Bix the Outerspace alien character

General / 11 December 2018

Back in 2003 I developed a 3D alien character called Bix for Outerspace Software, the Dutch software development company of Michiel den Outer, an old friend of mine. Michiel is the skilled developer of BluffTitler, a versatile realtime 3D editor with an emphasis on 3D video effects.

Michiel asked me to update some illustrations featuring Bix for BluffTitler's app icons and website. I rebuilt my Bix shaders and lighting for the brand new Eevee renderer in Blender 2.8. I like Eevee's dynamic, non-photorealistic look.


Unfortunate accident — 3D character

General / 03 December 2018

Unfortunate accident — 3D character, inspired by a Riki Fuhrmann concept. 🙂 


Godzilla 3D artwork

General / 28 November 2018

Godzilla 3D artwork, inspired by a Riki Fuhrmann concept.


Science-Fiction novel cover design

General / 21 November 2018

Some time ago two friends and I decided to join forces in a small-scale project combining our passions. One of the friends — Omar Muñoz Cremers — is a writer, the other one — Stefan Alfrink — is a music composer.

Omar would write a short Utopian Science-Fiction story that takes place in Amsterdam, Stefan would compose matching music, and I'd take care of the cover design. I had a minimalistic graphic style in mind for the cover artwork:


  

Tips for moving from Blender 2.7x to version 2.8

Tutorial / 15 November 2018

The versatile open source 3D editor Blender was often criticized for its relatively impervious user interface and workflow. After years of 3ds Max I decided to enter the world of Blender not long after version 2.5 was released, which featured a major UI overhaul.

Personally, I got used to Blender's 2.5 - 2.7 UI relatively easily. After some initial hurdles I rapidly discovered how logical and consistent Blender's workflow is. A key element in learning to work with Blender is getting to know its keyboard shortcuts. Once you know the important shortcuts, you'll be on your way to becoming a Blender ninja.

Blender 2.8 changes

After much anticipation for Blender 2.8 and supporting its development by buying the cute Blender rocket USB stick, I finally decided to take the plunge and installed an advanced alpha version of Blender 2.8 around mid-November 2018. Having read at the Blender developers blog that a first beta version is imminent, I couldn't wait anymore.

I soon discovered that more has changed in Blender 2.8 than I had expected. A range of keyboard shortcuts has been changed or removed, a lot of familiar functions have been moved around to new tabs and sections, and a number of new features have been added, resulting in some radical workflow changes.

I understand that the goal was to make Blender more accessible to new users, but the radical UI and keyboard shortcut revisions can prove to be a hurdle for seasoned Blender users.

Below is a list of tips and observations from my first Blender 2.8 explorations. Please note that this is not meant to be an all-encompassing list of changes. I started this article when I was still using the alpha version, and a number of things have changed since that. I've made some adjustments to the text, but I'll undoubtedly have missed things.

I recommend reading one list item at a time, then checking / trying it in Blender 2.8, so it sticks better in your memory.

