Friday, October 29, 2010

Alien Final

I've spent some time adding some more skin detail as well as attempting to texture this beast. I spent a long time adding layer after layer of paint, hoping something would click. I didn't exactly stumble on something that really worked for me, but I'm reasonably satisfied with it, so I'm going to call it a successful experiment and move on to something else. Hope you like the final product. These aren't renders, just screen captures out of Mudbox. Can't truly render straight from Mudbox that I know of. You can do a few things like add depth of field, ambient occlusion, and lights, and I've played with that a bit.

I'd like to do some tutorials to really get a handle on the program, but I'm more comfortable with it now. I need to decide if I want to join the November competition over at DT. Looks like it'll be fun. I'm very tempted. Theme is fairy-tales... any suggestions?

PS I did finish my October book. It was a really short one, basically a collection of letters between a sweet, obnoxious American customer and a British antique bookshop. 84 Charing Cross. The best part of the book was that it had honest-to-goodness bookworm holes through many of the pages.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some photosketches

Okay, not really photosketches. More like here's a photo and here's also a couple of sketches. I wonder what photo sketches are. Probably sketches off photos, which I usually do, but these two are just from my head.

This was a sketch from some dystopian idea that was wandering around in my mind.

And since I'm learning faces in art lessons (from direct on POV) this was a sketch I did to see how much I could remember about how to do it and get some practice in. I see lots of problems with it, but I won't point them out because then you'll only see the problems.
And I also got outside on the weekend to take some photos. I decided I needed to put in at least one more solid effort with my kit lens before I go purchase a nice 50mm f/1.4.

...and needless to say, if you steal my images and/or sell them at an exorbitantly high price to black market customers, I'll hunt you down and waggle my finger in your general direction. For shame.

I also finally finished my "September" book, "This is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin. A really rich and fascinating book, covering lots of studies and thought-provoking topics. I'd recommend it, though it isn't a light read, at least not for me. Got to read an "October" book in 6 days or less.


SimplyMaya Rain & Snow Dynamics

Once again I've had the privilege of reviewing Simply Maya tutorials. This time there are two short tutorials centered around creating some precipitation effects, namely rain and snow. Each of these is quite short, but at the end of each you've got a pretty nice dynamics effect. This tutorial was created with Maya 2011, but I had no problems following along with 2009.

In the rain tutorial, like the previous tutorial I reviewed, the instructor moves quickly, so the effect takes shape quickly. If you're new to Maya, the speed of the tutorial is such that you'll get confused and will have to play it through several times, but if you're familiar moving around Maya and you want to get introduced to dynamics, this is a fun little adventure. It explores surprisingly many different aspects and features of the dynamics module including the collision events editor (new to me, I think) and per particle attributes such as lifespan and color. There's some nice tips that get mentioned as well as an introduction to the expression editor which I think is essential for a good understanding and use of dynamics. Adding believability with forces is well done in this tutorial, although the time isn't taken to really explain how the fields and their attributes work with the particles (air is an ambiguous field to start out with, and I'm still a bit confused as to what it really does). Another minor complaint I might have that prevents it from being a really polished tutorial is that the instructor doesn't really mention resetting tools and preparing the scene when users may have changed options and settings previously. For example I believe the timeline should be set to "Play every frame" when testing dynamics, but I'm not 100% sure if that's critical. The rendering, specifically using the hardware renderer, doesn't get adequately described in my opinion, which is why you'll probably want to go through both tutorials.

The snow tutorial starts out in much the same way as the rain tutorial, and one might think it would redundant to go through both. It's true there's some repeated information, however, there is plenty of new material here, and I'd encourage people to cover both to get a full introduction to both dynamics and weather effects. The intro to using sprites is great, and what many dynamics tutorials don't do, and what this one does, is actually get into how to create sprites with transparency in photoshop. I really liked that this was included. Also, the instructor goes into much more detail on rendering with the hardware and preparing the effect for compositing.

Overall, a couple of really nice introductions to dynamics, and a great refresher for those already somewhat familiar with this module of Maya.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Green skin

Small update on the sculpt, I've added a bit of skin texture and a base layer of the skin color. I'll try to do a few layers of color to it to get some kind of skin believability. We'll see how it goes. I'm not really sure where this is headed, but it's fun to play around with it.

I'm going to try to get some kind of rough website up in the near future, which won't be pretty, but I'm thinking it will be good to have some sort of site, more than this blog, especially since I'm paying for space.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Alien Sculpt Detailing

Started adding some details to the alien: veins and bone ridging. A bit unclear where it's going, lots of smooth expanse to add texture and detail to. It's a lot of fun to do on the occasion I have an idea what I'm doing.
Happy to hear comments and suggestions.

At the moment I'm watching a live stream of the chilean miner rescue; it's very cool to see. Hope they all make it okay.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Alien Sculpt

Finally got motivated to spend some time working in Mudbox. I figured out how to get around some of the limitations of my tablet that were frustrating me (screen to tablet ratio and pressing the stylus buttons) and started messing around. I started with a basic human head shape that is supplied with Mudbox. While deep down inside I feel like that's cheating, I have to remind myself that it's better to produce something that wasn't quite down from scratch than to produce nothing. It's like using a cake mix to prevent starvation. Okay, not really.
I read an interesting article recently about perfectionism and procrastination that I really identified with. Basically it was saying that for fear of not getting it exactly right, one tends not to start it at all. That's the reason I don't have a website yet. But back to the sculpt, this is a WIP (i.e. it's nowhere near finished) of some kind of alien.

