Have no Fear, Fax is Here – Take 2

So, ahem, six months went by without any updates here at the blog… Sorry about that :) There’s been a bunch going on and even though some of it is Blender-related (I’ve actually done some “real work” with it), somehow I let the blog marinate for a while. “Life is what happens while you’re making plans”, so this time I won’t list a bunch of stuff I want to do – instead I’ll focus on telling you about it when I actually do it :p

Meanwhile it’s been a year since I started this blog! Ha! Time flies… Also meanwhile, lots of exciting stuff happened in the software front – Cycles merged, Motion tracking merged, now BMesh merged..! Then also Project Mango started… It’s almost a crime that I have been silent for so long.

Anyway, there will be new content soon, starting with a new review. Have you seen the new Training DVD the Blender Foundation has put up in pre-sale? ;)

Meanwhile, some inspiration: what an AWESOME render over at BlenderArtists. It also has a fantastic modeling time-lapse, check it out.

Talk soon!

Have no Fear, Fax is Here

A whole month went by without updates here at the blog, but now I’m back on track. Here is my priority list:

  • finish modeling the Toyota, then decide whether to jump right into lighting surfacing and rendering or to put that on hold;
  • finish the Digital Texturing and Painting book;
  • work on a project I’m not ready to talk about yet;
  • make use of my brand new CGCookie Citizenship, mainly to have a look at the animation tutorials but maybe also “speedwatch” the hard-surface modeling ones;
  • get the trial version of Filter Forge and use the 30 days to try to get it for free;
  • start a new scene, this time mostly focused on having a go at sculpting and organic modeling;
  • finally have a go at tracking with the Tomato branch, been postponing this for too long; and
  • maybe participate in some contest out there.
Those are only the Blender-related ones. Aside from all the rest I have also picked up photography meanwhile, and since you may be interested in that I might let you know about it too. So plenty to do and plenty for you to hear about ;) Stay tuned!

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 ;)

The Massive Mammoth Masterclass on Rigging

As promised here is a review of CMIVFX’s Massive Mammoth Masterclass on Rigging, by Nathan Vegdahl (I’m linking to a presentation video because there is no product page on CMIVFX for the bundle. You’ll find links to Volumes 1 and 2 on the video description).

Well… it is awesome. No really, it is. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything short of awesome in Blender education out there. Either there isn’t or all my homework picking the products really pays off ;)

That's the awesome end-result (thanks to Sebastian König for providing the image!)

First things first: video and audio quality are very good. Wasn’t expecting otherwise but hey, I thought you’d like to know :P In terms of the information contained… well the product pages are a good summary of what is included. Just to reinforce though, it is 6 hours full of information.

What I really like about the tutorial is the structure. Instead of jumping right in to rig the model, Nathan first shows you the techniques you’ll be using for rigging different parts of the character, one at the time, with a very thorough explanation and no distractions. This makes the first part of the video a great reference for your future rigging problems, and in fact it is extremely informative. Then he brings it all together and starts rigging the model. Another advantage of this is that it makes the rigging workflow much more clear, since he doesn’t have to break it to explain the intricacies of rigging a leg or what have you.

The fact that the weighting process is detached to a separate module is also a nice idea. It makes it a good reference, since you may have different methods for weighting and just want to use those and then figure out how he sets up the controls. Or you may be tired of auto-weighting or your manual weighting not getting good results, and you can just see how Nathan approaches the weighting process. This is actually my second favorite part of the tutorial (my favorite being the first part where he tackles one rigging problem at a time). Maybe it’s because of the (bad) experience I had while correcting auto-weights on the kiddo character in Blender Foundations, but although Nathan’s method involves a lot of work you really see the results in the much better deformations. The included add-on to go with this method is also very useful. In fact I’m curious to check other rigging resources almost just to see how different the approaches are, because this does look top-notch.

