Fall Directed Study - Weeks 14 & 15

Hmm. I knew that I had gotten behind on this blog, but I failed to recall being this far behind... I thought that I had at least finished my directed study posts.

Anyway, in the last two weeks of the last semester of my college career I worked on a model for a friend's thesis project: an 8 bit style princess.

(Design by Einar Masson for the animated short "Amazing Adventure" by Danny Clark.)

I began by building the skirt. I started with matching the form up to the overall outline.

Then I rounded out the whole form.

That was all of the work that I was able to accomplish in week 14. It took much longer to build this skirt than it should have due to the fact that I was working on my laptop, which is outdated now and lacks the proper power for this sort of work.

By week 15 I was back on my desktop PC and managed to finish the figure of the character:


Fall Directed Study - Weeks 12 & 13

My final thesis video presented at my final review on Nov. 27, 2013.

Well, I'm posting my thesis progress from week 12 a bit late, and week 13 a bit early, but this is as good as it gets right now. I'm currently on vacation visiting my family for Thanksgiving, so I don't have much time to write an extensive blog post (or two). First, the news:

I passed my final review!!!

I presented my thesis to four reviewers and they all said that they were impressed, which was really nice to hear. They complimented me on designing a project that has a very good mix of hard surface and organic modeling elements and making it unique. I told them that I was planning to continue the project by texturing the untextured models for my demo reel and they agreed that that was a good idea. They said that the Addict was my best model and the Gecko second to it. They recommended that I go back and paint some more of the Juggler's textures by hand instead of using mainly procedurals, which I agree with emphatically. I've been wanting to do that, as well as adding some more bump and normal map graphics to some of the objects on her, but I knew once I got her to the point that she is at now that I had to stop working on her, call her "good enough" and move on if I was to have any hope of finishing the rest of the project to the standard that I desired. Their strongest criticism was that the Juggler still looks a bit too CG. They also recommended that I update my reel, because the models in what I dubbed "my reel" are all a bit dated, but, since I'm planning to basically use my thesis reel with a few minor tweaks as my demo reel, that's not something that I'm overly concerned about.

Finishing up the last minute changes to my reel and book, revising the book to turn it into a presentation format, and presenting my thesis was the bulk of the work that I completed in week 12. For week 13 I'm taking a break from my "Fearless" project and working on a model for a friend who will be presenting his animation thesis next semester. It's a pretty simple model (an 8-bit style princess), but it's taking a little while to build due to the fact that I'm working on my laptop rather than my PC, which is currently the more powerful of my two computers. My Mac doesn't have a whole lot of space left on it because it's an older computer, so my Maya is running quite a bit slower than I've become accustomed to. I've spent part of the day transferring unnecessary files to my portable hard drive, so I'm hoping that that will give my computer a little more power to speed things up, because it's tedious to select something and wait, and then move something and wait, and then select something else and wait again while trying to model. I'll post some progress pictures next week when I'm a bit closer to being done with her. Then, after she's done, I'll return to texturing my thesis models. I probably won't get very far into texturing before I take another break for the holidays, but I do expect to make at least a little progress since I'll need some kind of work to show for my last week of school.

Fall Directed Study - Week 11

This is my thesis demo reel. It won't be my final reel (I'm allowed to make changes to it up until Tuesday, the day before my review). It was going to be my final reel for a day or two, but both of my instructors had some concerns over the varying line widths in the wireframe gallery renders, and I recently discovered a new way to render wireframes in Modo, so I'm revising the wireframes in which the line widths currently vary. I will also be replacing the high-res Addict model with the low-res, displacement mapped one. 

Here are my new wireframe gallery renders:

And here is my new Addict wireframe turn-around:

This model is just over 20,000 polygons rather than the 325,000 polygons that the higher-res mesh contained.

I am also working on an additional pose for my Addict to show off the texture work that I did in the areas where he has to pull himself apart to unfold:

I'm not too happy with this image yet, but I'm having a hard time deciding how to fix it. His calves are much too wide, his head is too far forward still, and there are a few places where the geometry got tweaked in such a way during the posing that it's pulling on the texture. I can fix the first and last problems pretty easily: for the last problem I just need to make my final adjustments to the geometry with the texture applied, rather than blindly tweaking the low-res mesh alone, and to fix the first problem I just need to re-pose the head and the eyes. The width of the calves is the problem that I'm really wrestling with. They are currently as wide as they are because he was supposed to be built kneeling, which flattens out the calves quite a bit. Since he is supposed to be rigid, I feel like those calves should remain as wide as they are to keep the integrity of the character. However, it looks bad. It looks like I don't understand basic anatomy, and since this is a portfolio piece to show my skill, that's a problem. I think that I'm going to just end up fixing the shape of the calves until it looks better, but I still feel like I'm betraying my concept for the character by doing so...

