Making of Castle in the Snow

By Farid Ghanbari


Farid Ghanbari explains how he created his “Alice in Wonderland” inspired snow-tipped castle using Maya and V-Ray…

My name is Farid Ghanbari and I’m turning 30. I was born and raised in Iran, a beautiful country in the middle east where I have got a lot of good memories, but just last year I moved to Richmond, Virginia, in the United States. I am the founder of and have worked as a 3D Generalist for about 10 years.

While studying architecture I had to earn some money and I tried many careers like carpentry, furniture painting, masonry, creating architectural physical models for students and so on! I was earning a decent amount of money but none of them satisfied me! So I just decided to try what always attracted me – architectural 3D visualization! I think this was the time I came into contact with CGI and the industry at the same time!

Check out my making of Castle in the Snow.


The main idea of this artwork came across my mind right after watching the Alice in Wonderland movie, with its amazing magical environment designs. After seeing that castle, with my enthusiasm in lighting, I tried to illustrate the contrast of warm and cold ambience in a magical word like this!


As mentioned I had some concept ideas in my mind after the movie. I began making some handy sketches to form the first concept. After that I jumped into Maya to block out the train, castle towers and main walls.

Creating assets

For this project I had many options and many pre-provided objects to use, many of which you can find on the internet! But this is not what I call “Art.” I always prefer to fill up my scene with my own 3D objects rather than have a collection of others.

For the environment I modeled a boat, unique trees, low-level walls covered by snow, and the catapult. Then I duplicated some of them where I needed. You can always benefit from symmetry, duplication, scale and rotation to have various objects from one base model. I just modeled one tower and then tweaked it a bit for each new tower.

Unique trees

One of the most exciting parts in this project for me was the trees. Except for a few, I created all the trees in the scene with the help of Maya Paint Effects. It’s really powerful and I think you can create a whole jungle with it, you just need to play with the parameters. Believe me – it’s fun!


I used two methods for the snow: V-Ray 2D displacement for the ground snow, and Maya nParticle for the castle and trees snow. The ground did not take much time – you can create your snow with a proper map easily. But you may need to spend more time on the second type of snow! First you need to manage the emitter sources and decide how much snow you need. It’s completely up to you and your artistic look

Since simulating in a large scale scene like this takes time for each frame, it’s not reasonable to define all objects as one emitter. Also, it is not a good idea to have hundreds of emitter for each object. So I defined several groups of objects to have a couple of emitters for the whole scene, to save time in an optimized way. You may need to know the process for the simulated snow in Maya. First of all, check the camera base selection in the Select tool.

Then select the top faces of your object in top view. Duplicate selected faces and assign them an emitter. We just need 0 speed with enough amount of emit rate. Do not forget to set the gravity at 0. Now just play the frames and stop when you reach your desired look. The last step is converting the particles to geometry. There you go!


To be honest I did not spend too much time on the textures in this project. I chose the best and fastest solution, that being procedural material. Here you can see the final setup for the wall material. The base was a stone texture covered by a white cement with fractal node to looks random and imperfect.


Lighting is one of the most interesting parts of my job, so I usually spend enough time on it and am passionate about it. Without perfect lighting your artwork will not last. I usually start with a simple gray mat and key light, then I need to highlight each hero of the project by adding some small lights, right to the point! Don’t be afraid of adding many lights to your scene! Try various types of lights and all warm and cold colors. This is important to make a nice balanced contrast with warm and cold tones. Lights can tell your audiences which part should be viewed more or first! It determines the mood and vibes of your artwork. Lighting can tell the story behind your work!


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