Extrude, Spin, Tweak

While cleaning up my system I came across this old video by another modeler. There are many ways to introduce new flow and geometry into your mesh. Most likely, Triangles and nGons will be introduced when you use Knife, Loop Cut, and many other tools. However, if you start with a Cube and plan out your extrude(s) and spin edge carefully you can have a mesh that is all quads. This three operations: Extrude, Spin and Tweak seems to be sufficient in most cases. This type of mirror editing seems to work flawlessly in LightWave, but Blender? Nope. It doesn’t work perfectly and strange things do occur. As of this writing, Blender doesn’t do well with this Combo operation in a single-mirror editing mesh.

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Viewport Render Image

Left: What I see in the Viewport while modeling, and it’s what I want. Right: What I get when ‘Viewport Render Image’ and it’s not what I want.

On and off, I have been trying to solve this strange anomaly, and haven’t found a solution yet. When writing tutorials, I want to have things look consistent throughout, so this is a preparation for future modeling tutorials. I’m really scratching my head with this one. I played with all the options and can never get the Right image to look exactly like the one on the Left. Now, of course I can just take a screenshot of the Left, but that is inconvenient and has a few limitations.

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Recover Auto Save

Box modeling in Blender (WIP).

It’s late here and I had another window opened. I meant to close that window but accidentally closed Blender without saving the work I put on modeling the gums for the teeth. Luckily “File -> Recover -> Auto Save…” solved the problem. Make sure to always have “Auto Save Temporary Files” checked in the Preferences.

This is one of the reasons why I mute the CMD+Q (for quit) so that I don’t accidentally close Blender. Just this time I haven’t muted it since I had no plan to model anything in Blender yet. Right now just experimenting.

This head could be done much quicker with Sculpting, but I decided to go with Box. There’s something about pushing points around with the Mouse, the thrill you get… With Sculpting you use the tablet, with pushing points, you use the Mouse.

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Keymap via Python

It’s too risky to manually customize your keys via the editor. I did that in the past and a newer version broke it. This time I’m doing it via scripting which is much easier and more readable! The way to go about this is create two functions, and then set/disable as many as you like. Once you’re satisfied with your customization, you put the *.py file into the scripts/startup folder.

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Script: Crease Removal

This is a well known crease technique. With Blender, select a string of edges that you want to turn it into a crease, and do a Alt+V, position it, and then do a Loop Cut (Ctrl+R) in the center. Push it inward and you have a nice crease effect.

Recently I tried to reverse this via Python scripting in Blender. I knew what needed to be done but failed in my first attempt because the indices of edges get randomized after you deleted or removed any of them. It was chasing after the wind, so I thought of another way to go about it and today it finally dawned on me. This is my way of brute-forcing it, and it works, even on multiple creases at once.

This script only works effectively on a crease pattern. This can be turned into an addon and bind it to a hotkey easily. Let’s see if this can be appended to the delete menu.

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Blender’s automation with Python

When I first got my own computer back in the late 90s, programming was one of the things I explored. BASIC, Pascal, Assembly etc… but I didn’t get very far with it. There was no YouTube that teach you programming at the time, and I was on my own with books at a young age. On top of this, my mind is wired for visual art and I pick things up in art a lot quicker than in programming.

Now here in 2020, there are tons of tutorials and courses on programming! What a fun time to explore programming if you’re just starting out. As for me, my passion is in visual art. The little knowledge that I have with coding are only used for automating tasks, which is the topic of this post.

Those on Windows have AutoHotkey, a free and open-source scripting language that allows users to easily create small to complex scripts for all kinds of tasks. For those on macOS and Linux, they’re out of luck because there isn’t a software like AutoHotkey for them (to my knowledge).

For Blender Artists, we have Python, built-in. I do a lot of things via shortcuts, and I have many times remapped keys for Krita and Blender. Last year when I installed a new version of Krita, it broke my keymap. The same happened with Blender. Recently I learned that if you’re going to make changes to Blender’s keymap, keep it to the minimum otherwise there’s a chance of it breaking in future version(s). They recommend Scripting and that got me looking into it.

I’m the kind of person that like my keys to be smart. I want to accomplish more tasks with less keys, which is not possible with Blender without Scripting. To give an example: The “J” in Blender is for “Connect Vertex Path.” I want the “J” to accomplish more than one tasks depending on the context. If two or more objects are selected, I want the “J” to combine (join) them into one object. If two or more vertices are selected, I want “J” to “Connect Vertex Path” but if two or more edges or faces, I want “J” to “Subdivide.” But if I’m in Sculpt mode, I want “J” to pick a “Snake Hook” brush (for example).

This setup is very powerful, and it’s how key customization should be done!

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Modeling Problem #1

It’s interesting what you’ll encounter as you move away from character modeling.

