Monday, December 24, 2012

The Nightly Cintiq Sketch

Well, I pulled out the Cintiq to do a little sketching.  Wow, I miss drawing.  Need to do it a lot more.
Sketchbook Pro - about 10 minutes a piece:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Maya joints...

I'm so tired of fighting joints in Maya.  Joint orientation has got to be the most worthless working method ever devised.  End of story.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Perspective and Change

I never thought I would say it, but I will.  I am no longer a "Pixarian".  I guess I have been that way for a little over a week now, but I have made the transition, moved 600 miles north to my original home, and I am now a 3D Digital Design Lead at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. 

I really had no idea that I would ever leave Pixar.  Nor did I ever intend to.  When walking into the Main building at 1200 Park Avenue in Emeryville, I felt I had found the place that I wanted to die, where I wanted to end my career.  I felt that I had finally made it, and I could now get down to the nitty gritty of doing things the Pixar way for the rest of my working life.  But that was not to be.

It was an absolutely incredible time while I was there.  I can't even begin to describe the insane amounts of talent, ingenuity, and genius that are housed within that building - technically and artistically.  It really is magical.  Not because people float around on magic scooters, touching their computers with magic wands to create surreal imagery on the screen.  Not because they have all of the answers that no one else has seemed to figure out.  It is because of the tireless efforts, and sometimes insanely painful heroics, of each employee to pound through the wall of impossibility and make it possible.  To me, Pixar is not just about the movies they make, but about the people that make them.  I will genuinely miss those that I worked with.  They pushed me, challenged me, and inspired me.  But I look ahead with great anticipation at what lies in front of me.

Please pardon the rambling, but I'm going to get a bit philosophical here. 

I know there are many artists out there that would give their non-mouse arm for a position at Pixar.  I would have.  When I have told them that I was leaving, they looked at me in utter disbelief.  They could not imagine how I could choose to leave.  Three years ago, I would have felt the same way.  Time has a funny way of changing your perspective, and helping you to see that sometimes what you see as your dreams are really just temporary fulfillment.  They aren't really what you REALLY want.  They are just what you want at that moment.  Sometimes you have to step back and reassess what your goals in life are, and where your current trajectory is taking you.  That's what I had to do, and I had to make the decision to correct my course.  Going to Pixar was absolutely the right choice at the time.  I will never regret that decision.  Starting at Pixar was like strapping a fire hose to your mouth and having Stanley Spadowski tell you that you found the marble in the oatmeal.  So much wisdom, so little brain capacity!  But the longer I was there, the more that I realized that I could not meet my real goals and keep the firehose attached at the same time.  So I had to remove it.  I feel that, for me, I chose the better part.

I will miss my genius friends that blow me away with their talents.  I will miss the feeling of watching your creations get up on the big screen.  I will miss the team meetings with endless mentions of Kenny G.  I will miss the awe-inspiring Upper East Gallery.  I will miss seeing the look on people's faces when I tell them where I work.  I will miss driving under that beautiful sign every morning.  I will miss barely being able to walk between cars in the parking lot.  Most of all, I will miss the cereal bar. 

Sometimes, you find your real dreams by achieving another dream.  And when it comes down to it, there is more to life than pushing pixels.

To infinity, and beyond!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Turntable 01

Here is a turntable of where I am at with painting and sculpting. Getting better and faster every day!  It's hard to see the detail in this video, but it's there.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Returning to an old friend...

So I have decided that I need to finish an old character that I have been working on for a long time.  The model is done, but now I'm cutting my teeth on painting textures and extracting normal maps in ZBrush.  So far so good.  Here is where I am at so far:

More to come on this in the coming days.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Tool Productivity Curve

This is the first in a series of discussions about software productivity and usability.  It is a follow up to my previous post called "Why 3D Software Stinks - Part 1"

You have been forewarned.  This could go a tad long.

Many who know me know that I can get really excited and passionate about tools.  I use a plethora of tools every day, and it is a pretty tough job to stay on top of what is out there.  There are so many ways to do my job, but I tend to gravitate to the ones that make my job faster, easier, and get me to my goal quicker.  I've used (not mastered) just about every 3D package I can get my hands on in some way, and usually within 5-10 minutes, I know if I like it or not.  Call me picky, but I'm a UX snob.  In a world of iOS, Android, YouTube, and the like, where user interaction makes very difficult tasks very simple and straight forward, even for those unexperienced users, 3D has fallen dreadfully behind.

