Category Archives: Projects

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

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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!

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 :)

Keeping my Hard-Surface Modeling Sharp

I know you guys love the texturing posts but lately I’ve been too excited about a personal project, and now that it’s actually taking good shape I wanted to share it with you. Some time ago I started modeling a car but had to take a pause since I didn’t really feel qualified enough to tackle it. After the whole Gyrocopter series this changed and I didn’t want to let the learned skills wither, so I picked the project up again.

I’m modeling my Dad’s old car, a 1973 Toyota Corolla. Not sure how that looks? Here are a few images of the real thing. And here is how it is looking so far:

Click for hi-res

You can get more images and info right from the inception of this project in my WIP thread on Blenderartists.org. There’s still quite a bit of detail modeling to do before I get to surface this baby (those materials are just for separation) and then put it into a scene, and although I’m really looking forward to those stages I’m just loving the modeling process. In fact I’m treating this project as a way to put together and sort of “graduate” from all the recent training on hard-surface modeling, texturing and rendering and compositing.

So remember what I said about having 2.5 projects in hand all the time? Right now the Texturing series is one, this is another and the .5 is me missing animation more and more. Don’t expect me to stop posting anytime soon ;)

Still the First Still, Luxrendered

It’s done!

Click for high-res

This was my first go with Luxrender, and I have to say I’m impressed. Will be using again! The final compositing (saturation and contrast, and DoF) was done in GIMP.

One of these days I may go about writing a tutorial on taking a completed scene you’ve done in Blender to Luxrender. It’s really not just installing, pressing a button and ta-daaa, photorealism. All the materials must be reworked, for example, and there’s plenty of other stuff to work on.

But that’s another time. Now, it’s time to get back to The Book!

First Still, Second Version

You may remember my very first still in Blender:

Nice effort, innit?

Well after all the awesome feedback I got from this thread at BlenderNewbiesthis thread at BlenderArtists and Andrew Price’s Focused Critique, and about twenty hours of Blender Internal rendering (ouch), I am proud to present the new and improved version of what is still my first still (ha!) in Blender:

Click for high-res

Love it? Hate it? Tap-on-the-back-saying-yeaaaaaah-good-effort-mate? I’m not sure myself! What bugs me the most are the tiles, the DoF makes them look like a cheap texture when they actually had volume and bumpiness and reflection and this and that. But after those twenty hours, and seeing the tests I’m doing with Luxrender (yep, watch out for version 2.5 soon :P), I think I’ll leave this as it is!

Gotta mooove on!

Before we get into that

I’m back! I’m now posting from a new city, and better yet… wait for it… a new country!

I’ve actually been back to Blender since yesterday, and I know I owe you a new post for Blender Foundations’ chapter on Lighting, but… you know when you start something just for fun, to check something out, and then it becomes sort of an obsession until you feel you’re done with it? Well I just had one of those – I first modeled a perfume flask as an exercise on materials, and it suddenly became…

… my first still scene in Blender! I call it “Date in the sunset”:

Click for high-res

Things I used/learned in the process:

  • Materials! Reflections, transparency, etc etc etc.
  • Procedural textures! The marble is one and the not-uniform look in the tiles is due to another one. I know, I know, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, we’ve only just covered modeling in the book. But what the heck, this is fun!
  • Modifiers, lots of them. For example, the tiles are actually modeled and arrayed, not a texture. The DoF (more on that later) doesn’t let you see, but each and every one of those little tiles has its own reflection of the scene, it’s awesome.
  • NURBS! Yeah, I used them to model the faucet’s handles real quick, thanks to a tutorial by 3D Immortal.
  • Depth of Field (or DoF)! A node in the compositor basically, this was my first chance to play with it.
  • Fur! Making that towel was a lot of fun, and thanks to Andrew Price for his awesome tutorial on this. Oh yeah, I used a cloth simulation as well for this. That’s also covered in that tutorial.
  • And lots of other stuff. It’s really is in the small projects that you learn the most.

So now that that’s done (or is it? I’m looking for feedback in BlenderArtists.org, so I might improve it even further!), we’re back to the book. For tomorrow, I promise a post on Lighting! Catch you then :)

Barney’s Recommendation – Making Of

So here’s the story on how I made it, my first animation project in Blender. It’s not your usual kind of animation, so if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video of Barney Stinson recommending me for a job on my previous post.

It used this scene from the How I Met Your Mother series. As you can tell by this blog I’m very much new to Blender, so if you have more experience or if you just have a different experience you may notice that you’d come up with different (and most likely better) solutions to the problems I found. I’d love to hear those, so please do share them in the comments! Here we go.

