Saturday, October 22, 2011

Liver, labelled

First textbook illustration image complete!

Some explanation may be in order. This is a liver. It is an inferior view, which doesn't mean it's not a great view, it means that it's flipped up and you are looking at the underside. If you rotated this out of your screen so that the round end (the fundus) of the gallbladder was facing you, that's how the liver would appear in someone standing in front of you facing you (which is the anatomical norm). That's why the "right lobe" is on the left of the screen. The medium is carbon dust, which I mentioned previously. It was more challenging than I thought to get the proper effect, but I'd like to try it again with more informed expectations on how the medium responds. I'm pretty satisfied with how it turned out, but it's nothing compared to a lot of the stunning works by my classmates. I scanned it, brought it into photoshop, tweaked the levels, erased out the surrounding data, placed it in illustrator, and added the labels.

I'm looking forward to doing a lot more in illustrator; it seems like a pretty powerful program and I'm just starting to explore the more basic uses. I actually managed to troubleshoot an annoying issue I was having, which is always satisfying. In the process I found this funny comment: "This seems to be over-designed. Why isn't painting here as simple and creative as painting in photoshop?" ... uhhh... it's not photoshop. It's not a painting program. That's why there's photoshop and illustrator.

Also, this week I got some upgrades for my computer. Reminds me of that classic Matrix line... "Upgrades." Yeah, anyway. Now I gots me some 12GB RAM, and a backup HDD that's actually the same size as my data drive, so it won't overfill like it's been threatening to. Don't know if you remember this fun post:, but this time, I managed to switch out a hard drive without completely disassembling the entire computer. It was still a pain, since you can't bring the HDD through the front of the case, and the cables created a really tight space but much more manageable than last time. Installing the RAM was a breeze. Six sticks of RAM in a computer makes me geek out, can't help it.

Oh yeah, and as I was messing around inside the computer, it sunk home just how close I was to having a pile of debris instead of a functional computer after this: I didn't take any more pictures because it's hard to get a true perspective on it, but once you start thinking "this is supposed to line up with that" or "that piece of steel should be behind that piece of steel" it gets pretty funny. Seriously laughable (you can use that oxymoron sometime, it's a free one). Parts of the motherboard chassis are literally 1-2 cm out of alignment. Parts of it... not the whole thing... so I don't know where the stress is going. It struck me that the case must have acted as a helmet, absorbing the brunt of whatever insane shock the system got. *sigh* I'm hoping that survival = survival, and not a shortened lifespan of certain components.

Well, I should get back to studying. As much as I enjoy the illustration parts of the program so far (especially finally getting to do some digital stuff, as simple as it looks), the vast majority of my time is required by anatomy. Got an embryology exam on Tues and the second bellringer a couple weeks after that, so I really gotta get stuck into it (I think that's a British expression?).

Notice I put the image at the top so people who don't like reading can just look and leave. How considerate.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Surfing with the Alien Review

Surfing with the Alien (Vol. I) is an organic modelling tutorial from by Jason Edwards.

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Right up front, the final verdict (cause the full review is admittedly lengthy):
This modelling tutorial is well structured and presented and, while not for beginners to Maya, is great for people who are reasonably new to organic modelling. The vertex tweaking and topology adjustments could have used more verbal explanation, but the UV mapping sections were very helpful and surprisingly painless.

A couple notes about software and structure:
I completed this tutorial using Maya 2012 student version. The tutorial was created using Maya 2011, however I suspect much earlier versions of Maya could handle this tutorial no problem. There were few if any modelling tools or commands used that are new additions to Maya, although the UI is a bit different and may cause some confusion if you are following the tutorial using Maya 2009 or earlier. There are now two other volumes in the Surfing with the Alien series dealing with texturing, detailing in zbrush, and rigging. This review just deals with the first volume, i.e. modelling and UV mapping.

The tutorial is about 10 hrs long and is split into 16 logically defined chapters, each 30-45 minutes long. It includes image planes for the alien (but not the surfboard) along with a scene file showing the final model posed on the surfboard. The video files are quite sizable and the whole thing weighs in at over 2GB. Just something to keep in mind if you are bandwith limited.