 Anyway, those are the changes that I expect to make to my presentation in the next couple of days. As far as the work that I did to submit my thesis, however, it all came together pretty easily. I made/modified After Effects compositions for each of my characters and my environment and perfected their individual video segments in their own space, then I put all of the compositions together into a larger composition in which I created the transitions between the turntables and added the concept art frames and informational slates. Then I worked on the book. Well, actually, it wasn't so much "one then the other". I had already started work on the book prior to this past week, but as far as the order in which I pulled all of the pieces together goes, it was the reel first, then the book. It took me until Monday or so to get all of the beauty shot renders done. Then I had to go through them and prepare them for the book by adjusting and merging the layers of render passes and cropping images when necessary. I finished the written portions during render time. Then I just put it all together into a book format as best as I could. Here are a few sample pages:

(I think that I forgot to mention that I re-rendered the inhabited gallery scene to produce the image in the page above. I moved the models around a bit, added some extra lights, and used a wider angle lens for the shot. At first, the shot had the same issue that I was having when rendering my Juggler: disappearing polygons and jagged-edged meshes. Then I finally stumbled upon a solution to the problem online: I had to increase the geometry cache size in the render settings. The time to render this frame dropped from over eight hours the last time around to only three hours with the geometry cache raised. Needless to say: I approved.)

The whole book is 83 pages currently, but will probably expand to 85 by the time I add the revisions. 

Fall Directed Study - Week 10

This post is late because I spent last weekend and the early part of this week bringing all of the elements of my thesis together rather than blog-writing, but it's all done now: my thesis has officially been submitted!!!

I'll go into the details of how I finished it off when I post my week 11 journal entry this weekend, but, for now, here's what I did during week 10: I rendered. That's about it. I mean, I spent some time writing my thesis summary for my presentation book, but mostly I rendered. I rendered beauty shots of models whose turntables were completed, all of the extra frames for that gallery turn-around (which works like a dream now, by the way), and wireframe images for my gallery. Here are a few examples:

I was fairly pleased with these wireframe renders, but both of my instructors expressed concern over the varying line width. I'm currently working on finding a solution to this problem.

I also sought advice on my Addict model this week. I don't recall if I've mentioned this before, but after I made the displacement maps for my Warrior I decided to try generating displacement maps for my Addict so that I could bring down his poly-count. It worked fairly well. He looks good everywhere except for that ridge down his spine which has been problematic ever since I brought the model out of ZBrush. That ridge flattened out quite a bit again, but it doesn't look completely horrible. I couldn't decide whether I should re-render all of his turnarounds with the low-res mesh with displacement or just keep the turntables that I already had. One of my instructors told me to stick with the high-res model while the other told me that if I was really concerned about it I could always keep the high-res textured turnaround and just re-render the wireframe with the lower-poly model. I decided to do the new renders at least, but I haven't fully decided whether to actually make the switch in my project yet. (Even though I already turned in my project I can make revisions up until the day before my review.) I'm really happy about being done, so I'm tempted just to leave it as is for now and wait to make any further revisions until I start texturing the untextured models after I graduate, but I also want to ensure that I've put my best foot forward for my presentation, so we'll see...

Fall Directed Study - Week 9

My Warrior's normal maps and turntable are finished:

The only work that I have left to do with him for my thesis is to render a few beauty shots for my presentation book. Since the renders of his turntable frames took about 30 seconds apiece, however, I don't think that that will be too difficult...

I was really happy that his turntable frames took such a short time to render: it was a nice break from all of the 40+ minute per frame renders that I've had to make time for recently. It was also amusing to be so relieved by 30 second renders one day of this week only to spend the next day setting up and rendering an image that required eight hours and seventeen minutes of render time:

This single image took over eight hours to render because it's got all of my models with all of their maps and textures and multiple subdivision levels filling the entire frame that I sized at full HD resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels. I'm sure that I could have cut the render time down somewhat by lowering the subD levels on the character models since they take up so little of the frame, but I didn't feel like going through so many objects one by one to see how far I could drop the subD settings when I knew that I was only rendering one frame. If I were making a video of this shot, then I would do it, but for one single render... I just set it to render before I went to bed and by the time that I woke up the next morning it was nearly finished. I'm really happy with this shot. I set the final color render output settings to a gamma between the two frames that I was trying to decide between last week, and I'm pleased with the results: it's got some pretty good contrast, I think, but it still shows off the model well.

