Venom, UV mapping, and various 3D packages of the last year

sword: venom

Modelled and rendered in LIghtwave 11.5

Venom is a little something I’ve been working on for a friend. The project will now possibly go to market at one of the DAZ/Poser related 3D brokerages in the not too distant future. I originally took up the project to really get into LightWave’s modelling tools and out of my comfort zone. It is all well and good to follow a few tutorials and experiment with personal projects, but I’ve always found that making something to request is a much more challenging and educational experience. I’ve learnt a great deal about LW, and modelling in general. I’ve learnt a number of things to avoid in the future, and I’ve learnt that UV mapping is a very tricky business that will require a lot of practice.

For the project I tried a number of 3D software packages to get the best UV maps possible. Hexagon 2.5 was my first attempt. In many ways Hexagon really punches above its weight. For a cheaper modelling program it has some fantastic tools that tend to be found in more expensive programs. The first thing I noticed when getting started in LW 9 and then 11 was that it just didn’t have some of the neat time-saving tools I’d grown to take for granted in Hexagon, like the “thicken” tool, and various line/loop extrusion tools. More importantly (and relevant) LW (until the release of 11.5) had only the most basic UV mapping tools, which required a good deal of skill to get the best out of. One method involved manually flattening models (best as possible) as endomorphs so they could be mapped to a planer projection. I couldn’t even imagine trying to flatten the sword’s hilt, though I would assume many more complex objects have been mapped in this way.

Hexagon, on the other hand has wonderful UV tools including seam unwrap and pinning. This is much like cutting seams along a paper model for assembly, or cutting and pinning fabric. Even these tools can become tedious and hard to handle when dealing with complex geometry. Hexagon’s edge and point selection tools do nothing to speed the process. Blender was another tool I used in my quest for the best unwrap. I found Blender’s tools much the same as Hexagon’s but the edge/point selection tools were better suited to the task. I will note that getting to anything in Blender, due to its powerful but complex interface, require a bit of reading. …and then just as I was winding up the process along came LightWave 11.5 with its new ABF UV tool (Angle Based Flattening) – seemed like as good a time as any to take it for a spin. Overall the process and results were much the same as Hexagon and Blender, but I found with LW’s selection tools, and perhaps familiarity with the interface, I was able to lay seams and unwrap much quicker, and thus experimenting with different unwrap methods wasn’t as tedious as it was with the other programs.

uv mapping ABF

ABF UV mapping in LightWave 11.5

It was interesting to go back and forth between software, and got me thinking back over the time I’d spent learning and using them (or trying to), so I thought I’d finish by writing up some general impressions of the various packages I’ve developed over the last year. Blender really is a fine open source project. It does everything! And it includes a game engine, and both a biased and unbiased render engine. Blender certainly isn’t for the timid newb, as I was when I first installed it over a year ago, but it is getting better and easier to use all the time. Hexagon is a fantastic program (currently free from DAZ 3D). It is easy to use, and a lot of fun, or it would be, but for a good proportion of the user base, stability issues are an obstacle (huge obstacle in my case). If you remember to save often or use the incremental save most problems can be limited. The program is worth picking up for the low, low-cost of $0, but I would urge caution at purchasing the software when and if the “promotion” ends (so get it now). With further development Hexagon could be a real gem.

Hexagon was my primary modelling tool but stability issues lead me to look elsewhere. I experimented with Carrara, but I could never get into the program and always found myself back in Hexagon doing my best to hold back the “f-bombs” during periods of frequent crashes. That said, Carrara 8 has a lot to offer, even as it stands as the largely shunned tool of the 3D industry.

Buying a “cheap” LW 9.6 licence from a user was the break I’d been looking for. It is a program I’d been watching for some time, but even the relatively cheap price of the package was more than I was able to put on the table. The draw, for me, was the clean interface and text-based buttons, which made it so easy to get to the modelling tools, which seemed so quick and easy to use when compared to other packages. A great “out-of-the-box” rendering engine was definitely a cool feature.

LW has a mixed history and reputation – big in TV, and a strong cult following but less common in the games industry. While LW may not have all the bells and whistles of the more expensive programs like 3DS Max or Maya, and to this point has not kept the pace with all the neat productivity boosting tools, it is still a very solid package in all regards. With the developments of LW 11 and 11.5 (soft and rigid body dynamics, instancing, Unity integration new modelling tools etc) there seems a strong indication that NewTek is intent on closing the gaps and claiming a bigger market share.

DAZ Studio: a short description

A lot has happened since I started this blog up, and it is lazy on my part that I haven’t been writing up the most interesting developments. Going back over the last article I wrote six months back (but never posted) I was in the midst of a DAZ Studio obsession. The post was long and rambling with a tenuous thread of a topic, so I’ve decided I won’t post that. The idea was to give a basic outline of what DAZ Studio is. As I can still imagine doing a lot of character posing in this program I will give a brief overview of what it’s all about.

Daz Studio is a program (both Mac and Windows) perfect for those curious about computer generated images, but not sure how far that interest goes, or how much they are willing to sink into the exploration (Studio is currently free, as are Bryce and Hexagon). Studio also has many applications for professionals, and indeed there are professional artists who use the program as their primary tool.

Studio 4 scene viewed through view port

Demonstration scene provided with DAZ Studio 4 as seen through view port

The program is typically used for posing and arranging premade figures and props into 3 Dimensional scenes for subsequent rendering as either stills, or animation (stills seeming to be the overwhelming application). For the average Studio user, the bulk of their content is made by others and purchased from DAZ3D, Renderosity, Runtime DNA, or

another similar broker. There is also a lot of content either made for DAZ Studio, or compatible (to varying degrees) from sites like ShareCG. One can find content for just about any scene they can imagine. Contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, and erotica are all common themes.

dragon 3d render

Rendering of above scene

Studio is a great program for constructing small to medium-sized scenes, and the character posing tools are intuitive, requiring little training to get the basics in order and start rendering (YouTube hosts hundreds of DAZ related tutorials). It may be easy to get started, but it is rare to get good results straight away. With premade content, which presumably comes “ready to render”, the biggest obstacle to creating good images is lighting. Of course there are other things to consider such as scene construction, camera angle etc, but lighting is the issue that comes up time and again for beginning 3D artists (using any 3D software). Thankfully there are hundreds of forum topics, tutorials, and text books devoted to helping you learn the ropes. …But lighting might be the theme for a future post, so I’ll leave that for now.

For anyone with an interest in CGI and what this software can do, even just for those who simply wish to enjoy the work of others, all the major brokers have either galleries or forums where users share their work. (popular online art community) is another fantastic destination. There are many groups dedicated to DAZ and Poser generated art, and many more groups dedicated to CGI in general.

DAZ-Artists-Guild is a good dA group dedicated to art made with DAZ Studio and related programs.

DAZ Studio 4 - Create 3D Art for Free