Part II is Up! Composition

Hey guys, just a quick heads-up: following up on my previous tutorial for BlenderCookie.com, the second part of the series is now available (well, it has been since Monday really!). In it I start talking about Composition and cover simple tips on Framing your images and a couple of important principles of design (Balance and Contrast).

I hope you find it useful! Part III will be ready soon.

New BlenderCookie Tutorial, By Me

Hey guys! Just to let you know that BlenderCookie.com just published a tutorial I authored on how to improve your renders by applying simple photography notions.

Pardon Sintel’s hair. She’s been out of work for a while (“bloody recession!”), which is pretty much why she agreed to help me in this tutorial in the first place.

It covers why you should always play with the focal length before settling with your camera position, other things that influence the Depth of Field aside from the aperture value so that you always make an informed decision on how much blur you want around your subject, and finally why you should always do at least some post-processing on the raw image that the render engine gives you.

I’ve learned so much from the tutorials from BC over the past couple of years that it is really exciting to be able to contribute with something as well. I hope you guys find it useful!

MacGyver’s Jeep – Modeling Done

So remember me talking about the new project I had, modeling and texturing Mac’s Jeep Wrangler? Here’s what I had to say when I just started:

(…) it shouldn’t be as hard to model given its mostly blocky structure (it does have lots of details but I noticed the most time-consuming task when modeling a more curvy car is by far in all the vertex pulling and pushing to make sure its surface is smooth in all its curvyness)

Oh well allow me to retortOh well allow me to retort!

Sure, the body was ready pretty quickly. But then ALL THE DETAILS took some time. It even got to the point where I had a list of things left to do (learned a lot of car part names because of that – every cloud..!), and it seemed that for every two parts I crossed out I would notice another part I had to add. Well it’s partly my fault, I didn’t want to cheat. Initially I thought I’d model everything to medium-low detail, then decide on how the final render would look like and then focus the detailing on the parts that would actually show. But then that felt lazy. Not modeling the interior of a topless jeep? And by that train of thought, not texturing the back later on? So the decision has been to model everything to higher detail, and texture everything. That’s the goal.

And the modeling part is done! Here’s a quick turntable

… although it was everything but quick to render… can’t wait for Blender 2.64 to come out with multithreaded BVH building, I had to remove the tire treads from the turntable model to have it rendered today :S

The 4 hour long playlist with the timelapse videos will be there for you on those rainy sunday nights :p http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vihZVuFFDNQ&list=PL6C4B9530CF981045&index=1

Blender Foundations, One Year Later

Remember how this all started? I followed the Blender Foundations book from start to finish, actually doing everything step by step, to get myself familiarized with Blender. I was done mid-May last year, just a little over one year ago.

Back then I exchanged a few e-mails with the author, Roland Hess, both when I needed help and to point out a few issues for the errata, and a couple of days ago Roland sent me a follow-up e-mail. He wanted to know, one year later and after having completed a few projects of my own, if I felt that the book had indeed achieved his goal of “laying a great baseline for people to develop from”. The answer, while straightforward, is long enough to warrant a blog post :)

Simply put, it is a fact that this book got me through the learning curve as painlessly as possible. “Yeah, but how do you know if you never tried just learning from all the tutorials out there?” Well, I didn’t… not until Cycles came up. And I’m telling you: having to learn this new engine by grabbing bits and pieces from different tutorials out there (after filtering out the bad information) is a very inefficient way to do it. Which is probably the reason why I haven’t given Cycles a proper go yet, and that says a lot about what could have happened if I had tried to learn “the whole Blender” that way. That’s why I still recommend Blender Foundations to people who are looking for a structured approach to learning the app.

The education resources out there, namely the video tutorial sites like BlenderCookie and BlenderGuru, have been growing in an awesome way, but to me the true value in them comes when you already know your way around and are just looking for solutions to problems you encounter, or want to learn the advanced stuff. That’s where I think tutorials are the most efficient – when you have the foundations set and are just looking to build your knowledge, which is pretty much all I’ve been doing since finishing the book. Also by giving you a look at the complete pipeline within a project it gives you a pretty good idea of how to segment areas of knowledge you may want to dig deeper into, and how this or that tutorial may fit into that program.