Importing Video

The first thing I did was to look for a high-quality (HD) video of the original scene I was about to disgrace. I found it (don’t ask how :P), and the format was Matroska. For a moment I wondered if Blender could use matroska files, and there’s no better way of finding out than just trying. I fired up the video sequence editor (VSE) in Blender, Add > Movie, browsed into the location and selected the .mkv file. It showed on the sequencer, and it played when I clicked the play button.

Almost awesome – the sound and image weren’t in sync. I played with it a bit until I found the Sync Mode selection box which was in No-sync (duh). Setting it to Frame Dropping or AV-sync solved the problem, and no worries: even though while previewing the video will look bumpy, once you get to the final render it will be as fluid as the original video (provided you keep a decent frame rate, of course).

That's the little thing that took me a while to find out about.

Nearly awesome now, but I still detected a bug on the sound track: the music on the scene was playing pretty loud, but the voices and other sounds were nearly muted. I couldn’t find a way to solve this in Blender, so I decided to try something else. I downloaded and fired up Audacity (a free and open source tool for sound recording and editing), and Imported the .mkv file as an audio file. Fantastically, Audacity recognizes a bunch of sound tracks from the file, and I figure that’s pretty much why Blender failed to accurately reproduce the sound: it was loading only the first sound track. I got rid of the stuff I didn’t need, and collapsed and exported all the soundtracks into a single .wav file. Back to Blender, I got rid of the .mkv sound track, added the new one in sync with the video and Ta-daaaa! It’s awesome now. I then trimmed the video scene and was good to go.

Cutting between the video and the 3D scene

So then I had to figure out how to work with the VSE, namely how to cut between the video and my Blender scene, which would replace the image of Barney’s computer screen. I tried a bunch of different ways that didn’t work, but before I got frustrated I found the Multicam Selector, in the Add menu under Effect Strip. So here’s how that works:

  1. after you’ve added the Movie track and the Scene track (which represents your Blender scene) one on top of each other in different channels on the sequencer, you then add a Multicam Selector strip on a channel above them;
  2. you line it up with the first frame of your tracks, and select the channel that should be visible (movie or scene) in that time frame using the Multicam Source Channel control in the Effect Strip group; in my case I started with the video, which was channel 1;
  3. you then stretch the Multicam Selector strip all the way until the last frame where the channel you chose should be visible before the first cut to another channel happens;
  4. right below the Multicam Source Channel control you’ll find a set of numbered buttons preceded by “Cut to” – press the corresponding button to cut to the desired channel (in my case channel 3, the Blender scene);
  5. this created a new Multicam Selector strip, with the Source Channel automatically set to the channel you’ve cut to; now all you have to do is go back to step 3 and repeat for all the camera cuts you need until the end of your video.

And that's how it looks in the end

After all this, I clicked play and every time the camera turned from Barney to his screen, it would now show Blender’s default cube :) Somewhat awesome!

Replacing the computer screen with my own

Time to turn that default cube into a computer screen that mimics Barney’s – blue background and white text. Easy enough. I placed the camera facing the cube’s side, scaled the cube so it could fit all the text I wanted, and changed its material color to a nicely saturated blue. Then I added a Text object and wrote the whole text I was going to replace Barney’s with. Obviously I placed it between the camera and the cube (which wasn’t much of a cube by now, but I’ll keep calling it that), very very close to the cube. I set the material to emit some white light as well.

Then it was time to place the camera in a similar position to the original video. For this I used the Opacity control in the Scene strip on the VSE, making it transparent so I could overlay it with the original video and work out a good starting position for the camera.

There it is: opacity at 0.5, letting me compare my scene with the video

When I was happy with that I added a keyframe… because next I’d have to animate the camera to follow Barney’s typing. I figured out, again with the help of the overlaid channels, what were the starting and ending positions of the camera for each movement, added keyframes on both and let Blender do the nice interpolating (Bezier, by the way). In the end of this process, and after tweaking the interpolation curves that Blender came up with, I had a camera animation that closely followed that of the original video. Awesome!

Creating a believable screen

If you look at the original video, there’s actually a lot of different kinds of noise going on on Barney’s screen.

Vignette, stripes, noise...

So far, my screen was very flat – just plain blue with white letters. So I set out to make my screen more believable by adding some effects.