I started in 3D in 1999 using Maya 1.0 on an SGI O2 with 512 MB of RAM.  Back then, that machine SMOKED!!)  I learned to love flying chrome logos and raytracing.  But I cane from the art/illustration side.  I loved drawing, and I loved characters.  But this new world (to me) sucked me in with incredible force.  I looked at this software and thought of what I could was endless...until I tried it.  I quickly learned that I could do anything, given that I scoured the documentation for days at a time, stayed up all night for weeks on end, and fumbled my way through it.  Until at last, I was finished.  I did it.  Well, at least what I was willing to take after all of that pain and anguish.  I had achieved my goal, kind of.  I put blood, sweat, and tears into my volcano model with particles spewing from it, only to find that after all of that, it still wasn't what I wanted. But it was good enough.

That was the beginning of my quest.  That quest has yet to be fulfilled.  It has come close, so very close.  But it has never completely been satisfied.

Between my Junior and Senior year at BYU, I got an internship at a small video game studio in SLC called Avalanche Software.  They didn't use the mighty Maya.  They used and obscure piece of software I had never heard of called Animation:Master.  It wasn't Nurbs.  It wasn't polys.  It was spline patches.  My first assignment was to sit down and model a head.  So I did - the way I had done poly models.  Not knowing how splines worked, it turned out horrible.  I couldn't understand why anyone would want to work like that. But I was doing it the Maya way - the only way that I knew how.  Maya made perfect sense to me...that was, until I saw the light.  I then understood why they used it.  I was simple, fast, efficient, and streamlined, even if it was buggy :)  We flew through assets like Maya only dreamed of.

In the ensuing years, I used A:M exclusively and came to understand what "usability" really is.  It is still one of the best examples of a truly non-linear pipeline ever.  Nothing that I have tried has ever come close.

Usability is one of those things that we in the CG industry seem to put aside in favor of eye candy.  We go to SIGGRAPH and GDC and oooh and aaaah at the new tech that we see - the amazing new tools that are out there, and we so badly want to get our grubby little hands on them.  But once we do, the magic seems to die.  Why is that?  Is it because the tool doesn't work as advertised?  Is it because we can't fit it into our pipeline?  Usually not.  It's usually because the complexity is far greater than we have time to learn.  We want something that we can jump into, become productive, and use as an asset in our tool pipe.  We want it to make us faster with as little ramp up time as possible, because in this industry (especially games), time is of the utmost importance.  Time is $$$$.  The faster a tool gets us to our goal, and the better the result, the more important the tool is to us.

This is where the Tool Productivity Curve comes into play.  I cane up with this about a year ago, and I feel that it holds true in almost every situation. There are things that it might not fit, but they are very small and insignificant to the whole.  So here it is:

The graph is pretty self-explanatory.  As the tool complexity (usability and ease of interaction) gets higher, there is a point at which there is an ideal balance between usability and feature set.  This balance produces the highest productivity.  Even though there is a learning curve, it is simple and straight forward.  It is easy to understand and retain.  But as the toolset gets more and more robust and complicated, the productivity tends to drop because it is just too difficult to use, too difficult to remember, and too confusing.  On the left of the graph, the tool is SUPER easy to use, but incredibly deficient in it's capabilities.  On the right, the toolset is so extensive, that it's hard to keep track of how to use it.  There are too many ways to do the same thing, and it is confusing to the user.  Somewhere in the middle, you have the sweet spot.

Here is an example of two extremes, and it is funny how they come from the exact same company - Pixologic.  

ZBrush vs. Sculptris
On one hand, we have Sculptris, an amazing package that lets you get right down to the business of sculpting.  You choose your brush and go for it.  Import an OBJ, and have at it.  Then export that OBJ. That's about it.  Simple, simple, simple.  But I can't retopo.  I can't really bake detailed maps.  I can't articulate my mesh.  The mesh is all tris so it is really messy. So it leaves me hanging.  

