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Recreating the Beauty of Dolmabahçe Palace in ZBrush, C4D & Redshift

Kay John Yim talks about how the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace was sculpted in Rhinoceros and ZBrush, discusses the difficulties of choosing the best viewpoint and composition for an architectural piece, and explains what you should avoid doing if you don't want your software to crash during rendering.


My name is Kay John Yim, and I go by John. I am a Chartered Architect and CGI Artist based in London. I graduated from the University of Bath and the Architectural Association School of Architecture in the UK.

I currently work at the forefront of concept design at SPINK – a British architectural design practice based in London – delivering CG renderings for marketing, design development discussions, and eventually construction. Projects I have worked on range from property development to landscape design, across UK, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. 

Working on the Dolmabahce Palace

When COVID lockdown dawned upon London, I treated the extra time as an R&D opportunity to learn new CG software and publish CG art regularly on social media, with the goal of honing my CG skills and connecting with like-minded people online. I started the project "Ottoman Legacy: Dolmabahce Palace" as a challenge for myself to recreate the most ostentatious and most ornamental facade within the timescale of the "Without Borders" challenge.

Dolmabahce Palace is one of my personal architectural favorites and undoubtedly one of the most vivid legacies of Ottoman history, but the existing palace as it stands now has aged over time, and its extravagance undoubtedly carries a stigma. As such my concept was to portray the palace in a photorealistic yet poetic manner, with a monumental yet welcoming atmosphere.

I initially searched for and downloaded as many architectural drawings and photos as I possibly could find online, placed them all within a PureRef canvas, and referenced them at all times while modeling. I also researched historical drawings of the palace, which gave me the idea of adding in Ottoman trade ships and the array of water-front trees, both of which no longer exist. 

Approaching Composition

The initial landscape was mostly based on the building footprint, largely situated on leveled ground. Trained as an architect, I always approach my renderings with a one-point perspective at the beginning and throughout the lookdev process. Once I am happy with the model and the shaders, I move my camera around virtually in search of a different perspective that is either more informative or conveys a better story of the building.

In the case of "Ottoman Legacy", the final composition was taken up largely by the river from an off-shore view perspective. Although the close-up one-point perspective render turns out to be my personal favorite of all WIP renders, I believe the off-shore view perspective tells a more comprehensive story of the palace. 

Close-up one-point perspective render

Off-shore view

Off-shore view

Creating the Building

I used primarily Rhino and ZBrush to plan and model the main building. I first blocked out the main shape of the building in Rhino referencing architectural plans and elevation drawings. This dictated the primary scale and the proportion of the building in relation to its openings, front gate, and surroundings.

Recreating the facade ornaments looked like an overwhelming task at first, but they were in fact largely derived from a handful of ornamental modular elements sculpted and retopologized in ZBrush. 

These modular elements were then imported into Rhino to be further developed (cloned in grids or arrays, etc.) until they resembled ornaments of the existing palace.

I ultimately created 5 unique ornamented facades in Rhino, which were then exported into Cinema 4D, proxied, and instanced based on the main shape of the building that I originally blocked out. 

Creating the Surroundings

I took a bit of artistic liberty when setting up the trees and the river, as in reality the trees are scarcely spaced and the existing location where the palace sits no longer serves as a trade port, nor does the historical waterfront view of trade ships exist.

The waterfront "tree-array" was essentially a single cherry tree modeled in SpeedTree and instanced along the waterfront with randomized scales and rotations. The color of the cherry tree petals is slightly desaturated so as not to pull too much attention away from the main building, but rather help the frame and compliment the grey marble colors of the facade. The river was a plane with a slightly displaced water shader, scattered with fallen cherry tree petals (Cinema 4D Matrix) to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere overall.


Texturing is probably the most straightforward process in the entire duration of creating my scene. Apart from the trees and the trade ships, almost everything in the scene had a cubic texture projected without the need for UV mapping, with texture maps mostly downloaded from Megascans. I kept the textures really subtle, as the model itself had sufficient details that already gave the buildings its own character.

The cherry tree petals had the most tweaked shader of all — apart from desaturation, I upped the Subsurface Scattering amount and radius by a notch to create a soft painterly aesthetic when light passes through the petals. 

Lighting and Rendering

I used the Redshift Dome Light together with a Sun & Sky Rig to light the scene. 

As in most of my projects, I find my preferred lighting settings by trial and error, for instance, I would rotate the Sun & Sky Rig until I get a sun angle that elevates the atmosphere of the scene without overexposing and negating too many details. The Dome Light in the scene was linked to a sky HDRI which served as an ambient light and the backdrop sky.

The final rendering came straight out of Cinema 4D Redshift without any Photoshop post-production. However, I did spend a considerable amount of time tweaking the Redshift "bloom" and "streak" settings to achieve the final look, in addition to utilizing an "F250" LUT that ships with Redshift, adding a warm tint to the overall image. 


I have faced a lot of challenges – one of which being long rendering times. "Ottoman Legacy" was one of the most detailed projects I have ever worked on – the main building alone consisted of over 1 trillion polys. Previously I would have created a low-poly version of the scene, but I took the challenge as an opportunity to see how far I could push the boundaries of rendering in Redshift, for the sake of retaining as much detail as possible. 
Needless to say, my workstation crashed countless times during lookdev, and a 2-week project ended up taking me 2 months to complete – but it was worth every second.

I learned that in order to work efficiently on detailed scenes like "Ottoman Legacy" one has to utilize as few modular elements as possible to maximize computing power and to minimize rendering times. These could be done by instancing and rearranging small-scale modular elements to create entirely different models, as I have done to most of the ornaments but not to the extent of the entire scene.

Kay John Yim, Architect, CGI Artist 

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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