Updating the Alamo church facade

June 21, 2016

Alamo Facade (see Gallery for full size)

Seven years ago I posted a video of my first Alamo 3D model on YouTube.  Since then, I have been gradually improving my technical abilities and tools to create a more photo-realistic result.

The render above, represents my latest work: reworking the Alamo church facade.  For comparison, here is a render of my model in 2009.


2009 Model

Here is a summary of the improvements:

  • Using a physically accurate render engine with global illumination (Blender Cycles) produces realistic lighting.
  • The lighting source is from an HDRI image (Hyperfocal Design).  This is another important contribution to realistic lighting and background.
  • Color grading.  The rendered result was corrected to improve color balance.
  • More geometry.  The new model has a higher level of detail.  For example the spirals in the pillars.
  • Higher texel density.  The size of the textures is sufficient for a sharp image of objects that are 1-2 meters from the camera.  Also, the texel density is more uniform across objects in the scene.
  • Bump and normal map textures add detail without increased geometry.  For example, the decorations on the doorway.
  • Physically based material workflow.  Materials were created using Allegorithmic Substance Designer and Painter.
  • Hand generated textures.  The stonework textures were created by hand using a workflow involving Photoshop, Inkscape and Substance Painter. This allowed the addition of realistic weather, dirt and damage effects.

Not visible in this render are the other improvements like the complete modeling of Bexar and more realistic landscape around the San Antonio River.


Bexar Dawn

September 4, 2015
March 6, 1836 Dawn

March 6, 1836 Dawn

The final battle of the Alamo occurred in the hour before dawn on March 6, 1836.  This image depicts what San Antonio de Bexar might have looked like on such a morning.  The view is from an elevated position just west of the Main Plaza.  The San Fernando church is flying the red flag of “no quarter.”  In the distance you can see the Alameda, Watch Tower and Alamo.  You can barely see a glint of sunlight reflection in places along the San Antonio River.

This render made with Blender Cycles.  Textures made with Allegorithmic Substance Designer and Painter.  HDRI from Hyperfocal Design.

Trees, foliage. stones and fences were instanced using Blender particles.  The foreground ground textures were improved from the low res versions used previously.  Ruts in the roadway and plaza may be seen.



Watch Tower and Powder House

July 31, 2014


Watch Tower at Dawn

Watch Tower at Dawn (click to enlarge)


The Watch Tower and Powder House stood about 2 km southeast of the Alamo on a hill commanding a view of San Antonio de Bexar near the road to Gonzales.  Constructed in the early 1800s by the Mexican Army, it served as an encampment for the cavalry from the third day of the siege.

In this scene, I show the structures at dawn, closely following the sketch of Seth Eastman in 1848.  I suspect the site had more foliage than I have shown but I am using artistic license to show  a bit of the valley below to allow the buildings to receive full lighting from the sun which is very low on the horizon.

Sketch of Watch Tower by Eastment

The Techniques

  • The structures were first placed in my model based on the analysis found in the Alamo Studies Forum.  I used the Eastman sketch as a background image to further align the camera and perspective.
  • The texture for the walls was made by combining a tileable texture created from an image of the Long Barracks and a stucco overlay.
  • The prickly pear cactus stems/pads were modeled by hand and placed in clumps using the particle system.
  • The foreground trees and bushes were modeled using the Sapling plugin which is capable of producing a wide variety of types.  The background trees were Xfrog billboards placed by the particle system
  • The particle system was also used to model the grass–near and far.
  • Finally, the scene is illuminated by an HDR image from Hyperfocal Design.