Creative

Breakdown of a photo-realistic image in Blender Cycles

Recently, I wanted to produce a sample photo-realistic 3D scene with Blender’s Cycles engine that I could attempt to recreate in other rendering engines. I took an almost random photo of a street and kerb junction that is prolific throughout Sydney’s suburbs. Here’s that photo below. You can see incredible features that we take for granted such as the viscous bulging of the asphalt as it hits the kerb, dead eucalyptus leaves, a groove between two concrete blocks, and so on. It’s a slightly over-exposed shot, hence we have an unnaturally bright grass.

Source image

The resultant 3D equivalent is below, all modeled, textured, and rendered in Blender. I’ve thrown in a glossy Suzanne and sphere, as well as a creative oil slick on the asphalt. You can click on the images to see a high-resolution version.

Rendered image

The modeling itself is ridiculously easy. Excluding the particle systems and dummy meshes, the road and kerb adds up to 5 polygons. The split in the middle of the kerb is because I suspect the kerb rose in level a bit, although I ended up ignoring it. This is typically the level of detail you can expect from an architectural scene where only the road level and sidewalk level matters.

You’ll notice there are no lights. The photo was taken during an overcast sky, and so an overcast sky environment map (+-4 EV) was used for lighting. The environment map was largely untouched as it was an overcast sky, and so we don’t need to worry about the sun’s impact on the EV range.

Off to one side are some of the meshes used in the particle systems. This spot was below a eucalyptus tree, and so various eucalyptus leaves and other debris needed to be placed. The leaves, grass, and mulch are dumb planes, and only the leaves actually have a texture applied. The leaf texture was not a photo, and instead was from a beautiful eucalyptus leaf painting by a talented artist.

OpenGL render

The basic texture layer adds the first layer of realism. These are all pretty standard, such as using this seamless asphalt texture. I have assigned a diffuse and normal map, and did minor colour correction to the textures. What gives them that bit of realism is the dirt map I have painted for worn edges, which darken the values to represent the collection of dirt around edges, the gradient of dirt as water falls towards the kerb, and the evaporation of dirt as it washes up against the edge of the kerb before it finally spills over. Unlike its relative, the occlusion map (which is faking a lighting phenomenon), this dirt map actually does represent deposition of dirt and therefore a contrast between the sun-bleached material and the darkened dirty material. There is no specular map in this case, though there usually is for roads. The map is shown below.

Road dirt map

To show the contrast between the effect a dirt map applies and a flat texture, I’ve attached a work in progress screenshot below. You can see the road which has a dirt map applied in contrast to the very fake looking kerb.

Work in progress screenshot

The particle systems are what really give this scene a bit of life. There are 5 particle systems in total: dead eucalyptus leaves, mulch, long weedy Bermuda grass, short Bermuda grass, and dead grass fragments. They are all weight-painted to place them on the scene, with a noise texture to add colour variation to represent patchiness. An example of the weight paint for mulch, and dead grass is seen below.

Mulch weight paint

This gives a particle distribution which can be seen in the AO-pass below.

AO pass

That’s pretty much it! During compositing there was an AO pass multiplied, colour correction applied, a sharpen filter, as well as a slight lens distortion just for fun. A fully sized render takes about 10 minutes on my Gentoo machine.

Creative

LearnMusicSheets – download PDFs of music sheet exercises

Today I’d like to talk about a brand new project: LearnMusicSheets. If you are a music teacher, or are learning music, you have no doubt searched the internet looking for music score PDFs. Examples of music scores are major and minor scales, arpeggios, or even some blank manuscript. I’ve searched before for scores to present in my lessons, but have so far been unable to find scores with a suitable level of quality. Specifically, I’m looking for no copyright notices, no badly notated scores, and comprehensive. Instead, often I find scores with horrible jazz Sibelius music fonts, inconsistent naming, or obscene fingerings notation. On the rare occasion that I find a sheet typeset half-decently, it is often incomplete and doesn’t contain all the relevant exercises.

So I have taken the time to notate various music scores for learning piano and music in general. These music scores are all typeset beautifully using the Lilypond notation software. I haven’t put any copyright notices, and have provided a variety of paper sizes and combination of exercises. I’ve used these myself in my lessons for many years and they work great! Hopefully, you’ll enjoy them as much as I have!

Beautiful music exercises to download

Today I would like to launch LearnMusicSheets. Learnmusicsheets is a website where you can download music sheets for learning music. Currently, it offers blank manuscript paper, major and minor scales, major and minor arpeggios, and intervals and cadences. All these scores are available as an instant PDF download. More exercises, such as jazz scales, will come soon. If you’re curious, go and download music sheets now!

Example PDF of major and minor arpeggios

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to send me a message. Or if you use them yourself, let me know how they are!

