Posts tagged maxwell render

The Wonderful World of 3D

And I’m NOT talking about stereoscopic imagery! There are a lot of new 3D tools out there, from free, to cheap, to expensive. They all have their place and in this short blog post, I explore some of them.

In a single day today, I used about six different 3D apps, which ranged from Newtek Lightwave 3D, Video Copilot Element 3D, Pixologic Sculptris, NextLimit RealFlow, NextLimit Maxwell Studio, and NextLimit Maxwell Render. Because of their diversity in what they do, I figured I’d blog about. As much as all of them are different in cost, performance, and features, they all output great quality 3D imagery in the end. In a nutshell, 3D has come a LONG way.

Let’s start with FREE. I recently stumbled upon Pixologic’s Sculptris 3D modeling application (widely known for their ZBrush software), which is totally free to download without trial limitations imposed. It’s a pretty simple program, but it has some really cool modeling features that act more like shaping clay than dealing with polys, points, or NURBs. I started with a sphere, and ended up with the model you see below within 5 minutes. It’s really that easy. I could have spent more time detailing this model out, but I was just tinkering so I stopped there.

Pixologic Sculptris allows for an organic approach to easy 3D modeling. Did I mention it’s free?

I brought the alien 3D model into Newtek Lightwave 3D ($1495) which employs a dedicated modeler application and animation application. I’ve been working with Lightwave since 1996 so it’s safe to say it’s my flagship 3D software suite of choice here at OneRiver Media (expect a review on the latest Lightwave 11 update from me over at Creative COW in the near future). I mostly wanted to bring the model into Lightwave to see how the polys converted over, as well as assign surfaces to specific polys. Nothing too complex here, but the model imported perfectly fine.

Newtek Lightwave 3D reads the model from Sculptris without any issues.

I did decide however to bring it into NextLimit’s Maxwell Studio/Render 2.7 ($995) and set up a scene to render it using their brand new grass feature. Maxwell is a photo-realistic rendering engine that uses a virtual photonic energy process, rather than traditionally based rendering engines. Their new grass feature is amazing and offers a ton of tweaking. In the example below, I set up the alien head on a flat plane primitive, where I then applied the grass to the plane. I only used a single color with constant grass coverage, so nothing too detailed. Again, I was just tinkering to get some render passes through to see how well things are working with the new features. Nonetheless, even only spending a very short amount of time of dabbling, I think the renders turned out well.

Model brought into Maxwell Studio, Maxwell Grass added, rendered in Maxwell Render. Note the depth-of-field (DOF).

Here’s a close-up of the alien head lying on the grass. One of the really cool things about Maxwell Grass is that the grass blades don’t poke in or through the model like other grass plugins I’ve used in the past. The grass blades form and fan out to accommodate the shape of the interacting 3D object. I didn’t have to tell Maxwell to do this; it just did it.

Grass blades form and fan out against 3D models. Final image denoised using Magic Bullet Denoiser II, one of my secret weapons for 3D animation renders.

Here’s a screen capture of how I have the two apps set up on my monitor: Maxwell Studio on the left and Maxwell Render on the right. Before final render, I use Maxwell’s Fire window (not pictured) to interactively see the render update in real-time.

Maxwell Studio on the left, Maxwell Render on the right.

Okay, so now I wanted to switch gears a bit. I finally got Video Copilot’s new Element 3D (starts at $149, and goes up with bundling) installed and wanted to give that a quick spin as well. It’s a brand new piece of software that works inside of Adobe After Effects. It has a few limitations so far (no shadows is a big one), but despite some of its limitations, it has some incredible features and at low cost. It performs very quickly and the quality is quite good. For some projects, this 3D tool is perfect without the need of high-end 3D suites.

Here’s the interface where I have Element 3D open, using one of their missile 3D objects that was included in the Element 3D Studio Bundle we purchased (all inclusive at $495: Element 3D, Pro Shaders, 6 model packs).

Video Copilot’s new Element 3D is a treat to work with. Extremely fast, easy to use, and the price is right. I’ve wanted 3D integration like this in After Effects for many years.

From there, I worked in the main layout in After Effects. I added a single point light (where the burner is emitting from), a background plate I shot, a solid layer for Particular (smoke trail effect from burner), and a lens flare using Video Copilot’s other software, Optical Flares (starts at $125).  Here’s the result I made in a very short amount of time:

Using Element 3D in conjunction with other tools in After Effects can quickly lead to exciting results.

Last for today’s 3D workings is back to NextLimit, this time using their RealFlow application ($4000 per license, yes all those zeros isn’t a typo). We recently acquired a new license along with some added RealFlow Nodes ($500 each) to speed up solution time (not to be confused with rendering time). I’m working on a new splash logo (pun intended) for OneRiver Media during off time.

RealFlow is a fluid dynamics engine at heart, and also employs collision detection of other types (soft and hard body objects). It’s quite amazing when it comes down to it. For this splash logo, I’m adding the water physics itself (splashing into the logo), as well as bubbles, foam, mist, and spray. It can get quite deep, and the possibilities are endless. It’s a slow process (set up, physics solution processing, testing, and final rendering) but the final results are nothing short of spectacular with truly life-like results.

