Hands can be difficult. They’re tricky to model, rig, and weight, and they’re not particularly easy to animate. I thought I had a modeled a good hand a while ago and saved it to my computer for future use. However, while I was working on the main character for Days Go By, I realized that the hand that I made wasn’t as good as I remembered. The knuckles weren’t deforming all that well, and I wasn’t crazy about how the thumb was connected to the main body of the hand. It was time to go back to the drawing board.
After a considerable amount of work, I finally came up with a better hand. The knuckles and the thumb now look a lot better and the point weighting has been improved. For those of you who don’t do character animation, every vertex on a model needs to be bound to an underlying structure of joints and bones which is also known as a rig. By manipulating the rig, you deform, and thereby animate, the mesh of polygons that form your model.
The thing is that each vertex on the mesh may be influenced by more than one joint. Therefore, in order for the model to deform correctly while you are animating, you must define the joint influences for each point. This is called weighting.
I made the following video to test out how my new hand model performs with the rigging and weighting. It is officially the first video of the Days Go By Blog:
For the test, I did not concern myself with textures or shaders. That will come later.
The 3D software that I am using to make Days Go By is MAXON’s versatile and easy to use application CINEMA 4D. The Studio version of C4D has a full set of character animation tools including the ability to build your own complex rigs. You can also use the Character Object which allows you to easily build entire advanced character rigs (for humans or animals) in just a few clicks. That’ll save some time.
For this test, however, I built the rig myself using the Joint tool and manually bound and weighted the points since I wanted to focus just on the hand.
To render out this test, I used Redshift Render, a new unbiased third party GPU render that I had heard good things about. While I am still learning how to use it, I must say that I am impressed by it and looking forward to seeing what else it can do. I’m not sure which renderer I will use for the final frames, but it very well could be Redshift.
Well, that’s it for this installment of the Days Go By Blog. I’ll see you on the next one.
In addition to being interested in filmmaking, animation, visual effects and the arts, I also happen to like writing songs. In fact, I’d love to make a musical one day since musicals combine so many of the things I’m interested in such as storytelling, art, design, animation, and music. It’s hard for me to imagine much else that would be as fun, or as creative.
With that in mind, I decided to make an animated music video of a song I wrote titled Days Go By. While a music video is not quite a musical, it is not that different either. You can think of it as a musical on a smaller scale, and, after all, what works small should work big.
A wise person once said that the journey is the reward and so I’m looking forward to this creative journey. In addition, the best way to get better at something is to do it. So, besides the fun of the journey, I’m looking forward to increasing my knowledge about 3D animation, rendering and music along the way.
Blog and Vlog
I also decided it would be a good idea to document my progress on the video by posting reports about it right here on this blog as well as videos on my YouTube channel. This would give me a chance to show others what I am making and hopefully foster a lively discussion about 3D animation and the creative process. I hope you will learn something from me (or even get some inspiration). In turn, I would appreciate any opportunity to learn from you.
Comments are, of course, welcome and encouraged both on the blog and on the YouTube channel. Therefore, if you’d like to be informed about updates as soon as they happen, please subscribe to the YouTube channel or send me a message through the Contact area of this blog and request to be added to my email list. I look forward to taking this journey together.
About The Song
I wrote the song Days Go By about a year ago, with the intention of it being used in a musical from the get-go, and recorded it in my home studio. The song has sort of a poppy feel, with touches of jazz and rock.
The DAW that I use currently is Avid Pro Tools 12. I’ve used other recording applications in the past such as Cubase and am interested in Studio One, but I am used to using Pro Tools. It also happens to be the industry standard.
The workstation that I use to record with is an HP Z840 which is just an awesome machine and one of the world’s most powerful workstations. If you are interested, you can read my review of it here.
The audio interface I used to record Days Go By was a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2. However I’ve since replaced it with a Behringer U-Phoria since the Focusrite stopped working when I brought it to Florida last winter (maybe I banged it somewhere along the way). I must say I’m liking the Behringer however. It has MIDAS preamps, Midi ports on the back and sells for a very reasonable price. It also has very sturdy construction.
