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6. February 2017


In our previous tutorial we materials in our ongoing Babylon Tutorial Series but today we are going to take things a step higher up and let someone else worry about doing the work for us.  Today we will look at exporting 3D models from Blender for use in our game.  A number of exporters exist (3ds Max, FBX, Cheetah, Unity), but today we are specifically going to talk about using Blender.

First we need to download and install the plugin.  Fortunately they make a zip version available for download.  Head on over to and click Download:



Save the zip file somewhere you will remember.  Now fire up Blender.  Select File->User Preferences…  then select the Add-Ons tab



Now choose Install From File… and select the newly downloaded zip.  Then in the filter area type “Bab” and Import-Export: Babylon.js should be available.  Simply check the checkbox to the right hand side to enable it.  We can now export our scene as a .babylon file for use in our game.  Simply select File->Export->Babylon.js:



There are no settings for the exporter, so simply pick your game asset directory and click Export Babylon.js Scene.  A .Babylon file and all of your textures will be created in your selected save location:



Now let’s look at the code required to load and display this model in our game:

    window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', function(){
        var canvas = document.getElementById('canvas');

        var engine = new BABYLON.Engine(canvas, true);
        engine.enableOfflineSupport = false; // Dont require a manifest file
        var createScene = function(){
            var scene = new BABYLON.Scene(engine);
            scene.clearColor = new BABYLON.Color3.White();

            var camera = new BABYLON.ArcRotateCamera("arcCam",
            var light = new BABYLON.PointLight("PointLight",new BABYLON.Vector3(
            light.parent = camera;
            light.intensity = 1.5;

            scene,function(newMeshes) {
                    mesh.rotation = new BABYLON.Vector3(BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(
                }                );

            return scene;

        var scene = createScene();



The magic is done using the Y() function call.  You can load a specific asset from within the .babylon file by specifying it’s name, but in this case we just want the whole thing.  Import mesh has a callback when the mesh is loaded ( it’s loaded async, so you need to use this callback ) and it’s passed an array of Mesh objects.  We simply loop through this array ( in this example it’s only one item long, so we could have just as easily done newMeshes[0] and accomplished the same thing ).  Sometimes you will need to reposition your objects when loaded due to different coordinate systems, this example shows rotating each mesh by 45 degrees along the X axis.


This example uses the ShippingContainer blend file available as part of the Patreon dropbox assets, but you can use any applicable Blend file to create the example.  If you are a Patreon support (thanks by the way!) you can find this model in Art\Blender\ShippingContainer and the code is all available (including the exported Babylon file) in Tutorial Series\Babylon\5 - PartFive – Models.


When we run this example, we should see:



The Video

Programming, Art , , , ,

31. January 2017


I found myself recently needed some rocks… I could easily download a collection of rocks, but I figured it would be extremely easy to just make my own.  My first thought was to simply take a cube, smoothly sub divide it a number of times, and apply a displacement modifier to it.  The end results however didn’t really bring the results I wanted:



By the way, you can learn more about using the Displace modifier on my earlier tutorial on using Blender for level creation.


Ok, apparently this is going to take more than a few seconds…  hey… I wonder if there is a plugin?  Turns out, yes, yes there is.  The plugin add_mesh_rocks does exactly what it says.  You can download a tarball of the plugin here using the snapshot link.   You can get instructions for installing (a different but same process) plugin in Blender here.  Download and enable the plugin.



Once you’ve downloaded and enabled the plugin, there is a new option in the Add->Mesh menu, Rock Generator:



NOTE*** There seems to be a bug, the option wont be available if there isn’t any existing geometry in the scene.




Ok, I admit, that looks a bit more like a kidney bean than a rock, but it’s a start.  If you look in the Tool (T) panel, you will see initial creation options for Rock Builder:



Click Generate materials if you want it to create a starting rock texture for you.  Every time you change any setting, you will get a completely different rock, like so:



If you don’t want this behavior, turn off the random seed setting.  Once you’ve got a rock you are happy with… let’s destroy it!


Before we go to far though, if you dont want performance to absolutely crawl, we want to apply several modifiers that were created as part of the rock creation process.  Go to the modifiers tab and start applying the various modifiers:



OK, back to destruction.  The first and most obvious option is the Explode modifier.  There are a few steps we have to take here… first go into edit mode, select all the vertices and in the vertex data tab create a new vertex group.  Now apply first a particle system modifier, then an explode modifier.  Finally wire up the vertex group, like so:



The problem with explode is that it applies to the hull of the object only, so the results may not be way you want… as you can see:



In some cases, that effect might be exactly what you are looking for.  Oh, and I turned gravity off to get the effect above. But if you instead want things to be a bit more… substantial, it’s time for a rethink.  In fact, it’s time for another plugin, but thankfully this one ships with Blender, it just needs to be enabled.   What you are looking for is “Cell Fracture”:



Once enabled, in Object mode, there will now be a new option available in the Edit section of the Tools tab:



Cell Fracture will split your object up into several solid pieces.  You’ve got tons of control over how the fracturing will occur.