Rigging a quadruped brings some interesting nuances into play. More often than not, the tutorials on rigging you will find out there will be on a humanoid subject, and that alone makes this tutorial more valuable. Rigging a quadruped isn’t just a matter of putting a humanoid armature on all fours and giving it a Spline IK trunk or a tail – there are differences in the way that these characters should move that will influence decisions in the rigging process, and thus the rig itself. So while a tutorial on a biped can just rely on the fact that we possess a basic anatomical knowledge of ourselves and that we can always pose in front of a mirror to figure out how the rig should work, Nathan takes the opportunity of having to rig a mammoth to put a reference image of an elephant skeleton in front of you and making you think to understand how it works. I found this very valuable – not every character that will come my way will be a simple humanoid, and if it weren’t for this I would possibly just adapt my humanoid rigging knowledge to it instead of trying to figure out how it should work.

It’s actually hard to think of negative things in this product. The only thing I can think of I’m not even sure about: while weighting the mesh, Nathan picks two cross-sections of the model to show you how he weights the vertices in them, but then pauses the video to work on the rest of the cross-sections; when he comes back there is quite a lot of work done and many cross-sections set up, so I thought it would have been good to hear why he picked those particular cross-sections, but then again the process is so long and repetitive that it would easily add a couple of hours of video just doing the same work over and over. Plus, to be fair, Nathan does give hints on which cross-sections are important to define, like ones that will be under the influence of several bones. So yeah, it really is hard to point out anything not so great about this, honestly.

Finally, Nathan’s style is very friendly and laid-back. It’s as if you had a friend come over and teach you this stuff. While he’s explaining things clearly he also has fun with funny things from time to time – he’s not joking around, but sometimes weird stuff happens and instead of going silent he just plays into it. That really helps maintaining attention and not getting bored throughout the 6 hours of video, at least for me :)

“Would you recommend this product to your friends and/or family?” Absolutely! My mom would actually like at least some parts of it, like when Nathan shows how you could plot parabolas on the graph editor :P (she’s a math teacher). In all seriousness, yep, if you have just the basic understanding of what bones are and what they are supposed to do, this product (of course with effort on your part as well, as always) will show you clearly how to best rig a character and above all in a very well structured way.

I should get a Fax Approval stamp :P

Fax’s Shopping Choices – Rigging Resources

It seems many people found my pre-buying comparison between Compositing resources useful (I compared Sebastian König’s Compositing Training to Andrew Price’s Wow Factor, in case you missed it). Since I like to inform myself as much as possible before buying a product, and since I know many of you can’t be bothered to do that kind of homework :p I’ll start sharing my decision process whenever I’m trying to pick between related products. These will be based merely on the information available out there without actually looking into the product itself, so they are not reviews – again, it’s just me summing up the features in each and picking between the two. Sort of like pros and cons.

So this time I was looking to improve my rigging skills, and checked out the products out there: CMIVFX’s Massive Mammoth Rigging Masterclass by Nathan Vegdahl, and CGMasters’ Character Creation Volume 2 – Rigging, by Lee Salvemini. Both products are video tutorials and seem to be designed to take you from basic to pretty advanced rigging skills, so the differences between the two are really in the details. So what are those differences?

Let’s talk about the format. First of all I’m going to cheat a little bit on that “without looking into the product” thing and tell you that the format of Nathan’s video is what you are probably used to – he’s explaining things to you as he’s working through them in real time. Lee’s, on the other hand (and based on a video preview of the previous Volume of the series and production progress reports), was recorded as he worked on the rig and afterwards narrated to explain what is going on. Alright I’m going to cheat again to tell you that Nathan sometimes pauses the recording when he’s doing repetitive things, so the 6 hours of video are entirely productive. I can’t give you that inside knowledge on Lee’s yet, but the estimated duration on the product page is 8 hours and “every single second of the creation process recorded”, but since Lee is narrating I’m sure he’ll have useful insights to offer while repetitive tasks are being performed on the video, and also probably uses timelapses to speed things up. Another slight difference in the format between the two videos are the “various visual cues” in Lee’s, “such as: Zooming to smaller menus on the screen, hot-key pop ups, buttons and areas of interest highlighted, efficient mix of timelapse and real-time video”.