General / User Interface

  • In the Blender Preferences, Auto Perspective is now checked by default in the Interface section. Uncheck it if you're used to consistently working in orthographic view.
  • Left-click select is now the default, and allows users to use right-click menus. It also removes the incompatibility with the Emulate 3 Button Mouse preference, and so now you can fully use Blender with a single-button mouse, trackpad or pen.
  • Left-click and drag now creates a rectangular selection marquee for easy multi-selections, and... *drum roll*... you can finally click in empty scene space to deselect!
  • The Tool panel at the left side has been minimalized to a column of tool buttons. Personally I don't make use of those buttons, as I prefer working with keyboard shortcuts, but it undoubtedly makes Blender more accessible to new users. Some of the elements that used to be in the Tool panel can now be found in the Sidebar ('N' key), which features its own tabs now. For example, if you're a user of the LoopTools and/or 3D Print Toolbox add-ons, those can now be found in Properties panel tabs. LoopTools can also be found in the Context Menu.
  • Next to the familiar Move (Grab), Rotate and Scale modes, a Transform tool has been added (Spacebar + T key), combining all transform modes. When the Transform mode, Move mode, Rotate mode or Scale mode from the Tool bar is active, you can toggle the transform gizmo on or off by pressing Control + Accent Grave ("`").
  • The display options that could be found in the old Sidebar have been moved to two new drop-down panels at the top right of the main viewport: Overlays and Shading. These panels also offer some new display options. All overlays can be toggled on or off at once using Shift + Alt + Z (comparable with the old Properties panel ➔ Display ➔ Only Render checkbox), and the overlays can be visible in any mode, including Rendered mode.
  • Non-renderable objects such as cameras and point lights now remain visible in Rendered mode, even when Cycles is the active renderer.
  • Multiple objects can now be edited in Edit Mode!
  • A number of tools — such as Extrude, Spin and Shear — now have dedicated helper gizmos.
  • The Grease Pencil tool has been replaced with Grease Pencil objects, which have their own modes for drawing, sculpting, etcetera.
  • At the top of the UI you can find a row of tabs offering customizable workspaces for different activities, such as sculpting and animation. These are slightly comparable to Blender's old UI layout drop-down menu, but the new workspaces offer more flexibility. They can have separate add-ons and can be associated with a mode, so you can make Workspaces that go to Edit Mode or Sculpt Mode, as some of the default ones do.
  • Splitting a viewport can now be done from every viewport corner.
  • There's a new info bar at the bottom of the Blender interface — showing info regarding the controls of the active tool — while the drop-down menus have been moved from the bottom of the panels to the top side.
  • The 3D cursor now offers a true 3D 'Geometry' mode, that can be activated from the Orientation drop-down menu at the top left of the UI, when the 3D cursor mode in the Tool bar is activated. Using the 3D cursor Geometry mode, you can align the cursor to a face and use that as a custom orientation by switching to 'Cursor' in the Transform Orientations drop-down menu or by pressing the comma key (",").
  • The Properties panel at the right side of the default UI has been split into more sections, with a vertical tab layout. Browse the sections to find out where all properties have been placed. For example, Color Management has been moved to the Render properties, while the Dimensions and Output sections have been moved to a separate Output tab.
  • Background reference images have been replaced by a new kind of Empty object: the Image Empty. An Image Empty can be added to the scene, or you can simply drag and drop images into the 3D viewport. 
  • Layers have been turned into Collections. Essentially, Collections are folders inside the Outliner. You can still use the M key to move objects to Collections, and switch between Collections using the number keys. Collections are further controlled in the Outliner.
  • Outliner elements now have two visibility options. The screen icon is comparable to the old Blender 2.7x viewport visibility icon, while the eye icon also makes an object invisible, but keeps it selectable and editable. This is very useful for moving Boolean meshes while they're invisible.
  • There's a new option called Quick Favorites, allowing you to create custom pop-up menus with all kinds of Blender functions. Right-click on a function for an 'Add To Quick Favorites' option, and press the Q key to evoke the menu. The Quick Favorites are mode-sensitive, so you can create different sets for Object Mode, Edit Mode and so on. Quick Favorites are saved along with Blender's Preferences. At the time I write this you can't reorder the Quick Favorites yet though, but that will undoubtedly follow.
  • Proper support for consistent units has been added, which never worked properly in 2.7x. The default is metric.

Rendering

  • Next to the familiar Wireframe, Solid and Rendered viewport display modes there's a new mode called LookDev. This is useful for quickly checking your shaders before setting up actual scene lighting for a rendered view. The LookDev mode makes use of Blender's brand new realtime renderer called Eevee.
  • The rendering display options (Keep UI / New Window / Image Editor / Full Screen and Lock Interface) can now be found in the Render drop-down menu at the top left side of the UI.
  • The Eevee renderer replaces the old 'Blender Render', also known as the 'Blender Internal' renderer, which was previously used for non-photorealistic rendering.
  • There's also a new elementary renderer called the Workbench, which is the new basic viewport renderer, working in harmony with the new overlay options.
  • Cycles OpenCL support has unfortunately been dropped for the macOS version of Blender, because of OpenCL issues and Apple's cessation of OpenCL (and OpenGL) support (in favour of Apple's Metal).
  • The Principled BSDF shader is now the default shader. Another thing I've been hoping for. Most of the shaders are compatible with both Eevee and Cycles, which is also very convenient.

Animation

  • Animation keyframes can now be set or removed using little icons next to animatable properties (After Effects style).
  • You can now manipulate keyframes in the Timeline.

