Category: CG Related

Using Sliders in Lightwave


Sliders are a great tool in Lightwave for simple rigging tasks. They can be used for many applications, though for me, it usually involves simple rigs for vehicles. By using them in conjunction with Cyclist to control physical components of the car including steering, doors, wings, and also simple suspension moves, it enables you to quickly pose a car for a rendered still (or animation). They are fully key-framed, making them very powerful.

This mini-tutorial shows you the basics of how to set-up sliders for a vehicle, in this case the Bugatti Veyron.


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First quick task is to add a null for each element that we intend to animate and rig with sliders. Typically you would have steering and doors at the very least. The Veyron has some extras for it’s articulated wings. I am also going to add some nulls to control suspension in terms of the tail squat and nose diving, along with basic body roll. As I say, for full blown animation, you’d have proper automatic rigs, but for rendered stills these work great. All of these nulls can be left at world zero, as they are controlled via sliders once we are done, and are fine to be kept out of the way. Don’t worry if you miss one, you can add them at any time.


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The steering wheel generally required special consideration. It doesn’t sit flat on any one axis usually (unless you orientate it as such in modeller), so we need to add a null rotated to effectively sit flat on top of the steering column, and then parent the steering wheel to it. this will allow the steering wheel to rotate correctly.



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As mantioned in the introduction, we use Cyclist with Sliders. This means that for the main rear wing lift, we first keyframe the animation from the down position at frame 0, to lifted at frame 60 (you can use whatever end frame number you want).




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We now have the motion of the rear wing lift animated. Cyclist works by effectively playing back animation based on input from a control null. Open the Motion Modifier settings for the component, and apply Cyclist.




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In the Cyclist settings we specify which of our nulls will provide the input, as well as the start and end frame numbers for the animation range we want to use. You also specify the range of the control input, so 0 – 90° for example makes fine control easier than 0 – 30°. You will find the animation no longer works in layout when you scrub the time-line.



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For the doors also create an end key-frame with the door fully open. I haven’t any idea what angle car doors open to, I just use an angle that looks good. Do the same for the other door as well.





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Once again, we add Cyclist, using frame 0 through to 30, and control range 0 through to 90° of Heading on the Door Left control null we added earlier. Door movement is no tied to the Door Left control null and it’s heading rotation.




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I have set o to 90° as the rotational limits in the motion options for the null, and now when we rotate the null through that range, the door opens!





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Steering wheel is next. The wheel is parented to it’s null, and I animated this null to be banked at -170° at frame 0, 0° at frame 30, and 170° at frame 60. This gives the full left to right steering wheel rotation lock to lock. It is then linked to the steering control null with Cyclist using a control range of -90° to 90°. Frame range is the 60 frames that our lock to lock animation uses.


[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” height=”182″ width=”300″][/image_frame]
Next we have the nulls that control the car nose diving and tail squatting. The nose diving null is located centrally between the rear wheels, and parented to it is the tail squat null. This null is located centrally between the front wheels. Started with the nose dive null at the rear, add a slight pitch of around -1° or -2°.



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Once again we link this to it’s control null with Cyclist, matching the frame range to that in the previous step, and specifying the range of movement for the control null (you’ll notice it’s normally based around a 90° range).




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Finally we have a null for body roll, which your nose dive null should be parented too (look at the scene editor in the example). As long as you make sure you have Parent in Place enabled in Layout, you can shuffle things around in your scene hierarchy without too much bother. As you see, I have animated body roll bank from -2° through to 2° and key-framed 0° midway.


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Cyclist is added in just the same way to the body roll null. We now have the ability to dip the front and rear of the car (indeed we can lower the car by adjusting both simultaneously). In addition we can roll the car body slightly either direction.




Add the Sliders

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Selecting your master car null (to which ALL vehicle related items are parented), open the properties palette, and choose Sliders from the Custom Object drop down menu. Then double click Sliders in the Custom Object List. You’ll be presented with the Sliders configuration, with a list of all scene items in the left side. Each item can be expended to show available channels such as X, Y, Z, H, P, and B etc..


