Samurai Jack Fan Tribute

A fan made an amazing short animation as a tribute to Samurai Jack, the classic Cartoon Network animation created by Genndy Tartakovsky. Take a look:

The animation was made in Blender, which is a freely available 3D animation software package. I am impressed with how well the creator was able to use a 3D animation tool to match the look and feel of the old 2D cartoon.

On a related note, I also just found out that Samurai Jack has a been turned into a comic book, continuing his story after the abrupt end of the television series. That set of comics started about a year and a half ago and recently finished. In addition, another set of comics was released that covers events before and during the television series, named “Samurai Jack Classics”.

But Samurai Jack is still lacking an ending. Maybe one day Genndy will return to his creation and let him return to his own time after defeating Aku.

Creating a Star Field With LightWave Instancing

In LightWave 9.6 and earlier, I knew how to make a simple star field in LightWave using one-point polygons. But I was always bothered by a limitation of that technique: each star has a maximum size of one pixel when rendered. A star field would look much more realistic if some of the stars were bigger than others. Also, I recently discovered that one-point polygons do not work well with transparent objects in front of them. For instance, in my 3D Earth tutorial, the atmospheric glow around the earth would completely obscure any stars, even at the outer edge of the atmosphere where the transparency is nearly 100%.

After playing around with instancing the other day, I realized that LightWave instancing could provide a much better alternative to surfaced one-point polygons. After much testing, I found an elegant solution that only uses two objects.  Using a single luminous sphere and creating many instances of it far from the camera, I can simulate a simple star field.

I created two simple objects for my scene: a low-polygon small sphere (1m radius, 12 sides, 8 segments) and a medium-polygon large sphere (10km radius, 24 sides, 12 segments). I inverted the polygons of the large sphere, so the polygons face inwards, and set the surface to black. I surfaced the small sphere to a bright white with 0% diffuse and luminosity turned to 100%. Continue reading “Creating a Star Field With LightWave Instancing”

LightWave Instancing

I played around with one of the newer features in LightWave this week: instancing. This feature lets you load a single object and then duplicate it throughout the scene. There are multiple advantages to using instancing instead of manually loading multiple copies of an object into the scene. First, instancing uses far less memory to store the duplicated object information, which becomes very obvious if you duplicate the object hundreds of thousands of times. Second, you can use some simple rules to automatically place the objects throughout the scene, either uniformly or randomly. You can even control the random placement using a texture map.

In my initial tests, I just wanted to get instancing working using a very simple scene. Inspired by the recent news of the Kaze series, I decided to try to make a field of bamboo stalks. First, I created a single square polygon to act as a ground plane. Next, I created a very rough model of a bamboo stalk, extending vertically about 3 meters from the ground. Then I loaded those two models into Layout. Continue reading “LightWave Instancing”

New Kaze Productions

I stumbled on some announcements from last year that a new series is being produced in the same world as Kaze: Ghost Warrior, the independent pilot episode created entirely by Timothy Albee using LightWave 3D. The producers are also creating a separate sci-fi series using LightWave, too. However, it looks like they plan on releasing both series as Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality shows (presumably on Oculus Rift headsets). I assume that the episodes will be available in a non VR/AR method, but the press releases are not clear on that point.

Dalton Industries, the producers, seem to be betting pretty hard on VR/AR acceptance. They have also announced virtual toy lines for both series that will be sold to users of VR/AR systems. The prices seem steep to me; how many people will pay $20-$50 for virtual toys that can only be seen in a virtual headset?

As an aside — the creator of Kaze is now credited as Amadhia Albee, after she publicly changed her name and gender identity in 2009. Whatever name she wants to go by, she has some of the best LightWave animation books, which can quickly get anyone ramped up in any aspect of creating a film using the software. So I hope that the Kaze episodes get released to the general public and I can view them without needing a VR/AR headset.

LightWave 2015

I have been using LightWave 3D for about nine years and I have been extremely lucky that I have only purchased software once during that entire time. I originally bought it at version 8.5 and it came with a free upgrade to the as-yet-unreleased version 9.0. I have continued to use the 9.X versions ever since and I have not felt the need to upgrade.

But I am in the middle of putting together a new computer (more details here) and I was hoping to buy the latest version of LightWave 3D to go with my shiny new hardware. But the upgrade sale price has not been available for a few months, and I do not want to pay the full upgrade price when I know that Newtek likes to frequently offer $200 discounts. I was hoping that with Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, Newtek would put LightWave 3D back on sale.