Other than that, this week I finished rendering the first 180 essential frames of my gallery scene, but I was unfortunate enough to discover a problem: the view spins too fast. It's just a little dizzying. I'm not quite sure what to do about this, as, even with my newly extended deadline (I have to turn in my thesis one week before I present rather than two), I don't have time to re-render twice the number of frames that I've already rendered for that shot:

I have two methods that I'm currently working on to try to fix this problem: First, I doubled the length of time that it takes to complete the exact turn that I've already rendered all of the frames for in the video above. Then I set Modo to render only the odd numbered frames. In theory, all of the even numbered frames are the exact same frames that I've already rendered since it's the exact same movement over twice the time period, so I won't have to render those again. I just have to render another one hundred and eighty frames set at every other frame between the existing frames. This theory would be sure to work if the movement was steady, but I fear that it might not work because Modo automatically adds an ease-in and -out to its animated motions. You can see it in the graph editor when the change in position over time shows up as something of a wave or S-curve pattern rather than a straight line. For a normal turntable I would get rid of the ease-in and -out in the timing of the movement because I need the model to spin at a constant rate, but in this case I kept it. It's not a full spin, so I thought the eases would be kind of nice. I'm not certain however, if these transitions remain proportional when the length of time that it takes to complete a movement is doubled. If they don't, my every-other-frame renders won't match up to what I already have. I compared the animation graph that showed up for the original movement with the one that I got after extending the time, and they appear to be the same shape, but I'm just not sure: the tiniest difference somewhere in that graph would throw all of the frames after it off. I also rendered the first set of 20 in-between frames last night and put them together with the first 20 frames from the original movement today and it seems to work perfectly. Thus, I'm going to continue rendering the extra frames overnight and testing it out daily to make sure that everything continues to line up. I'm also going to try another option suggested by a classmate tomorrow: time remapping and frame blending effects in After Effects. I watched a tutorial video on a link that he gave me today and it looks pretty simple. I'm afraid that it could bring down the quality of my video, but it might provide a good enough back-up solution if I can't get all of the new frames rendered before I have to turn my thesis in.

I've been working on my presentation documents this past week as well, and, while I'm not as far as I'd like to be with them, I'm not concerned about the amount of time in which I have to complete them. I really want to get all of my beauty and process shots rendered, screen-captured, or composited before I sit down to seriously write out my project synopsis, but I've been spending so much time rendering and editing video over the past couple of weeks that I haven't had much opportunity to render close up beauty shots of my models. The textured character shots seem to take at least an hour (sometimes even two or more) to render, so I'll need a few days in which to complete these. (They take longer than the turntable frames because the model fills a significantly larger percentage of the screen in close-up images than it does when I have to fit the entire model on-screen for a turnaround.)

I began rendering detail shots of my Juggler today, and expect to spend the better part of tomorrow on her as well, since she has so many different details from so many different angles. After that I'll move on to my Addict, which I expect to take a fair portion of a work day to complete. My Gecko renders are finished because I took beauty shots of him when I completed him back in the summer. My Warrior shouldn't require more than a couple of hours for rendering all of his shots, since he renders so quickly compared to everything else. My gallery will probably take at least an hour per frame to render, so I'll probably need up to a day to finish all of the renders that I want of that scene. I should be done with beauty shots by the middle of the week, then I can spend a couple of days writing and laying out the pages of images for my project synopsis. I expect to be finished with that by the coming weekend, and then I can spend the weekend putting all of my turntables (and the new gallery fly-through renders that I'm rendering daily overnight) together into my thesis and demo reel videos. By Monday I'll be able to upload my thesis project to turn it in online, and I'll still have a couple of days to spare. If all goes as planned, then I'm well on my way to being finished!

Fall Directed Study - Week 8

It's official: I have a date for my final review: November 27th. The day before Thanksgiving. This means that I'm either going to have a spectacular or a really bad holiday (hopefully the former). This also means that I have until the 13th of November to finish my thesis and presentation. This isn't the greatest news since I discovered this week that my gallery takes 40-45 minutes per frame to render, but it's also fantastic news given that it provides me with the extra week that I knew I'd need past the earliest possible deadline that I could have had.

The first thing that I worked on this week was my gallery, and thank goodness for that! I started work on it first because I figured that I'd get it out of the way - get it off of my plate while I finished up my Warrior and started work on my presentation materials. Then I discovered how long it took to render a finished frame and I think that I died a little... 

Ok, so that kind of statement may be a bit over-dramatic, but it feels right. I only got my date on Friday, so as far as I knew for most of the week I had the potential for having to turn my entire thesis and presentation in on Monday, November 4th (the day that I'm writing this, as it happens) and there was no way that I could finish everything by then with the renders taking that long. I did the math and discovered that I would need over four straight days and nights of rendering to finish just the essential frames that I needed for my thesis. And I still needed to finish sculpting, normal-mapping, and rendering my Warrior. Not to mention compositing my whole reel and finishing all of my presentation materials - which would require additional beauty shot renders. Thankfully, I have two computers that I can work on (which is how I'm currently rendering gallery frames while typing up this journal entry), but only one has enough RAM to render from Modo in a manageable time-frame (the 45 minute renders on my PC took over 3 hours each on my much older Mac laptop) or handle models with over 10 million polygons in ZBrush. I can work on my presentation materials and directed study journals on my laptop, but the most crucial and time-consuming elements of my thesis all require the same computer to function efficiently, and 4 straight days of rendering did not fit the schedule.