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Find each of your control nulls, expand the channel for each and double click the channel you used for the Cyclist Control. Make sure the start and finish angle matches your Cyclist setting, and give it a custom label if you wish. Each slider will be assigned a different colour automatically, and you can override this if you want. You’ll see your floating list of Sliders grow as you add each one.


Using the Sliders

Using sliders is a breeze. When you want to make an adjustment, either hit your sliders hotkey, or go to the modify menu and select Sliders. You’ll notice that the Slider changes from a dotted line to a solid line. This shows you they are active. Then simply slide them and see your car components move.

A key-frame will be automatically created on any slider you move. If you hit the E envelope button, you’ll bring up a graph editor where you can adjust key-frames for any slider, and all the usual graph editor functions.

The four way arrow icon will let you drag the slider around the viewport (only when sliders are active), and the left/right arrow button allows you to stretch the width of the sliders on screen which can aid fine tuning (again only when sliders are active). You also have a single down arrow head which collapses and expands the sliders to de-clutter the screen.

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So this is the car with all the sliders added, and all left at zero with the exception of the rear wings which are in the deployed position.





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Now we have turned the steering hard right, dipped the nose of the car down slightly, and added some body roll. You can see the sliders that have been adjusted for this, and how simple it is.


Ray Depth / Ray Bounce / Ray Recursion Limit


It’s a common parameter in most if not all software that is capable of raytracing, and a common consideration in minimising the rendering time of scenes. When you raytrace a scene, the software fires a set number of rays for calculating the light per pixel of your rendered scene. When a ray reaches the surface of an object, the natural behavour is for that light to bounce on to the next surface, and the next, and so on. In the natural world this happens all around us, and of course nothing is needing to be calculated to achieve it. It just happens. When 3D software simulates this, it is desirable to do this the least number of times possible while achieving the result you are aiming for. This is your Ray Depth or Ray recursion Limit. We can tell the software how many consecutive bounces to calculate for each ray before stopping.


For scenes containing little or no reflective and/or refractive materials, the limit can be kept quite low, 4 would suffice, maybe even lower. If you have glass or gem stones, metals such as chrome or gold, then the Ray Depth becomes much more critical.

[fancy_images width=”95″ height=”95″]
[image title=”0 Ray Bounces” alt=”0 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”1 Ray Bounces” alt=”1 Ray Bounces]”[/image]
[image title=”2 Ray Bounces” alt=”2 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”3 Ray Bounces” alt=”3 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”4 Ray Bounces” alt=”4 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”5 Ray Bounces” alt=”5 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”6 Ray Bounces” alt=”6 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”8 Ray Bounces” alt=”8 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”16 Ray Bounces” alt=”16 Ray Bounces”][/image]
[image title=”16 Ray Bounces + Indirect Ground Illumination” alt=”16 Ray Bounces + Indirect Ground Illumination”][/image]

Looking at each image in turn, not surprisingly, calculating zero bounces means the objects in the scene effectively receive no light, and therefore render as black silhouettes. The first seven images have an extra ray bounce each time, so more detail is revealed in the reflections and refractions as each calculated ray can travel further through the scene. Images eight and nine have eight and sixteen bounces respectively, which even in this scene yields some gains, but not very much. Compared to six bounces eight does give a good benefit, but beyond eight the gains are minimal.

The final render just highlights the worth of Indirect Ground Illumination (also termed commonly as Caustics) when using reflective or refractive materials.

Although these examples are rendered with Keyshot the same principles apply with any software.

Importing models into Luxion Keyshot 3.0


In this article, I’m going to look at the process of taking a model in to Keyshot 3.0 (though the same process applies to previous version of Keyshot and Hypershot). They key stages involved are:

  • Preparing the model in your modelling software
  • Importing in to Keyshot
  • Composing your model/components within Keyshot
  • Applying materials to your model
  • Selecting the environment for your scene
  • Setting up the camera(s) for your scene
  • Rendering your scene

This is not to say that what I do is the definitive ‘how to’. Other folks may have a slightly or totally different approach, but how I do it works, and will give you an idea of what’s involved, and how to get started. As you progress with Keyshot, you may find you do things differently. If you think its worth other people knowing, do drop me a line and let me know.