I’ll also take the opportunity to assess how well the book has stood the test of time. Quite an accelerated time too, since in a year Blender has grown like crazy! Well here’s what: the omission of Cycles is the only noticeable thing. Big features like camera tracking and dynamic paint would probably only deserve a quick mention in a beginner-level book anyway, and the addition of B-Mesh goes mostly behind the scenes – surely the new tools that it brought, like vertex slide, the improved knife and of course the ability to use n-gons are things very much worth learning, but if you pick up the book today to learn basic modeling you will be able to follow the instructions in just the same way as you could last year without B-Mesh. Same goes for the rest of the book. Aside from the very slight differences in the UI here and there, you’ll be able to follow everything and while you’ll maybe miss a few tricks that have been added meanwhile, you’ll learn the basics just fine. And the book was published two years ago..! I said it then and I’m saying it again now: that’s a great future-proofing job.

Ah by the way, here’s a funny twist: the Blender 2.6 glitch on the cover is actually more deceiving now that we are indeed on 2.6x. Before, it was harmless. “Hey, there is no Blender 2.6 yet!” But now people may pick it up thinking it covers Cycles… They should be researching these things though! :)

If I had that Fax Seal of Approval I’ve always talked about, this would still get it!

 

Tyrant Monkey’s Modeling Jam – Iconic Movie/TV Car

Ayoh!

After the success of the Corolla (check it out on the cover of BlenderArt Magazine #37!), it turns out I will pick up another car project sooner than I expected.

Over at BlenderArtists.org Tyrant Monkey is organizing a workshop for anyone who wants to join. He’s calling it Modeling Jam 01, as he plans to do others, and this one is focused on iconic cars from movies or television series. What attracted me was the fact that he wants to focus on texturing – like myself he is tired of seeing renders of cars in pristine condition (one could say I decided to put my Corolla right outside the factory as an excuse not to texture it completely, but I’ll always deny it :) ) and wants to see wear and tear. Remember me saying I wanted to improve my texturing skills? So this is perfect.

I’ll be doing MacGyver’s Jeep Wrangler ;) which should give plenty of opportunity for grime. Also it shouldn’t be as hard to model given its mostly blocky structure (it does have lots of details but I noticed the most time-consuming task when modeling a more curvy car is by far in all the vertex pulling and pushing to make sure its surface is smooth in all its curvyness), which will allow me to maximize the time I devote to the texturing process. I’ve also decided to use Cycles for the final render (instead of staying in my comfort zone with Luxrender). It’s about time I learn it and having other people going through the same process is a great opportunity for doing so.

Oh and I’ve also decided that unless something goes wrong I’ll document the whole modeling stage in timelapse videos. For a change :) So here’s the first one, just shaking off some rust and doing the blocking out of basic shapes. No attention to details whatsoever and keeping a very low polygon density. Topology is already on my mind but in this phase I’m not too worried about making mistakes (I’m pretty sure I’ve already made a couple). Put on some music, I won’t impose my preferences ;)

The Swing

I can’t believe I forgot to post my April Fools prank here!

Well better late than never, here it is. It was the way to finally have a go at camera tracking in Blender, and I must say it was a lot of fun :)

You can watch the breakdown on the following video. It’s really quite obvious, but thanks to Kevin MacLeod’s great music it was a lot of fun to make:

Must make more of these quick projects, they are (again) a lot of fun and really rewarding to finish!

Learning Texturing – Finishing

Heh, I was going to say that this post could be a let-down after what I wrote about the importance of finishing, and then I picked that title.

