Jonesin’ for Spring

According to the calendar it’s technically Spring, but when stepping outside I’m not buying it yet, not at all.

One of the wonderful things about living in Central New York is our proximity to The Adirondacks, a massive park that IMNSDHO (In My Not So Damn Humble Opinion) is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Yes, the Park is a winter wonderland of snow-friendly activities (Hello! Lake Placid?) but in all honesty I’m not into them. I’m one of the Boys of Summer, and I’m all about shorts, sunshine, and the things you can do in shirt sleeves. As I look out on my lawn, and see the snow hasn’t finished melting away, and note that my home golf club hasn’t yet opened for the season, my thoughts turn to longing for that good ol’ fashioned warm weather.

To help move those sunny thoughts along, here’s an animated piece:

Since I also use this space to go into a bit of the background behind the stuff I create, this post will be no different. The general theme is a riff on a television commercial ad campaign that ran a while back, commissioned by the Matt Brewery (our hometown brewery and IMNSDHO another wonder of the world) to advertise their Saranac Pale Ale.

saranac_pale_ale

In the original ad, a casually-dressed fellow lounged on a porch in the Adirondacks, mellow music playing as he used a hand-carved opener to pop the cap. The whole setting gently eased into the closing caption: “Unwind.” I loved it, and I wanted to make something that captured that feeling—but ditched the human dude.

With the magic of CGI at my command I decided that few characters say “Adirondacks” like a black bear…so there it was. Another thing I decided, since I was calling the shots, was I would break one of the cardinal laws regulating alcoholic beverage commercials: my character was actually going to take a swig. Being that he was a bear, I also decided that he didn’t need no steenkin’ bottle opener.

For my setting I picked one of the many photos I’ve taken over the years while visiting the Park. I’m not 100% positive but I believe it’s a shot looking at part of Mirror Lake by Lake Placid (do I really need to link that?). The original photo was heavily Photoshopped because I needed a much larger panorama than it provided and I wanted nothing man-made in the scene except what the bear was using. The final image was projected onto a large curving surface for the backdrop of the digital stage while a second, horizontal plane was textured with a grass pattern to add some parallax to the terrain as the camera pans right.

The butterflies that flutter through the scene near the beginning are an actual Adirondack species (thank you, Wikipedia) modeled with articulated wings for flapping. Their flight pattern is animated using a cool feature in Lightwave 3D called “flocking” that creates realistic-looking crowd and flock behaviors you can define and then guide along a particular path. The bench, bucket, and beers are modeled in 3D, as is (of course) the bear character itself. The bear’s fur is created using a very powerful plug-in called FiberFX that renders every strand of hair realistically, including gravity, inertia and wind effects (though those aren’t evident in this piece because the fur is so short).

For the environmentalists out there I wanted to make it very clear that the bottle cap ended up in the bucket, not littering the ground. Oh, and the label of the beer he’s drinking? Why, Saranac’s Black Bear Bock, of course!

And there you have it. I hope I’ve helped you think warm, happy thoughts and may Spring finally really get here! Please leave comments below, and share this post all over the Internet! I’d like that.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Spinland Static Art: Battlecruiser

Okay, today’s post is all about porn—spaceship porn, that is. No self-respecting geek can get into 3D model building without making at least one spaceship model, and I’m no different.

My generation of geeks grew up boldly going “where no man has gone before.” One thing that might set me apart from many of my fellow Star Trek fans was that the Enterprise wasn’t my favorite starship—far from it. I never thought it fair that the antagonists, the Klingons, got the cooler-looking ships. In fact, the original battlecruiser design, born of genius Matt Jefferies (and known by Treknologists as the D-7) is, and always has been, my favorite fictional spaceship design of all time.