On the other hand, we have ZBrush.  Don't get me wrong, I love ZBrush.  I own it for a reason.  It is amazing.  But I will say that it has taken me years to get used to it (not that I am really used to it even still).  I resisted for the longest time using it in my production workflow because it was so hard to integrate.  The whole 2.5D stuff, let alone the fact that your models were called "Tools" and your scene was called a "document" and it wasn't even really a scene.  The learning curve was/is astronomical.  That's why it has taken me so long to adopt it.  When I can jump into Mudbox, which is basically Maya and Photoshop smashed together, do some quick sculpting on my OBJ, select faces or verts, look at my UVs, paint layered maps, etc., why should I go through the agonizing pain of trying to feel comfortable enough in ZBrush to do the same?  It would take weeks to get up to speed, and I can just jump into Mudbox.  And where the heck do I find the "File" menu?  Oh, it's half way across the screen.  Just sayin'. 

Both of these tools are amazing at what they do.  But neither of them truly fit the apex of the production curve.  Maya, Max, Modo, Softimage, Cinema4D, Blender...they are all getting better and better technology.  But from what I have seen, they are all getting further to the right, instead of balancing the tech with the usability.

I've often compared the usability of a tool to a Ferrari vs. a Pinto.  They are both cars,  They both move us from one place to another.  However, the tech in the Ferrari is hugely more advanced.  This allows us to get to where we are going more efficiently and faster than the Pinto.  Is it because they put more controls in the cockpit for the driver to use?  No.  All of the new tech is hidden under the hood and behind the dashboard.  It's still just a steering wheel, clutch, brake pedal, gas pedal, and the stick.  Usability has been optimized for the driver to sit down and know exactly what to do and punch it, even if they were driving a Ford Fiesta before that.  

Somehow we have been trained to think that a better tool has to be more complex.  That is bogus.  Some of the most effective tools that I have used in my job are extremely simple to the user, yet insanely sophisticated under the hood.  Other tools I have used have been "programmer tools for artists" and make no sense at all except for the person who wrote it.  The former is MUCH more productive.  When in a production environment, I don't care how the tool works under the hood, I just want to get into the driver's seat, strap in, and hit the gas.

More to come.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yeah, I don't know either...

Just don't ask.  It's been one of those days, it's late, and I'm really tired.  This crawled out of me while playing around....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

ZBrush Timelapse - Old Beard

Here was a 30 Minute ZBrush session.  Getting back into ZBrush to start doing some higer res characters, and prototyping a workflow.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

20 Min Dynamesh Test

This was a test with Dynamesh.  Took about 20 minutes.  Had to step away from the technical tasks for a few minutes before I went nuts.  Unfinished, but usable.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

1500 Tris

I did this model for a freelance project.  The client ended up not needing it, so I thought I would post it.  I modeled it in 3DS Max and Modo, and textured it in Photoshop.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Co-Worker Vampire Hunters

Just a sketch from work where we caricature-ize each other according to a certain topic.  Fun stuff!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sculptris to ZBrush....Not a fan.

So I have been experimenting taking Sculptris models into ZBrush.  So far, I'm not liking the results.  Because it's all tris, it tessellates very strangely, so when you divide up, you get all kinds of little pimple pock marks all over your mesh. Since I'm waiting to get 4R3, I'm using the 4.0 trial, so there is no Dynamesh :(  That would probably do it for me!  Either way, I'm really beginning to like this workflow, and I cant wait to get my hands on Dynamesh.

The Sculptris mesh in ZBrush

This is what happens when you subdivide the model up...not pretty.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Sculptris Head

So I'm continuing exploring what I want the head to look like for my new personal project.  This was done in Sculptris.  I'm really liking it for roughing out a character and getting the shapes quickly, but it leaves a lot to be desired with the artifacting that happens when you subdivide the model.  I need Dynamesh for that!  Hopefully soon!  But I opened this in Modo and did some retopology on it and it was looking great.  I'm liking the new process that I'm coming up with.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blender 2.62 Remesh Test

ZBrush 4.2 is getting a lot of attention with the new Dynamesh, and I think it is absolutely awesome for an artistic workflow.  However, when I saw that Blender implemented the same thing, I wanted to see how it worked.  I was pleasantly surprised :)  The tools for sculpting have come a LONG way since they were first adopted, and so I gave it a shot...and I had to use my mouse! (Linux dropped my wacom support, and I didn't want to restart.)  Here's how it turned out starting from a sphere, rendered in Cycles, after about 15 minutes:

It's not anatomically perfect, but I'll try it again with a tablet next time. It's still not ZBrush, but for a FREE tool, it's really a great weapon to have in my arsenal.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Spent an hour or so modeling the toes tonight.  I once saw a news story about how a man lost his thumb in a shop accident, so they sewed a cadaver's big toe onto his hand, and it works perfectly.  Well, I just took a finger and made a toe out of it.  Seemed to work just fine too. :)  Now to just attach them to the feet.  I'm getting REALLY tired of how many times I have to click in Max.  Talk about carpel tunnel.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Attached Hands...