Keyboard shortcuts

  • Pressing A is still Select All, but to deselect everything you need to double-press A or press Alt + A, or click in empty scene space.
  • Pressing the spacebar now pops up a floating menu version of the Tool bar. If you want to search for a function, press the F3 key, or Command + F in Blender macOS.
  • Control + Space maximizes a view. This used to be Shift + Space.
  • If you're used to pressing Control + 1, 2 or 3 to quickly add a Subdivision Surface modifier to your 3D model, this doesn't work in Edit Mode anymore, only in Object Mode.
  • The function keys have been radically reassigned. F1 doesn't open a file anymore, and F2 is not 'Save as...' anymore. In stead, use Control / Command + O and Control / Command + Shift + S.
  • The 'W' key used to be reserved for the Context Menu, but this is now a click-menu (right-click menu if you've got left-click select activated). The 'W' key now switches between selection modes.
  • Shift + Control + Alt + C doesn't pop up the Set Origin menu anymore. You can find this in the Context Menu.
  • In Edit Mode, Shift + Control + Alt + M doesn't activate Select Non-Manifold anymore. You can find it in the Select menu ➔ Select All by Trait submenu.
  • In Edit Mode, you can now easily switch between vertex, edge and face mode by simply pressing 1, 2 or 3. I think this is very convenient.
  • In Edit Mode, Shift + N now recalculates selected normals. This used to be Control + N.
  • Sculpt Mode keyboard shortcuts that involved number keys have been changed. Now you have to press Space, followed by a number key. I find this cumbersome, and hope this will be changed, because I prefer not to deviate from default keyboard shortcuts.
  • A number of keyboard shortcuts that were previously used for toggling modes have been replaced by pie menus. It takes some time getting used to, but if you press and hold the key, quickly move your pointer in the direction of a pie menu item and then release the key again, it works quite fast. Below are some examples:
  • The Z key previously toggled between solid view and wireframe view. Now you can choose between all viewport rendering options in a pie menu when pressing Z. All Overlays can be toggled on or off at once using Shift + Alt + Z (comparable with the old Sidebar ➔ Display ➔ Only Render checkbox).
  • Control + Tab offered different functions depending on the active mode. Now Control + Tab consistently summons a pie menu for changing modes, like Object Mode, Edit Mode, Sculpt Mode, etcetera. Only pressing Tab still toggles between Object Mode and Edit Mode though.
  • The comma key (",") now pops up a Transform Orientation pie menu.
  • The period key (".") now pops up a Pivot Point pie menu.
  • The Accent Grave key ("`") pops up a pie menu for viewport views (Front, Back, Top, etcetera). I find this easier than repeatedly reaching for the numeric keypad keys, and it's also convenient for keyboards without a numeric keypad, such as notebook keyboards. Control + Accent Grave toggles the transform gizmo on or off when one of the transform tools from the Tool bar is active.


This sums up my observations so far regarding Blender 2.8. There are of course much more changes than this list covers, but I hope this information helps you to find your way in the new Blender version.

Any corrections and/or additions to this list are welcome, thanks in advance. You can leave a comment on this blog post at Artstation or go to this thread at the Blender Artists community.

— Metin Seven, metinseven.nl

Toy robot promotional gift design

General / 08 November 2018

Some time ago I created a 3D robot design, which was spotted by a client who asked me to turn it into a toy robot design for a promotional gift.

This is the original design:

And this is the adjusted plastic promotional gift variant:

As you can see I’ve added the company logo, adjusted the legs to better match the arms, and to be robust enough for a small plastic figurine. I also removed the antennae to make the figurine a little more compact, and added teeth for a nicer smile.

Because the company develops drone control software the robot should be able to fly, but propellors didn't really work, so I added a jetpack.

The amount of colors was reduced to only two shades of blue, because each extra color raises the price of the final product.

Blender 3D tip — Realistic Specular value in Principled shader

Tutorial / 02 November 2018

I love Blender 3D. It's a deservedly popular and successful open source 3D editor. Together with ZBrush it's my most important tool for 3D creation. Since version 2.79, Blender's Cycles renderer includes the Principled shader, enabling you to create most material types using a single shader node. I'm happy to share a little tip for a slightly more realistic result.

The reflectivity of a material created with the Principled shader node is usually a balance between three values: Specular, Roughness and IOR. IOR is an abbreviation of Index Of Refraction, and indicates how much light rays are bent when they are reflected or refracted.

Every material has an average IOR value. For really accurate results each light wavelength reflecting from or refracting through a real-world material has its own IOR value, but an average IOR value usually suffices in the world of 3D.

Higher IOR values increase the light bending effect. In the case of reflections, this causes a surface to generally become more reflective. For example, shiny metals usually have a higher average IOR value than plastics.

A great online resource of IOR values for all kinds of materials is the IOR List at Pixel and Poly.

The Specular value of Blender's Principled shader is usually left at the default generic value of 0.5, but for a more realistic result there's a formula to convert a material's IOR value to the corresponding Specular value:

Specular = ( ( IOR − 1 ) / ( IOR + 1 ) ) ² / 0.08

Some examples, applying this formula:

  • Water: IOR = 1.33, Specular value = 0.25
  • Glass: IOR = 1.5, Specular value = 0.5
  • Diamond: IOR = 2.417, Specular value = 2.15

To automate this formula for the Principled shader I've made a little node setup that processes an IOR input value to the correct Specular value:

As shown in the screenshot:

  1. Group the formula node setup to a single group node with a value input slot, and label it 'IOR to Specular'.
  2. Connect the IOR to Specular formula node group to the Principled shader's Specular input slot.
  3. Connect an Input ➔ Value node to both the node group's input slot and the Principled shader's IOR input slot. For clarity, enter 'IOR' as the Value input node's label.

