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16. February 2012

 

Blender 2.62 was released today.  The 2.6 series of releases is all about adding in the variousbl branches that have been in development recently and this one is no exception.  Key new features include:

 

  • UV Tools, a number of new features have been added including an interactive stitch tool, sub-division surface aware UV unwrapping and a sculpting tool for selecting and tweaking UVs
  • Boolean library now using “Carve” library which should be faster, more stable with better overall results.  To the end user, other then improved results, there should be little difference to the existing interface
  • Cycles render engine ( render via GPU ) has had a number of new features including render layers/passes, multiGPU rendering and more
  • Object tracking support has been added
  • Remesh modifier, creates a new topology based on an input surface.  If I am honest, I’m not really sure what purpose you would use it for
  • Many bug fixes and other new features

 

For full details, you can go here with the bug fixes listed here.  To download the newest release head on over here. Have some patience though, as always with every new release days, their servers are getting hammered.

 

 

The next release (in April) is the one I am really waiting for, as it’s the one that finally adds BMesh support!  There is also a new team focusing on improving COLLADA support.  The future is looking extremely good!

 

Nice work Blender team, keep ‘em coming!

Art News


13. February 2012

 

 

I have been playing around a bit with Daz 3D Studio since it was recently made freely available. At first I struggled to find an actual use for the program, then I realized how exceptionally easy it made creating animated sprites. The following tutorial will walk through creating the following walk cycle using Daz Studio:



The above image is actually a web animation generated from this spritesheet that we will create. All told, the process will take about 5-10 minutes, most of it will be you waiting for your computer!  If the above image isn’t animating, that means your browser ( most likely Internet Explorer ) doesn’t support the keyframes CSS attribute.  Trust me, it works. Smile

 

 

You are going to need a couple things to follow along this tutorial, all of which are (currently) freely available.

 

You will need:

 

 

 

Install all of these products.  Now we fire up Daz Studio.

 

We are going to use the default human, feel free to drag and drop and design your guy however you want.  That said, do not move the person from the default screen location.

 

Once your guy or gal is dressed/decorated however you want, its time to add some animations.  On the left hand panel, select Content Library, Walks then start-(N) and drag it down to the beginning of the timeline.

 

Like so:

 

imageimage

 

If done correctly, if you press play your character will now have a walk cycle.  You can drag down as many animations as you would like to capture, just add them one after another in the timeline.  In this example we are just going to do the single walk cycle animation.

 

Now comes the key part, you don’t actually want your character to be moving like it does currently, you want him to remain stationary.  First lets frame things into the left.  Click the view selector box to rotate to the left view.

 

image

This is the guy you are looking for, click the red section labeled left.  Now ideally your window should look something like this:

 

image

 

 

Now we need to strip out the movement part from the animation.  To do so, first we need to convert to Studio keyframes.  This is done by right clicking in the blank gray area above the timeline and selecting Bake to Studio Keyframes, like so:

 

image

 

You will get the following message:

 

image

 

Simply click Yes.  Now we can edit out your animation.  What we want to do is remove movement along the Z-axis.  In order to do this, select Parameters along the right hand panel, then you want to select the Hip ( the root of all animations ).  You can do this by either clicking it within the scene Window, or selecting it from this drop down:

 

image

 

 

Now that you have the Hip selected, in the Parameters panel ALT+Left click the zTranslate panel:

image

 

This process should reset it’s value to 0.  Now if you press play on the timeline, your animation should now be stationary.  Now its time to render our images out.  To do so in the menu select Render->Render Settings…  like so:

 

image

 

The following window will appear:

 

image

 

If not already done, make sure at the bottom right it is set to “Show Advanced Settings”.  Now drag the quality/speed slider down to 3 ( or it will take forever, for little visible gain ).  Now you want to scroll the options down a bit.  First we want to set our image render resolution.  I personally went with 128x96, but you can use whatever you want.