Vignetting

Actually I only learned what vignetting was after I had worked this scene out, and by coincidence. I also learned later, in Mike Pan’s blog, that I could do it in the compositor. But back then, the effect was described like this in my head: “Hmn, the picture seems to go darker towards the corners. It’s like there’s a spot lamp pointing at it and it can’t properly light the whole image.” So yeah, you guessed it, I used spot lamps to simulate the effect – two of them (one of them an instance of the other so that they’d share their settings), overlapping at the center of the picture, and with a Blend setting at 1.0 for a smooth transition from the center to the outer edge. I parented the spot lamps to the camera so that they’d follow the movement I’d already set up.

(Not really) horizontal lines

For some reason Barney’s screen seems to be textured, with (not really) horizontal lines. Back then I was still hell-bent into making my screen look exactly like his, so I set out to find a texture to mimic this. A denim texture is what I used (no kidding), and it looked close enough for the time being. I tilted the cube so that the lines would not really be horizontal.

Noise

“Hmn, that’s ok, but it’s too clean. This needs noise.” It is a TV series – even if it’s in HD, it’s gotta have some noise. So I added a procedural noise texture, tweaked the settings and got to a muuuuuch better screen, in my opinion.

V-sync artifact (that’s what it’s called, right?)

If you watch the original, you’ll notice a (not really) horizontal band, although subtle, running through the screen. Of course I had to simulate that :) I used a Blend type procedural texture and animated its offset to make it travel the cube throughout the video. On the corresponding image (coming soon) I made the band more obvious on the left side, and on the right side is the final render – it’s really really subtle in a still, but you notice it when it’s animated.

Glare and color balance

Like I said, in the beginning I was determined to make my screen as similar as possible to the original. After a while I realized I could come up with my own screen, as long as it was believable and, more importantly, I was happy with it. The glare is a perfect example: I didn’t find it in the original video but I thought it would make it more believable and look cool at the same time. I also used a color balance node to give the blue a power-up (it was pretty pale). Oh yeah, I added motion blur for the quick camera movements too. This was my first chance to play with the compositor. So here are the images from each of those steps:

Click to enlarge! (better resolution)

Awesome!

Animating the text

Now all that was left was the typing animation. I thought I could just get to my text box and set keyframes on each letter, but it turns out it can’t be done. Or rather, I didn’t find a way to do it, and I’m not sure I want you to tell me how in the comments because my solution involved quite some time of boring and repetitive work. Just kidding – if you know a better way please do let me know. But what I did was to create 79 text boxes, one for each character that had to be animated. Yeah, character by character I created it, moved it in place, made it invisible and set a keyframe when it should become visible, in sync with the video’s keystroke sounds (well more or less, I cheated, I just synced the first and last strokes of each sequence and then randomly added the ones in between).

... next letter, make it invisible, jump 3 or 4 frames, add a keyframe on the (in)visibility, next frame, make it visible, add a keyframe on the visibility... next letter...

Oh yeah by the way, before all that keyframing madness I had a BIG “uh-oh” moment. Like the repetitive work wasn’t enough, once I had all the characters set up and ready for keyframing I had a problem: I had duplicated all the text boxes from the original, to keep the text material, rotation and scaling the same for all characters, but what I didn’t know was that they also shared animation properties. I found it strange, since according to Roland’s book:

These duplicated objects are somewhat dependent on one another. (…) Animation is also duplicated, but the objects don’t share animation data. This means that if you change the animation of one of the objects, that change will not be reflected in the other object.

But the fact is when I set one of the characters visible and set the keyframe, if I moved back and forth one frame then ALL the characters were visible. Before I decided to animate the visibility I was trying to animate location and the same would happen – all the characters would fly to the same spot. Maybe I didn’t actually get what Roland was trying to say, maybe there’s more to it, or maybe it’s just a bug. I didn’t really try to figure it out back then (good point, I’ll try to figure it out now and let you know what the conclusions are), I just tried to find out “HOW THE HECK CAN I ANIMATE THESE CHARACTERS INDIVIDUALLY, COZ IF I CAN’T THE WHOLE THING IS RUINED!” Sorry about the animosity :) I did find the answer in a Blenderartists topic. You can remove links between objects by using Make Single User, so to make the animations independent: select a duplicated object, press U (or Object > Make Single User) and click Object Animation. Then the behavior was exactly as expected, and I was able to put the whole typing animation together. Which was awesome :)

[Update: I tried to replicate that problem before I asked for help, and… I couldn’t :| Something strange must have happened, but if it ever happens again I’ll make sure I find out what’s causing it.]

Rendering

Not much more to say here! I just got the settings right: resolution, frame rate, (low) anti-aliasing, no shadows, output format and encoding… and Render! Then about an hour later I was looking at my first finished project. The whole thing is awesome, but if I get that job, it’s going to be legen… wait for it…