For clarity: this node setup translates a material's IOR value to the Principled shader's Specular value, while the Principled shader's own IOR value only applies to refraction (the Transmission setting in the shader), but it's convenient to already plug the IOR value into the IOR slot as well, in case you want to add refraction (Transmission).

Now all you have to do is look up the correct IOR value for each of your materials and enter that in the IOR Value input node. Note that you'll still need to adjust the Roughness value, but this node setup adds a little bit of realism to the Principled shader.

Below you can see two test renderings I made using Blender's Suzanne test-monkey, with a Roughness value of 0.5. As you can see, the interaction between the IOR value and the Specular value causes a sheen of specularity to appear, without using the Principled shader's Metallic or Sheen option.

I hope this helps you achieve slightly more realistic renderings!

— Metin Seven, metinseven.nl

Blender 3D auto-retopology add-ons

Article / 28 October 2018

Some time ago I wrote this article about automatic polygon retopology tools, comparing the Autopo auto-retopologizer in 3D-Coat to the ZRemesher auto-retopologizer in ZBrush.

As I love to use Blender 3D alongside ZBrush, I've been waiting for a decent auto-retopology tool inside Blender for a long time now. Blender does not yet include an automatic quad-retopology function, only a generic, voxel-based quad-poly projection method in the shape of the Remesh modifier, which doesn't orient the polygon flow to the surface features, and usually results in artifacts when the result is subdivided. The Remesh modifier could be compared to the old Remesh All tool in ZBrush, which is generally inferior to what might be called its successor in Zbrush: Dynamesh, and more inferior to the impressive ZRemesher auto-retopology tool in ZBrush.

Recently, two very affordable auto-retopology add-ons have been released for Blender: DynRemesh and Tesselator, also called Particle Remesh. I bought both of them and performed a quick 'n' simple test. Both add-ons are easy to install, and after installation the options are available in Blender's Tool shelf at the left side of the user interface.

For the test I used Blender's Suzanne monkey mascot, but deleted the separate eyes of the model, and closed the eye sockets using the Grid Fill tool in Edit Mode, to form a watertight, manifold mesh for the test. Then I subdivided the mesh a couple of times, to smooth the surface. I didn't change the default settings of both add-ons. I used DynRemesh version 1.5, and Tesselator / Particle Remesh version 1.0.

The screenshot's top row shows the results, while the bottom row has subdivision added to the results.

As you can see, both add-ons result in fully quadrangular topology. If you focus on an even topology distribution, Tesselator / Particle Remesh seems to be the best of the two Blender solutions, with a result that comes close to the Instant Meshes auto-retopology algorithm. Tesselator / Particle Remesh uses its own proprietary, particle-based auto-retopology algorithm, while DynRemesh is essentially an automated combination of native Blender modifiers and tools under the hood.

Both solutions show topology artifacts in different areas after subdivision, if you look at the bottom two versions of Suzanne. This is caused by three topological factors:

  1. The amount of five-sided, six-sided and sometimes even seven-sided or eight-sided singularities: multi-edge junctions that form a star-shaped knot, sharing the same center vertex. These multi-sided singularities become visible artifacts when subdivided because they interrupt the flow of edge loops / quad-polygon loops.
  2. The positioning of multi-sided singularities. When placed at strategic surface locations, singularities can become less visible.
  3. Surface curvature versus edge loop flow / quadrangular polygon loop flow. The more edge loops follow changes in the surface curvature of a mesh, the smoother the subdivided result will be.

Dynremesh shows a rather distorted topology distribution in some areas, but other areas are looking better when subdivided than the Tesselator / Particle Remesh result, such as the surrounding edges of the eye sockets, while Tesselator / Particle Remesh performs better in preserving the shape of the mouth.

In conclusion, these Blender add-ons don't yield the sophisticated results of 3D-Coat Autopo or ZBrush ZRemesher, but those are comparatively expensive commercial tools. In my personal opinion, Tesselator / Particle Remesh is currently the best choice for auto-retopology inside Blender. At the time I write this it has a lower price than DynRemesh, and the current Tesselator / Particle Remesh version 1.0 features more useful additional options than DynRemesh version 1.5, such as being able to use Grease Pencil strokes to guide the auto-retopology process.

Last but not least, I hope someone will soon release a usable implementation of the Quadriflow algorithm, which is an improved version of the above-mentioned Instant Meshes auto-retopology method.

— Metin Seven (metinseven.nl)

Love hurts

General / 02 October 2018

I found this old scribble in my ar(t)chive. I still like the concept.


Mickey the Poo

General / 25 September 2018

Mickey the Poo. 💩