 

image

 

 

Now scroll the options down a bit more and select the Render To: drop down.  You want to select Image Series like this:

image

 

 

Now we want to select where to render it to.  Leave Start and End Frame at the defaults ( the entire animation ), file in a name and leave it as PNG so we get transparencies.  Switch the location from Library to Folder and pick a directory you want it to save your renderings to, like so:

image

 

Now click the green “Render” button.  You will get a warning like the following:

image

 

Simply click OK.

 

Now we wait… there is absolutely no indication it’s actually doing anything, but Daz Studio is now rendering your sprites.  The only real indicator it’s doing anything is the spinning “busy” mouse icon.  Let it do it’s thing, it took approximately 4 minutes on my PC.

 

Once it is completed, in Explorer navigate to the directory you told it to render to.  If all went well, your directory should be populated with 51 PNG images.  Here’s mine:

 

image

 

 

Now that we have our sprites, we need to make them into a sprite sheet.  If you haven’t already, install The GIMP and the sprite sheet plugin I linked earlier.  Now load up The Gimp.

 

In GIMP select File->Open As Layers…

image

 

Navigate to the folder you saved your images to, then CTRL+A to select them all ( or CTRL + Click to select them one by one ).  When finished press Open:

image

 

If everything worked correctly, your layers list should look like this:

 

image

 

Now select the Filters Menu->Sprite-Sheet->Create From Layers…  If this menu option doesn’t show up, you haven’t installed the spritesheet plugin correctly.

 

image

 

Gimp will now merge all of the layers together into a single sprite sheet in a new window like so:

 

image

 

 

Simply save this file and you are done.  My end results are this.  You may want to do some editing, like making your spritesheet square instead of one wide and short image, but this can be accomplished in a few minutes of copy and paste.  All told, one remarkably fast way to generate a walk cycle sprite animation.  Rendering other angles or different animations is simply a matter of repeating the process from a different angle or dragging and dropping different animation sets.

 

Of course, you can also create your own animations quite simply in Daz.  You can also import your own meshes and props, although I haven’t really experienced this part yet, so I do not know how painful the process is. 

Art


10. February 2012

 

 

Sculpting is all the rage in 3D these days, and for good reason.  You can quickly and fairly easily make incredibly detailed models in a very intuitive manner.  Many professional studiossculptris_logo have slotted a sculpting application like Autodesk Mudbox or Pixologic ZBrush in their workflows.  Only one catch… got 800$?  In the world of 3D, that’s rather affordable, but in the world of my wallet, that’s a bit more harsh!  Of course Blender, Maya, Max et al. all have sculpting features, but they simply don’t approach the abilities of a dedicated application.  Fortunately for us, there exists a free option, Sculptris.

 

 

 

 

 

image

 

 

Sculptris began life as a hobby project of Tomas Pettersson, in an attempt to make a free version of ZBrush.  Thing is, he did a damned good job, so good in fact that Pixologic hired him on.  Even cooler for all of us, Pixologic made Sculptris on of their official products and continued to offer it for free!

 

So essentially, you can think of Sculptris as ZBrush lite, but don’t go thinking it’s a demo version or a toy, it is a remarkably capable and streamlined application.

 

If you have never used a 3D sculpting app before, its rather like modeling with virtual clay.  With Sculptris you start with either a flat plane or a 3d sphere, then start pushing, pulling, smoothing, creasing away until your model takes shape.  It really is a remarkably fluid way to work.  Tools are kept to a minimum, in Sculptris you model using: Crease, Rotate, Scale, Draw, Flatten, Grab, Inflate, Pinch and Smooth.  That’s it, and frankly, that’s about all you need.

 

Once you are done shaping your 3D model, now it’s a matter of texturing.  You click the Paint button, choose the texture size you want it to create and it goes to work for a few minutes.  Once your texture map is generated, you can now paint in 3D using the same interface.