Thus, this past week was incredibly stressful as I waited to find out my date - all the while hoping against hope that I would get a presentation date at least a week later than the earliest one so that I could fit my newly-expanded gallery render time into the schedule. Any time that I haven't been working directly on my PC I've been rendering on it, and I got a pleasant surprise last night when I discovered that the second half of the gallery turntable frames have dropped in render time from 45 to 40 minutes per frame. (That extra 5 minutes makes quite the difference in the long run!)

The first thing that I did in my gallery was finish laying out those newly UVed logs that I mentioned in my last post, then I brought everything into Modo. It was there that I discovered that my couch normal maps looked terrible. I ended up using a slightly higher resolution version of the sculpted couches (one subdivision level up from the lowest level which is pictured in the image above) and re-baking the normal maps to get a much more pleasing result:

I spent a full day adjusting the render settings of the scene to account for odd graininess and scattered light beams and harsh-edged shadows and highlights in the initial images that I was rendering, and I'm pretty happy with where I ended up. The only trouble that I'm having now (aside from astronomical render times) is trying to decide which final color pass I want to use for my turntable:

I really like the contrast of the darker view,

but I worry that the lighter frame might just show off the model better...

I'm waiting for opinions from this week's critique to make my decision fully. I'm rendering both passes with each frame (it doesn't seem to change the render time to have two passes instead of just one) so I have until I finish all of the renders and start compositing my fly-through to make my decision.

In addition to my gallery, I also finished posing and sculpting my Warrior character this week:

I'm quite happy with him. I think that the pose came out really well and I think that the surface texture really looks like it could be chiseled wood. I'm especially happy with the rake-tool details; they're the kind of marks that I noticed all over the real wood sculptures that I was using as reference. Now I'm just hoping that the normal maps that I need to bake in the next day or two capture the detail on him properly.

The last things that I worked on this week were compositing the completed turntable renders of my Juggler and Addict characters. I think that my Juggler still needs some work on the timing, but I'm pretty happy with where my Addict's at. I'll fix my Juggler's issues when I composite my whole thesis reel together this coming weekend, but, for now, enjoy:



Fall Directed Study - Week 7

In the seventh week of the last semester of my graduate school career I made a few adjustments to my gallery scene and continued building and sculpting my Warrior.

First, I changed the proportions of a couple of items in the reading nook of my gallery environment according to critique that I received from Tareq last week: I revised the couches in the reading nook by making the back cushions thinner and their overall height a bit shorter; then I enlarged the table between the two couches slightly so that it was a little more proportional to its surroundings. 

I also spent the week UVing and baking normal maps for the sculpted gallery pieces, but I haven't gotten them into Modo so that I can get images of the items with the normal maps on them yet. (I'm stuck on arranging wood pieces in the fireplace because I foolishly laid all of those out before UVing the initial model, and the fire log's one of the few pieces in the gallery that I've sculpted and normal-mapped, so it needs UVs...) Once I get that done, however, I expect the gallery to be finished quite quickly.

The next thing that I did was to continue work on my Warrior character model. He now has a sword, scabbard, and helmet to go with the other pieces that I modeled for him previously, and he is also now UVed and sculpted about as far as I can go before breaking symmetry. I'm almost ready to pose him and then finish sculpting things like an actual facial expression and folds on his cloak before moving on to sculpting a wood-like surface-texture on him. I intend to give him some knots and gnarls and nicks of the type that might be left by a chisel or carving knife. Basically, I'm going to rough him up and make him look more organic - more like a wooden sculpture rather than a pristine 3D model.


As far as the state that he's in now: I know that his muscle lines are quite strong at the moment - I will remedy that later (there's actually a method to my madness on that). Also, the many places where the geometry of his armor is intersecting his body and other pieces of the outfit are intentional as well. He's supposed to be carved all from one large piece of wood, so I figured that things like the helmet and greaves and whatnot would be carved right onto the surface of his body rather than clearly delineated as separate pieces the way that they would if he were supposed to be a more realistic character. I just wasn't mad enough to try to model and sculpt them all as one piece... There is also an unsculpted ear in one of the head-shots which I have no intention of detailing: I originally modeled the character's base mesh with an ear, and then when I was modeling the helmet it occurred to me that you will never see that ear. The helmet's supposed to be built onto his head, so it's never coming off. Hence, I actually removed the ear from the mesh to cut out the extra polygons when I UVed the character, but when I projected the sculpted detail back onto the UVed mesh it of course transferred the appearance of an ear back onto the head. I have actually smoothed that section out a bit since I took these screen shots, but I have no intention of making any further efforts to remove it completely. So, in the end: yes, there are unsculpted ears on the high-res character, but I'm leaving them alone because they'll never be visible.