Well here’s what: I’m no longer going to follow along with the book step by step to texture the buggy character. I am going to finish the book (in fact I’m almost done, will probably finish tonight), and I will try out some techniques it describes that I’m not yet familiar with. But considering all the things I have and want to do I believe it’ll be much more efficient to refer back to the book and use the techniques it teaches directly in my own projects.

If you remember the post I linked above, one of the things I noticed in that Corolla project was that I wasn’t fond of texturing. I want to find out if this really is so or if I just didn’t try hard enough. If I find that I am indeed just not cut for the job, I’ll just accept it and focus on my stronger skills. If it goes the other way, well that will obviously be a plus!

So what this means is that my next project will be much less ambitious in terms of modeling (although it may include some sculpting, which is also somewhat new for me) and will focus mostly on textures. Stay tuned ;)

———-

This post is part of a series on the book Digital Texturing and Painting.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Previous post on the series: The Goggles (Procedural Textures)

Factory Lot

Here’s the first render (lets call the other one render number zero):

Factory Lot

Factory Lot (click for hi-res)

What do you think? I put some thought into it which resulted in a few creative decisions but I’d love to hear your thoughts. All comments and criticism are very much appreciated :)

This was rendered with Luxrender as well. Absolutely great piece of software.

The other ideas I have in mind for the car are a bit more involved and are not a top priority right now, so they’ll take some time to surface. I’ve got other interesting things to talk about meanwhile, so I’ll see you soon!

(sorry for the telegraphic post, this will be a busy coding week! Yes, I do code too… not for Blender though, which is something I should look into… So many things to do, so little time!)

The Corolla is Finished(-ish)

Finishing stuff is very important. If you keep having new ideas and starting too much and finishing too little, it can all add up and you can start doubting your own power of execution, even if you’re fully capable to do what you were doing. You just don’t have proof (to yourself) that you can actually finish stuff… which psychologically is pretty powerful. Luckily, the inverse is pretty powerful as well: finish something, then use that momentum to finish something else, and that builds up to a productivity powerhouse.

Looking at the backups of the blend file for the Toyota Corolla I was modeling, I can see I started it on the 22nd of June 2011 (whaaaaat?! How long ago is that?!) and worked on it on and off for a couple of months. Then I stopped, and picked it up for a very brief time in November. Then it started rotting :)

So I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and promised myself I wouldn’t start any other personal project before I finished this one. Not that easy – every time I go to the grocery store I remind myself to bring the camera next time to take reference pictures of a cool motorbike I want to model, and I already have a set of blueprints of my brother’s Nissan Patrol… heh. But I actually did stick to it. And here is the preliminary result:

Nothing rolls like a Corolla ;) (click for hi-res)

“Preliminary?” Yeah. The car and materials are finished, but as nice as the HDRI and backplates from hdri-locations.com are, that free sample has been tremendously overused… So don’t worry – I have a couple of other renders in mind. This was just to show to the parents who owned the car and are more easily impressed ;) Something else will follow sometime soon.

I posted more intermediate content in the WIP thread at BlenderArtists, so feel free to check that out. Particularly there’s a couple of slightly outdated wire renders there from when I thought I’d finished the model (rendering showed there were actually a bunch of discrepancies :) ) I’ll probably update those on the next post about the car. But here are some lessons learned:

  • Finishing! Finishing finishing finishing. It’s all about finishing.
  • Get as many reference pictures as you can, as hi-resolution as you can, and as early as you can. It’s funny that I did a lot of work on the car right after I finished the Vehicle Modeling Series (so I had all the know-how), and now that I came back to it after a few months I was looking at parts I’d done back then and thinking “what? That’s not how it looks!” I didn’t get relatively that much more experience meanwhile, so what changed? Well, I had found a new set of pretty hi-res images that let me look at the details and see all the little nuances. I was doing much better modeling work after that. Don’t underestimate the lower-res images though – get everything you can. Every angle is important to figure out proportions and make sure it’s not just that particular car that has a different feature (it happens, if it was modded or restored, or if it has taken a beating after 40 years of use like in my case :P). Oh and find images of individual parts too – Google Images is your friend, single out what you’re looking for.
  • Try to control yourself and render as little as possible until you actually get to the rendering stage. Sure, one longer render now and then for motivation, but don’t let it get overboard. I found myself marveling at my own creation a bunch of times, and we’re talking about Luxrender renders… those half-hours could have been spent finishing the thing more quickly. Also, those samples rendered are garbage when they could be useful for a less noisy render later on. Waste of time and CPU cycles! Don’t do it. Don’t be like me :)
  • Be organized. Luckily I got into the habit of naming objects (even though the naming structure could make more sense to be honest, but it works), and mid-way through the project I realized how good an idea it is to separate things in layers. I can imagine it would have been chaos otherwise, so I’m keeping that up.
  • Non-destructive methods are underrated. Lattices, for example. Before I mainly used them for detailing, but they are a very good way to bend things into shape while keeping the underlying model with sane geometry. You never know when you need to go back and tweak it later (like when you find better images of a part :P). Rigging is a good idea too, and I regret not listening to myself when I thought of using it early on. The windshield wipers are a good example: I could have modeled them straight on the axes and then posed them as I wished. Every time the windshield changed wouldn’t have meant finding pivot points and rotation axes all over again to correct the wipers’ position… I did save a few transforms and vertex groups for this eventually, but that was hardly a nice solution compared to rigging.
  • I’m sure there’s more stuff, I’ll let you know if I remember something important.
  • This one is more personal: I’m not that fond of texturing… Maybe it’s the fact that this is pretty hi-poly and has some involved parts, but I can’t say I enjoyed unwrapping a few of those things.

I’m planning to do a small video tutorial on how I composited the car onto the backplate. I only found hints towards the method I used, so hopefully it will be of some value. And of course there will be the couple of (original) renders I talked about, so I guess I’ll see you soon :)

Humane Rigging – the new Blender Open Movie Training DVD

Fax’s Shopping Choices are back, this time with a small twist!

If you checked my previous post or if you’re someone who likes to stay up-to-date with things you already know that the Blender Foundation is launching a new training DVD, this time on the subject of rigging. Nathan Vegdahl, of Mammoth Rigging Tutorial fame (and of course Big Buck Bunny and Sintel and Project London fame), is the author and he asked me to write a pre-review of the thing. So there’s the twist!

Before I start, here are a couple of links:
– first to the product page, which has a full description of the contents, together with a trailer that you have to watch and an example chapter that will probably make you pre-order this without needing to read this post;
– and then to Nathan’s thread on BlenderArtists where he answers a few questions about the product.

Be Humane. Rig.

“So what’s up with a new rigging product by the same guy?” you might be asking. Well as Nathan himself puts it in that BA thread, that Mammoth was a (fantastic) tutorial – this is training. The previous product showed you a complete rigging workflow, from thinking about it to actually doing it, on an example character. This new one is designed to teach you how to rationally tackle rigging problems. If you suddenly have to rig something else, say a centipede, you could go back to the mammoth tutorial and adapt something you’ve learned there to the centipede and hope it actually makes sense to do so in the first place. Oooor you could stop and think about the movement requirements of the critter and how to solve them. Humane Rigging aims to equip you with that capability and long story short, in my opinion, it delivers.

The DVD is divided in 5 main chapters each tackling a different character (there is also an Introduction and a last chapter on linking and using proxies). The “internal structure” is the same used in the Mammoth tutorial: divide and conquer basically. The individual rigging problems are tackled thoroughly one at the time and then everything is put together in the final rig. This was one of my favorite things in the other video so it’s great to see it again, it really helps keeping things as simple as possible instead of jumping right into the full rig and having every other bone get in the way of explaining the current task at hand.