What I personally did was changed source limit (number of pieces) down to 12 and unchecked “Next Layer” so the fracture occurs in the primary layer.  Now you will notice you’ve got several meshes instead of one:



In fact, you can now get rid of the source rock if you want.  You will notice your rock is actually 12 rocks now:



Instead of using a particle system like we did with explode, we are going to use Dynamics (Physics) instead.  Select all of the objects, switch to the physics tab and select Add Active.



This means all of our rocks will now participate in the physics engine.  To see the result, quickly add a plane to the scene, make it a rigid body and turn dynamic off:



And now press play in the timeline:



Now that looks much more realistic!  Now, what if we wanted our rock to explode instead of fall?  Well, physics are once again coming to our aid!  This time add a force field to the scene:



Then crank the strength way up (or lower the mass of your objects), like so:



Once again, I don’t want gravity to be part of the process, so I turn it off.  In the Scene tab, simply turn off gravity, like so:



And voila, exploding rocks!


Art, General , , ,

24. January 2017


Are you perhaps… artistically challenged?  This tutorial will give you passable 8-bit or 16-bit style pixel art results with a minimum of artistic ability.  Of course it assumes you know a bit about Blender, but dont worry if you don’t.  We have a pair of ground up tutorial series that will0001-0060 teach you everything you need to know to follow along, this Blender text tutorial series and this Blender video tutorial series.  Alright, let’s jump right in.  We are going to use a combination of vertex painting, cycles renderer and freestyle in Blender to create an image like the one to the right.  Not the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen I’m sure… but it was exceptionally easy.



Without further ado, let’s jump in.  For this example I am not going to model the sprite, if you are interested in seeing that process, watch the full video.  Instead we start with a simple model like the following:



Now let’s look at first colouring it, then cartoon rendering it and finally how to render it in pixel art style.


Vertex Painting The Object

First we start off by painting our surface.  The nice thing about Vertex Painting is it draws the colour information directly on the model, so you dont need to worry about UV maps or textures at all.  We just published a video on Vertex Painting in Blender if you want more details.  In the end we are going to use the Cycles renderer, but for now it’s easier to get started painting using the built in default Blender renderer.  This will enable us to easily see the painted vertices in the Blender viewport.  In the default material make sure that Vertex Color Paint is enabled:



Now it’s time to start filling out our different colors.  In Edit mode, simply select the faces you want to be a specific colour, like I have done here for the cockpit area:



Now switch over to Vertex Paint Mode:



Now select “Face Selection Masking For Painting”



This limits your painting to the faces currently selected in edit mode.  In the Tools menu ( T ), select the color you want to paint with.



Now hit SHIFT + K to fill the selection with the current colour, like so:



Now repeat this process for the rest of the ship.


Toon Shading In Cycles

Now that you’ve got your ship coloured, it’s time to switch over to the cycles renderer.  If using a default layout, simply select Cycles Render in the dropdown:



With the change to Cycles Render, we should now have a new option in the Materials dialog



Click Use Nodes.  Then select Toon BSDF.



Out of the box Vertex Colors aren't going to work in Cycles, we need to make a simple shader graph to get things to work.  Don’t worry… it’s super easy.  When you do a vertex paint, the data is stored in the mesh data, like so:



That “Col” data is about to become very useful.  Switch to Node Editor



Now what we want to do is add an Attribute input and wire it into the Color field of our Toon shader, like so:



Notice the name “Col”.  This is the link back to our vertex color data.  This causes the Toon shader to use the painted vertex colors as it’s color source.  If you do a render now, it should look something like…



Better, but still quite fugly…


Using Freestyle

Now to get a bit of a more hand-drawn effect, we want to enable freestyle in the Blender renderer:



Notice I increased the Line Thickness a fair bit from the default… this is a personal choice.  It’s possible you don’t like the default lines it chose to highlight, but don't worry, you can control that if you prefer.  Simply go to Edit Mode, select the edge you want Freestyle to render, select Ctrl+E then Mark Freestyle Edge:



Now in the Render Layers property panel, locate the Free Style Line Set, then enable Edge Mark.



Now when we render, it should look like:



Ok, that looks a bit better!  Now how about that Pixel art look?


