Saturday, December 29, 2012

Green Bottles

These last few days, I have been working on a new render—a green glass study. No big surprise there, as I'm a big fan of glass, refractions, reflections, caustics, dispersion, and anything related to rendering glass. There's something that just makes it never grow old. I used a photo I found on Facebook as reference, something I've been doing a lot recently. I find that real pictures taken by regular folks sometimes are more inspiring than perfect, professionally groomed pictures.

Also, for those interested, I gave a different subtext to the whole composition. I renamed the bottles to 1714-2014, in honor of the recent political events in Catalonia. Catalans are trying to have a referendum on independence in 2014, which marks the 300th anniversary of Spain's invasion and occupation of Catalonia. My bottles are literally freedom-water bottles! Not a bad reason to drink to.

As a side note, my blog has experienced a great increase in visits. As a way of saying thanks, I am including a link to the blend file and custom textures created by me. For the HDR image I use for the background, I would suggest using any that can easily be found online. Cheers!

Green bottles. Rendered in Cycles, modeled in Blender.
Click to enlarge.

This is the reference photo.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Creating Embroidery in Blender

A few months ago I posted this render of mine as a kind of homage to Barça's best ever coach: Pep Guardiola.



As a result, I got some positive feedback and some requests that I make a tutorial on how to create the embroidery effect. I must admit that, from my perspective, it is an embarrassingly simple matter, but I can understand (and remember) the feeling of being completely lost when it comes to particle systems and trying to reproduce randomly behaving stuff in Blender. That's why I feel a tutorial is a good idea. I am including a starter file with textures created by me, links and attribution to all external textures. I recommend using the latest builds of Blender (2.64 or 2.65 if possible), because I am using n-gons—polygons that have more than 4 edges—which were not supported in earlier versions of the program.

-Starter file just with my own textures
-NarrowPath_3k.hdr image from HDRLabs
-Wicker0020_15 from CGTextures

Before we go ahead with the tutorial proper, I want to suggest a simple exercise that will improve your chances of understanding how we are going to build this object. To sum it up, the embroidery effect was created with particle systems—specifically hair particle systems.

Particle systems are a kind of special effect used in many 3D packages that control the emission or distribution of other objects (particles) in potentially random and organic ways. In Blender, particle systems are applied to objects, which emit the particles along their normals. In my example, I have the Barça coat of arms shape as several polygonal objects, each of which has hairs of differing color and orientation applied to it.

Let's do this simple exercise. Open up a new blender file. Do not delete the default cube (I bet I surprised some blenderhead here). Make sure your cursor is on the 3D View window. Add another cube by pressing Shift-A, and then a 1 and a 2 (figure 1). Do not worry if you can't see the second cube. It's there, and it's called Cube.001. Without touching the mouse, scale the new cube down to 10% by pressing S and then . and 1 (figure 2). Notice we are not using the mouse or the cursor at all. Welcome to the power of Blender.

Figure 1. Press Shift-A and then 1 and 2 to create a new cube.

Figure 2. Press S, and then . and 1 to scale down to 10%.
Notice the info bar (upper left) reflects the scaling being applied.

Select the first cube by left-clicking on its name in the Outliner panel. Switch to the particles panel by clicking on the icon shown on figure 3. Click on the plus sign that shows up below to add a new particle system.

Figure 3. Switch to the Particles panel by clicking on the particle icon shown here.
Click on the plus sign to add a new particle system.


Notice that the newly created particle system is called by default ParticleSystem, and the settings used by this particle system are also called the same. In the drop down menu next to Type, select Hair (figure 4). You should see something like this:

Figure 4. Select Hair as type in the drop down menu. The cube has hair now.


Scroll down the hair panel to find the Render sub-panel. Click on Object. In the Dupli Object (stands for duplicate object) field, type Cube.001 or click and select Cube.001. The original hairs get replaced by the tiny cubes. They are tiny because their size is, by default, 0.05, as specified in the Size field (figure 5).


Figure 5. Notice that Cube.001 is what is being reproduced on the original cube, at a size
of 0.05 over the 10% reduced cube. I have zoomed in the scene so the tiny cubes can be seen.

That's it for the introduction to particles. Let's build our Barça file now. Open the file embroidery_tutorial_starter.blend I provided in a link above.

Figure 6. Starter file.

This file has all the objects and materials needed to create and render the scene. You might need to re-link the image textures that I am not including in the download. Since I am focusing mostly on using particle systems, I won't explain how to do this here. Some objects, like the light and the background are hidden from view, but they will render nevertheless. The individual embroidery stitches used for the different particle systems are all stored on layer 5 (see figure 7).

Figure 7. Layer number 5 contains the individual stitches, the hairs that will be used
to fill in the Barça coat of arms shapes with the embroidered effect.

Click on layer 1, and Shift-click layers 2, and 3 to activate them. Select the object named ball by clicking on it in the Outliner panel. Switch to the Particles panel if necessary. The object does not have any particle system applied to it yet. Click on the plus sign to add a new particle system. I already created the settings I use for all the different objects, and made sure they will be saved even of they are not actively being used in the file (by highlighting the F icon next to the particle settings name). Click on the ParticleSettings drop-down menu and select the Brown Thread settings (figure 8). There are many many settings that control how the emitted or hair objects behave in a particle system. Rather than bog you down with all these, just use the settings I have already created, and play with them once you feel comfortable enough.