My main keyboard is a Korg SG-1D which I bought some time ago. It’s got 88 nicely weighted keys and that’s where I usually write my songs. For guitars I have a red Univox Les Paul copy that was built in Japan in the 70s and a Fender dreadnaught style acoustic. The Univox has a nice tone to it and the Fender’s pretty good too.
I might go further into how I recorded Days Go By in a future post. In the meantime you might be wondering how you can hear the song, since it has already been recorded and mixed.
Here’s the thing, you can’t. Not because I don’t want you to hear it. In fact, I’d really like to play it for you. However, I’d like to save it for when the video is finished. That’s the one last thing that I would like to reveal after all the work is done. Maybe I’ll change my mind and play it before I finish the video. Then again, maybe I’ll wait.
One of the greatest features in CINEMA 4D R18 is Voronoi fracturing, the ability to fracture a 3D models into hundreds, or thousands of pieces (to read a full analysis of C4D R18, click here). Besides the fact that it can be used to great effect for explosions and collisions, Voronoi Fracturing also has great uses for motion graphics. Because is part of MoGraph, it can also be combined with a variety of MoGraph Effectors. The possibilities are virtually endless for what you can do with it.
I recently made a video tutorial about Voronoi Fracturing where the tip of an airplane’s wing hit and shatter a rock formation into hundreds of pieces. Here it is for you to check out and learn how to do it yourself. I hope you find it useful for the work that you do.
If you think about it, August is kind of like December, but not due to the weather of course. Every August at SIGGRAPH, MAXON unveils a new version of CINEMA 4D, their popular 3D modeling, rendering and animation package. For C4D users, it’s a little like the holidays. After months of anticipation, each new feature is something like a present, one that they can’t wait to open up and play with. This year was no exception as MAXON announced the latest version of CINEMA 4D, R18 at SIGGRAPH 2016.
In addition to rolling out C4D R18, MAXON also streamed a series of live presentations from their booth at SIGGRAPH. These presentations were delivered by accomplished CINEMA 4D artists (which also included demonstrations of some of the new features in the new version).
R18 is a substantial upgrade and contains a lot of enhancements to C4D. Let’s take a closer look.
One of the most exciting new features in R18 is the addition of Voronoi Fracturing. 3D programs are great at building things and making them look clean and perfect, but suppose you want to destroy something? For example, let’s say you want to crash an airplane into an old castle in the Scottish Highlands and smash it to bits (or part of it anyway).
It wasn’t easy to do this in CINEMA 4D previously unless you wanted to spend weeks cutting up your model with the knife tool. Actually, that wouldn’t really work, so don’t even try it (I was just kidding).
Fortunately, there was a solution available previously in the form of an excellent third party plug-in called NitroBlast which, in fact, did a good job of breaking up your model into lots of pieces, a technique called Voronoi fracturing.
In C4D R18, Voronoi fracturing has now been natively built into the software, no need for any plug-ins, and with its implementation comes a whole slew of parameters and options for a ton of creative fracture effects. There are options that allow you to set smaller pieces in one area and larger pieces in another. This is handy, for example, since an object usually breaks up into smaller pieces near the point of a collision with the pieces getting larger further away.
There are lots of other ways to fracture an object. You can use a spline path, a polygonal mesh or even a matrix object to define the way an object will break up. In addition you can scale down the fractures for a cool, broken up effect with a little more space on the edges. You can also define separate materials for the outside and the inside of the pieces for enhanced realism (the outside can be dirty and scuffed up, for example, while the inside can be clean).
One of the greatest things about Voronoi fracturing, however, is that it is part of MoGraph. This means that MoGraph effectors can be used to control the fractured pieces. This results in mind-boggling creative possibilities and creative animation options.
Motion tracking was introduced in R16, and it was a great addition to the program since it allowed you to bring footage shot by a moving camera into C4D, track the camera and add seamless 3D elements to the scene.
The thing that was missing however was the ability to track individual objects in addition to the camera. With Object Tracking you can do things like add 3D elements to moving objects. For example, you might to add radar equipment to the top of a turning vehicle or a helmet on somebody’s head.
It’s great that object tracking has been implemented inside CINEMA 4D. That, together with the pre-existing camera tracking, makes the application a complete tracking solution and saves users from having to rely on third party tracking software. This saves time and money.