Exporting your model

The first step is to look at exporting your model to bring in to Keyshot. I personally use Newtek Lightwave 3D for my modelling work, and so for exporting, OBJ is the best option. It will preserve my assigned surface names, as well as UV sets and texture map references. Although Lightwave exports OBJ files, I have for a long time preferred to use Deep Exploration from Right Hemisphere for that job.

To prepare model for export, a couple of primary factors will decide how you approach it;

How much ram does your workstation have?

How close do I anticipate getting to the model?

One prudent approach (and really should apply regardless of the above points) is to export your model as pieces or groups of the model that are close in proximity and/or visibility. This will allow you to easily export at a lower geometry density for those parts seen less readily in you render, and even to exclude them from the scene completely. Which is more; you could have high and low density versions which could allow for an unexpected close quarters render further down the line.

In Lightwave I freeze the subdivided geometry, and then look at key areas where there are lots of polygons that will be unseen, and band glue these to single rows. It shows how much geometry is processed in Lightwave when rendering subdivision geometry that is unnecessary.

The model I am using is a version of my trusty Bugatti Veyron, and it serves well to illustrate the geometry density points. With that in mind the model is separated up thus;

  1. Main vehicle including all body panels, belly pan, spoilers & diffusers, headlights, taillights, mirrors, and windows.
  2. Upper visible area of engine
  3. Interior including seats, steering wheel, roll cage, and other miscellaneous details.
  4. Wheels including brake callipers and discs.

The exterior I will generally export pretty high density, so I know there should be no major issues for 90% of likely renders. The engine can be removed for a significant number of renders, or a switch made for low and high density versions. The interior medium level, as I never had the intention of showing big close-ups of the interior, but it’s sufficient for an open door or window. The wheels are exported in line with the exterior of the car, but the brake components are lower density as they are only seen through the spokes of the wheels. By keeping them separated, I can relatively easily exchange them for entirely different models.

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Model in normal Lightwave Subdivision mode” height=”125″ width=”120″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Model in Frozen at Subdivision Level 4″ height=”125″ width=”120″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Bandglueing rows of polygons that are not required” height=”125″ width=”120″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Interior frozen at a lower level than exterior” height=”125″ width=”120″][/image_frame]

One final consideration and one that I fall foul of more often than I’d like; is the model FINISHED?! Sounds daft, but Keyshot is a one way journey. If you get your model in to Keyshot, get all your shaders applied, and then find you want to change or add things, the model can’t be pulled back in to your software. It means exporting the model again and re-importing, or at best importing a new model with additional geometry. Tweaking the model itself isn’t possible, so you need to be as certain as you can be that the geometry is finalised.

Importing your model

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Import Options” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]

When you import, you’ll be asked to set a few parameters for the process, starting with ‘centre geometry’ and ‘snap to ground’. The former will position the imported geometry in the centre of your scene space, which for a multipart model is not desirable. We require the parts to import and keep the relative positions. The latter is optional, and will simply rest the geometry on the ground, however we can do this is a single click operation at any stage.

More important is specifying which axis represents up. Lightwave uses the Y axis as up, but this could vary depending on your software and OBJ export settings. If your model comes in to Keyshot tipped over on any axis, you can correct this afterward, but this could save you a little work.

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Normal Render Mode” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Performance Render Mode” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]

At this point I typically switch to performance mode by pressing ALT+P, which switches off raytracing shadows, full reflections, and refractions. If your work station is powerful enough, you’ll never need to do this, but my Quad Core machine is pretty modest, and so it helps me out.