Figure 8. Select the Brown Thread settings to apply them to the ball object.

Keep selecting other objects in the scene and apply the pertinent particle system to each of them. Here is a list of objects with their corresponding particle setting:

-ball: Brown Thread
-blue stripes: Blau Thread
-cross_red: Red Thread
-cross_white: White Thread
-FCB_letters: Black Thread
-golden_background: Golden Thread
-maroon_stripes: Grana Thread
-senyera_red: Red Thread
-senyera_yellow: Yellow Thread

Notice that the stitches around the edge were created differently. They are using a path that controls the arrangement of an object around it. By now you should see something like this:

Figure 9. What things look like on the 3D View.

Just hit F12 now and let it render. Here is the result (figure 10), which took 3 minutes 34 seconds on my machine. I need a better Mac! You can fiddle around with the lighting, materials, or camera settings to give it a different look. Good luck and show me your results, and don't forget to press F3 to save the render!

Figure 10. This is the basic render you'll get. My final render at the
top of the page had different lighting and some post-processing
applied to it.








Friday, December 7, 2012

Ear Reddening Render

This is my latest render. I've been getting back into go, and I like having go-related backgrounds on my computer. I usually search online for pictures or Japanese prints, and place them as wallpapers. One of these is the photo shown below, which apparently comes from this site.

Ear reddening game reference photo. 

The problem is that it is pretty low rez. So I decided to recreate it, using my existing goban scene, but modifying it a bit, and of course placing a bunch of additional stones on the board, up to the ear reddening move. Here is the result. Feel free to download it and use it as your desktop image.

I created the kanji letters (which read ear reddening move) in Illustrator.
I imported them as SVG into Blender, and placed them in a separate scene.
I combined both renders in the node compositor after that
—you can choose specific scene renders as separate inputs.

For those who don't know, the ear reddening move is a famous move in go lore. Played by Honinbo Shusaku against his rival Inoue Genan Inseki, it is the perfect move that managed to radically change the pace of an almost lost game for Shusaku (he fell into a joseki trap at the beginning of the game), and allowed him to turn the tables on his opponent. The move is called ear reddening because, according to legend, after the game one of the onlookers, not a go player himself, commented that he was sure Shusaku would end up winning the game because he saw Genan's ears get red upon seeing this move. My Cycles render did not take that long, so it wasn't very ear-reddening after all :)










Sunday, December 2, 2012

About Strata Design 3D's Interface

Some of you might be wondering why I don't update this site as often as I used to. To that question, my only answer is that I've been looking for work (which, as they say, is a job in itself). Although I was looking in the graphic arts and prepress field, where I have some reasonable, real-world experience, I was lucky enough to land a job where, in addition to that, I'll actually have some possibility of using my 3D knowledge—and Blender. Most of the time I still pretty much battle with Illustrator files, PDF output, and plate generation. I like working with Illustrator, so that's really fine by me. However, as I said, I am also starting to do some 3D related work, mostly product visualization. Right now I am working on a product shot scene that takes full advantage of Blender particles and Cycles rendering capabilities.

Anyway, the company owns a copy of a 3D package I had never had the chance to use before: Strata Design 3D. I have started learning it, and so far my conclusion is that it probably has the best interface of any 3D package I've ever worked with (Blender, Cheetah3D, Maya, modo, Cinema4D, ZBrush, DAZStudio). Many keyboard shortcuts in Strata Design 3D are very similar to those associated with Illustrator or Photoshop.

For example, to move around the scene, you just press the space bar and drag (as in Illustrator/Photoshop), and to zoom in and out you add the Command or Command-Option keys to that (I work on a Mac after all), again like Illustrator/Photoshop. Another example is Option-drag to copy elements in the scene—finally a 3D program that gets it! The great thing is that there is, strictly speaking, no selection tool. Every tool (for example, move, rotate, scale) lets you select. Also, if you Option-drag an object with, say, the Rotate Tool selected, you'll rotate around the object's origin (or whatever origin you set) while duplicating. Blender's use of the Shift-D key combination to duplicate and immediately pressing one of the basic editing tools (G, S, R for grab, scale, rotate) is the only thing that can match Strata's speed while performing this simple task.

One other great user interface feature is the use of expandable side-tabs next to the options in some of the palettes—like the Image Texture palette (see figure 2). This arrangement manages to pack incredible amounts of easily accessible functions without cluttering the screen. Whoever designed Strata's user interface was paying attention.

Anyway, I still have a lot to learn about Strata, a deceivingly simple program that seems to have very powerful features. Right now I'm learning about material setup, lighting, global illumination, and efficient render settings. I'll try to keep you posted with my progress (not much to show yet).

Here are two screenshots of the program's UI. The first one is the minimalistic, context aware, and extremely useful Tool Palette. The second one is a screenshot of the Image Texture palette, perhaps the best organized material setup window I've seen in a 3D program. Great job!

Figure 1. Tool Palette

Figure 2. The Image Texture palette (or window?). Notice the side tab (Diffuse Amount) on he left,  that expands when you click on the double arrow below the eye on the far left of the highlighted Diffuse Amount context. Very efficient arrangement!