I have been reading about 3D printing for a while, but I haven’t had a chance to play with the technology yet. So I decided to test the waters by using a third-party 3D printing service, Shapeways, to print an object I created.

Click to view full-size image.

Click to view full-size image.

I decided to make a small 3D version of my site logo, since I already had objects for the buildings. So I fired up LightWave Modeler and set up a single object with the buildings connected by a base. I had to tweak the buildings to make them printer-ready: all pieces must be fully closed, you cannot have stray polygons, all polygons should be tripled, etc. Newer versions of LightWave have a convenient command, “Mesh Repair” (in the “Detail” tab), that will evaluate if the model is ready for 3D printing.

Once I had the completed model, I exported it as an OBJ file and uploaded it to Shapeways. The system automatically checks your model for errors, which takes a few minutes to complete. If you have errors, you can try to fix them using Shapeways tools in the browser or you can upload a replacement object. I had to fix the thickness of the antennae because they were too thin for the material I wanted to use. So I fixed that minor error in LightWave and uploaded the final file. Continue Reading

DC is releasing a new animated Batman movie, Batman: The Killing Joke. It is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland.


I am excited about this movie because of the talent involved. The movie is co-directed by Bruce Timm, who co-created and produced Batman: The Animated Series.  And it features the voice talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, the quintessential Batman and Joker voices.

Parents should be warned, however, that this movie is not appropriate for children. It is rated R by the MPAA and Mark Hamill warns that “it’s really mean and nasty.”

The movie will be released on home video on August 2, but it will also have a limited theatrical release for one day on July 25. You should check to see if it is playing at a theater near you!

I recently discovered MakeHuman, an open source tool for creating 3D character models. MakeHuman is a standalone program that allows you to create a character mesh. Then you can tweak the base model using sliders for dozens of features, such as head shape, torso depth, finger length, breast size, and many more.

You can also add clothes and other accessories to your character within the application. In addition to the default clothes (named “Geometries” in the application), you can import community created accessories or even make your own in the 3D modeler of choice. And once you have your character model, there are preset poses you can use if you just want a static pose for a scene. Of course, if you want to rig the model, you can export using the A or T pose. Once you have your final character and pose, you can export the mesh to your choice of format.

A simple male character I created using MakeHuman.

A simple male character I created using MakeHuman (click to view full-size image).

MakeHuman is a useful open source application, but another developer, Manuel Bastioni, has improved on MakeHuman by turning it into a Blender plugin and adding significant improvements to the character generation. Many of the same model sliders are available within the plugin. Additionally, he created presets within each category that you can mix into your existing model. You can still use the preset poses in the plugin, but if you are going to stay in Blender then the character is already rigged for your own custom poses or animation!

But I am most excited about the ability to use different base models. In addition to the standard realistic model, he added some anime-style base models, too. And if you create a character using the anime base model, all of the sliders will still work correctly even though the geometry is different than the realistic models.

Unfortunately, I am not very familiar with Blender. However, by using the Maya interface control settings and reading the beginning of a Blender tutorial, I was able to quickly learn enough to play with ManuelLab and create a very simple anime character (see below). I also created the ultra-simple “tube top” she is wearing in LightWave, to test out how clothes are created and then applied within ManuelLab (mesh created in LightWave and then applied in Blender).

A simple posed character I created using the ManuelLab plugin in Blender.

A simple posed character I created using the ManuelLab plugin in Blender (click to view full-size image).

If you need to quickly create characters and do not want to build your own character meshes, MakeHuman and ManuelLab are great tools to add to your arsenal. Enjoy!

Ready Player One

Ready Player One - US CoverI just finished reading Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, which was a very enjoyable experience. This science fiction book, set in the year 2044, follows the main character’s adventures through a virtual universe as he competes in a contest that would make the winner one of the most powerful people in the world.

Ready Player One was especially fun to read because the entire book is packed with nostalgic references to the 1980s (and other recent decades). They range from pop culture icons like Back to the Future and Dungeons and Dragons to obscure trivia that I never heard of before. And since the references are integral to the plot line, it does not come off as gratuitous or unnecessary.