And now on to the the feet!  After a brief respite from the 1am nights, I got the hands modeled and attached to the body.  Max is proving to be pretty good for modeling, if I could just find a tool to "tweak" the verts.  That, and I find that the brushes aren't very good at getting what I want.  Normally at this point, I would export it to Modo or Silo for refining, but I'm going to stick it out.  Hopefully soon I'll be starting the head.  About 6 hours in total at this point.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hand Modeling Timelapse Parts 2, 3

Here are parts 2 and 3.  There are still some points where I am trying to find the right tool, but again, feeling like I'm getting really comfortable...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hand Modeling Timelapse

Here's the video I promised in the previous post.  It's unedited and fraught with mistakes, and keep in mind that I'm still learning 3DS Max :)  There's no sounds and it's 2x real speed.


3DS Max Rambling and Wicked Fingers

So, like I said before, I'm learning 3DS Max.  Yeah.  Who knew that I could be in the game and film industry as a character TD for 11 years and have never used it in production?  Well, it's the truth. I have to say it is different, but I'm liking the tools.  It's going to take more getting used to than I anticipated, mainly because of a couple of things:  navigation that is NOT like Maya, Modo, Silo, or others; and how CTRL clicking is how you add to selections, NOT with Shift.  C'mon, really?  Every app on the planet uses SHIFT to add to a selection.  Oh well, it's a little thing.  It just slows me down a bit but nothing big.  I'm finding that I'm mainly using the same 4 tools: extrude, bridge, insert edge loop, and "Set Flow".  Not sure why it is called that, but okay.  There's a little thing I like to call "Click Rate" for every application, where in order to perform a command or function, how many clicks does it take?  For example, to bevel and edge:

  1. Select the edge
  2. Open the edge menu
  3. Select the bevel tool
  4. Click and drag on the edge
  5. Fit the new edges into place
That was 5 clicks to perform one function.  Pretty horrible workflow in my book.  Here's a possible solution:

  1. Hit a hotkey (ex:  hit the B key)
  2. Click and drag on an edge (or hold Shift while dragging for the entire loop) to bevel it out, and the bevel either interpolates the shape (cubic) or follows the edge directly (linear) according to your tool settings.
That was a hotkey and one click.  A much better scenario for modeling.

So far, 3DS Max is pretty high on the click-rate scale (that's a bad thing).  I think this is what most 3d Software suffers from.  There are ways to do better, and I haven't seen many of the mainstream apps do it very well.  I've been using Silo lately (wish they would continue developing it) and I really love the modeling tools, and how simple yet powerful they are.  They really got it right when they wrote that.

Anyways, I couldn't help but hear the soundtrack to "Wicked" playing while I modeled these :)  3DS Max modeling is getting a lot more I really need to learn the hotkeys to speed my workflow up, but I am feeling like I'm getting the hang of it.  This was about an hour of work.  I'll be redoing the nails so that they look correct, but for now, I think things are looking pretty good.  I did a timelapse video of this process, and maybe I'll post it soon.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Time to Learn Max

Well, I've decided that I need to learn 3DS Max.  I guess it's a good thing since most of the CG world uses it :)  Anyways, I've given it a shot, starting my character for my new project in it.  So far, it's very different than Maya, Modo, or Silo, but I'm liking a lot of the tools in it.  It's coming along quicker than I thought.  Now I just have to keep at it.  Here's a quick shot of my current progress, after a couple of hours (yes, I am LEARNING it...normally that wouldn't take me more than 30 minutes). 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Sea Tel Christmas Card

This was a quick animation I did for a client.  It took about a week to do, and is all done in Maya and Photoshop.  The sound was done by the great Ethan Halvorsen.  I think it turned out pretty well.