Now the subjects. On Nathan’s video we’re working on a quadruped character (a kick-ass Mammoth), while in Lee’s we’re talking about a biped character (a kick-ass Ninja). No rigging tutorial will be complete without explaining FK and IK and switching between the two, so you’ll be happy to realize by checking both product pages that these are thoroughly explained in both despite the differences in the characters. So no problem there. But you may think that you’ll find yourself rigging quadrupeds more often, or bipeds more often, so that may drive your decision.

Because of the different characters though, there are a few subjects that are touched on one of the products and not on the other. For example, the Mammoth features a large trunk (as they do), which Nathan uses to explain Spline IK. This does not seem to be covered in Lee’s video. On the other hand, Lee touches on rigging the accessories on the Ninja (so non-organic rigs) and also on rigging with cloth simulation, both of which are not presented on Nathan’s video.

Another interesting difference is this: along with the video (and the project files that both products obviously provide), Nathan provides an add-on of his that compiles a set of useful tools for the weighting process, and of course explains how to use it. I have no idea whether this add-on is available in the wild or not. On the other hand, Lee has a chapter devoted to Rigify, the automatic rigging add-on that is provided with Blender and that surely helps in the process of quickly rigging secondary characters.

Important feature: both products explain drivers, and both explain setting up custom shapes for the bones, however Lee also touches Python scripting.

Regarding everything else (and there is quite a bit of “else”), and to the best of my knowledge, the products seem to be identically chock-full of information. Accordingly, the prices are almost exactly the same, ha! $59,95 for Nathan’s bundle (if you get the two volumes separately it gets more expensive), $60 for Lee’s video.

Hopefully, if you’re interested in these products, this sum-up will help you make a more informed decision. So which one did I pick? Well as you probably guessed from my cheating above, I got Nathan’s video, with the help of a promotion at the CMIVFX store (I told you already, it’s a good idea to follow those guys on twitter!). What you may not have guessed though, is that I also took advantage of the current discount at CGMasters (get both Volumes, on Modeling and Rigging, for $90 – hurry though, because it only lasts while volume 2 isn’t shipping, and it may be shipping very soon). I had a hard time picking between the two, and since I figured I could use some organic modeling skills to complement the hard-surface ones… or at least that’s how I justify it to my wallet :p

So very soon (like tomorrow or the day after) I’ll be posting a review of Nathan’s video. If you can’t wait, I can tell you it rocks. As soon as Lee’s arrives in the mail I’ll let you know too!

Oh wait, one final thought! This shopping has been made a while ago, and meanwhile another good-looking resource has popped out: Blender 2.5 Character Animation Cookbook, a book by Virgílio Vasconcelos. In a way I’m happy it only came out after I’d made the decision (it either saved me more decision time or more money), but it does look like an awesome resource in book format to study both rigging and animation. But you’ll need to do your own homework on that ;)

Learning Texturing – Goggles

Digital Texturing and Painting

Procedural Textures

I’m back with another instalment of this series, this time using procedural textures to texture the goggles. Despite all the tweaking and tweaking and more tweaking, this was actually more fun than I thought ;) Ready for a truckload of images?