As mentioned before, Voronoi fracturing is an important new feature of MoGraph. Let’s now take a look at some other enhancements to C4D’s popular cloner tool set. One interesting new feature is the Push Apart Effector which can be used to prevent MoGraph clones from overlapping on top of each other, a common issue that can happen when generating clones.
Push Apart can work in several different ways. Besides “pushing” the clones away from each other (on every axis or on just one), it can hide overlapping clones as well as scale them down to eliminate overlaps.
Another nice new feature in MoGraph is the ability to generate clones in a Honeycomb pattern. Before, clones could only be generated in linear, radial or grid array arrangements. The addition of the honeycomb array is very useful, especially since the offset of the pattern can be adjusted. This is not only useful for making honeycombs and beehives, but thinks like cobblestones, movie theaters, and many other things.
The ReEffector is another interesting new MoGraph feature. It can be used to modify a group of multiple effectors that have been applied to a cloner object. With it you can do things like reset all effectors at once as well as limit all effects to one axis.
MoGraph now includes the ability to store MoGraph Caches externally with the new MoGraph Cache tag. Suppose you have a complicated simulation involving lots of clones and decide to cache it in order to speed things up in your scene and enable scrubbing back and forth in the timeline. Since caches can add lots of data to your file (maybe hundreds of megabytes), next time you save your file, the cache gets saved along with it making your file that much larger. This complicates things, especially when you want to do something like email your file to someone.
Now you can use the MoGraph Cache tag to store your caches externally and keep the cache data separate from the main C4D file. In addition, multiple MoGraph Caches can now be used and blended between each other with the use of a few judiciously placed keyframes. I like that a lot.
Among some of the other enhancements to MoGraph is the new Weightmap tag which allows you to use a new weight paintbrush tool to directly paint the influence of effectors on MoGraph Clones.
When it comes to polygonal modeling, there’s almost no tool as useful as the knife tool (okay, maybe the extrude tool). In CINEMA 4D R18, the knife tool has updated with several important new enhancements.
The knife tool is now divided into three sections. First is the Line Cut tool which now allows you to interactively draw a shape to define the cuts on your object and edit it to your heart’s content with onscreen handles and gizmos, until you are certain that the cuts will be exactly where you want them. That’s a handy thing. There are also new slice modes. In addition to Cut, there is Split which splits out the new polygons as well as Remove Part A and Remove Part B which allows you to strip away or preserve sections of your geometry easily.
Next is the Plane Cut tool which allows for planar cuts of your model and allows you to define the number and spacing of parallel cuts. The third mode of the knife tool is the Loop/Path Cut tool which cuts new loops or paths onto objects. Loops and Paths can now be applied bidirectionally and there is now a handy on-screen GUI to help with the knife tool.
One new feature that is pretty cool in the C4D R18 is the Thin Film Shader which allows you to simulate in your renders those colorful rainbow-like effects that are sometimes visible on the surface of transparent bubbles, soap films or oil slicks.
R18 also includes many other important new features such as parallax bump mapping for better results with bump maps, and inverse ambient occlusion which can, among other things, help you achieve a fake sub-surface scattering effect as well as do things like simulate wear and tear on the edges of a model.
There’s also a new Shadow Catcher shader that allows you to easily extract object shadows for later compositing. In addition, interactive real-time rendering has been further enhanced. For example, C4D’s viewport now supports screenspace ambient occlusion, approximate reflections, and displacement. Pixar Open Subdivs are now also supported when creating subdivision surfaces for alternative subdivision surfaces options as well as increased compatibility with other applications (subdivision surface weights can also now be exported).
There are a lot of other very substantial new features to C4D such as a new Quarternions workflow, enhanced Alembic and FBX exchange options, support for Allegorithmic Substance materials, better Houdini exchange, updates to Team Render and, importantly, improvements to baked displacement maps from sculpts. For a complete list of all of the new features in CINEMA 4D R18, see this list here (insert online link to complete R18 feature list).