This is my tribute to that venerable staple of science fiction lore:

Klingon Battlecruiser

I actually built this model before I became a regular Lightwave 3D user, so it was constructed in the modeling/rendering application I was using primarily at the time: Rhinoceros. That application (usually called just “Rhino”) is better-known in the physical design world, where it is widely used to design objects from custom jewelry to luxury yacht hulls. One primary aspect that sets Rhino apart from most modeling applications is that you work not with points and polygons, but with what are called NURBS, or “Non-Uniform Rational Basis Splines.” That’s a mouthful for what is basically working in pure, mathematically-modeled curves and surfaces. By contrast, most of the time a curve in traditional modeling is actually made up of a series of linear segments which, if they are short and numerous enough, can look smoothly curved. Similarly a curved surface is actually faceted into flat polygons. Shading tricks are then used to make such facets appear smoothly rounded.

Although it’s kind of nice to be able to work with pure, smoothly-curved shapes, for most practical applications the final results still must be “meshed” to be compatible with standard rendering formats, game engines, and the like. It’s a black art to mesh a NURBS model without the polygon count climbing into insanity, so for the most part it’s not a very popular modeling style. It does, however, excel when the final product will become an actual physical object that’s just as perfectly smooth as the digital version, such as the aforementioned jewelry or boat hull. I first began using Rhino many years ago when I thought NURBS were “da bomb” and I had access to a steeply discounted student copy to play with. I still have a copy (upgraded to a commercial license and a more current version) installed on my Windows 7 virtual machine (I’m a Mac user these days) but I mostly use it for converting engineering-oriented file formats that nothing else I own can handle.

And that’s the scoop. Please leave comments below, share this post far and wide (See, there’s even a share button below to make it easy!), and check out my other work (both static and animated) at my website, spinlandstudios.com.

Happy geeking!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Spinland Static Art: Wino Dino

Okay, this is going to come close to pegging the silly meter, but indulge me—plus, as an added bonus, there are no dragons involved!

Once upon a time I was walking through a somewhat less-than-upscale area, and I started paying attention to some of the various down-and-out people scattered about the landscape. I also noticed how others, the “regular folks,” were studiously tuning them out.

That got me thinking: if you were going to hide in plain sight would adopting the appearance of someone folks would rather ignore be the perfect disguise? Are extraterrestrials really among us, clutching their bottle of Mad Dog in a paper bag, hat pulled low with a cardboard sign and a cup of donated change by their feet? What about the dinosaurs? Where did they really go?

From there this image practically created itself:

Wino Dino

Could they just be blending in?

Please tell me what you think in the comments below, share this post far and wide (there’s even an easy peasy button below to help you out), and then go check out my web site at www.spinlandstudios.com to see more art like this (as well as my animated work).

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Happy St. Patty’s Day from Spinland!

This is pretty much just a personal note, because this time of year has special meaning for me. On Friday, March 13th of 1998, I met the woman (who was in Utica visiting her family for the St. Patty’s Day weekend) who would soon after become my wife. Since this year also boasts a Friday, March 13th, it’s kind of a Big Deal for us.

In commemoration, here’s my 3D render of my good buddy Dooley, who’s clearly ready for the festivities!

Dooley Mug Render

Dooley is ready to party!

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Tribute to Some Utica Icons: Schultz & Dooley

One of the things I will never apologize for is being a beer snob. When I’m at a bar or restaurant and I ask them what beers they have on tap, I mentally blank out as they go over the usual crap such as Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Miller, and any other related inferior “fizzy yellow p*ss water” in which I have no interest. Sometimes I actually ask the server to pare the list down to “real” beers. Okay, yes: I am That Guy. Again, I don’t apologize. Life is too short to tolerate crap beer.

My snobbery was only increased by my time spent living in Germany. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the Rheinheitsgebot, or “purity laws,” that dictated beer could only be made from combinations of the basic four ingredients: barley, malt, hops, and water. I lived in a small town near Winnweiler, the home of the Bischoff brewery, and the product of that fine establishment was everything I could ask for in a well-crafted beer.