And a bit further along:

It's really fun, once I got past some of my mental and hardware obstacles. With sculpting, the best approach is to start with quite low resolution, and block out the basic shapes, then add resolution and start refining the shapes and adding other features. Then add more resolution and start including other details. Finally at the highest resolution, texture and blemishes are added in. The software allows you to jump back down to lower resolution versions to make larger scale changes (while stil retaining the detail), but the less I have to do that, the better the result I think.
Happy to hear your comments. If it looks like it's from some specific movie, it's not. Sorry if it looks like something from Star Trek or Star Wars or Mass Effect, this was just out of my head and seeing what my pen would produce. No reference or initial sketches, which is typically not a good idea, but this is more like doodling... getting familiar with the tools and practicing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

SimplyMaya Production Workflow Review

SimplyMaya has recently released a new Effects tutorial based on a Production Workflow for creating a simple dynamic simulation of golden rings bouncing out of a falling wineglass. I was given the privilege of reviewing the tutorial and writing up my thoughts on it. This was a fun, relatively short (1.5hr) training kit that walked through importing simple geometry, creating and baking a rigid body simulation, adding shaders and lights (including FG, IBL, and GI) and rendering out two layers (a beauty pass and a depth pass). The depth pass was used in After Effects to add an animated depth of field filter, resulting in quite a beautiful 6 second animation that showcases some of the exciting things Maya is capable of without a tremendous amount of effort. The final animation and tutorial can be viewed and purchased, respectively, here.

The video training includes scene files and final renders, which is nice, since I didn't take the time to render out my final piece, so I could use the supplied frames for the DOF section. Though the version of Maya used in the tutorial was 2011, I used 2009 and had practically no problems tracking with the latest release. I did run into some issue importing the wineglass geometry, but got around it without too much trouble. Perhaps including an obj for the wineglass would save some version incompatibilities. (Update: It looks like an obj will be added to the assets folder on my suggestion.)

The instructor moves reasonably quickly, though the pacing is such that following along is generally feasible and the instruction remains clear and concise. It is made clear that the scope of the training isn't to slog through info on every attribute that is modified in this tutorial, which is fair enough. I might have liked to get a bit more information on some of the rigid body attributes, since I wasn't completely satisified with my sim. The rings felt quite "floaty" at times, and I didn't know how to fix that, though to be honest, I didn't spend much time on my own tweaking all the attributes. In the same vein, the lighting and rendering section was more of a recipe to be followed than a how-to, but since this wasn't a lighting tutorial, I wasn't expecting anything else. The tutorial did cover many good points on dynamics and lighting/rendering and I was happy to see a pleasing result appear on my screen with relatively little time and effort. The instructor's approach and British sense of humour also made the video training fun and interesting for the duration.

The real strength of the tutorial was to bring the viewer's attention to a myriad of components and features that can be exploited in a thousand ways to bring added appeal to whatever project one might be working on. For example, I was practically unaware of the attribute spreadsheet, which seems essential for modifying the attributes in a large number of objects. I was also unfamiliar with mental ray's approximation editor, so while the tutorial didn't explore either of these in great depth, they are editors I am aware of now and will study up on. Exploring After Effects a bit more was also fun, and introduced to me the power of depth of field and how it can be easily used to add punch and polish to any animation. I'm definitely going to adopt this DOF workflow in my animations.

So in summary, while there could be more depth and detailed explanation in this worflow tutorial and a beginner might scramble to keep up, it really is an excellent overview of many topics and was very enjoyable to work through. I'd recommend this tutorial for any intermediate user who wants to stretch out beyond the typical modelling monotony and explore some of Maya's other offerings.


Friday, October 1, 2010

About face

After a record low month of maya and posting, I've decided to abandon the skeleton project for the time being. There comes a point in some projects where the mental block of continuing the project prevents any forward motion in learning at all. Though I hate ditching projects, I need to get started on something less ambitious and more rewarding to get the momentum back up. In any case, the stuff I did for the project is not wasted. I made some reusable assets, learned a fair bit about organic modelling, and I can always continue from where I left off (potentially with a different end goal).

So looking ahead to this month, I have a few ideas and things happening. I started weekly art lessons, so that's really fun, and I'm looking forward to improving my drawing (and painting) skills as well as producing some portfolio pieces. I'm also going to be attending a photography seminar, where I'll be learning some digital workflow, flash techniques, and travel photography tips (for my Africa trip in the winter). I borrowed a human skull (not bone, casted I think, if that's a word) for this project, but I don't want to let it go to waste, so I'm going to set up a kind of skull-based still life like they did in renaissance paintings and do some drawings off a photo I'll take.

And as for maya, I'm getting close to the end of my year-long training subscription from DT, so I'm going to bash through some more tutorials while they're available. I also got introduced to yet another monthly competition based website ( based on character animation. That's something I haven't really done much of before (I guess the robot sort of counts) so I'd like to take a crack at downloading a free rig and doing some animation.