The book actually started with the strap, but since Blender doesn’t have a procedural texture type that more immediately emulates fabric, I left that to the end and went straight to the lens casing. This was supposed to be a dark rubbery material, so using the workhorse of Blender procedurals, Clouds, I went ahead and set the base for it (go ahead and open the images in a new tab if you want, a small part of them is cropped by the blog layout):

But we actually want it to be almost completely covered in sand and dust from the desert, so I used a Blend texture to work as a Stencil, and applied another Clouds texture, this time much more fine, to work as sand and dust. Result:

Then we tackled the leather mask, and what a nice surprise. The author (using an early version of Maya) was cleverly varying the colors on the mask (both on the skin and the cracks) by assigning them to other textures instead of solid colors. I thought this wasn’t possible in Blender and was trying to get the same result by using the method described above (a stencil texture). But then I noticed something I’d never noticed: we have compositing nodes, material nodes, and texture nodes! I immediately started playing with those and achieved a nice very weathered result for the leather:

Here’s the node setup:

Cool stuff huh? Next up were the lenses, which were inspired in bug eyes. I used a Brick Pattern node for these, but the limitations were obvious:

Here’s the node setup (aside from the pattern there’s a noise texture to dirty up the edges of the lenses; unfortunately I wasn’t able to make this work well):

So all that was left was the strap that I mentioned in the beginning of the post. My plan for this was to see if there was something in the Blender Material Repository that I could use, and then figure out how they made it. I actually tried manipulating the Brick Pattern to get something useful, but I failed miserably and reverted back to this plan. I ended up finding a Carbon Fiber material that looked more or less like what I wanted. Turns out it uses the Magic texture type, ha! After a few tweaks, our goggles were done:

After all the experimentation of this and the previous chapters, the next one (on the car body) starts this way:

The car body is an example of how I create 90% of my textures.

Gotta be useful ;) 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 Face (3D Painting)
Next post on the series: Finishing

Tutorial – Rigging the Gyrocopter, Part II

Tutorial

Rigging the Gyrocopter, Part II

Sorry I’m late! Last week was crazy, but here I am with Part II of the tutorial. Video quality is much better this time (720p in fact), and I managed to stay around the 20 minute mark, so check it out to learn how you can use Spline IK to rig things like hoses or ropes or stuff like that.

I first went to the wiki to try to figure out how it worked, but you know the wiki – even though the intention is great it’s always hard to explain things by text. So a big thank you goes to Nathan Vegdahl and his Mammoth Rigging Tutorial, where this subject is very well explained. I haven’t gone through all of it (I skipped around to the parts when Spline IK was dealt with), so you’ll probably see a review post on it soon, but so far it really is a great product. If you want a better explanation of why cyclic dependencies are a bad thing (instead of my attempt in the video – “it does crazy stuff”, I still can’t believe that’s how I summed it up!), go get it!

I hope this was useful to you, and as always, please go ahead and leave any feedback on the comments below!

——-

You can find Part I of the tutorial here.

Tutorial – Rigging the Gyrocopter, Part I

Tutorial

Rigging the Gyrocopter, Part I

That’s right! After soaking in a lot of knowledge by watching various tutorials out there, it’s finally time for me to try to give something back.

For me, and more than any other discipline within 3D graphics, Rigging seems to be one of those click subjects – you don’t get it no matter how hard you try, and then suddenly something clicks and aha, you get it. And to be honest I’m not sure it has clicked for me yet… In fact before I started trying to rig the gyrocopter I went back and re-read the rigging chapter on Blender Foundations, and in the end I thought “ok, I get it”. Then coincidently BlenderCookie produced a tutorial on rigging pistons and I thought “perfect, that’s it!”, and watched it and it all made sense. But when I finally sat down looking at the landing gear on the gyrocopter, I couldn’t help but feel it was still over my head. It hadn’t clicked.

But still I had a go, and just like Edison I learned quite a number of ways in which it didn’t work… until I found one that did! The whole process made me understand the subject quite a bit better, and in the end I felt like sharing some of the knowledge I’d acquired. So without further ado, enjoy my first tutorial!

Updates: I dropped by at the #blendercoders IRC channel today (wow, it had been a looooong time since I’d last been in IRC) and Aligorith shed some light over the Envelopes bug I thought I’d come across in the video – it turns out I had to also disable Envelope Deformations in the Armature modifier on the mesh. Concerning the other bug with the empty jumping around, I couldn’t reproduce it on a simple scene…

Hopefully part II will be shorter and allow me to post a better quality video. I think something went wrong with the encoding, since the raw footage in 1080p was actually smaller in disk size than the edited (cut, shorter) in 720p, which in turn was too big to upload to vimeo… so I had to re-encode in lower quality.