That is, unfortunately, all of the progress that I have to show for week seven. I've been working so hard lately that I got a bit burnt out and am afraid that I slacked off a bit this week. I would have had more progress to show if I'd worked more diligently, but I guess that everyone needs a break sometime. I'm just sorry that I chose to take one so close to a possible deadline...

Fall Directed Study - Week 4

At the start of my fourth week of directed study I was concerned that my character's body had lost much of the volume that I had sculpted into the high resolution mesh. I had particularly noticed it in the shapes going down the character's back: according to my character design, you're supposed to be able to see those shapes puff out from the back a bit, but the back was nearly a flat curve. I had checked to be sure that the second subdivision level mesh that I exported from ZBrush retained volume in the shoulder area and detail in the face and fingertips, but I hadn't ever had an issue with a character's back, so I didn't think to check it. It was, however, a problem that was bugging me greatly - and one that I couldn't figure out how to fix without having to bake out all new normal maps and re-do all of the texture painting I'd done.

The problem was: I had changed the Uvs after choosing the second subdivision level of the ZBrush model to export as my low-res mesh to apply the normal map (created from the high-res mesh) to; therefore, I couldn't just export a higher resolution model that would hold the sculpted volume better and apply the same texture maps that I had created to it because the UVs wouldn't match up.

Then I had an epiphany: I could project the high-res detail from the ZBrush sculpt onto a subdivided version of the current mesh that I was using that matched the texture maps. Then I would end up with a mesh that had all of the subdivision levels, detail, and volume of the ZBrush sculpt, but with the same UVs that I had been using to build my texture maps. I even discovered that my current normal map functioned just as well when applied to the higher-res mesh as it did whern applied to the low-res one; I didn't have to bake a new one! 

Below is a comparison with some of the most visible differences between the lower-res mesh that I started out working with and the final mesh that I decided to use pointed out:

And the resultant character with the current texture maps that I had produced applied:

 Then I really got down to texture painting, and found out that I had grossly underestimated how long it would take to doodle for this kind of work...

As I mentioned in my last post, I had spent a day painting the texture map that you see on the character above. I had nearly all of the precise linework done. I figured that would be the most time consuming part of the process. I know that one can spend a very long time doodling; I've spent hours filling up a single page with doodles in the past. Key word: "hours", not "days"... Turns out, days is what it takes to doodle textures on a character like this. In fact, it takes the better part of a week working straight through with breaks only for necessities like eating and sleeping. I was blown away. I know that I have a tendency of underestimating how long projects will take me, but this was ridiculous... I had reference. I knew that it took me a day for the precise stuff and that doodling isn't that precise and therefore should require less time. I knew how long I'd spent doodling on paper in the past... I didn't realize that doodling on the computer with my tablet would be as different as it was.

Anyway, here are the results of my week spent texture painting:

Addict Color Map:

Addict Bump Map:

Addict Specular Map:

Addict Material Layer Mask:

(The layer mask is to distiguish the portions of the model that have a raw plaster texture on them rather than a painted plaster surface, as the entire visible portion of the sculpture does.)

The Maps on the Model:

I'm very happy with the way he's turned out, but one of my favorite parts of him is one of the least visible:

Now, you may be wondering why I'm so excited about the bottom of a foot (or, more accurately, since the character's on his knees, the top of a foot). What I'm most excited about, aside from the areas where the raw plaster sections transition into the painted portion of the model (which I think look very realistic, on the pink and orange toes especially), is that this is the first example of any work that I've done in Mudbox. That's right: I finally got around to trying it. I've been telling myself that I'll learn it eventually, whenever I finally work on a project that actually requires it, but I've produced surprisingly few textured models in my time at the Academy. I'm working on a "modeling" degree, not a "texturing" one, so I guess it makes a certain amount of sense, but, still, I'd have liked to have done more texturing in my time here. Anyway, back from my tangent: I had very visible UV seams showing up in this area where each toe meets the main body of the foot: the division line between the white plaster and black painted areas of each digit were uneven at those points. So, I took the model into Mudbox and painted out the seams. I'm very happy with the results. I know it's not an extravagant use of the program, but it's not bad for using a program for the first time with no training, if I do say so myself!