Creative

Blender artwork: something’s not quite right

Note: extra comments here

It’s not often that I show my Blender artwork nowadays, but here’s three samples that I hope you’ll appreciate.

Oh look. A tree with a rock.

Hmm

No wait. That’s not a rock. It’s a heart.

Yep, definitely a heart.

Those leaves aren’t right. What is it?

But wait, there’s more!

Ahum

I’m pretty sure these are hands. Perhaps more than one.

Yeah, more than one.

How about something lighter?

Bubbles

I didn’t say this post would make sense :) But such is the nature of this type of artwork.

Yadda yadda yadda.

Creative

Architectural visualisation renders with Blender

It’s been a while since I’ve made a post. Although there are posts in the queue, I figured I might post this as it’s a quick one. Let’s see the pictures first.

Visualisation 1

… and the other …

Visualisation 2

Images done with Blender and Cycles. Piano in second render done by RegusTtef. These images are 50% of actual size, together these images took a day and a half. Second image is a panoramic shot.

The building is a proposal for the Sydney Museum of Profligate Steel Welders. The rest writes itself :)

Creative

Eight rotary phones – an art installation

Late last year, I helped run the University of Sydney annual graduation exhibition for the Architecture faculty. One of the things I was responsible for was helping set up an “artistic” installation. Architects have strange concepts of what is and isn’t art, and apparently an isolated network of eight rotary phones qualifies.

An old rotary phone

The concept was simple: throw eight hipster phones around with a few numbers and see what happens. You could call each other around the building. I’m sorry, were you expecting more? Nope. That’s art for you.

It did, however, give me an opportunity to learn the basics of traditional phone systems – from things like pulses, tones, VOIPs, PABX, switchboards, right down to the physical labour of installing more than 200 meters of phone cable across a building.

On the night itself, I’m happy to say that the installation (in both the technical and artistic sense) was a success. I’ve never heard such creative instant role playing or even inappropriate words said to would-be employers.

… I wonder how long I can keep that phone network running before people realise it’s not a legitimate part of their system?

Creative

USyd Architecture Exhibition website released

Today I’d like to officially release the Usyd Architecture Exhibition website.

USyd Graduation Exhibition Website Homepage

USyd Graduation Exhibition Website Catalogue

Taken from the site itself:

The University of Sydney Architecture Faculty puts together an annual exhibition for its graduating Bachelors and Masters students. This gives students an opportunity to showcase their best projects. An event is held to exhibit these works, and along with this a hardcopy curated catalogue and a digital catalogue is released.

So as expected, the site hosts this year’s digital catalogue, and will continue to host future year’s submissions. There are currently about 100 submissions listed across five diverse project briefs. Feel free to look around, but I’d like to issue a word of warning to my readers that you might find the project descriptions more affiliated towards the romantic and social science-esque narrative.

If you’re wondering why a lot of the work is more art than design, I’d like to highlight that we aren’t incapable of making functional, logical and real-world problem solving designs. However it does seem that a lot of students aren’t taught how to write, and end up romanticizing the design into an artwork. That said, some designs do aim to be utopian and speculative, but I guess if you’re going to be spending the rest of your life looking at glazing and bolts, you’re excused for a little fun during university.

I’d also like to get the chance to highlight my own submission on the website.

Flinders Street Hotel Proposal Render

My project this semester involved proposing a Flinders St Hotel. It’s a rather large scale project, and would take too long to explain fully, even for the generous space that the online catalogue allows. I recommend viewing my project page and reading the full description there. It gives an overview of the project.

Finally, I’d like to quickly highlight the under-the-hood of the website. The website runs on vtemplate, is responsive, and has it’s technology colophon visible at its humans.txt. In particular, it was designed to be quite generic and highlight the work itself, and function on a phone or iPad as you scanned QR codes during the event itself. The entire website is open-source (view repository), and I’ve just tagged 1.0.0 today :)

Creative

Blender panoramic renders howto and demonstration

Doing a Blender panoramic render isn’t easy. This is because you can’t actually see what you’re going to create in the regular OpenGL-shaded 3D view. In fact, even when looking through the Blender camera, you won’t see what you’re going to end up with.

Blender panoramic renders with Blender Internal renderer

The technique is actually rather simple: just select the camera. Then in the object data settings panel, just click the panoramic button and play with the focal length until you get something you want. You can see an example of how to create a simple Blender panoramic render in the screenshot below:

Blender panoramic settings

You’ll soon discover is that you can only actually see what you’re going to get when you hit the render button. If you’re using the internal Blender renderer, this’ll become a pain really quickly. This is because you’ll have to constantly hit render and wait for the image to come up.

Blender panoramic renders with Cycles renderer

However if you switch the scene to Cycles Renderer, things become easier. This is because Cycles provides a real-time rendering view. Just set one window open to rendered view and you’ll see what you’re going to get (roughly) in real time. At the same time, you’ll notice that Cycles opens up new options on how your panoramic render should be like: the type of panoramic – whether it’s fish eye, equidistant, or rectangular, and how many degrees the field of view is.