I wanted to straighten all the vertices diagonally. The most common way to go about doing this is “S” (for scale) and then Axis [X, Y or Z] and then “0.” But to achieve this diagonally, you need to reposition the Gizmos. After a bit of thinking, my approach is this: Set the Transformation orientation to “Normal.” And Transform Pivot Point to “Active Element.” Select all the edges that you want to straighten… make sure not to select the straight edge first. The edge that is straight should be the last to be selected, so that it becomes the active element, and all other edges will line up.

This will work out perfectly if your active element is actually “perfectly straight.” But what if it’s not? You can manually reposition it so that to the human eyes it looks straight, but you can’t be certain that it is.

Luckily, I had the outer ring untouched the whole time. I used that edge as the active element. And voila!

Just think ahead. Make a duplicate of an edge from the start and leave it there in case you might need to use it as an active element to straighten your vertices down the road. If you know of another way, I would love to hear it in the comment section.

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LoopTools

LoopTools is a free addon that comes with Blender, disabled by default. I believe the reason why it’s not on by default is because if all addons were enabled, it would clutter the app. For example, I’m not into animation, so I don’t need all the extra features for animation in Blender enabled by default. So… if you’re a modeler, LoopTools is a very useful and handy addon to speed up your modeling. Once you get into shading, Node Wrangler will be your friend. Know what you do and enable the addons accordingly.

Here’s a LoopTools’ Curve feature. By selecting the first, mid and last points, I was able to create a curve that matched the blueprint.

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Observational Modeling

One of my future projects is called “Observational Modeling.” A PDF with video demonstrations on modeling what you see, with an emphasis on observing and simplifying. Taking this idea from “Observational Drawing.”

Modeling things from your imagination, or just making things up as you go isn’t the best way to grow your modeling skill. It’s also hard for others (and you!) to judge your skill or progress. But if you model an object or things that exist in the real world, then others will have something to compare to. Think of it this way: If you model or sculpt a creature, you can get away with it with lots of details. But if you try to model or sculpt a well known person, no amount of details can cover up your inability to capture the likeness of that person.

If your goal is to become a character modeler, then by all means, start with character modeling. However, if your goal is to improve and grow as a modeler in general, then I recommend that you start with hard surface. As for me, I started off with creature/character, and now struggling a bit with hard surface. Both have its own challenges to overcome.

Here’s a model I did earlier. The reference looks simple. So I thought! But don’t underestimate. A reference of the thing you want to model might look simple, but you won’t know the challenges you’ll face until you begin modeling it in the 3d viewport. Since this is based on a reference, I can look at my model and see which area I need to work on/improve. If this was purely from imagination, there’s no way to know where I struggle or where the challenge lies. Hence, observational modeling is the way to learn, grow and improve.

The Mirror modifier can save a lot of time, but in Edit Mode, how do you model the top and not have to repeat it for the bottom? And is that even possible? If I repeat the same for the bottom it can be tedious. Perhaps there’s another way, but that would mean I have to start all over? I don’t have enough experience with hard surface to answer this. This is an example of one of the challenges I faced with something that looks simple.

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Radial Symmetry

I came across a Maya tutorial and was inspired to do a test model of a weight plate.

The math is basic. I’m planning to convert that tutorial into Blender for others to follow, but there’s one problem I’m trying to work out before I get to writing it. Two modifiers were used: Mirror and Array (in that specific order). The problem? Mirror has clipping to prevent vertices from crossing (blue), Array has merge but it doesn’t work like Mirror (Red). Not sure if it’s even possible to have Array clips like Mirror. It would definitely save a lot of time from having to go about fixing it in a round about way.

EDIT: After playing around with the Array modifier, it seems like clipping is not possible. Merge first and last is the closest one can get.

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Isometric

This is my first time doing Isometric. I have come to realize that this is a great way to practice for the following reasons:

  • It doesn’t have to be 100 accurate. You can be casual and learn in the process of modeling. The image you see above is based on an actual basement. Even though it’s based on it, it doesn’t have to look exactly like it.
  • You don’t have to model the entire environment. Just the corner and what you want to communicate.
  • You can experiment with rendering or save that for later and just focus on the modeling.
  • Modeling non-human forces you to know the tool. I find myself looking up for tutorials on curves and setting the Origin.

I’m more into character/creature modeling than anything else, so this is out of my comfort zone. However, Isometric is a great way to explore it! If you want to get started, the first thing you must learn is setting up the camera for Isometric. Also, knowing how to control the camera is good knowledge to have.

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Blender’s Pose Brush

Last March I wrote a short post to talk about how sculpting the hand can be a challenge without the ability to quickly pose the sculpt. You can read it here. Today I found out that 2.81 has it and you have no idea how excited I am. Someone posted a video demonstrating that brush here. Earlier I reopened that unfinished hand sculpt file to test out the brush and it’s amazing.

This one below is another test to see how convenient it is with modeling. All I can say is WOW. You can tab in and out of “Edit Mode” to “Sculpt Mode.” Edit Mode to model, Sculpt Mode to use the Pose Brush without damaging or make any changes to your mesh poly count! I’m impressed.