And my thoughts on the tutorial:

The tutorial starts off with setting up image planes, which is good because knowing how to do this properly shouldn't always be assumed. From there, things get moving fast. I like to work on the project at the same time as the tutorial is playing on my second monitor. My ideal situation would be to have to pause the video rarely and rewind never. While I could almost keep up in general, pausing on occasion, I have to start off by saying that this tutorial is not meant for people new to Maya, 3D, or modelling. Although the suggested level stated on is beginner, I think this is overly optimistic. Many tools and commands are used without being introduced (wireframe and shaded modes, extruding, inserting edge loops, split poly, working in the outliner and channel box). Explaining these basics would be tedious for people familiar with modelling, but would be necessary for a beginner. So if you don't yet know the difference between insert edge loop and split poly, this isn't the tutorial for you. (Note: In 2012 they've done some messing around with the split poly tool. I thought they'd changed it to “interactive split tool”, but it turns out they've kept the original functionality and added more in the new interactive split tool – either tool will work fine for custom splitting).

Having said that, for an intermediate user or someone who is comfortable at hard-surface modelling and wants to give organics a try, this is a great tutorial for that. The shapes are very roughly blocked out to start, and Jay gives good advice and uses a variety of tools to work efficiently and smoothly. Again, this progresses at a rapid pace, and I think it would be nice to have the instructor stop every now and again, take stock of what we have so far, what features the existing edge loops will define, and how to expect them to evolve as the form takes shape.

The fingers seemed to take shape quickly and simply. The edge flow of the arm and hand is clear and informative. After showing how to shape the thumb, Jay leaves the viewer to finish shaping the other fingers. This makes sense, however, it does mean that you shouldn't expect a final product in the 10 hours it takes to view the tutorial. Even if you are able to model and keep up while the tutorial is playing (which is it's own challenge as I mentioned), some "homework" is required.

I should add a note here about selecting modelling tools. Jay has a custom shelf that he uses. If you aren't familiar with where the commonly used tools are, a) maybe start with a more introductory tutorial, b) check the mesh and edit mesh menus, c) check the maya docs, d) use the find menu help tool, or e) ask the friendly folks over at I personally like to use marking menus to select common tools and commands. Again, in different versions of Maya, Autodesk likes to change the names of tools and menus, so either look in the docs, or head over to simplymaya and ask politely.

Jay gives plenty of good general advice on production quality models, common pitfalls, things people tend to forget, and has a good sense of humor. He doesn't gloss over errors, instead works through the troubleshooting and provides the solution, albeit sometimes without much explanation.

The lack of explanation is probably my main criticism of the tutorial. Since I work through at the same time as the video is playing, I really appreciate a running commentary on what is happening. This is present in large part, but often the audio is limited to “we'll grab this and move it around here.” Instead of "just move this there and give that a tweak" I would prefer the instructor to give things names (preferably using anotomical terms) or be a bit more specific about the verbal instructions (e.g. we'll pull the bridge of the nose a bit further out, or we'll push back the corners of the mouth). The head especially would benefit from that, because it was hard to anticipate which edge loops would be pulled out from the face and which would be pushed in to provide the desired contours. Even looking at the video, it's often difficult to see exactly what is being selected, so something like “grab the third innermost edge loop of the mouth” would go a long way in my opinion. To be fair, the commentary is very decent in places, but ideally, clear and anatomically based verbal guidelines throughout each chapter would be excellent.

The shaping sections get a bit tedious, being mostly vertex pushing, as the author acknowledges. Of course you can fast forward some bits and try to do the shaping on your own, however, I wouldn't recommend that for myself at least, because I would struggle trying to deduce the occasional topology adjustment and re-routing of edge loops that does happen. In fact, it can be tricky to work out exactly how Jay is modifying the topology, since my piece looked slightly different based on how I tweaked the vertices, and sometimes it's necessary to stop and puzzle out independently how to get the same topology.