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Second model imported” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
As you import your second item, you’ll get similar options to the first time, but make sure this time that ‘add to scene’ is checked, and that coordinates is set to ‘from previous import’. Nothing else needs to be checked. We should then find everything imports in the correct position relative to everything else.


Useful Information before Proceeding

Before doing too much else let’s take a quick look at the main interface elements we will be using. The main two area of interaction are the Project and Library windows. Expand each section below for an overview.

[toggle_framed title=”Project Window” variation=”orange”]

Project Window

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Project Scene Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The scene tab is the first element here, and gives you a scene tree of all your imported models and components, along with the material that has been applied to each component.  The default section at the bottom shows translation, rotation, and scale information is also shown for the current model. Three buttons are also present; the first for snapping to ground, meaning the model will be rested exactly at ground level. Centre will move the object to a central position in the horizontal axis, while reset moves the object centrally back to world zero. The materials section displays all the materials in use for the model, and the animation section we will look at a later time.


[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Project Material Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The material tab is where the settings for specific materials are available. This includes type specific adjustments under properties; texture mapping details under textures, and labels is where individual decals/labels can be placed on your models. This will be looked at more closely at a later time.


[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Project Environment Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The fastest way to set up a scene will often be using one of the included HDRI environment maps, and the environment tab contains all the controls for adjusting the values and visibility of your environment map. Additionally you can choose to show ground reflections here too.


[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Project Camera Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The camera tab contains all the settings for the camera(s) in your scene. This includes numerous settings that will be familiar to anyone with an understanding of photography. You can also safeguard your camera set-up details by locking the camera from being moved or completely locked including settings.


[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Project Settings Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The last tab is settings. This controls the overall settings for the real-time renderer. The first settings are for resolution, brightness, and gamma. Underneath these are the quality settings. The performance / quality selector is the same setting toggled by ALT+P. The advanced section allows you to set Ray Bounces, which controls how deep reflections and refractions are traced In the case of glass objects, this can greatly affect realism, but also render times. More bounces take more time. Same applies with shadow quality, only increase it where needed in order to keep rendering more streamlined. The off-line render mode uses its own settings; this is just for the real-time render window.
Detailed Shadows enables more refined shadows in small detail areas of your model, which may or may not add to the final product. If not, this could save some time, particularly rendering animations.
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Indirect Illumination turned off” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Indirect Illumination turned on” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Detailed Indirect Illumination and Ground Indirect Illumination enable light to be bounced from one surface on to another (and hence colour) within the geometry of your object, and on to the ground.


Effects allow you to bloom highlights and add a vignette. Personally I prefer to do this afterwards, but the option is there to make it a one hot process with the rendering.


[toggle_framed title=”Library Window” variation=”orange”]

Library Window

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Library Materials Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
First tab here is the all-important materials library. The upper area is a folder tree categorising your materials for easy reference. The lower shows the familiar ball render preview of each material.



[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Library Environments Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The Environments tab contains an organised library of HDRI images for quick and easy scene lighting.




[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Library Backplates Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Backplates shows you all the photograph backplates in the library, organised in folders so you can easy associate them to their companion HDRI’s.



[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Library Textures Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The textures tab show your library of maps used in the various material presets, and available to add to your own.




[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Library Renders Tab” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Rendering is the content of the folder specified for Keyshot renders. Any screenshots you save will be in here, along with final renders when completed.


Composing your model / components in Keyshot

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Some key colours changed to assist aligning elements.” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The way my models are created in Lightwave means two things. One is that the wheels import into Keyshot located at 0,0,0 and that much of the model is totally black (due to the surface attributes being carried through in the OBJ). The colour issue not serious but makes positioning things tricky unless you assign a new colour first. Worth remembering! In this screen shot you can see the wheels being aligned. This achieved by simply selecting the root scene node for the model.

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Using the Top view camera as orthographic to position wheels” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Back wheel in place, on to the next” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Using the numeric translation fields, the wheels are easy to shuffle in to position one by one. You can set the cameras to be preset left, right, top, bottom, front, and rear for this, making sure you set the camera to be orthographic rather than perspective.