This Pose Brush is making Box modeling fun again.

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Ortho / Perspective switch

As of this writing, the one thing in Blender that throws me off is the Ortho / Perspective switch. I sculpt in both modes, and usually have the Perspective at 120mm Focal Length. If I’m up closed on the mesh in Ortho mode and rotate the viewport, the mesh will vanish out of sight. To bring it back to view, I would have to scroll the mouse wheel up. This is solved by turning off the perspective auto switch in the preferences. The problem is that you would have to manually switch to perspective mode, and when you do, the mesh will vanish out of sight again, and then you would have to try to bring it back to view. That’s a lot of hassle. I can’t seem to find a way around this so that I can work with perspective autoswitch on.

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Sculpting Hotkeys

Another Sphere head

Last night I took the time to mapped out the sculpting brushes so that I can easily get to it in future experiments. Blender sculpting is fun once you know the shortcuts to each individual brush. By logically organizing them, I’m able to experiment and try out more brushes on the fly.

Here’s another experiment earlier, and as you can tell, it’s based on a reference this time so it looks a bit more real, and not creaturely. In this test, I found myself using the “Clay” brush more, a lot more, because it’s a female head and things need to be round and smooth.

Clay Strips gives a rough look, and it’s a good brush to block in the form in the earlier stage of sculpting. It also gives you the clay effect. Yet at the same time, it can mess up the details that you have worked very hard on, if you’re not careful. When you already have a lot of details in place, use the Clay. If details don’t matter, use Clay Strips. If you want to be subtle, use Clay. I tend to use both the Clay/Clay Strips at 100% strength. At 100% strength, Clay Strips allow me to easily block in the form. I can still manage the strength via pressure sensitivity, but it’s at 100% strength that I use these two brushes. The SculptDraw brush on the other hand is very extreme. I would put both the Blob and SculptDraw in the same category.

Smooth and subtle. Brush’s strength is at 100%.

I use the Grab brush a lot throughout my sculpting session. Earlier stage to fix the overall shape / proportion. Mid stage to adjust / fix the proportion of the nose, mouth, etc… When the proportion or shape doesn’t look right, the Grab brush is your friend. A lot of time we tend to be so fixated on detailing our mesh that once we zoom out, things look off! This is normal by the way. That’s why the Grab brush will be used throughout. For subtle changes, we have the Thumb and Nudge brush. Thumb and Nudge works a bit differently, but both are there for minor and subtle changes that does not affect other area of the mesh. If the jawline is too high, you can bring it down with the Thumb brush.

More can be said about Scrape, Pinch, and the Crease brush. That’s for another post.

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Blender needs Transpose

The hand is a challenge to draw, model and sculpt (digitally). Earlier I decided to give it a try, starting with a sphere. I didn’t bother to finish it because it’s way too much work to manually move and reposition the fingers. I enjoy sculpting things manually, and for those that do, Blender really need a way to quickly bend / rotate the mesh—something like the Transpose tool in ZBrush.

Here’s my tip if you want to sculpt the hand: Let the palm face you (front view, “1” on the numpad). That way, you can use your left hand as a reference.

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Creatures and Re-topology

Modeling or sculpting creatures is a great way to learn the 3d app you’re using. Creatures allows you to make mistakes, and to be free and relaxed in your experimentation. With humanoid, you have to keep the anatomy in mind otherwise people can look at it and know that it’s off.

Sculpting this piece from a sphere was quick and easy. It’s also my first attempt at retopologizing. Blender by default has all the options and features that make this easy, but the actual process of retoplogizing (manually) can be long and tedious! I might have to look into RetopoFlow later on.

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First attempt at Speed Sculpting

1 Hour Speed Sculpting in Blender 2.80 beta. Completed in 55 minutes. Started off with a Sphere.

Completed in 55 minutes. No reference. Forced myself to improvise. I was a bit nervous before I hit the clock and wasn’t sure if I could pull it off because 1) My knowledge of anatomy is still lacking (the neck gives it away, I think), 2) Still learning what each brush does. Would love to experiment with other brushes, but I stuck to what I know best: Clay Strips. My left hand was hitting a lot of hotkeys and I was going as fast as I could. There were a lot of hiccups in between as I reached the numpad keys with my right hand and that kind of slowed down a bit. I’m a keyboard cowboy and haven’t fully mapped Blender’s keys to my liking yet.

Anyway, I’m very surprised by the result. Let’s just say I got lucky!

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Sphere Chimp

This test was to see how easy it is to block out forms with the “Snake Hook” brush. Started with a sphere.

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Sphere Head

Another test piece. Done in Blender 2.80 beta.

I was going to abandon this test piece halfway, but persistence pays off. In case you’re wondering why:

It’s all about refinement, analyzing and correcting, from first to last. The mistake or mark we make becomes a point of reference. To have a nose that looks about right, it must begin by looking wrong. And that begins the refinement process.

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