After I finished the texturing I set up turntable lighting, then decided that if he was going to be spinning he should have some kind of base to do it on, so I came up with this:

The Base:

Base Color Map:

Base Bump Map:

Base Specular Map:

The base took a couple of extra hours to make and texture, but I think that it's worth it. It should give my character turntable just a little extra "oomph", as they say. I think that he looks better spinning on a base rather than floating in mid-air. I did one final test render before I began rendering the turntable a few days ago. (And, if you're wondering, yes, it's still rendering at the time that I'm posting this blog entry. I haven't had it rendering straight through, but, regardless, the amount of time that this turntable will have taken to render when it's done will be measured in days, not hours). This is the image that I got:

I have since fixed the faceting on the base by setting it to render at a higher subdivision level. In fact, the image of the base by itself above was my test of the higher subdivision render, and is what it will look like in the final turntable. Once that render finishes, I will move on to rendering the wirframe and flat-shaded versions of this model, then I'll start rendering my Juggler. In the meantime, I'm also going to work on my gallery models in the coming week; I'm really excited about building the fretwork ceiling and the crazy light fixtures. I'll be working during the day and rendering at night - here's hoping that after this month is over my computer and I will both get a break for a little while, because, until then, it's work, work, WORK!

Fall Directed Study - Week 3

At the beginning of my third week of directed study I took a day off from sculpting my Addict and worked on building my Gallery structure. I built the walls as panels that I could duplicate around the room, but I had a bit of an issue with the curvature of the round room.

If I built the walls at a low resolution as I originally planned, the shape of the room would still be perfectly round everywhere once I welded the panels together and smoothed them except at the windows, where I was forced to put in extra edge loops to fit the window frames into the panels. The portions of the wall with the windows would have lost their perfect roundness and instead become slightly faceted as the extra edge loops held the geometry in place rather than letting it spread out evenly in perfect roundness. I was concerned that if this happened you would see the unevenness in the way the light hit the walls near the windows, even from fairly far away as my renders of the gallery will be.

My other option was to build the walls at a higher resolution, with vertical edge loops holding the definition of the curve all along the length of the wall at the same interval as existed between the edge of each panel and the edge loop defining the position of the window frame. All of the vertical edge loops would still be evenly spaced, and the curve of the wall wouldn't pucker from extra edge loops breaking the rhythm of the curve. The problem with this option is that it seems overkill to have high-res walls. Walls shouldn't have to be high-res: they're flat blank spaces with no detail to speak of. It seems ridiculous to have high resolution walls... In the end, however, I went with the ridiculous. I couldn't bear the thought of modeling the whole beautiful gallery only to be unhappy with the way that it renders because the curvature is slightly off at the windows and causing errant highlights on the otherwise-perfect roundness of my room. (Despite my best efforts, I did end up with extra vertical edge loops around the window frames as necessary holding edges, but you can't even see their influence in the curvature of the walls because the close intervals of the other vertical edge loops across the rest of each wall panel makes their influence so minimal that it's not even visible.)

I spent quite a bit of time building the walls and windows: making the flat glass window panels fit into window frames on curved walls, modeling the trim around the window that holds the glass into place, making sure that the different panel pieces connect correctly... In the end, I wound up with five different window/wall panels to duplicate in various positions around the room: One blank wall piece, one full window piece, one wall piece with trim to finish off a window frame on the right, one wall piece with the trim to finish off a window frame to the left, and one wall with trim to finish window frames on both sides. You see, each window panel ends in the middle of the trim so that, when the windows connect, there's no wall area between them. This, of course, means that when a bank of windows ends the next wall panel needs half the width of trim on the edge to finish off the window next to it. Hence: five panels.


The last thing that I did in my gallery was block in the columns and major furnishings. This process actually caused me to resize and slightly reproportion my room when I discovered how little room I had left for the reading nook. The way I see it, your average couch is probably around five feet in length; when I made my couches that long they took up very nearly the entire floor space of the reading nook, leaving no space to actually access the bookshelves. So, I thought again. I moved the five-foot couch place-holders over to the reading nook area of the floor plan, then resized the floor plan image plane to fit them, leaving enough room to walk around and between the couches to navigate the nook area. Then I scaled the walls up evenly to fit the newly resized floor plan. I then scaled the height of the walls back down so that my ceilings weren't ridiculously high. In a room this grand, I do want high ceilings, but not completely, outrageously high. I've decided on an eight inch crown molding at nine feet with the actual ceiling topping out at twelve feet. I've been in houses with nine foot ceilings before and they're really nice, but I think that in a forty-five foot in diameter room (which is what the gallery turned out to be after resizing for the nook) they'd make the space feel just a little bit claustrophobic; so I settled on twelve foot ceilings. I then spaced out place holders for the columns and bookcases surrounding the reading nook, and that was the end of my work for the day.