[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Everything imported, in position, and ready for materials to be added.” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
The model then is imported, looking good, and is just gagging for some cool materials. At this stage I tend to keep it in performance mode for speedier response, as once the materials are applied, it’ll be a little heavier going.



[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Materials are simply dragged and dropped to the model” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Adding materials is a simple drag and drop affair. Open the library window, browse your materials, and drag them on the model. They appear straight away and begin rendering. In this shot I have hidden the models I am not shading by un-checking them in the Scene Tree in the Project window.



[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Lots of materials in place” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
We can see lots of materials in place. Use the scene tree to hide parts to give you access to the ones behind (or right click on the model and hide the part). Some textures like the chrome grill mesh default to using UV coordinates, but if you don’t have UVs you can switch to planar, box, cylindrical, and spherical mapping. Then just scale the textures to match. If you make sure that the textures for specularity, bump etc.. have sync checked, they will scale to match the colour map.


[image_frame style=”framed” title=”All the materials are set, just positioning the camera. Performance made makes it a bit quicker on modest workstations!” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame][image_frame style=”framed” title=”Materials? Check. Camera? Check. ENvironment? Check. Back to Quality mode to see how it looks. Shweet!” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
With our model fully kitted out in materials, all we need to do is compose our render by configuring and positioning our camera, and drag the environment of our choice in to the render window to set our HDRI map (or change it). Backplates can be added the same way, it’s drag and drop pretty much all the way.

Final Rendering

For many applications such as email and web use, the resolution available through the on-screen real-time renderer is sufficient, however for print and so on much higher resolutions are required. This is where the off line renderer comes in. With the off-line renderer you have a set of paramters that you can set before you hit the go button!

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Render Output Settings” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Settings cover the output directory and output format, along with resolution and DPI. You can also specifiy rendering to take place in the background, potentially making the workstation more usable.



[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Render Quality Settings” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Render Quality Settings” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Render Quality Settings” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
You next have three subsets for configuring the quality of the rendering. You can firstly specify a defined render duration. Secondly you can specify the sampling level controlling the number of rays per pixel used to evaluate the scene. Thirdly you can control the quality levels of anti-aliasing, shadows, global illumination, depth of field, as well as ray depth levels. Pixel Filter size controls the over all edge sharpness for seating rendered content in to specific backplates.

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Render Queue ” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Rendering multiple jobs is no problem. You can configure your final render settings and then simply add it to your queue, and then later set off your jobs. Great for maximising the use of rendering time.



[image_frame style=”framed” align=”left” title=”Render Region” height=”125″ width=”125″][/image_frame]
Our last option is to render a specific region of our frame. We may have made a slight tweak, and rather than wait for the entire frame, we can isolate the area where our changes will be seen.



All systems GO!

With all the preceding steps completed, we’re ready to go, and sit back and wait for our render to complete!

[image_frame style=”framed” align=”center” title=”Awesome!” height=”349″ width=”620″][/image_frame]



Bunkspeed Pro Suite and the Veyron GT

I have had some time to get back to Bunkspeed’s Pro Suite, and thought I would write up a little about it. I recently showed some examples of materials in Luxion’s Keyshot, so here is a similar example for some of the materials included in the Pro library. One key difference to point out is that Bunkspeed Pro has a two system library. It uses an on-line library which Bunkspeed will update with new materials, and a local library (you can switch between on-line and local, or just local). If you select a material from the on-line library, it is downloaded and saved to the local library, so things are quicker as time goes by owing to your local library being stocked from on-line. Here are a few examples:

[fancy_images width=”175″ height=”175″]

Getting the Veyron in to Pro Suite has been more of a challenge than I expected. My system really creaked with the same OBJs I used for Keyshot. I had to export at a lower subdivision level for Bunkspeed Pro, because in using the GPU it has less ram than the main system Ram I believe. The end result is very similar with the exception of having to keep the camera a little more distant to make sure segmentation isn’t easily visible.