And then I received an email yesterday from Newtek announcing that the latest version of LightWave has just been released, named “LightWave 2015”. And to celebrate the release of the new software version, the software is on sale again.

I am still waiting for one more component before I can finish building my computer (expected arrival date: tomorrow), but once I have my new system fully up and running I plan on buying my first LightWave 3D upgrade. If all goes according to plan, I will be running LightWave 2015 by the end of the weekend!

RenderMan Free For Non-Commercial Use

Pixar Animation Studios announced that the next version of RenderMan, their award winning render engine, will be free for non-commercial use. The non-commercial license will provide full functionality without any restrictions, watermarks, or time limits. And the next version is due out sometime soon (fourth quarter of this year, according to their website).

The render engine works with Maya, but currently does not work with LightWave. Some third-party developers are creating plugins for LightWave that will add RenderMan integration. I expect that once the RenderMan non-commercial licenses are available, there will be more developers working to make this happen (the non-commercial license allows for developing commercial tools and plugins).

In their FAQ page for the non-commercial licenses, they explain why they have chosen to give away these licenses. One of the reasons is exciting to see from such a leading studio:

“It is Pixar’s experience that limitations on software access have become an impediment to the development of the production industry, and that universal access and a set of common standards and practices can only stimulate further growth.”

Hopefully this type of open access for educational and personal use becomes more common, which I believe is good both for aspiring artists and the companies selling high-end software packages.

I am going to sign up for advance registration of the license, even if it might be a while before I get a chance to use it.

Postscript:  Here is a good good article on the new features and architecture of RenderMan (including the new RIS framework).

Free LightWave Models

I stumbled onto a new 3D animation product website that also has a marketplace for 3D models.  The product is DAZ 3D and their site is It looks like the software uses preexisting models and provides an interface for animating those models. But I was more interested in the model marketplace, which are provided without any restrictions for use.

There are a few models that are priced at $0.00. That’s free! Unfortunately, the site’s search features make it very difficult to find the full list of free models. However, I did find two model sets that are pretty cool, both of which are for cityscape buildings. The models are in LWO format (the native LightWave object format) and include textures.

Dystopia City Blocks Test Render
(click for full image)

Another good 3D model marketplace is TurboSquid, which has much better search features than DAZ 3D. TurboSquid also has a semi-secret way of filtering for only the free models: filter by price and set the min and max values to “0”. The only downside to TurboSquid is that a lot of the models are only available in 3DS Max format, which is proprietary and cannot be opened by LightWave or Blender.

Earth and Moon

For the past week, I decided to work on a more photo-realistic render. A while back, I was entertaining myself by trying to render the Earth and moon in Maya. I never finished that scene, however, because I couldn’t find a good way to render out stars in Maya without using a static background image. Before I found a good solution in Maya, I got sidetracked and forgot about it.

I decided to translate the surfaces from Maya to LightWave, to try to stretch my abilities in the LightWave node editor. Here is my final result:

LightWave 3D render of the Earth and moon from space.
LightWave 3D render of the Earth and moon from space.

Continue reading “Earth and Moon”

Cowboy Bebop Warehouse Wrap Up

The last two weeks have been pretty hectic with the holidays and then getting caught up at work, so I never had a chance to finish touching up the Cowboy Bebop warehouse scene I was creating. But that’s OK, because I learned some good lessons from creating the scene, especially as it relates to building anime-style backgrounds in LightWave. The only touch up I wanted to try was adding a paintbrush effect to the walls, but I don’t expect I would use it very often since I tend to prefer cleaner renders. Plus, that would be something to create in Photoshop, not within LightWave itself, so I can push it off to another time, if I ever need it.

Here are the some of the lessons I learned while working on this scene:

Continue reading “Cowboy Bebop Warehouse Wrap Up”

Cowboy Bebop Background

I have continued working on my 3D representation of the Cowboy Bebop background.  I created a series of UV maps on the floor, walls, and some of the boxes.  I then created individual bump, diffuse, and color maps to mimic some of the features in the original scene.  I also tweaked the geometry since my last post, to fix some of the relative proportions of the different objects.

The first draft of my textured Cowboy Bebop scene (click for full size image).
The first draft of my textured Cowboy Bebop scene (click for full size image).

Continue reading “Cowboy Bebop Background”