The concepts are presented throughout the chapters in a great pedagogic way – Nathan uses simple characters to explain simple rigs, and as we progress to more involved requirements he expands and sometimes improves on previous concepts to face the new challenges. So basically the learning curve on this pretty heavy topic is smoothed very well. It still is a truckload of information but it’s not just dumped on you at once. When you get to the heavy stuff (like the torso rig, the apex, a far-from-immediate thing to solve) you’ve already been trained on the building blocks.

Another plus from the way it is organized is that it really communicates how important it is to think about the actual requirements of the character and what the animator will find useful to have. Not all of your characters will be realistic human characters, for example, and if you use the same concepts you would use on that for a simple character you’ll not only end up with overkill rigs but also likely making the animator’s job harder. So by presenting simple rigging concepts first it’s not only easing the way into more complex stuff, but also giving you simple tools that will be useful in simple cases.

Mr. Squeegee's requirements and non-requirements (screen-grab from the DVD)

The best part for me is that Nathan is able to “get it wrong” for us. What I mean by this is that even though he knows exactly what he’s looking for, he goes through a few missteps – even though they seem to fulfill the task they are actually less than ideal for one reason or another. So he’s not just showing why some stuff works, he also shows why other approaches don’t. That process of progressing towards a suitable rig is a mine of knowledge in my opinion. (If you had a déjà-vu reading this don’t wonder why, I took it from my pre-pre-review in the BA thread and just fixed it up a bit :P It holds true throughout the DVD so no need to find new ways to write the same thing!)

To wrap up the review in terms of content let me just go back to the subject of how much information this packs inside: this packs a LOT of information inside. Seriously though, it is not only generally packed with information on everything you need to know to put together control rigs (even things you weren’t really expecting but are very important – you will be fully versed on rotation modes, for example, how they work and when to use which), it is also full of little nuggets of info that will make you feel special for knowing about them, with reason. It’s like having someone teach you how to play a game very well and mastering all you need to win, and then he teaches you a bunch of kick-ass c-c-c-c-c-combos on top of that. I’m serious. Maybe it was just me, but did you know about Action Constraints for example? I’ve never seen that treated anywhere else and they are so incredibly useful. My gyrocopter rigging tutorial would be much shorter and much less hacky if I’d used them! Or how about those characters that get to you with straight arms or legs, how do you prevent the IK solver from going nuts trying to figure out which way to bend? Or how about a nice alternative to using pole targets? And the torso rig I’ve already talked about is in itself a case-study on very clever use of bones in ways that you very probably never thought of. Lotsa nice tricks in here.

The presentation and production are also very nice. Nathan’s humor and laid-back…ness helps maintaining your attention, and the addition of captions really helps explaining concepts more clearly. If you’re like me you will laugh out loud when a certain something kicks in for the first time, but I won’t spoil it for you ;). As expected, audio and video quality are great.

So that’s a bunch of pros and no cons so far. There have to be cons though, right? Especially since I was asked to write this review by the author, I must find something to complain about to show that I’m not being influenced by that fact and that this is an honest review, right? Well… even if I did feel that pressure… which I don’t, since honestly saying that something is awesome is still being honest… I couldn’t really find anything about this that could be improved. Within the scope that was defined (control rigs, no treatment of deformations (they may become the subject of a following DVD though)) this product delivers, without a doubt. I won’t nitpick and I’m not even sure I’d find something to complain about if I did. Nathan made a couple of mistakes throughout the video but he caught himself and mentioned them in post-production captions, so we can’t even go there! :) I can’t even say that the light style is a problem – I’m sure some people would prefer something more professional (there’s a con for you if you do!), but others will love it this way and I’m one of them. Just imagining my dry uni teachers teaching me this subject… argh.

Conclusion: when we thought there were already fantastic resources out there about rigging in Blender, this comes out and shows that there was nothing like it. Not that the others are any less fantastic now – they just don’t have the same goals. If you want to learn how to rig whatever in Blender this is the first thing to get. You will be directly supporting the Blender Foundation too, so if you can put aside the 25€ to get this (less than half of what the Mammoth cost! I just noticed this. Seriously, where are the cons?!), I totally recommend it!

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