Baba Yaga’s Hut And Russian Forest: Postmortem

Remember what I said last time about the Japanese pack being the one project I procrastinated on for years? Well, technically that’s not true. I’ve procrastinated on this one, too!

Now, I realize that that doesn’t make me seem like a very responsible person, and I understand, but the reason I’ve been prioritizing literally EVERYTHING over this, is the same reason as with the Japanese pack; It’s a royal pain in the balls to make it.

So why was this one so hard to make?

I would dare to say that this project was even harder to make than the Japanese one because I already knew what I was getting into after I finished the foliage that goes with that Japanese pack. I actually wanted to avoid making the same mistake I made previously. You see, with the aforementioned pack, I wasn’t able to make it too historically nor region accurate, with this particular one, I had one distinct advantage; I’ve seen first hand some of it. I was born in Russia and I’ve seen Russian forests, I’ve heard the stories about Baba Yaga first hand, I should know this stuff! But alas, that was 30 years ago and I was 8. So basically back to square one. Well, not quite…

Deep into the woods

You see, even tho my memories of the beautiful and lush Russian forests are faded and fuzzy, my mother’s aren’t. Being a fantastic landscape artist whom I admire and respect, she does have a very good visual memory, not to mention an artist’s eye for detail, so I could speak to her and she to me in a similar language (no, not Russian, I meant artist babble). This, coupled with copious amounts of photographic reference on the web, made it far easier to reproduce the natural splendor of these beautiful woods.
As with everything, there still were difficulties. One of them, being my notable lack of botanic knowledge. So all I had to go by were looks; “LOOK! That very tall tree has a twig sticking out!”, “Look! there’s a clump of grass near those roots”, you get my point.
As such, there’s still some lacking realism in this piece, which later I realized was partly ’cause the most realistic models out there are 3D scans, but I can say with a certain degree of confidence I got many things right and it shows in the final product, such as the little branches on the sides of the pine, or the fallen trees.
A regret, however is that, again, I wasn’t able to get access to the real deal, since there’s no forests close by nor could I drive to the closest one ’cause quarantine and stuff. Another regret is that I had to bend reality in favor of realism, which takes away from the aforementioned region-accuracy and also makes no sense whatsoever, but let me explain anyway; What I mean by this, is that I actually tried to make spruce pines, but whatever I came up with kept looking wonky and fake, so I somewhat recycled the Japanese foliage pack’s red pine’s branches, which have an entirely different pine needle structure, to see how it looked instead of the spruce pine needle structure. Surprisingly, it made a world of difference. Not only did it look WAY better, it looked real, but it also looked a lot not-like-a-spruce-pine and that bothered me a lot. A similar thing happened with the birches. At first I made them with proportions and branch structure more similar to those of an aspen, which my mother noticed and pointed out, but the more I corrected the branch structure and trunk thickness to those of a real birch, the more it started to stray from reality. So I dialed it back to aspen a little bit. The result was a very weird birchspen… or aspbirch… aspirch…? (._.) I don’t know where I’m going with this. All in all, it still looks more like a birch than what I originally was trying to do, partly due to the low poly limitations and partly because of my notable lack of experience doing trees, which hopefully will be better in the next foliage pack, since I learned a lot from this one.

Building Baba Yaga’s Hut

Moving on, we got Baba Yaga’s world-famous (or infamous) hut. I didn’t see many 3D models of this fictional landmark online, which was one of the reasons I decided to build it, but I also consulted what was already out there and I wanted to add my own flare and personal touch to what -I thought- Baba Yaga’s hut looks like. Starting with the chicken feet. It’s always been depicted with two of them. I, however, decided to make it with only one. Why? ‘Cause it’s not like it’s going to be any less real if the number of feet changes. But also because, while doing the production design for this piece, I tried to stylize everything and ground this fictional universe in reality. Here’s my reasoning: It’s simpler, more streamlined AND as an added bonus, it looks more disturbing and less goofy. That’s it. Serves the same purpose too, unless you want it to change locations. Then yeah, it’s kind of funny to picture the thing just hoping around with all the stuff inside rattling like a stupid maraca from hell.

The small footprint of the house, no pun intended, also meant that the exterior-interior would also be small and this ALSO was a cause of concern for me. In order to keep those tiny proportions without making it look cartoonish, I had to resort to a very deep bag of tricks to ground these small proportions in “reality”, which prompted me to look at real life small huts. Specifically, the so-called “tiny houses”. It was taking shape alright, just not the shape Russian people knew. As my mother was quick to point out: “This place looks like a castle compared to the one from Russian folklore! Baba Yaga was very frugal!” and so, a new Baba Yaga was born. The hipster, gentrified hag of the Russian woods. Yes, this is a thing now. And that’s fine, if you’re looking for the more traditional approach, there’s plenty of models out there. MY Baba Yaga, however, lives in a tiny home and probably vapes (Might as well be vegan, too, the skulls are just for show. Only 9.99 at Forest-Costco) #MyBabaYaga.

All jokes aside, for all else, I did stick to the original folklore legends, such as the skulls on sticks, the fact that she’s, well, a witch living in the woods, which means she needs knowledge, ergo the bunches and bunches of generic books, she needs a cauldron (complete with a non-descript green goopy soup), she needs herbs, all kinds of potions in jars, etc.

all-in-all, I feel like it’s a more modern take on how a witch would live nowadays, if she existed (#MyBabaYaga) and I had loads of fun with the project. If you want to take a look at the end result, you can click the link below, where you’ll find a gallery and a video. In the meantime, thanks for reading so far, stay healthy and stay safe, my friends.