MAXON has put together a very compelling release in CINEMA 4D R18 which includes important new features that every C4D user will want to have in their arsenal. Having personally used C4D for many years, I feel that this release contains many enhancements that will prove indispensable, Voronoi shading and object tracking not the least of which. CINEMA R18 is a must-have upgrade.
CMotion, MAXON’s CINEMA 4D cyclical motion generator, was introduced in R14. While it’s often thought of as a way to generate walk cycles on rigged characters, many are unaware of its power to generate repetitive motion of all kinds, and can be used for motion graphics, machines, and many other kinds of projects.
Some time ago, around the release of R14, I gave a talk in New York at the After Effects user group. In addition to showing how to use CMotion to create the animate the motion of a butterfly, I wanted to talk about and tell the audience about Cineware which had just been introduced. For those of you who are unaware, Cineware is a live bridge between After Effects and CINEMA 4D. With it, you can import CINEMA 4D files into After Effects without rendering them out first. There’s a lot more you can do with Cineware such as being able to extract and convert C4D cameras and lights into After Effects cameras and lights as well as the ability to create multi-pass layers for compositing on the fly.
C4D’s external compositing tag is also a very helpful tool that allows you to tack 3D elements onto coordinates generated by objects in C4D inside of After Effects. Cineware can also be useful for this as well, allowing you to pull in 3D positional data which convert into nulls in the comp.
Thus I designed my talk to cover three things. The first was how to use CMotion to easily animate the motion of a butterfly. Next, how to use Cineware to bring in the 3D butterfly into After Effects and extract the other 3D data such as the cameras (and lights) Finally, I used Cineware to extract positional data generated by two external compositing tags placed at the tips of the butterfly’s wings onto which I affixed Trapcode Particular emitters to generate magic dust.
After the talk, I came back to my studio and captured the talk in a movie. I was intending to release it somewhere, but somehow it got tucked away into a folder and over the course of time I kind of forgot it was there. About a week ago I was poking around my drive and found the folder, so I decided to upload it to my YouTube Channel. I hope you find it useful. It was made in R14, but all of the lessons are still just as pertinent.
MAXON’s CINEMA 4D, known for its intuitive user interface and powerful features, continues to be embraced by studios, advertising agencies, design firms, networks, architects and freelance artists around the world. Its innovative features include MoGraph (it’s renowned cloner toolset), full featured polygonal modeling tools, sculpting, physics, cloth, hair, multi-layered reflections, an extensive list of deformers and lots more.
I have been using and enjoying this well-engineered software for many years on all kinds of professional projects big and small, and, in case you didn’t know, happen to be an official MAXON CINEMA 4D Representative in the metropolitan area. I have also taught at many well regarded establishments in the past including The School of Visual Arts and others.
If you are a company, studio or individual that is new to C4D, or have been using it for a while and need some help with the program, I am available for consultation as well as on-site training.
If you are interested in learning more about CINEMA 4D’s 3D modeling, animation and rendering capabilities from someone with a lot of production experience, drop me a line in the contact section of this blog (above) and I will get back to you. Thanks, and hope to see you soon.
I expected that Lenovo’s new top of the line ThinkStation P900 was going to be a hot machine when I first heard about it, and when it finally arrived for review, I can’t say I was disappointed.
While I don’t always make a video for every product I review, I often do when a new product is significant. Thus, I hope you enjoy the following video review I made describing the features of the P900:
In case the video’s not enough for you, and want more information about the P900 in written form, read on.
Sitting at the top of Lenovo’s ThinkStation family, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a large machine at 7.87″ x 24.4″ x 17.5″, and while smaller might be better in some things, when it comes to workstations, bigger is usually better. The reason is simple. You need space to store all the good things that make a workstation what it is such as loads of hard drives, memory, heavy duty power supplies and beefy Graphics cards.
Even so, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900’s sleek lines and clean design give the workstation an elegant appearance. The case is matte black with a hexagonal grille on the front which is designed to provide maximum airflow through the machine. The ThinkStation logo on the front can be rotated ninety degrees if you wish to mount the machine horizontally, a nice touch.
The front of the machine has 4 speedy USB 3.0 ports, and an integrated 9 in 1 card reader. There are also three Flex Bays on the front with a DVD writer installed in one of them. You can also choose to add other i/o components to the Flex Bays such as an optional 29 in 1 card reader, an ultraslim ODD or even eSATA or Firewire drives. More on the Lenovo’s Flex system later.