For the next few days, I finished sculpting my Addict:


Tareq had mentioned when I turned in my last week's progress that the character's wrists looked broken: that the hands met the arms at the wrong angle. I worked to remedy that problem, then went on to finish sculpting the face, refining the hands, and sculpting the divisions into the forearm sleeves. Then I exported the 2nd subdivision level character mesh, unfolded the UVs a bit, and baked my normal maps:


I was concerned that I was going to get a lot of problem areas in the normal map where the geometry of one part of the body pressed against the geometry of another part in the pose that he's in (i.e.: the fingertips pressing against the face, the back of the thighs pressing against the calves, the inner elbows pressing against themselves), but, surprisingly, I had very few issues. I did end up separating out some pieces of the high- and low-res meshes and re-baking normal maps for certain areas (such as the face) and compositing the new maps into the the full body one, but I didn't have to do this for nearly as many pieces as I expected to: most of the anomalies in the map were able to be fixed with just a bit of healing brush application in Photoshop.

Then I started work on the color map.

The image above took about a day's worth of work to complete - a very full day of work, but a day nonetheless. In this map, nearly all of the precise divisions are done. The shoulder pads and the ears still have to be subdivided according to the information in the normal map, but the rest of the precise linework is done. It looked great on the model:

I figured that it would take another day or so to complete the designs in the color section on his body. After all, the designs are just doodling - most of the precise work was done. 

Oh, how wrong I was...

Fall Directed Study - Week 2

My sculpting on my Addict will be done by the end of the weekend. It's almost there. I just have a bit of tweaking to do on the fingers (the fingernail details and overall finger positions particularly), a bit more tweaking of the facial expression (particularly so that the flesh of the face interacts with the fingertips), and refinement of the two forearm sleeve pieces (I've only just blocked the divisions of those pieces in so far). Other than that, his sculpting is finished:

I thought that the sculpting of this model would be a "piece of cake" because nearly the entire thing was just refining the lines that I initially blocked in, but it was actually surprisingly difficult to get the defined areas to look right. I added volume to many sections that looked fantastic from the angle that I was primarily working from, then, when I turned the model, I'd notice that from another angle parts of the section would look flat or, worse, bumpy. When that happened I'd have to spend quite a bit of time inflating and smoothing, all the while going back and forth between subdivision levels to smooth and then check the progress. I don't think I've ever switched between subdivision levels as much as I had to while working on this model. I though that the smoothness of the shapes in this model would make it easier to sculpt, but it actually made it more difficult by leaving very little room for error. It almost had the feel of trying to organically sculpt a hard-surface piece, if that makes any sense.

I'm very excited to see it finished. I'm also a little nervous because I know that I'm going to have a hard time baking out the normal maps for the piece: there are a lot of areas where the geometry gets very close together and will likely cause errors during baking. I suspect that I'll have to break up some of the model by UV sections, bake the maps out piece by piece, then composite them together in Photoshop. I may give this model a short break after I finish the sculpting and wait for some feedback regarding my concerns from my instructors before I waste too much time in trial and error: perhaps there's an easier way that I'm just not familiar with. I can always spend a few days blocking out my environment model instead of moving on to texturing immediately. That way, I can still make progress on my thesis overall while waiting for advice on this particular model. I also wouldn't mind getting some opinions on the sculpting before I fully and finally commit to it by baking it into normal maps...

Fall Directed Study - Week 1

Well, I'm in the home stretch: the first week of my final semester has passed (and, boy, do I have a lot of work still to do...).

On a very positive note: I finished my Juggler! Finally! It only took about 8 times longer than I thought it would...

I learned a lot creating this model; it was much more complex than anything I've ever modeled before. When I planned my thesis schedule I'd only ever made character models that were one to ten pieces depending on whether they had mechanical parts or clothing or just one solid body. I'd never made anything composed of 60 different objects, many of which are made up of multiple pieces themselves. I had no idea of the scope of what I was taking on when I signed up for this, but I am thoroughly pleased with the results.

I actually had a lot of technical difficulties while on my vacation, so the vast majority of the final work on this model was done after I returned home. I had quite a bit of trouble baking out usable normal maps of all of my ZBrush sculpting on the more organic objects, but I eventually figured out how to remedy that by compositing multiple maps of the same object baked with different envelope sizes together and using healing brushes in Photoshop. I spent a lot of time baking those maps in Maya and more time compositing them, but eventually I was able to move on and bring everything into Modo, which was where my real trouble began.

I had too many textures. Too many normal maps, too many color maps, too many reflections to be calculated on too many different pieces: Modo didn't want to handle my scene. The real-time render preview kept freezing and crashing the program. I eventually figured out a way to work in which I hid the textures on every object except the limb or even just the individual piece that I was working on; then I was able to make some progress.

