Recreating a classic in Blender

Edward Hopper’s 1942 oil on canvas painting Nighthawks is one of my favourites. It depicts a group of people in a quiet corner diner at night. I always loved the contrast between the bright yellow interior and the dark and lonely street.

Inspired by the painting I decided to try and model the same scene in Blender. However, after getting most of the geometry done and becoming daunted by texturing and lighting, I left the project to sit for more than 18 months. 

Seeing lots of great Blender projects and discussions recently coming out of Blender Conference 2019 got me inspired, so I finally dusted it off and finished it. While the scene isn’t perfect, I’m happy with how it’s come out (and that it’s come out at all).

To me, the oil on canvas work evokes a feeling of isolated refuge, and that small pocket of life that still exists after dark, if one knows where to find it.

In the same way Hopper created a contrast between the indoor and outdoor areas with light, I wanted to use Blender’s cycle’s rendering and lighting tools to create warm lighting inside that crept out beyond the glass and slightly illuminated the empty street.

Modelling the geometry of the buildings was straightforward, though it was unclear to me exactly whether the shape of the diner as presented in Hopper’s painting is rectangular or triangular, the model interprets it as triangular.

The biggest challenge was deciding how to model the customers. In the end I projected the original painted subjects onto flat (or almost flat) planes. In a couple of instances (the woman and the bartender) I used the great “Import Images as Planes” addon.

Here’s the finished piece (click to enlarge)