The back of the machine contains most of the basic ports and connections that you might expect on a workstation including audio jacks, two Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports as well as two DVI connections and two Display Ports for hooking up your displays. There are six more PCIe slots in addition to the ones being used by the GPU.
On the inside
Opening the workstation is done via a handle on the side of the chassis. Once the side was removed, I was struck by the clean and well ordered design of the interior of the machine which has red touchpoints to guide your hands to the internal compenents of the machine that can be easily removed without the need for tools. See the video for more about removing and replacing parts.
The Lenovo ThinkStation P900 has a tri channel cooling system that guides air from the fans through the workstation via a large air baffle which is easily removed. Beneath it you’ll find the dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 V3 Haswell processors running at 3.1 GHz with a total of twenty physical chords and 40 threads. A powerful pair, and good for those heavy duty rendering and dynamics simulations projects.
Above and below the processors are the 16 memory slots and when you use 32 GB memory sticks, you can cram a half a terabyte (512 GB) of DDR4 ECC RAM into the P900. I’m also told that that the system was designed to take 64GB DDR4 memory modules once they are released in the future. That will boost the total memory capacity of the computer to one terabyte.
There’s space for two NVIDIA Quadro K6000 or K5200 GPUs in the machine in addition to an NVIDIA Tesla K40 GPU graphics accelerator. This is great for interactive visualizations, GPU rendering, as well as 4K and beyond video editing, compositing and color grading. You can also put other NVIDIA graphics cards in it if desired. The machine I reviewed had an NVIDIA K5200, a nice choice that combines value and power.
Flex, you say?
When I first read about Lenovo’s new Flex system, it got me a little confused, so I’ll explain to you what it is. Flex is comprised of four things, the Flex Bays (on the front of the machine), the Flex Module, The Flex Tray and the Flex connector.
The Flex drive trays inside the workstation connect directly to the motherboard without the need for messy cables. and can each support a 3.5″ drive, two 2.5″ drives or a 2.5″ and 3.5″ drive. The onboard Lenovo RAID controller supports configurations of 0, 1, 5 and 10. Once again see the video to see how the Flex trays are removed and replaced.
There are two Flex Connectors located directly on the motherboard, each one controlled by one of the dual CPUs. The Flex Connectors support SATA, SAS, PCIe and have advanced RAID solutions. This allows for more storage and i/o without using up your PCI slots needlessly.
For benchmarking, I ran the software I usually run to evaluate the performance of a new workstation, MAXON’s CineBench, which tests the speed of the processing power of the CPUs as well as the Graphics card.
The results for both the CPU and the GPU were remarkable, and pretty much at the head of the class. The P900 had a CPU score of 2224 and 99.72 for the GPU. You can see in the graphic above how this stacks up compared to other systems. For example, in the CPU department, it’s almost double the performance of a 12 core (24 threads) Xeon X5650 system. You can also see how well the GPU fares compared to other offerings from NVIDIA.
CineBench is free, so you can download it and run it on your current rig for comparison. There is also a comprehensive CineBench online database with results from many other configurations you can check.
There’s a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 and it is unquestionably one of the top machines in its class. I focus on high end post production, animation, visual effects and editing projects and if you’re like me, and your work is high resolution and render intensive, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a great choice. Oh, and just in case you missed it, don’t forget to watch the video.
After this story was published, it soon became apparent that the rumors about the possible acquisition of The Foundry by Adobe were unfounded. The Foundry instead received a majority investment by England’s HG Capital. Well, it was an interesting rumor anyway, one that was wildly speculated on at the time. In that regard, I’ll leave my thoughts about the implications of such a merger would have been. It might be a fun read. – Joe.
I recently heard that Adobe may potentially acquire The Foundry, the London-based company whose applications include NUKE, a respected compositing program used in the VFX industry, and NUKE Studio which includes editorial and finishing (in addition to compositing and VFX). In addition to NUKE, The Foundry also makes other ambitious products such as MARI, a 3D painting and texturing solution as well as MODO, a 3D modeling and animation program. There is also KATANA, HIERO and other programs in The Foundry’s toolbox.