Set the time machine to my return to America, and then to my being stationed in the Mohawk Valley. To say my interest in the Matt Brewery (the local source of craft brew run by people who had studied their craft in Germany) was acute would be to say that the Sun is “kinda warm.” I came here many years too late to have seen the commercials featuring the spokesmodels for Utica Club, Schultz & Dooley, but the very first time I saw those old commercials I thought, “those guys need to be upgraded to modern CGI.”

That was all the excuse I needed to gin up some 3D models of those old stein puppets and then to make a fun animated tribute to commemorate their timeless message. I was doubly fortunate in having a good relationship with the owner of my favorite brew pub (which is practically next door to the brewery), Nail Creek Pub & Brewery. The owner, Chris Talgo, was more than happy to let me take a pile of photographs of his main bar so I could model it in 3D to form the stage for my little tribute. Further, the staff of the Matt Brewery was more than helpful in providing me with some needed graphic support—especially the distinctive and elaborate markings for the Schultz character.

And there you have it. Quality local craft brew, and my 3D modeling and animation skills with which to pay tribute to our local treasure. I hope you like it.

As always, please share this post far and wide using the fun button below, leave your comments and critiques, and check out my website at www.spinlandstudios.com for more of my work. Then hire me to make something like this for your brand, because life is also too short to settle for conventional, static branding.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Spinland Static Art: Pest Control

Okay: here we go with Yet Another Dragon Theme. I won’t apologize, nope!

This is one of my earliest fantasy pieces, but I’ve still always liked it. The idea germinated while doing some basement cleaning, as I amused myself wondering what kind of junk you would find in the basement of an old castle. As is the case with almost all of my static art, for part of the storytelling aspect I have a tongue-in-cheek caption to go along with the similarly-goofy title:

“Honey, is that basement cleaned out yet?”

Pest Control

This was rendered at a much smaller resolution than my later work, as befits the much-less-powerful equipment I had at my disposal at the time. It also marks some of my earliest attempts at heightening dramatic effect through selective lighting and vignette-style post processing filters. I believe my son (now 26 and serving in the USAF) still has the hard copy version I printed for him.

Hope you like it. Please leave comments and critiques below, feel free to share this post around using the easy-peasy button below, and go visit my website at www.spinlandstudios.com to see some of my animated work.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Spinny’s Mini Book Review: The “Arisen” Series

Spinny’s mini-review of my current guilty pleasure reading. The series is called “Arisen” and it’s in the Zombie Apocalypse (or, as the books call it, the Zulu Alpha) genre.

It took maybe 100 days for the virus to wipe out seven billion people—most of humanity. Now the world is populated by seven billion ravening, starving zombies. The last significant band of still-human survivors is holed up in the UK, where a freak coincidence had them closing their borders right when it meant the virus spread was minimal enough to be contained. Fifty million souls: the entirety of Humanity.

Hope for the future rests largely on the shoulders of the last remaining Special Forces soldiers (male and female) who survived long enough to reach relative safety. These are the cream of the elite, the baddest asses, the survivors—some of whom fought their way across Europe to get there. Their new purpose? Raid various European biotech and medical sites British intelligence indicates were the closest to finding a cure (or at least a vaccine) before they went under. Get all the data they can grab, and bring it back.

Now, two years into Zulu Alpha? They’re headed across the Atlantic in a surviving USN vessel to face millions of starving zombies in Chicago for maybe the biggest find yet.

I’m through the third book and the Chicago gig is still happening. Everything that could go wrong has, and many of the team thus far have made the ultimate sacrifice. The few remaining survivors are facing impossible odds in their quest to get back with their precious loot.

This is basically military fiction with a zombie twist. There is a shit ton of “hoo rah” factor, and some of the hair-raising escapes from certain death are a bit far-fetched (even for superheroes), but I’m finding the books an easy, enjoyable (and quick, not a pile of pages per volume) read. Perfect guilty pleasure fodder, and I’m already eager to dive into the next installment.

You can get the Kindle version of the first volume at this Amazon link.

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3D Character Modeling: Working in Virtual Clay

I’m frequently asked exactly how does one “draw” a 3D model. The first time I was brought up short as I tried to explain it with words and hand-waving; it’s not something I’d thought of in that way, it’s just something I do.