Anyway I hope you’ve learned something useful with this, and again please do drop your tips in the comments!

———-

You can find Part II of the tutorial here.

Learning Texturing – Face

Digital Texturing and Painting

3D Painting

Heh, the age of the book does show a bit. I guess back then NURBS were all the rage, because up until this chapter the author never mentioned UV unwrapping and I’ve been doing it myself (NURBS come with UVs that you don’t manipulate like you do with polygon meshes). So the first part was actually about how to prepare a polygon mesh for texturing. The second part was more fun: painting textures directly onto the 3D model.

This time we approached texturing the dude’s face by starting with the bump map. Since his skin is supposed to be scaly, it makes sense to draw the scales first anyway. So after firing up Blender’s Texture Painting mode, a lot of wrist flicking ensued:

Just like painting an easter egg. Not that I ever did.

By the way, as you can probably tell I only painted one side, and it was automatically mirrored to the other side. Setting up this mirror isn’t as immediate as in sculpt mode, for example, but this tutorial at BlenderCookie will tell you how to do it. Thanks to Adrian for pointing me to it!

Oh and by the way again, remember to save.  It really is a pain to come back the morning after and realize a lot of work from last night is gone. “But I saved my file!” Yeah, me too. Not the image file though. Saving your blend file (Ctrl-S) does NOT save your image file (Alt-S on the UV/Image Editor)! Funky, I know. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;)

Once that was done we took it to Gimp and started the translate-from-Photoshop dance. If we used the current image as a bump map there would be sharp gouges, but we want the scales to be softly bumped. So we applied a couple of filters to get that effect: Gaussian Blur and then Value Propagate (to mimic Photoshop’s Maximum filter). Then for the color map we used a grunge map the author provides and colored it green, masked another brown layer above it to give it a slight variation, and then colored the “cracks” more brown with the help of Channels (yet another thing learned). Taking it back to Blender and playing with the influence values, here is the final result:

Not too shabby, huh?

Once again I do prefer the author’s result, but if I didn’t then probably it would have been me working on those Matrix films, wouldn’t it?

Next up we will look at procedural textures, and something tells me I’ll have to cheat a bit more… but we’ll see!

———-

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

Next post on the series: The Goggles (Procedural Textures)
Previous post on the series: The Tires (Displacement Maps)

Vehicle Modeling Series, Done

Yep! In fact it has been done for a while – I said on the previous VMS post that I should be done around now, but after that I went on a spree and finished the thing in just a couple of days :) But… I was planning to do something special with it, since I thought it was too cool to just take a few still shots and post them up. So in the last couple of days I worked on a little something. And here it is (watch it in HD in Vimeo for best effect):

Since the model is not textured and only has simple materials it was a challenge to think of an as-simple scenario, but I think this does it. Quickly accomplished, but quite a lot of fun and learning to do!

So now that it’s over, and to avoid repeating myself, a final verdict of the thing as a product: 98%! I’ve already told you how much of a great catch this is and how I feel working on it has boosted my modeling skills and confidence, so no news there. I nitpickingly took 2% away because I was expecting a clean-up in the end (renaming objects, maybe linking some, and closing a couple of holes that we ended up forgetting about), but that’s kind of unfair because a) you can’t really blame Jonathan for letting those slip after 15 hours of extreme modeling and teaching, and b) fixing those things is easy-peasy and can be left as an exercise for the reader :)

And that’s it! Or is it? No, I still have at least a couple of plans for this baby. Stay tuned ;)

———-

This post is part of a series on BlenderCookie’s Vehicle Modeling Series.
You can find the base post of the series here.

Previous post on the series: Part V (Detailing the Wings)