Compositor Time

The compositor is a process that runs AFTER the image is rendered and can be used to create all kinds of special effects.  In this case we are going to pixelate the result.  In the Renderer dialog, make sure under Post Processing, that Compositing is enabled.



Now, back in Node Editor, switch to Compositor mode:



Now we want to edit our graph like so:



Essentially we take our input Render Layers, scale down the resulting image to 1/5th its size, apply the Pixelate filter, then scale it back to it’s regular size and finally send it to the Composite output.  Now let’s render and see what we’ve got:



TADA!  Pixel art in just 20 easy steps.  Granted, at that size it doesn’t look great, but at actual game scale:



It looks pretty solid… for a purple, yellow and emerald model that is!  You can download the Blend used in this example here.


The Video

Art , ,

13. October 2016


In the recent release of Blender 2.78 Blender received a new feature that’s quite cool, B-Bones or Bendy Bones.  This post is going to take a look at how you can use this new bone option.  So what exactly is a b-bone?  Simply put, it’s a new bone type in Blender that allows itself to be subdivided and bend as a smooth spline instead of as a single entity.  This enables you to use fewer bones to control curved meshes such as a tail or eyebrow.  Don’t worry, it will all make sense in a second.


Let’s first take a look at a regular bone and a b-bone side by side:



The bendy bone on the right still only uses two bones in the armature, but the b-bone has additional detail enabling a smoother bend and tighter controls.  Now let’s look at how you use Bendy bones in the first place.  At this point I am going to assume you already know how to use bones in Blender.  If you don’t be sure to check out either this tutorial on animation in Blender.


To use Bendy Bones, create an armature like normal.  Then head over to the armature tab:



Now under display make sure B-Bones is selected:



Now you can control each individual bone in the Bones section:



Segments determines how many sub-divisions occur within the bone:



The remaining controls enable you fine tune control over the spline controlling the sub bones.


Using Curve, Roll, Scale and Easing, we’ve got fine tune control over the way the individual bendy bones perform.



Bendy Bones are a (pun intended) flexible way of adding detail to bending bones without having to create several more bones.  There is a catch however!  Outside of Blender most game engines are going to have no idea what a Bendy bone is.  For example, you can see (by the pinching) that the Bendy Bone is ignored completely once imported into Unity.



It would be awesome if they added the ability to export B-Bones that automatically split into multiple bones.  The only alternative is to get B-Bones support added to the various game engines, a much less likely result.


If you want more information on the math behind Bendy Bones, be sure to check out this very technical post.


Video Version



3. October 2016


It’s been quite a wait, but Blender 2.78 is finally here and it brings us all kinds of great new features.  There are new add-ons, render for VR functionality, viewport performance improvements, freehand curves on surfaces, new B-Bones and a great deal more in this release.splash_2x


From the release announcement:

The Blender Foundation and online developer community are proud to present Blender 2.78, released September 30th 2016! This release aims to be a very stable one, so that developers can focus better on Blender 2.8 work. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Spherical Stereo images rendering support for VR
  • Grease Pencil is now a full 2D drawing & animation tool!
  • Viewport Rendering improvements
  • New Freehand curves drawing over surfaces!
  • Bendy Bones, powerful new options for B-Bones
  • Alembic support: import/export basic operators
  • Cloth Physics: new Dynamic Base Mesh and Simulation Speed option
  • New Add-ons, individual preferences, Python APIs changes, and a lot of new & updated add-ons!
  • Many more features, improvements and the usual huge bug-fixes list



You can read more about this release here, there is a ton more to this release than the list above.  I took a look at using one of the new plug-ins, Archimesh, for level design last month.  You can check that out here or embedded below.

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Unreal Engine now completely free!
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2. March 2015

Ok, just received the following email and wow, it’s a good one:


If you love something, set it free!

It's been an amazing year for Unreal Engine 4. We've grown a lot, we've learned a lot, and with your help and feedback, made the engine easier to use and more powerful than ever. Now we're making Unreal Engine 4 freely available to developers everywhere.

Before we do, we wanted to say a sincere thanks to those of you who've been with us all along the way. We're humbled by your energy, enthusiasm, and the incredible stuff you're doing with the engine. And because of you, we're motivated to work even harder so that together, we can all create great things that inspire and shape the future of the medium that we love.

If you have paid for a subscription on or after January 30th, you will receive a pro-rated refund for your latest month's payment after March 12th. You'll continue to receive all future updates for free.

And, because you were a paying subscriber, we're also giving you a gift of $30 that you can spend in the Marketplace now or save for a future use.

Happy creating!
- The Team at Epic Games


So, yeah... Unreal Engine no longer has a monthly subscription cost! And existing subscribers all get a $30 marketplace credit. Seriously Unreal folks, you guys rock!


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