Now that I’ve fielded the question a few times I have a sort of “elevator pitch” developed after various puzzled looks told me I wasn’t getting the idea across. Now I draw an analogy to “real” sculpting, and the medium I try to leverage is modeling in clay.

When a sculptor sits down to begin a project, often as not they start by plopping down a formless blob of clay. It might be a block from a package, an amorphous handful they’ve pulled from a larger source, or something else entirely. The common factor is it probably starts out looking nothing at all like the finished product.

So goes it with the style of modeling I favor, sometimes called “box modeling” because that’s a very common shape to begin with. Actually, I tend to cheat a little, because in most cases the software you’re modeling in will give you a rather nice selection of primitives to use as your starting point, and odds are you’ll be able to find one that (very roughly) matches where you’re going.

Take my usual starting primitive for a humanoid torso, for example: a cylinder. From experience I already know how many sides and segments I’m going to want for starters, and so my “blob of clay” starts out looking something like this:

polygon primitive

And now the fun begins! Much like that metaphoric sculptor with their clay, I start by pulling bits of the shape around to be closer to the form I want. In 3D modeling those “bits” are the points that define the shape, and the polygons connecting those points. With most 3D modeling tools you can interactively “grab and drag” portions of the shape, switching from view to view and rotating your viewpoint as needed to see what effect you’re having.

Of course the primitive isn’t going to have enough geometry (collective term for all the points and polygons) to form the final shapes, so you use other 3D modeling tools to cut, add, delete and otherwise fold, bend, spindle and mutilate the existing polygon structure as you go. As the shape gets more and more complicated, so does the task of keeping the “polygon flow” tidy and apportioned well. One primary consideration when modeling a character is that it will almost certainly be animated, and there’s a black art to making sure various areas on the model have polygons in arrangement and number to facilitate clean bending and other deformation.

Here is a basic torso shape created from the primitive shown above:

polygon cage

Now, there’s another consideration that is often important in character modeling: something called (in Lightwave, other software can differ) “subdivision surfaces.” As you can see, the torso is pretty blocky and jaggy looking; not very appealing. We’re going to fix that, but first we have to make sure the entire object we’re building is composed of only “quads” and “tris,” that is, polygons with exactly three or four points. For technical reasons tied to the underlying math of how subdivision surfaces are calculated “quads” are preferred but sometimes you just have to slip a “tri” in here and there, especially when increasing or decreasing the number of polys (polygons) around the circumference of a rounded shape.

Assuming you’ve met that restriction, going “subD” with your model is a matter simply of turning on the display mode. The software semi-magically subdivides that blocky poly cage and yields something much more pleasing to the eye:

subdivided model

Bear in mind the underlying “poly cage” has not been changed one bit: you can switch back and forth between the cage and the subD version as easily as tapping a key. Many experienced character modelers will quickly switch to subD mode and do most or all of the shaping directly on the smoothed version rather than manipulating the cage and flipping back and forth.

I personally prefer working with the subD display once the basic form is blocked out, but I also flip back now and then to see whether the points of the underlying cage are getting pulled into weird contortions. It’s just a personal quirk of mine that dictates the cage should be somewhat tidy if possible. When you are sculpting in subD mode it’s common for the underlying points to get pulled any which-a-way. I like to try to “un-mangle” my cages if it’s possible while still retaining the desired subD shape. Many fabulous modelers would tell me (I expect, rightly) my quirk is a waste of effort. What can I say? Artistic license.

And that’s how it works. In this case my next step would be to drop another primitive to start forming a leg and, once that’s done, mirror (make a mirror image copy for the other leg) and attach them. Then the arms, and so on.

Hope this has been interesting, maybe even a little bit fun to read. Please leave comments below, and share this post far and wide. You can see examples of my work on my main web site, www.spinlandstudios.com. Go take a look, I’d like that.