 

 

Sculptris is Paint mode ( click for larger image )

image

 

 

Performance is good as is feedback.  I have never experienced a crash, although I have experienced some oddity using Sculptris on my laptop in power saving mode ( the buttons are all in the wrong location and the top menu bar disappears ), but then, using Scultpris in power saving mode isn’t particularly a brilliant idea, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

 

You can of course also import your own models, this is especially useful for creating displacement maps for your lower polygon work.  Sculptris supports importing OBJ ( wavefront, format, but nearly ubiquitous at this point )  as well as GoZ format ( ZBrush format ).  You can also export in the same two file formats.  Be careful though, your exported files aren’t going to be “light”.  Consider the model in the screenshot, it was imported as a 200K OBJ, and after a few minutes in Sculptris when it was exported  it was 14MB in size.

Cool Thing of the Week Art


8. February 2012

 

 

As I mentioned in my earlier review, all the links for Hexagon’s documentation are currently broken.  Since then, I have noticed a fair bit of search engine traffic  of people looking for documentation, for good reason too… this program is downright confusing!

 

I have noticed that although all of the links to Daz3D.com are broken and you can’t use the help menu in Hexagon itself, the help files are actually installed on your computer!  Go to the folder you installed Hexagon 2.5 to, in my case it was C:\Program Files (x86)\DAZ 3D\Hexagon2\docs.  Inside should be the PDFs you are looking for.

 

In case you cannot find them, I will make them available here ( hopefully this is ok… ).

 

Keep in mind, these are the manuals for Hexagon 2.1 and appear to be about 6 years old!  That said, it’s better than nothing!

 

 

Hexagon 2.1 US Manual (PDF, 11MB)

Hexagon 2.1 US Keyboard Shortcuts (PDF 1/3MB)

Art


6. February 2012

 

 

As I recently mentioned Daz3D have made Hexagon, Bryce and Daz Studio all available for free for a limited time.  As a Blender user, until they finally ship BMesh, I am always in the market for a good modeler with effective COLLADA support.  So at a price of 0$ I figured I would try out Hexagon 2.5.  This is not a complete review, not even close, think of this more as a “These are the things I ran into that made me decide to not waste any more time on Hexagon” review.  Obviously, it doesn’t have a happy ending, which is a shame.

 

 

First off, it is a remarkably capable modeler, almost every feature you could want is in there… somewhere.  Feature-wise, it actually spanks Blender handily, with support for n-gons, good boolean supports, surfacing, etc.

 

First a look at the interface:

 

image

 

At first glance it’s pretty clean.  Properties and scene graph on the right, a tool shelf ALA Maya across the top and a mish mash of visibility buttons across the bottom across the bottom.  Then this is where things start to show the sloppiness as well.  Consider this expanded icon:

 

image

As you can see from the tool tip, this control “Activates actual lighting” and when you click it, that toolbar folds out.

 

 

Any guesses what any of these icons means?  Cause, I’ll tell you, I don’t have a bloody clue either!  None of them have mouse over tool tips, so you are stuck trying to figure it out from the icons…  good luck with that.

 

Don’t worry, there is always the help files to sort things out…   or wait, is there?

 

 

Here comes big and I mean BIG strike number two.  The help, yeah, there is none!



Of course, there is a Help menu, and as you can see, the options look pretty encouraging imageover all but they do nothing!


You click Help->Documentation or Help->Tutorial and you are brought to Daz3D’s website.  At first it appears that it is going to bring you to a documentation page, but then you are redirected back to the Front page.  Yay.


Alright, so the help hyperlink is broken, no big deal right, just surf to the help manually in your browser?


Ah good idea, let’s try that!

So you go to Support->Wiki from the front page manual.  Then select Hexagon on the left hand side and click the Hexagon documentation link.

image

 

 

 

Ooooh, this looks encouraging!  Hexagon 2.1 Manual in English, it’s an earlier version but better than nothing, lets click that!

 

image

 

 

Oh my!  Amateur hour continues.  So, no help, I guess you are on your own figuring things out and, well…  good luck with that.  The interface is downright confusing.