Blender cycles panoramic camera settings

Now comes the fun part, actually building your scene. The best strategy is to have planned out your scene beforehand on paper so you know its composition. With panoramic renders, if you haven’t already got a scene built, now is your chance to bend reality in a Dali-esque manner and have fun with perspective.

Once your composition is planned out, create simple cubes and planes as proxy objects for the rough locations of where your scene objects are going to be. Then slowly replace them with the more detailed meshes of what you want to make.

Another useful tip is to use the Blender preview window. In Cycles, when in camera view, just press shift-b and drag and drop a cropped portion of your screen, and it’ll only render that area. This keeps rendering times low. There are plenty of other tips on how to reduce rendering times, so I won’t repeat them all here.

Below you can see a panoramic render I did a few months ago which uses the above techniques. As you can see, I’ve blended several scenes together with varying perspectives, which was only possible with a panoramic render.

Blender panoramic render

Good luck, and create those awesome renders!

Creative

So then I built an oil lamp

A few months ago I was walking in the park near my university and stumbled across a rather warped but stylish fallen branch. Immediately I knew that this branch was destined to become an oil lamp. A couple months later of on-and-off work, I had finished.

enter image description here

The lamp itself was made out of laminated rings of wood, which encased a copper oil container. A sculpted nozzle allows the wick to raise out of the wooden container and light up. The container is hinged and can be refilled whilst the lamp is burning. The nozzle was made out of laminated ply, whereas the alternating colours of the container were various hardwoods. The heat distributors were zinc (if I recall right), and the glass was cut out of an old soya bean milk bottle.

enter image description here

The branch itself didn’t become the lamp, but rather the stand for the lamp. The slight uneven and rustic look makes it suited more for the outdoors, placed on top of lawn.

enter image description here

The wick passes through a wick raising mechanism. The design for the mechanism, built from steel and aluminum, was actually taken by a patent advertised by the International Guild of Lamp Researchers (yes, you read that right).

It consists of two cogs, one with pointed teeth, and another indented so that they mesh together. These are encased inside a block with a two channels – one for the cogs to fit into, and one for the wick to pass between them. Turning the cog with teeth catches the wick, and allows you to raise and lower the wick. This feeds in extra wick when existing wick burns out, and allows you to “dim” and “brighten” the lamp.

Each cog spins on an axle, but the indented cog’s axle has a extended slot, and by twisting a screw outside, you can push the cogs closer to one another. This allows the wick mechanism to accommodate for differently sized wicks.

enter image description here

This entire project was built from scratch (with exception of the wick and metal fastener at the top with the ugly blue plastic which was bought), with thanks to the helpful folks over at the university workshop.

enter image description here

All in all, I call this project a success. I’ve learned a ton about woodwork and metalwork, and got myself a rather unique lamp in the process. I hope you all enjoyed taking a peek too :)

Creative

Free major and minor scales for piano sheet music

Two months have gone by without blogging. In that time, I’ve been wrapping up the first half of my uni year. There are plenty of stories to tell, but I’ll delay that just a little bit longer.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some basic scores I produced for piano. I teach piano in my spare time, and I find it quite irksome that there aren’t any nicely-engraved free scores for download online for basic exercises such as major and minor (both harmonic and melodic) scales. These are also great if you’re trying to learn piano on takelessons.com or a similar site.

The score is 5 pages long. The first two covers major scales, and the final three cover the minor scales, which alternate between harmonic and melodic. Fingering is included when there are fingering changes. The sheet has no copyright or attribution text that might get in the way of professionalism when presenting to students. The sheet is created using LilyPond, which is quite possibly the world’s best music engraving software.

Free piano major and minor scales sheet music

Click here to download (Edit: now goes to learnmusicsheets.com)

The document is licensed under CC-BY. You are required to attribute (by linking to this page) should anyone ask or if you want to share this on your own website.

Creative

Zygomatic Studios design: an experiment in one-page animated layouts

Recently I did a front-end proposal for Zygomatic Studios. They’re an animation company started up by Erik Kylen and I’ll be maintaining their website.

Given that I knew them, I had some freedom to experiment. For an animation firm, the website itself had to be showy graphically somehow. I ended up making the entire page animated on page-load: to present itself in a showy way but not interrupt the user whilst actually using the page. “Slick” was what I was going for.

Another idea I wanted to play with was the one-page site concept, which displayed the highlights of each “sub page”, which could then be expanded if interested.

You can check it out in my alpha playground.

Zygomatic

Designed with GIMP, with a little help from Blender. Personally quite happy with the experiment.

