Loads of space

There appears to be a little space theme building up here. Coming rapidly on the back of the Space Poop Challenge is yet another space-based competition, the Cube Sat Challenge which Hugo Shelley roped me into once again.

Shameless plug warning. Go and vote for him here: https://herox.com/cubesat-challenge/entry/16321

I’m not sure which of the two are cooler, but it was yet another fast-paced job with lashings of Blender goodness.

Hugo delivered a CAD model with some pretty instructions. “Make it fly….in space….over a blue glowing planet…..animated unfolding….” yada yada yada. All very well and good, but it was quite a fiddly process figuring out exactly how the blasted thing was supposed to work.

The wonders of the interwebs meant that he was able to furnish me with a video of a paper model doing its thing, so in no time at all I was deep into a rigging sessions. Blender being what it is, there is no “proper” way of doing anything, it really boils down to whichever work flow you are comfortable with.

It’s a pretty neat concept, one of the key features being the antenna “legs” that unfold in flight in a really simple yet incredibly clever way. Think of it as engineering origami.

My initial reaction was “simples” until I realised there will have to be some synchronised shape-key skullduggery and then there was much gnashing and wailing of teeth as I attempted to wire up everything using drivers and one empty. In theory, this was a great idea. In practice, when literally every second counts, complexity is you enemy. Especially when Blender still has some rough edges when it comes to instancing and requires some rather humorous if pretty annoying work-arounds.

It does not help the the NLA editor is clearly smoking the dope sheet, and the dope sheet is fighting the action editor and everything is a giant, messy spaghetti when it comes to animation. This is Blender’s strength and achille’s heels. The software has tremendous flexibility once you have gone through its insane learning curve. There are so many wrinkles you have to learn, but they make perfect sense once you have all of that under your belt.

Fortunately there was not that much that had to be modelled this time, and the texturing was quite simple. Lighting was a bit of a pain, and some stuff had to be composited, and rendering a lot of frames takes absolutely ages so we resorted to render.st who are pretty good, both price-wise and support-wise.

Compositing in Blender is really advanced, and there are no end of tricks that can be employed to get the result you want; in this case I went easy and really did the bare minimum in order to save time and reduce the sheer amount of grief a complex node-tree can cause.

The satellite was rendered on one layer, composited over the sky haze which was blurred with a gaussian node, and all of that was dumped over the earth. Some very simple sky glare was blended over the whole mix.

As with such projects, time was really of essence, so I couldn’t get all the special effects in that I or Hugo wanted, but the end result seems to do the design justice nonetheless.

You got this far? Well done. Now go and vote here: https://herox.com/cubesat-challenge/entry/16321 and make some very strange people very happy.

Old versus new

A fusion of a previous chess scene with a concept developed by my eldest son, this combines my love for robotics and appreciation of the jarring oddities in life that makes things that much more interesting.

There is no rule that states robots may not play chess, but why would they? Who is this robot playing against? Which colour is it playing? Is this the last move of the game? To all these questions, the surrealist would answer: “A fish”. Of all the potential responses, such ingenuity and lateral thinking perhaps suits this image best.

chess scene render 08 HD

A serendipitous layer malfunction (I forgot to turn the lights on, basically) and some tweaking resulted in a Tron homage. I’m not really sure which one I prefer.

chess scene render 05

The Art of Serendipity

As a CGI artist, new and strange techniques are the sort of things always worth examining. One never knows what could result out of some obscure idea, such as UV sculpting (see the lightsabre to the right).

lightsabre endge rendered high detail

The interesting result of the confluence of two distinct techniques: edge-rendering and UV sculpting.

I happened across this fascinating article regarding “dual meshes”, I simply had to have a go. And it set my mind rolling. Just what else can this sort of thing do?

Having worked with some interesting looking meshes before, I decided to give this technique a quick whirl and then things took their own route, really.

Some vertex moving minutes later, the thought struck me that extruding the faces of my interesting looking mesh would make for a fascinating result. And it did.

The result is some funky-looking glass bricks, that one could incorporate into a nice house, garden wall or secret evil hideout in the depths of the Transylvanian forests. Or similar.

What I particularly like about this technique is that it generate non-repeating complexity with very little work, which is very nice providing, of course, you have the hardware to render it.

A glass brick, modelled using a technique developed by Alessandro Zomparelli.

A glass brick, modelled using a technique developed by Alessandro Zomparelli.

When your mind roams free…

…then everything is possible. So what do I think of when meditating in the bath? Usually, my art. That can range from the ekranoplan that is one of my current WIPs, my jetpunk stuff or – incredibly enough – bathrooms.

Hence the bathroom photo below. Well, I say photo; I really mean render, because that’s what it is. You don’t think it looks real? Please do tell me why.




Interior perspextives

south west north west north

Scratches on rocks, daubs of paint, lines, chicken feet and one day glowing diodes, non-verbal communication that did not involve gestures was something that lies at the heart of civilisation. Whether it was the locations of fine hunting grounds recorded in ochre on a cave wall or hieroglyphics depicting the ten best tourist locations in ancient Egypt, technology has not freed us from this necessity. Far from it; digital cameras inside mobile phones we use as pocket computers have meant that being able to express ideas faster and more accurately becomes ever more urgent.

When Andrea Hall of UK TV Home Channel fame needed to explain her interior layout to her client, she was in a major hurry. Her drawings were simply not getting the message across, and the budget was tighter than the deadline.