I gave all of my final objects the appropriate metal textures (many of which I had only to duplicate from other pieces which I had already designated to have the same material), then I began trying to tone down the uber-shiny metal look. It took a lot of trial and error, but eventually I came up with a combination of noise and gradient masks that made the metal look a little less perfect than it started out to be. I then applied variations of these masks to each and every one of the well over 100 different textures that I have applied to the model. It was a time-consuming process, but well worth it; everything still looks metallic to me, but like metal that's spent a little time out in the world, not like a shiny new penny hot off the press:

Some of the noise masks in the above images are still a bit extreme - you can tell that they're noise rather than grime - but I toned them down after seeing these renders. I haven't made new renders yet because it's a bit more of an ordeal to go through to set the renders up than I'd like to deal with right now. I have to open the file in the "modeling" tab which doesn't have the render preview screen built in, turn off all of the textures (which I've put into groups by body area to make the process easier), switch to the "render" tab and position my camera in the render preview window, switch back to the modeling tab, and then go straight to the final "render" from the drop-down menu without seeing the textured preview first. Then, if I need to change views I turn all the textures off and do it all again. It's the only way it works. My computer is good, but it doesn't contain enough ram to let Modo calculate this textured model moving in the preview render screen. I've just got too much going on in it. The final renders, however, calculate much faster than I expected them to given how much trouble I'm having with the preview renders.

Overall, I'm happy with my Juggler. There are still a few things about her that I would like to tweak: I'd like to add some bump maps of etched designs on quite a few of the objects that make her up. I might change a few colors around. I don't think her head is holding its normal map quite as well as I would like: she lost a little bit of volume from what's there in my actual ZBrush sculpt. The apron has a similar problem: I sculpted wrinkles in the fabric that just aren't showing up as much as I'd like with that pink metal texture. I think that my "grime" masks made her just the tiniest bit too dark for what I'd prefer... But these are little things. I think it's important for me to move on now and finish the rest of my thesis. If I can come back and fix them later after I finish the rest: fantastic, but I can't deal with it now. She's 95% to where I want her to be; it's time to call it "good enough" and bring the rest of my project to completion. I could have as long as a month left in the semester after I present my thesis project - I can tweak the little things then.

So, I've moved on to my Addict. This is the state that I left him in back in the spring:

I kept having trouble with the holes in his sleeves. I thought that I could just hollow out the distance between his arm and his inner sleeve in ZBrush, but I hadn't really made the topology to support the right shapes for that. Looking back at it earlier this week I decided it was no good: I had to re-do it. With all of the experience that I gained from the Juggler I looked at this model and saw numerous areas where I was going to have major issues baking out normal maps, even if I managed to fight the topology and sculpt the right shapes in ZBrush. The thing is, I shouldn't have to be fighting the topology: it should be flowing with my sculpting, and the more that I studied this model the more that I knew that wouldn't be the case. So, I went back to my most recent version of him in Maya and re-made his arms. And his toes. And tweaked his hands and his shoulder pads. And fiddled with a few other issues that I found. Then I divided him into the appropriate groups once more and brought him back into ZBrush where I blocked in his sculpting again. This is his current state:

As you may be able to tell, I made each of his sleeves below the elbow into separate pieces from the rest of the body and built the holes into the mesh: it seemed the only way to get it to work properly. I also gave him real, individual toes rather than one solid block to be sculpted into toes. I'm a bit concerned that the model that I modified was not actually my most recent base mesh of the character, but it was the latest one that I found a file for. I'm concerned because the posture differs slightly from the version that I was sculpting before, and there was a row of unmerged vertices in an area that I hadn't modified that instantly separated when I brought the revised mesh back into ZBrush. I took it back into Maya and fixed it, obviously, but I keep wondering what else is different between the two meshes. Were there problems with the mesh that I made modifications to that had been fixed on the version that I'd previously been working on in ZBrush? I've already noticed quite a difference in the shape of the eyes between the two meshes, and am not sure if that's something that I'd fixed in the base mesh in Maya or simply by utilizing the move brush in ZBrush on the first model. I'm going to try refining the eye shape of the new model in ZBrush, but I'm concerned that I'll get into sculpting it and then notice something big enough to cause me to have to go back to revise the base mesh again...

I'm going to progress on the theory that that's not the case, however, and hope that I can just move on from here and get this character sculpted and begun texturing within the week. I don't see anything particularly wrong with the mesh, just things that are different from the previous version, and I know that I tweaked the previous version quite a bit to get the posture right, so it concerns me if that work failed to follow through to the revised character. I think it's ok though: from what I can see now he still looks right to me, so I'm going to continue sculpting him and just make sure that I keep a close eye on his overall shape. Hopefully, when I post in another week, he'll be nearly done.