Suffice to say that this is big news, if it happens, it could change the dynamics of the industry. How? It’s hard to say, but below are a few thoughts. Keep in mind that I haven’t officially confirmed this report and have only read about it online.
On one hand a merger between Adobe and The Foundry makes sense, on the other hand it brings up questions. First, there is the question of overlap. While After Effects, Adobe’s own compositing and VFX application, does some of the things that NUKE can do, each of them has relative strengths. One might say that After Effects is better at handling typography and graphics (as well as integrating better with the rest of the Creative Suite). It’s also timeline based.
NUKE, on the other hand is node based (whether you prefer a layered timeline-based interface or a node-based approach depends on the user). Its 3D compositing capabilities, however, you might say, are more robust in my opinion and handles things like projection or camera mapping more effectively than After Effects.
There are more benefits to each program, however it’s probably safe to say that, due to its features, After Effects has found it’s place among motion graphics artists, broadcast designers and independent filmmakers while NUKE has carved out its niche among high end, VFX-heavy feature film and television projects.
Therefore, while there is some overlap between the two programs, they do serve different markets. Thus, if Adobe does acquire The Foundry, I could see the logic in keeping both programs alive and part of the Creative Cloud. Motion Graphics artists and broadcast design projects would gravitate towards After Effects while high-end VFX for television and film could be done in NUKE.
NUKE Studio, on the other hand, brings up other questions. NUKE Studio is a software suite that adds editing and finishing to NUKE. Adobe of course has worked hard to develop Premiere into a robust NLE that has been embraced by a many professional editors. For finishing, Adobe has SpeedGrade which they acquired a few years ago. NUKE Studio is a relatively new product which was released about a year ago and I am not sure how much penetration into the market it has had yet. Whether Adobe decides to maintain two editing and finishing solutions or merge them into one (such as Premiere and SpeedGrade Lumetri) remains to be seen. I doubt it.
MARI is a product that is used by professional 3D artists to paint complex texture maps for their creations, whether they be dinosaurs, aliens or mechanical monsters. I don’t see any reason why this program wouldn’t continue to live as a contributing member of the Creative Cloud.
What About 3D?
While Adobe has a wide variety of applications for a variety of media, it lacks a true 3D program. Once, a long time ago, it made a program called Adobe Dimensions which was, frankly, pretty bad and was summarily discontinued. After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator all have some 3D(ish) capabilities, but, of course, none of them approach what is possible with a real 3D application since none of them are.
This void has effectively been filled by MAXON’s CINEMA 4D which is widely used by Adobe users. CINEMA 4D is a highly capable 3D application which works great with Adobe applications such as After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator. For the record, I am not only a satisfied CINEMA 4D user, but in the interest of full disclosure, I also travel to trade shows to demo the program as well as give talks about how to use it. CINEMA 4D has been enthusiastically embraced by motion graphics and visual effects artists, not only in North America but around the world.
Though not everyone realizes it, a version of CINEMA 4D called C4D Lite comes with the Creative Cloud thanks to a working relationship between MAXON and Adobe and a live bridge between the two programs called CINEWARE has been developed that allows After Effects users to import native C4D files without rendering them first. However, C4D Lite is not listed in the list of apps in CC. To use it, you launch it from within After Effects. Adobe and MAXON remain separate and autonomous companies.
The Foundry has a 3D application called MODO which, I suppose would be acquired along with NUKE and MARI. While it would probably become available as part of a subscription to the Creative Cloud, it isn’t as mature a product as C4D is, and not as popular. MODO is a compelling program, but C4D has features that are very useful to Motion Graphics Artists such as the MoGraph cloner toolset, a built in motion tracker, quality rendering and solid character animation chops. It is thanks to features such as these that C4D has become so popular in the past few years.
It will be interesting to see what might come out of this tentative acquisition of The Foundry by Adobe and whether they will be able to successfully integrate The Foundry’s product line into the Creative Cloud in an elegant fashion without causing confusion and overlapping product lines. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. If you have any thoughts about this potentially important development, feel free to add them in the comments section below.