This is when she turned to me for some kind of solution that would bring her ideas to life, and still leave her with some change for biscuits.

I happen to like the weird and wonderful, and this particular puzzle was definitely unusual. Fortunately, the fact that this was going to be a simple floor plan instead of a marketing brochure meant that photo-realism, or any other kind of realism, would not matter.

glass partitions south west BEV glass partitions north BEV glass partitions east BEV

It struck me that a CGI architectural model using coloured “perspex” sheets would suit this kind of project quite nicely.

Three perspective later, things were moving on swimmingly.

A charming email arrived with nothing more than a few scratchings here and there, and some hastily scrawled instructions. This is in fact exactly what I get from clients most of the time, since this is a speciality of mine: converting scratches to eye-candy.

Invariably there will be changes and this project was no different. When the client makes encouraging noises, I get the job done faster. Andrea pressed all the right buttons, and so when she charmed me into making last minute changes in roughly the same time it takes light to cross a wicket, I adjusted my sails and hoped my timbers wouldn’t shiver.

north 16 Jan 2003 west 16 Jan 2003 overhead 15 Jan 2003

I’m under the impression that the change was wisely spent on digestives.


A jetpunk lunchbreak

It is remarkable how serendipity sits so squarely in the middle of my artistic meanderings. A shape might catch my eye, a shadow perhaps look sufficiently intriguing to warrant a second glance, a cloud passing overhead like some majestic and fantastical creature sculpted out of candy floss.

In this case, it was a vase, I believe, that triggered a subconscious yet cognitive process that eventually bubbled to the surface in the form of an abstract profile.

Motoro jet casing

“What on earth could this possibly be”, I wondered as I stared at the screen. “Some king of kitchen appliance for an obscure food preparation process? An electronic toe-nail trimmer?” It’s utility eluded me for a while. I flipped it over, and then it was obvious. It was a jet engine. Not one we would be familiar with, intimately or otherwise. One from a parallel universe; a sister universe to steampunk. And so Jetpunk was finally born.

I modelled a little more. Clearly a jet engine as sporty as this needs some kind of afterburner. With an air compressor or turbo. With sensors. And fiddly bits. That look complicated.

clay render 008

We 3D artists tend to work with “clay” renders a lot. Instead of using realistic or otherwise materials to visualise the progress of the mesh and the shadows, a simple matte white is applied which allows all the minutiae to reveal itself in a glorious interplay of shadow and light.

clay render 004

The detail bug bit me in no time. The project initially was conceived as a scene in which a mechanic has just left for his lunch break. When the thirst for even more detail became unquenchable, my mind seethed with the possibilities this funny little project presented itself with.

It has grown of its own volition; I am beginning to wonder who owns who now. I decided the engine was done in a moment of short-lived clarity; who knows. I might yet return to it before it is finally truly “done”.

I think we all need some motivation to get a job done well. I needed eye-candy to move on with this project. So when I started modelling one of the vehicles, I decided early on to drop the usual method of relying on clay renders, and decided to use rich chrome and cheap red car paint.

jetcar 009

Exactly what will come of all this, who knows? I have so many things I want to try out in this genre. The only real issue is: how much time can I spare? This stuff takes absolutely ages to do. Getting the details in, adjusting everything to fit; I have enormous respect for engineers who have to do this “for real”, and down to a budget as well.

jetcar 006

To shoehorn a particularly hackneyed phrase into the end of all this tedium: watch this space. Who know what will yet happen?

If you can’t wait, then follow this thread on Blenderartists.




Lightsabre UV sculpt

UV sculpted light sabre

UV sculpted light sabre

In this age of instant gratification, sculpting a David is really not something one would expect to do at the weekend in one’s garden shed. Despite this, classical sculpting is still a technique that has relevance in the digital age. There are several outstanding programs that are specifically designed for sculpting in 3D, and breathtaking cost aside, these have spawned a veritable army of sculptors whose creations span every imaginable genre, and then some.

Unlike the ancients, hours are not spent chipping away at lumps of virtual marble only to find a flaw in the middle of it, and I doubt that Michaelangelo or Donatello were able to press Ctrl-Z when they realised that they had forgotten to put some clothes on David. Sculptors now have tools no-one dreamed of even thirty years ago, and every material the human mind can conceive is at their finger-tips.

Despite all this almost sci-fi progress, there are still two key ingredients that have yet to be affected substantially: time and skill. The finest sculptures still require absolutely ages to sculpt, polish, texture, light and render (create a CGI “photograph”). The skill demanded is still quite daunting for the neophyte, and breathtaking for the art-lover.

This is why, when the occasional technique comes along to relieve the artist of the tedium that detailing an otherwise fun project is not simply welcomed, but greeted with open arms and almost infinite enthusiasm.

UV sculpting is one such technique. It essentially involves the use of very specialised images to displace geometry using image data as co-ordinate information. The geometry of this splendid lightsabre which is the subject of this post took all of 15 minutes to create. The material took approximately twenty minutes to fiddle with to get just so. The lighting and camera set-up took even longer. For greebling, this is truly a gift.

The lightsabre was created in Blender, a free and open source 3D program that is my tool of choice for all things 3D. It was rendered in Cycles, the splendid new engine from the Blender Foundation.

The Blenderartists thread that spawned all of this splendid effusion may be discovered here.

Click on the images below for in order to facilitate drooling over some splendid detail.