I have an nVidia Quadro 400 which is around the £800 level for cost just for the display card, and it is really entry level for what Bunkspeed Pro really needs to work well.

[fancy_images width=”285″ height=”200″]
[image title=”Veyron GT in Bunkspeed Pro Suite”][/image]
[image title=”Veyron GT in Bunkspeed Pro Suite”][/image]

The first screen shot above shows the initial import in preview mode, simply to make it usable. Even in preview mode you get a good preview of basic shaders and reflection. You don’t get any AA, shadows, or refractions. For heavy scenes it’s great though. The second screen shot shows the real-time preview render working easily with a much reduced model (notice the polygon count has dropped from just under 7 million triangles to under 2.5 million).

The render below was funny, because before heading out for the evening, I set-up this render using the sun & sky environment (created real world sunlight environment based on a specified location, date, and time) intending it to render for 3 hours, but in my haste it was set for 3 minutes. For 3 minutes at what was 1080HD it’s pretty good!

[fancy_images width=”600″ height=”250″]
[image title=”Veyron GT in Bunkspeed Pro Suite”][/image]

Keyshot Material Goodness

Having put up a little render of my Veyron in Keyshot, I thought I might just put up a few examples of the materials that are included as standard, so you can see just how powerful and FAST the software is. Sure the rendering is blindingly fast, but that’s only half the story. It’s the work-flow that gets you to the point of rendering that combines to make it as impressive as it is.

[fancy_images width=”175″ height=”175″]
[image title=”Flat Ambient Occlusion Style”][/image]
[image title=”Lightly Frosted Glass and 24 Carrat Gold”][/image]
[image title=”Cubbed Red Glass and Light Satin Nickel”][/image]
[image title=”Crystal and Grey Marble”][/image]
[image title=”Light Oak and Polished Oak”][/image]
[image title=”Perferated Grey Leather and Tyre Rubber”][/image]
[image title=”Potato Sack and Translucent Plastic”][/image]
[image title=”Carbon Fibre and Soft Touch Blue Plastic”][/image]
[image title=”Thin Film Soap Bubble”][/image]
[image title=”Metallic Black Paint and Metallic Red Paint”][/image]
[image title=”Chardonnay and Cobble Stones”][/image]
[image title=”Aquamarine and Brass”][/image]

Materials are a simple drag and drop from the library to the model in the main window, and all the materials are editable and can be re saved to the library with your own tweaks made.


Bunkspeed Pro Renders

Well in amongst my work I have been continuing to render stuff with Bunkspeed Pro, and aside from limitations caused by my system, the software has continued to be very stable. The car render was edging towards the limit of my workstation, tipping in just over 5 million polygons (I really should do a more carefully frozen version rather than blanket freezing the whole thing at the same level).

Generic Coupe
Generic Coupe

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The Making of : Mechanical Dragonfly


This ‘making of’ aims to show you the general process involved in taking a concept drawing through to a final rendered still. In this instance, the subject matter is insects. I have had a lifelong fascination, and Dragonflies are right at the top of my list. They are very powerful insects, with unparalleled hunting ability (they are one of few if not the only insects that can fly backward as well as forwards, sideways, and hover).

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The idea was to recreate this celebration of natural engineering in a manmade form. Enough of it’s little intricacies can be seen without making too unwieldy and heavy to work with. Insects all follow the same anatomical rule. The body is divided in to three distinct sections (head, thorax, and abdomen). They have three pairs of legs, and one pair of antennae. This all suits the CG creation of the creature very well indeed. They also have a pair of compound eyes, and ocelli (secondary eyes). Organics not being my strong point, I went for a bright daylight tone to the final render, with just sky in the background.


Rough ideas to designing the model

Step 1 : Initial Designs

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I was given a selection of rough design guides for the Dragonfly, drawn up by Steve Tappin. I had free reign to choose the design(s) I liked best, and decide how to put it all together. My main desire was to have a heavy powerful look, like the real thing.