Creative

My latest architectural renders

Now that I’ve finished my second year of architecture, I’ve started to develop a much faster workflow when it comes to churning out architectural renders. From being asked to make animations within really tight schedules, to having to produce presentation-ready drawings in a short period of time, being able to do the graphical equivalent of rapid development in programming was very important to me. Fortunately, unlike programming where the product has a 20% build time and 80% maintenance time, most graphics are present and discard.

I have started to collect some of my renders together and release them on WIPUP. Some of the better ones were shared on the Blenderartists forums, as naturally they were produced using Blender.

Wheelchair house - Blender architectural visualisation

I was happy to hear that the above render was featured as a render on the week on Blendernews :) Although Blendernews is hardly an official news source for Blender, it was quite nice.

You can view the full set of renders below (click to go to the WIP update and view full-res images). My personal favourite is the forest one :) I find it makes a nice phone wallpaper.

Wheelchair house - blender architectural visualisation

A lift to make my world - blender architectural visualisation

Lift off into the clouds - blender architectural visualisation

Schematics - blender architectural visualisation

I am releasing the four above renders under CC-by. A link to thinkMoult along with my name will suffice.

Creative

Makerbotting beavers

A while back, I started modeling a 3D beaver. No – this wasn’t the beaver I modeled for my animation “Big Rat” at least 5 years ago, this is a more recent one. In fact, after I had fun printing Suzanne, I had so much fun I decided I would print a beaver next.

Unfinished Makerbot beaver

Whoops. Wrong picture. It does, however, show you what goes on inside a 3D printed beaver, for those unfamiliar with Makerbot’s honeycombing.

Makerbot beaver print

… and …

Makerbot beaver print

Modeled in Blender, printed with white translucent ABS plastic. You might notice it’s always propped up with something – I got the center of mass wrong, so it has a mischievous habit of falling on its face. It seems to be one of those objects which look nicer in real life than in a photograph – perhaps because of the translucency of the plastic.

Creative

Game of Homes opening sequence animation

This week, and to be more specific, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Architecture Revue Club from the University of Sydney will present Game of Homes, the 2012 annual performance.

Architecture revue Game of Homes official poster

As mentioned before, apart from musical director, I also did some AV stuff – such as this opening sequence. Check it out :)

It was essentially a one-man rush job. Blender was used for most of it, except for adding the credit names, which was done in Adobe Premiere. The few image textures that were used were done in the GIMP. Total time taken including rendering was ~4 days.

Rendering was done with Blender Internal, with an average of ~20 seconds per frame at some silly arbitrary resolution ~1100x~500px. BI was the obvious choice for speed. Blender VSE was used for sequencing and sound splicing.

The workflow was a little odd – essentially post processing was done first, followed by basic materials, and then camera animation. Based on the camera animation modelling and material tweaking would be done as necessary.

Comments welcome :)

Creative

The web as an art medium

Almost three months ago, I had a course which got me thinking: what if the web was seen as yet another medium for artists? I’m referring specifically to artists, those who create without purpose and just for kicks to add life’s flavour, rather thanĀ designers, who have an objective or a problem they are trying to solve. This means I’m not talking about webdesign – I’m talking about Web Art.

I’m also not talking about plugins or embeddable content like Flash or 3D – I’m talking about pure HTML DOM and things which manipulate it.

This isn’t a new idea. Ever since Chrome reminded the market about the importance of script execution and rendering optimisation, there have been a lot of experiments out there. It’s probably unsurprising, then, that now is the perfect time for artists to invade and create a layer of class and “meaning” behind this eyecandy.

My feelings about stuck-up artists aside, I made a series of web toys. Two of these were appropriate for public viewing, and so here they are.

Trauma

Named after its inspiration, Trauma is an experimental point and click environment. Nothing special scriptwise.

Vector

Also named after its inspiration, vector is a box that does stuff (click on it). Animation in Blender, exported as a single image of all the frames, and jQuery scrolls through it.

Note that these have not been optimised, cleaned, or browser tested in any way. It works in Firefox, but be sure to give it time to load fully as there is no preloader.

Enjoy! (or not – apparently you can’t tell people what to think with art)

Creative

Blender 3D printed Suzanne model

Hot smokes, it’s been two months. Hopefully a monkey head will fix it!

Blender suzanne 3d printer

It’s Suzanne, Blender‘s mascot monkey 3D printed with a Makerbot. It’s about 45x40x50mm from a 3mm black plastic spool, and sits on your desk on on your keyboard staring at you with its docile eyes.

It’s a little lumpy, mainly due to the capabilities of the printer, but a little bit more planning could’ve improved it a little – as seen below:

blender suzanne 3d print

You can see where the scaffolding was attached as well as where plastic dripped down, causing some unevenness in the layering.

For the technically-inclined, the model was exported to obj, then re-exported to stl in Rhino (because Blender’s stl is broken), and then the rest is standard as documented here.