Right after I finished the book I thought, “I’d be surprised if this doesn’t become a movie.” Not only have the rights already been purchased, but Steven Spielberg is signed on to be the director, some of the cast have been announced, production should have already started, and a release date has been set (March 30, 2018).

If you have not already read this book, I highly recommend reading it before the movie comes out!

I finally looked into a more advanced animation pipeline feature named “linear color workflow”. The concept is simple: you can represent an image using a very wide range of values, thus preserving a very wide range of color values and brightness levels in a single scene. And if your entire workflow uses this high dynamic range data, you can perform sophisticated effects to the final image that are not possible when you are limited to the 8-bit integer RGB values that are normally used in JPG, PNG, and similar file types.

I used this article from Except.nl as a great introduction to the topic. Using the article a guide, I rendered my own scene and tried some of the recommended tools. Continue Reading

Pixar in a Box

Pixar has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free education about the animation process to students. The course is named “Pixar in a Box“.

Khan Academy provides free online courseware for students. Unlike Coursera and other so-called “open” education sites, Khan Academy does not charge for any of their courses and does not even use advertising. The website originally started as a series of YouTube videos by founder Salman Khan, who was tutoring his cousin.

Most of the courses are geared towards general education of K-12 and college students, with courses like “6th Grade Math” and  “Chemistry”. More recently, Khan Academy has started partnering with other companies, universities, and museums to provide more niche education. The “Pixar in a Box” course is designed for middle-school and high-school students, but it is available to everyone.

The courses are math-heavy, showing how math is used the animation process. For example, one course explains how trigonometry is used to create the Pixar worlds and another teaches how weighted averages are used to create characters. Pixar’s goal is to show how academics relate to real-world applications that students care about.

Enjoy a funny short film with Paul Rudd playing quantum chess against Stephen Hawking — for the fate of the future! The film premiered at Caltech’s “One Entangled Evening” event and features some excellent cameos.

Also, today I learned that quantum chess is a real game that adds concepts like uncertainty, superposition, and entanglement to the gameplay.


Metroid Short Film

Rainfall Films, a production company from Los Angeles, has created a new short film set in the Metroid universe. They did a great job of conjuring the sense of isolation, deep space, and exploration that is the hallmark of the Metroid games. Plus they used many of her iconic weapons and suit features, including the morph ball.

It makes me nostalgic, remembering playing the original Metroid game on the NES.  And, much later, playing through the Metroid Prime trilogy. In fact, this film really captured the feeling of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, one of my favorite games of all time.

You can read more about the creation of the film at CGSociety, where they interviewed the writer/director, Sam Balcomb.

Creating a marble texture in Maya is as simple as adding a single node. But you can use a more advanced node network to further improve the look of the material. This tutorial will show you how to assign a simple marble texture to an object and then build on that simple texture by adding additional nodes.


In preparation for this tutorial, I created a very simple scene: a polygon sphere (radius: 1.000), a camera pointed at the sphere (focal length: 55), a key light off to the left of the camera and a fill light (40% intensity) from the right of the camera. Continue Reading

I recently needed a screen recorder to capture some video for a short product demo. After doing some research, the best commercial option is Camtasia Studio, which combines screen recording capabilities with a video editor. But the $299 price tag for the PC edition is pretty steep for such a simple project, so I started digging around for free alternatives.

The most common alternative that I found was a free package called CamStudio. Do not download this software. It comes with adware (fortunately, Norton stopped me from visiting the page).

After more research, I found an excellent open source alternative (without adware!) that is commonly used for live streaming: Open Broadcaster Software. Although it has plenty of options for live streaming the output, you can also send the output directly to a MP4-encoded file.

The software is highly configurable. You can choose from any connected video source, such as a web cam, a full monitor, or just cropped view of a monitor. You can record high frame rates, if your goal is to stream or record games you are playing on your computer. And you can combine multiple video sources together to get your final stream; for example, you can show a game stream in the full window but include a smaller pane in the corner with the feed from your webcam.

The software is still relatively new, so it is rapidly evolving. But the current version has a lot of great features, it performed very well for my simple recording task, and it seems to have a lot of adoption in the live streaming community. It is a great addition to my toolkit and good to have for any future screen recording needs.