Step 2 : Model Rough

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Having settled on the fourth design shown, I needed to do a quick mock up to see how the body design would look in 3D. This is a pretty quick step, as no real concern is shown with how it’s modelled. Literally it’s just bringing shapes together to replicate the form.



Step 3 : Modelling over the Rough

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Having determined that the proportions and shapes essentially work ok, the initial modelling phase is a model over, covering the rough with the starts of the final geometry. This model over phase isn’t long, but is a useful guide, avoiding some guesswork early on.




Building up the Detail

Step 4 : The Head

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As insects are modular in appearance, modelling up the body was done in sections. The head as with the rest of the model was poly modelled to be subdivided. The detail was gradually increased, with an internal cage structure being added right at the end to be seen through the body material.



Step 5 : The Jaws

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The jaws were the most complex part of the model, being fully articulated with dual piston hydraulics as well as a rotational hub. The idea was to make them cool for possible animation. The mechanism is modelled to allow it to fold flat under the head when at rest.



Step 6 : The Thorax

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The thorax started out simply modelled over the model rough, and using the stencil and edge bevel tools, details like torx bolts were added, as well as the grooves in the sides. To add more visual interest, intake vents were added to imply there was an engine requiring oxygen.



Step 7 : The Abdomen

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The abdomen sections were detailed up from simple tubes, scaled to give them shape. Initially I added groves down the side to match the thorax. With internals added to other parts of the Dragonfly, I changed the design to a split shell with internals and an enclosing frame.



Step 8 : The Legs

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The legs were pretty simple, poly modelled again like the rest of the Dragonfly. I added an internal frame here as well. The wings were again poly modelled with a single poly modelled membrane in a metal frame. If I had a knowledge if zBrush, this could likely have been used in various places.



Lighting and rendering

Putting the final touches in place

Step 9 : Composition Testing

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Early on in the overall process, I had made a test render which as soon as it finished rendering, I liked the dynamic of the pose. It mimicked the way Dragonflies tend to rest on known regular perches. I would need to add said perch, but the basis for my render was definitely there. This was to be pretty close to the final image composition.



Step 10 : The Backdrop

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The backdrop was intentionally simple. Rather than risk organic modelling, I created a simple blue and yellow skewed linear gradient, and a second layer with a same coloured circular gradient. I screened this over the base gradient to produce a nice simple angled hazy sun and sky.



Step 11 : Shading Test

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Shading was pretty torturous for me, as I really needed nodal shaders to get the translucent effect I was after. Simpleskin seemed the most successful in general, and this was actually one of the better results. Nodes are undoubtedly the way to go, but not easy to grasp after 10 years of layers!



Step 12 : Ambient Occlusion

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Ambient Occlusion is a great way of adding depth to a render. Smaller details are picked out nicely by the arbitrary shadowing that is created. More use could be made by rendering passes, but as a modeller I’ve never really delved that deep in to the use of passes.



Step 13 : Putting it all Together

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The AO pass is overlaid on the colour layer. The alpha is used to clip the colour and AO layers to allow the background to show. I then flatten, created a blurred layer apllied as a 18% colour dodge. Then a noise layer added, followed with a vignette, and a colour overlay tint. It all builds up to degrading the CGI look, and fooling your eye in to thinking it’s real.



The Finished Article

With a final rendering time of approximately 1.5 hours rendering at 1080P, it’s a pretty good result. The specs of the machine used were a quad core Intel 2.4ghz, with 4gb of Ram.

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Additional Thoughts

Shading & Nodes

An odd design revision aside, the modelling was pretty straight forward. With my limited knowledge of nodes in Lightwave, they are clearly very powerful, but they also can be a real rendering burden for some of the cooler effects. I used SSS nodes that gave a great blurred refractive look, but the render hit was impractical. Several of the nodes used for Skin produce very similar results but with wildly different render times. My lack of experience in knowing how to use them fully was a big hindrance. Learning nodes is definitely a worthwhile investment. It WILL pay dividends!