Thanks!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Using Adobe After Effects to “Fake” 3D Animation

First things first: I mean no disrespect to After Effects. It’s one of the sharpest tools in my proverbial shed and it’s incredibly powerful. I use it constantly, and love it. It comes with a nice suite of tools described as 3D but, as someone who usually works in “true” 3D modeling and animation, I consider most of them to be more like “2.5D”.

Editor’s note: It’s only the end of the first paragraph and already I tossed out some potentially confusing jargon. My bad. Let me clarify:

2.5D (“two-and-a-half-dimensional”), ¾ perspective, and pseudo-3D are terms, mainly in the video game industry, used to describe either 2D graphical projections and similar techniques used to cause a series of images (or scenes) to simulate the appearance of being three-dimensional (3D) when in fact they are not, or gameplay in an otherwise three-dimensional video game that is restricted to a two-dimensional plane.

From this Wikipedia article.

A fake book is a collection of musical lead sheets intended to help a performer quickly learn new songs. Each song in a fake book contains the melody line, basic chords, and lyrics – the minimal information needed by a musician to make an impromptu arrangement of a song, or “fake it.” The fake book is a central part of the culture of playing music in public, especially in jazz, where improvisation is particularly valued.

From this Wikipedia article.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled article:

While you can, indeed, move your cameras around in 3D space will full degrees of freedom, the elements you are working with are still flat—albeit projected onto flat planes that can themselves be moved around in 3D space (there’s interesting stuff you can do with camera tracking and interacting with 3D scenes created in other applications but that’s not where I’m going in this piece). One notable exception to that flatness comes when you start playing around with some of the plug-ins, like Shatter. That plug-in, as the name suggests, enables one to break an element into myriad pieces and fling those pieces apart (or bring them together) in many fun ways. One of the more interesting side effects to me, though, is the fact that the pieces are given actual depth—they look like “real” 3D objects right up until the point where the parent element is whole.

This feature, coupled with creative applications of the “2.5D” elements, can generate some pretty cool results. Take this sequence, for example, where I create a 3D “Flying Logo” based on my own Studio logo:

By keeping the camera moving as the blocks assemble, the fact that the final logo is really a flat object is masked. Adding some extra touches like flying the viewpoint through the moving pieces and including a moving star field helps sell the impression of stuff flying around in 3D space.

This type of animation is much less labor-intensive than creating a similar effect using “true” 3D modeling and animation software, and hence comes at a correspondingly lower price point.

What do you think of leveraging tricks like these? Please comment below, share this post far and wide, and visit my web site at www.spinlandstudios.com to see many more examples of my work.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Turning an Illustrator logo design into a 3D animation

One of the fun things I do is creating so-called “flying logos” based on a client’s logo design. The result helps breathe life into a company’s branding, catching the customer’s eye with flashy movement and lighting effects (and a sound track, if the final product isn’t an animated GIF file). Imagine your corporate video or explainer starting out with something like this:

How do you go from a flat, 2D logo design to this? In my case, the key is how my 3D modeling, animation and rendering software, Lightwave3D, handles what are known as “paths.” Those are the outlines of the shapes the original designer created in Illustrator (or Xara Designer Pro, or any other similar program that supports the .ai file format) when they first designed the logo.

In the case of the above example, for instance, the designer supplied me with the Illustrator file for the client’s logo design. I studied it to get a feel for the coloring and such, then imported the paths into Lightwave. From there I converted the paths into flat shapes and extruded them to add the 3D factor, then textured the resulting shapes to match the Illustrator logo (adding a fun, shiny metallic sheen so the lighting would look cool). Voila!

From there the process moved into a standard 3D animation and lighting workflow. One of the special requests in this case was the client wanted to help dispel some confusion by highlighting the fact their domain name ends in .co rather than in .com. We decided to make pointing out the distinction slightly humorous. Add sound, and you have your very own flying logo to wow your customers with. What do you think? Comments below, please! Also please share this post far and wide, and come visit my website at www.spinlandstudios.com for lots more fun examples of my work. Then hire me!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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