a dramatic atmosphere and wanted to give it a nice contrast against a set of clouds that tell a story. Dark clouds are a rarity in the regions that are mostly deserted. The light colors I used are minimal and of similar hues, so they don't wholly capture the attention.

There are plenty of images available on the Internet plus I had lots of photos taken during my visits. I have considered the details of the building as well as the surroundings during my modeling phase.

Approaching Composition

From the very start, the project was planned for a night view, so I optimized the scene accordingly. A waterbody was crucial to set the dramatic environment, so I set up the camera view across the nearby lake, overlooking the tower and the buildings surrounding it. As the tower was tall, I set the aspect ratio at a level that would give prominence to the subject.

I set the view and planned out the additional assets according to the view. The stadium behind the tower (Khalifa International Stadium, one of those that hosts 2022 FIFA) and the arena nearby are the major assets to the model. Due to the unavailability of drawings and plans, I measured the stadium diameter with the help of Google maps and I used the width to height ratio and eyeballed the design to model it up from scratch. I used a similar method to do the nearby Aspire Arena.

There are some little props and assets like street lights, chairs, and park seats on the bank of the lake. For vegetation, I used Corona Scatter and there is not a lot of it here. The design only includes some bushes and trees on the bank of the lake.

Creating the Tower

I modeled the tower from scratch. I used the available elevation drawings from the Internet and started using simple 3ds Max modeling tools such as Lathe, Edit Poly, and Spline Surfaces. No plugins were used for modeling. It's a straightforward modeling that includes:

  • Lathe based on the outer shell profile
  • Editing the polygon and creating sub-shell structures (iron stripes that run from the base to the top) using edge to create spline option
  • Some further 3D modeling and details were added on the roof where the torch is situated that includes a protective shell-like structure (these are done using simple poly to spline techniques)
  • Adding minor details like welded corners, etc.

The floor layers are also Lathe models based on the drawings, with light material layers added on top of them. They are not highly detailed as there are mesh layers in front of them.

I used Boolean to create a hole in the structure to allocate an opening to the swimming pool at one side of the tower. The area was modeled using the spline to surface modifier technique. In general, the tower is composed of tiny mesh layers which are simple splines running across the shell to give it some level of detail, especially since they stand out in the light.

In the overall image, usually, it's those tiny details that actually matter and they give the sense of realism even though they are not noticeable to our eyes in the first place.

Adding the Sky and the Lake

The sky is an HDR image used for the lighting. Additionally, a background override was enabled using Corona Mix Map. This includes the original HDRi Sky and a layer of cloud images to achieve the desired look. It was a tricky process and took me some time to be at peace with the results. The moon was included in the post-production. And yes it is a bit larger as I was always attracted to those oversized moon images.

The lake was a simple plane with a water material. I used a Normal Bump map of the water and mixed it with a Noise map to achieve seamless results. Getting the right amount of reflection was the key task here.

Texturing and Lighting

The texturing was again a straightforward process. The outer shell of the tower has a simple metal texture, with the internal meshes having metal shades with opacity maps. The building floors were made of light materials which were toned down. There are some layers of random light spots with opacity maps for added details. The nearby buildings have simple shaders with some added layers of light materials with maps. The detail was minimal here as the focus had to be on the tower.

Lighting played a key role here as they are mostly dark and added glares helped to shift the vibrance.

The base lighting is an HDRi sky. Once I achieved the sky tone that matched the overall image, I started lighting the building which is Corona sphere lights placed all over the tower.
I used the spacing tool to put tiny high-intensity lights across the horizontal linings. In addition, I've used images as lights with opacity maps for the interior as well as some spots.
I used a backlighting technique for the roof torch, projecting from the floor of the roof a large interior lighting for the ground floor.

For the nearby stadium, I used some high-intensity lights, with added glares and blooms as well as blurred image maps for the interior light sources. The same techniques were used for the Arena.

I scattered some tiny lights on the ground – these were distributed across the landscape with multiple colors to simulate the traffic movements. These added elements were rendered separately, and I added some glares and overlays in post-production plus I played with different blending modes in Photoshop.

In post-production, I rendered out the lights, the passes with and without blooms, and glares separately. I wanted to have control over the intensity in various places, so this was possible in the post-production. The moon was added here and placed somewhere below the roof to emphasize the tower height.

The color correction was the tricky part as it wasn't easy to determine what's best. I produced outputs in two color tones, though I only submitted one for the challenge.
The process included several levels of color balancing, playing with hues on individual items, toning, saturating, and adjusting levels.


The key challenge here was to set the scene and determine the overall look for the final output. The project took around a week. This was on and off my time aside from my day job.
Setting up the scene took the most time. The modeling phase took some time too, especially the nearby buildings without any drawing references. I wanted them to be as accurate as possible.

The trick here is the project planning and the level of attention based on how the viewer will look at the product. There will always be some details which we're going to think of as irrelevant, which can actually turn out to be a beauty spot. It's the attention to those details which gives the vibrance to the image.

As an artist who hasn't been working much in the Architectural Visualization industry for a long time, this was one of my attempts to get back in it. This challenge has given me a great opportunity to learn a lot of things.

It was all about how to do a good composition and how to tell a story. There's beauty in it. Every piece of art contributes to the storytelling. This gave me the confidence to do more and participate in future challenges.

Ramees Muhammed, CG Generalist & Forensic Graphic Specialist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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