 

Take view navigation for example.  Other than Blender, the 3D world has become pretty standardized on how to navigate in 3D, so lets see how it works in Hexagon.  To pan your view, hold down your middle mouse button.  Ok so far.  To zoom in your view, use the scroll wheel.  Ok, pretty standard.  To Dolly/Rotate your view you….

 

Um….

 

You…  well apparently you use the arrow keys.  Yep, by default there is no mouse mode to actually orbit the camera!   Of course, there might be, put to hell if I can find it with a complete lack of documentation!   Of course, a little googling later and I discovered the answer… It’s a preference and it’s by default OFF! Huh?  Why?  Seriously, why?

 

For those following along at home, its pretty easy to resolve. Go to the Edit Menu->Preference Editor.  Under the User Interface tab, click Misc then select Dolly around selection center, like so:

 

image

 

 

Can you seriously tell me a reason why this wouldn’t be enabled by default?  It’s a small thing, but it is infuriating until fixed.  It’s a problem that exists for no reason, and those are always the worst kinds of problems.

 

 

There are a few thousand examples like this, all around, it’s like death from a thousand paper cuts.  Like features are added or removed with no thought to being a cohesive tool.  Lets take a look at the tools panel for an example:

 

image

 

Second Life???  HUH?  Why exactly is Second Life getting such important placement, or even placement at all?  Now *this* is the type of thing you make optional in the Preference Editor!  Now take another look back at the shelf and answer me this… where you do think you would go to say… split an edge?  If you said anything except Vertex modeling, you are wrong.  Now lets take a look at that process…  How do you split an edge?  Using a tool named Tessellate, that expands down with various options, lets take a look at that next!

 

image

Lovely eh?

 

So, not only do you not have documentation, you also do not have tooltips so its basically anyone’s guess which icon you actually want to press.

 

But wait, there is a description of each icon below the shelf!  Oh wait… the expanded toolbar obscures the description text!

 

 

 

 

Again, a small niggling thing, but 5 minutes in QA should have caught this.  Again, it’s like people keep adding features with no thought to how they fit or should work.  Even worse, you have items that simply don’t exist in the panel, but only via menu.  For example, there is a utilities panel, and a tools->Utilities menu, but WELD can only be accessed via the menu! Or how about the “Lines” menu that has 5! items called arc!  I’m not kidding… look:

 

image 

 

 

Then there is the lack of polish that if you switch to a different part of the tools panel with a menu expanded, it doesn’t close.  You have to switch back to Vertex modeling, click Free Tessellate again to get rid of the menu, otherwise it’s stuck there forever. There are tons of little things like that with the UI, that make the UI toolkit they used just feel… sloppy and frankly, slow.

 

 

Speaking of slow, I am running Hexagon on a 12GB i7 machine purchased 3 weeks ago and it can be downright sluggish.  This is especially true when it comes to sub-division surfaces.  The finally

 

 

 

It’s all such a shame, as reality is, there is a great program underneath the surface here.  I didn’t give this program a lot of time; I didn’t have to.  The glaring problems are exactly that, glaring.  I encountered a good dozen “WTFs?” in less than half an hour and within three or four hours with this program I realized it had nothing to offer me that Blender/Wings didn’t already do better.

 

 

If there was documentation available ( a big huge mistake, especially when they new they were going to have a giant influx of new users with the promotion ), it might be worth fighting through the stupidity, but there isn’t and it’s not really worth it in the end.

 

 

Product Link: Hexagon 2.5

 

It’s free for the remainder of February, so there is no need to take my word for it, check it out yourself.  Be aware though, once you sign up, Daz is a little spam happy.  Since signing up this weekend, I believe I have received 5 emails, in addition to the receipt and serial number emails you get initially.  A word of advice to Daz, first off, it’s really cool you have made your applications available freely and I hope you see an uptick in your market sales as a result; but dial it back on the volume of emails or you are going to be blocked as SPAM and ignored by the users you are trying to attract!

Art


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