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.


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.



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.


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!


Leveraging Nanotech in Utica Even If You’re Not Technical


I’ve seen some cynicism—to some degree justified—about the new jobs promised by the Nanotech industry because many of them are tech jobs that most out-of-work locals can’t qualify for. To that I point out that all businesses have an impact greater than just their internal employment. Even after construction is done they will always need a myriad of goods and services to operate.

This is a prime time to think outside the box and set yourself up to become a provider. Don’t wait for job interviews, go out and make your niche happen. Utica’s Small Business Development Center is ready, willing and even eager to help you get off the ground—and their advice comes free.


The Importance of your Personal Brand

I believe this topic can be summed up beautifully with a single object lesson:


To that I’ll add an amplifying quote:

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” ~ Jeff Bezos

Really, I think that about covers it.

Have a great day!

Check out my website at www.spinlandstudios.com for some examples of really cool computer animations I’ve created over the years.


Spinland Static Art: Called Out

So…okay, yeah: I’m something of a science fiction and fantasy geek. I also dig dragons—have you noticed?

In that vein, I think Jedi knights are cool. Since dragons are also cool, why shouldn’t one be allowed to become the other? Thus was born the idea for this piece. I envisioned a dragon-ish Jedi traveling to an inhospitable-looking planet to call out the resident Sith to face justice. The working title, “Called Out” was a fairly obvious pick. For the caption, because I like those to be semi-humorous, I came up with, “Why should mammals have all the fun?”

Called Out

Why should mammals have all the fun?

The dragon, Sith and Jedi spaceship are all individual 3D renders created in Lightwave 3D. The terrain, background, sky, lightsaber blade and most of the lighting effects were created in post-processing using Xara Designer Pro, where the final piece was also composited.

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.


Semper Fi

As a scrawny bookworm of a kid with a bad attitude and a big mouth I was never Marine material. Several of my family and friends have been, though, and some still are (there’s no such thing as a former Marine so there’s that, too). I read this fun little anecdote today and it reminded me of them, with pride, so I decided I’d share it. Here’s to them!

A large group of ISIS fighters in Iraq are moving down a road when they hear a voice call from behind a sand dune: “One Marine is better than ten ISIS fighters.”

The ISIS commander quickly orders 10 of his best men over the dune where a gun battle breaks out and continues for a few minutes, then silence.

The voice once again calls out: “One Marine is better than one hundred ISIS ‘S.O.B.’s’.”

Furious, the ISIS commander sends his next best 100 troops over the dune and instantly a huge gun fight commences. After 10 minutes of battle, again silence.

The voice calls out again: “One Marine is better than a thousand ISIS fighters.” The enraged ISIS commander musters 1,000 fighters and sends them to the other side of the dune. Rifle fire, machine guns, grenades, rockets and cannon fire ring out as a terrible fight is fought … then silence.

Eventually, one badly wounded ISIS fighter crawls back over the dune and with his dying words tells his commander, “Don’t send any more men … it’s a trap. There are two of them.”

This retired Zoomie feels a lot safer knowing those glorious knuckleheads are out there.


Spinland Static Art: Negotiation

Sometimes the idea for an image starts with a caption. Forever etched into geek lore is Yoda’s challenging question, “Judge me by my size, do you?” The implied empowering of someone small and apparently weak resonated strongly with me as a rather non-athletic teen in the heyday of the original Star Wars trilogy.

I wanted to set up a scene where two opponents, one large and obviously powerful and one small and not-so-obvious (anyone who knows anything realizes you don’t muck around with faerie queens: they are bad ass), were facing off on equal footing. Of course, an excuse to inject Yet Another Dragon into a fantasy-themed image was just a personal bonus.

For the scenery I really went all out using Vue. The software makes creating terrain and populating it with trees and grass a very straightforward procedure and the results are first rate. The faerie and the dragon are Lightwave renders composited in after.

I’ve never been completely happy with how the image sells the fact the faerie is hovering at the dragon’s level, not sitting on the ground. Short of adding some sort of sparkly magic cloud under her I never came up with a completely satisfactory approach so, in the end, I elected just to leave well enough alone.


Hope you like it. Please feel to leave commentary below and share this page via the fun little button below. Also check out my website at www.spinlandstudios.com for my animated work to see how I could bring your brand to life.


Spinland Static Art: Wake-up Call

It’s no secret: I dig fantasy themes—especially dragons. Along for the ride are the rest of the typical fantasy elements: castles, knights, faeries. Being a 3D artist gives me somewhat free rein to indulge all the above.

The idea for this piece germinated from the memory of the box cover to an obscure, old board game from many years ago. The main takeaway was a castle about to be attacked by—ta da!—a dragon. While pondering how I was going to approach the concept I decided I wanted an exercise in contrasts: something peaceful and serene, about to be interrupted most unpleasantly. From there, as I usually do, I came up with a defining caption: “Oh, were you planning to sleep in?”

For execution I turned to the very good lighting and atmospheric effects available in Vue, a 3D application geared to outdoor scenes (and used in many a well-known film). I wanted a gentle, golden just-after-dawn look along with some morning mist to sell the atmosphere. It took me several renditions to get the look how I wanted it and then, once I was happy, I added that pesky dragon about to spoil the mood.

Wake-up Call

Hope you like it. Please feel to leave commentary below and share this page via the fun little button below. Also check out my website at www.spinlandstudios.com for my animated work to see how I could bring your brand to life.