Jay sometimes uses a custom script called spin-faces. You can find this on, or do it manually which shouldn't be hard. However, in Maya 2012 there is now “spin edge forward” and “spin edge backward” under the edit mesh menu which does the same thing (just select the edge to rotate instead of the faces as Jay does).

After the alien was complete, it was fun to create some accessories, including clothes, jewellery, and a surfboard. Some different modelling techniques are introduced, including creative use of some non-linear deformers. Unfortunately the surfboard image planes don't seem to be included in the supplied files, but since the object is pretty simple, I didn't struggle with not having the reference (yes, it was part of the tutorial to put fins on top of the sufboard too; it is an alien after all).

The UV mapping for me was a highlight of the tutorial. UVing gets a bad rap, but under Jay's direction, it's not as tedious as you'd expect. Jay goes over helpful troubleshooting tips and solutions and workflow improvements. Like modelling the fingers, Jay leaves it to the viewer to UV the legs and feet since it's the same process as arms and legs.

There seems to be a bug near the end of part 15 where the audio continues but the video quits. I've contacted an admin at Simply Maya, and if it's not a problem on my computer's end, I'm sure it will get sorted out in no time. I've always had great success with the people over at Simply Maya.

Though there were times while following the tutorial that were frustrating or tedious and ultimately I wasn't that happy with how my alien's face turned out (it's my fault that it's kinda noobish looking), often I was reminded how fun it is to model in Maya, and I'm rather pleased with the final product as a whole. I'd recommend this tutorial to any intermediate modeller as excellent project-based training for organic modelling.

Thanks to Jay and Simply Maya!

P.P.S. (Personal Plug Script) If you're visiting from Simply Maya, welcome to my blog! I hope you stick around and check out some of my personal and biomedical projects.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sketch 3/3

Here's the last of the three linear sketches I did for textbook illustration.

My prof returned it with the critique that the dentition needed work, so I tried to improve the accuracy of the teeth on this one. I also finished labelling them, which was kind of fun. The toughest part was figuring out what to label (not enough room to label every tiny detail) and fitting the lines in so they were at least slightly evenly spaced. I get the impression that it would be ten times easier on a computer (we're going to be doing some Illustrator labelling next week). Not that it would be faster on a computer, but that I could gratify my perfectionist tendencies with tweaks and endless rearrangements. I could do that with pencil, but the eraser would eat through the paper eventually, so I had to be satisfied with an imperfect but decent (I hope) result.

I also took the first bellringer exam for anatomy on Tuesday which was tough but reasonable. I feel pretty good about it, so hopefully the mark I get reflects that too. It's kind of an insane method of taking a test; once you finish the last question, you hand it in and you don't get to go back to anything before. Sure, if you have a few spare seconds here or there, you can try to flip back and wrap your head around a question that you weren't 100% sure on, but there's not a ton of room for that; you gotta get it right off the bat.

Rdio. I started a 1-week trial today, and I'm sold already. It's crazy to have all the music (legally) that you could ever want to listen to at your fingertips. Most of the time I'm listening to music, it's at the computer, so it makes sense for me, but with certain subscriptions you can sync stuff to your phone for offline mobile listening. They've got a fantastic selection too... old stuff like Queen, Simon & Garfunkle, Beach Boys; new indie stuff like Mother Mother, Tegan & Sara, Young the Giant, Awolnation; Christian stuff like Starfield, Switchfoot, Relient K... there's only a few things that aren't available that I've seen, and it's usually something obvious like the Beatles who have real issues with music licensing, or a really obscure Australian group (although Temper Trap is there!). And for those that are using Grooveshark, it has waaay better navigation and UI and selection and it's so much easier to build a collection and playlists. And I'm not sure Grooveshark is totally above board. It's a lot easier to discover new stuff too; I've already scrolled through all the top charts and some recommendations (and for once the top listened albums aren't completely full of nauseating pop and R&B). Anyway, we'll see if I still enjoy it in a few days time, or if there's a nasty catch.

Even though school is crunchingly busy, I'm managing to work through the SimplyMaya tutorial I'm reviewing (apologies for it taking sooo long). Should be up on Monday, if everything goes smoothly this weekend.