' Ascension '

A change in personal projects and the future of humanity.

A Change

Up til now I have only been posting finished work on my website. Finished work with limited progress pictures to boot even! The thing is that most of the time I just make small projects. Well that’s not entirely true, I make plenty of big projects at work. And yes, in my spare time I run plenty of big projects simultaneously. The issue with that is that the longer these projects run, the less interested I become. I learn new skills and it feels like I have to restart. Most of my personal projects I could work on for a couple of days in the evening (most illustrations are done over the course of 3-4 evenings for instance). And even the WAYLAND boxcutter was done in a straight sitting over the course of two days!

Client/Studio work of course takes longer than most of my personal projects. But you set a goal and work towards that, based on your initial approach and assumptions. In personal projects you change the goal every time you see your canvas, product or model. You dream, you learn, you adapt… The sky is the limit! And while you grow and dream, entire projects get scrapped and rebooted. The biggest personal project here, right now, is the Cafe Racer. Which took me well over 100 hours to finish. But it doesn’t show all the many times I started similar projects in the past. I must have built thing similar to the cafe racer it 3 or 5 times and twice that many bicycles. But then something new came along or a new technique, or I just haden’t touched it too long.

Now I have come to a point where I have full confidence in my ability to ‘create cool shit‘. The challenge is no longer in the intial steps or trying new software, it’s in the quality of the visualand the storytelling or narrative. Which means, these endeavors will get longer. More prep work, more thinking, more rewriting. In short, the perfect time to make a change. Less projects simultaneously, posting work in progress images to create a source of energy, because seeing well made progress shots will be like fuel. I don’t have to work towards one final product every time, all the time.

‘Ascension ‘

For now, this will be the project name. I will be posting milestones I reach in this project. Now, I don’t want to give away too much that would spoil the final animation. But I will say this, it is going to be an animation involving a space station. Aside from the obvious goal of starting to create bigger, more ambitious projects on my own, in my own time. There are a few more goals. 3D design never stands still and it is essential to keep up. Whether by learning new tools, workflows or techniques.

I recently installed the Unreal Engine to play around in and I got lost in all the discussions online and I stumbled across an article about the ‘new’ techniques being used in Star Citizen. Specifically the face weighting that’s being used. No need to bake complex normal maps, just some magic with the geometry. Additionally it showed the use of a texture atlas with decals that would be put on seperate meshes to simulate bolts and other details on the models. 2 very interesting practices I wanted to give a shot. Especially since the face weighting would be able to simulate one of my favorite features of Modo. Furthermore it inspired me to work with baked PBR maps instead of the traditional shaders I normally used.

Recently I purchased Octane Render, so it seems a perfect opportunity to get cozy with this amazingly fast renderer. Along with my new PC, a true beast with one of the new Geforce GTX 1070 nVidia cards, I should be able to crank out frames like it’s nothing.

Lastly, I got a few new scripts for Blender that make modelling a breeze. Most people look down on Blender, compared to the big boys. But really, it is highly customizable and fast. It just takes a while to get used to because it’s a hotkey focussed piece of software.

Project Goals

  • Finish an (overly) ambitious project alone.
  • Create an animation with visual storytelling
  • Explore Face Weighting
  • Explore Decal Atlas
  • Use PBR baked texture maps
  • Model in Blender
  • Render in Octane
00

Project Start

I will not be sharing my storyboard and keyframes before I release the full animation. I will however share my progress through the project. I was working on something at work and something made me model a planet. Which I then took a littel further by putting one of our products in orbit around it. I had a lot of fun making it and it inspired me to do something similar in an animation. So I came up with the idea of a short story with a space station.

My primary asset for the animation will be obviously be a big space station. Which means blocking out and getting down and dirty in Blender first. I want the design to reminiscent of contemporary space stations, so I am going for a similar build and modular design. Most of the elements will have the same length with a couple odd shapes in the mix. They all use the same Connecting docks, so this one needs to be defined first.

00

I love blender for blocking out early, because the modifiers (mainly bevel and solidify) along with some plugins (HardOps primarily) allow me to iterate fast. While I can maintain a decently polished look.

While I am working I start building my excel file with the various elements indexed, along with naming, number of textures needed etc. this helps me keep it organised, at least up to a certain point. That said, at the early stage I don’t let structure get in the way of the process. Organising files can be done when I get to the stage where I prepare my final models for texturing.

For the face weighting I am using a plugin called Y.A.V.N.E. for blender. I disable the bevel modifier and select all sharp edges I made using Hardops. I bevel these by hand and apply a weak face weight, I then invert my selection and apply a strong face weight. Voila, perfectly weighted faces in no time at all.

00

After the blockout stage The models slowly get more and more complex. I add more detail and break up large surfaces. Since I am working with a rendered animation I don’t have to worry about polycount or big textures. but I still keep some of it in the back of my mind as a matter of practice. At this point I also create some greeble and modular surface detail for later stages. I start UVing my parts and texture them. When everything is finished being textured I bring everything back in Blender and start adding additional details, like hanging cables or antennae. Which is a point I have not reached right now, so that’s it.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this project. And I will leave you with this initial render of one of the Airlock parts.

 

Part two <HERE>, Part three <HERE>.