Setting up a RealFlow scene with OneRiver Media logo and fluid dynamics. Shown here in particle form. Final output will be rendered in Maxwell Render.

So from literally free 3D software to very expensive 3D software, we’ve covered a large gamut of options. And as mentioned in the beginning, they all produce quality results, something not possible even just ten years ago. The possibilities are endless for the 3D dabbler, as well as the 3D professional.

Check out my older blog post about using 3D as part of your creative arsenal, where I write about other free 3D software solutions you can start using.


Adding 3D Modeling & Animation to your Creative Arsenal

In the ever-growing demand of clients wanting more creative options from you, their creative go-to person, you might want to seriously consider learning 3D modeling and animation. Today there are powerful and even FREE software packages out there for 3D modeling and animation, with even more free tutorials abound.

A large 3D project we did for Cisco that was modeled and animated in Lightwave 3D. This scene shows the setup of a large city block with heavy traffic.

I remember in the early 1990’s when 3D software was young and basically reflected this: really cheesy looking and labor-intensive, or if it was nice looking, was extremely expensive, and reserved to exclusive users. And any which way you looked at it, it was extremely slow, unless you had a $50k SGI workstation. To that end, my limited 3D software choices included Specular Infini-D, Strata Studio Pro, and the short-lived Adobe Dimensions, Adobe’s first and only (feeble) attempt at a dedicated 3D application (which was then a short-lived plugin for Adobe Illustrator). In short, this was both frustrating and limiting. The good thing however, is that it taught me (i.e., forced me) essential basics for my future 3D foundation, to which I would later be grateful for.

Around 1996, I bought our first license of Newtek Lightwave 3D. Finally a 3D software package that was both affordable and powerful. For me, this allowed me, for the first time, to really model and animate in 3D with features and rendering options that I had only dreamed about before (oooh, soft shadows!).  At this point, I could really offer my clients new creative options for their productions. I also added Electric Image Animation System (EIAS), which was (and is still available today) solely a 3D animation/rendering package (no modeling) but gave me a different approach to 3D animation than Lightwave, and was used accordingly, depending on the project. In short, the birth of affordable and functional 3D software was finally starting to bloom throughout the market place. These were exciting times!

Practically any 3D model you can think of is available free or for purchase. This low polygon count Star Wars TIE Fighter was added to our 3D model library back in the late 1990's. One of the 3D animation programs we used, "Electric Image Animation System" or "EIAS" was also used for the original Star Wars re-makes.

The only problem in the mid-to-late nineties was the limited resources for learning 3D modeling and animation. You either had to enroll in a physical school that you had to attend (and they were few and far between), you had to rely on monthly trade magazines in hopes they’d cover something you could use, you could mail-order VHS instructional videos, or you had to buy a book on the topic (usually the best option at the time).

Fast-forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century and you literally have a plethora of informational resources on any 3D software package, on any topic, and at any proficiency level, whether it’s online training, YouTube videos, downloadable eBooks, or the traditional print media approach.

But the best part is, if you’re new to the 3D world, you can either try some software for free (either limited in features or limited in time), or you can perpetually use free 3D software, legally, like Blender 3D. Blender is an open source 3D software package (Linux, OSX, Windows) with a strong user-base, with enough online tutorials, videos, and forums to keep you learning until the polygon cows come home.  This is a viable way to at least see if you like 3D and want to grow into it and offer it to your clients as a professional service.

Blender is an open source (free) 3D modeling, animation and rendering app that runs on Linux, OSX and Windows.

For me personally, I still use Newtek Lightwave 3D after fifteen years as my software package of choice, whether a complex medical animation for FDA approval, or for a simple packaging animations for UPS. The excitement of starting a new project and producing something from scratch in a “3D world” is something that always keeps things fun. We also use Maxwell Renderer for some photo-realistic rendering and good old Poser 3D, which we find useful for storyboard production. And there are many other 3D packages abound; Maya, Cinema 4D, 3D Studio Max, SoftImage XSI, Houdini, Modo, and Strata 3D are but a few packages that can also cater to your needs. Also check out Bryce 3D for fun 3D landscape and terrain visualization.

Using Lightwave 3D to model and Maxwell Render (shown) to render, we created the printed 2006-2007 Reel Directory cover.

And if you’re not big on 3D modeling, but you are interested in 3D animation, then you’re in luck. There are many 3D model resources out there where you can buy and download 3D models for free or for a price (like stock footage libraries). Price usually goes hand-in-hand with the kind of detail that’s involved with the 3D model. Our favorite 3D model library over the years has been Turbo Squid. In most cases, buying a pre-built 3D model is more efficient and economical. Why spend 3 days building a highly detailed model with full texture mapping when one has already been built for you? In reality, the cost is minimal in comparison.

Using Lightwave 3D and Poser, we can create storyboards and animatics with full customization. Want to tweek the camera angle a bit? No problem... no need to re-draw the whole thing by hand; just move the camera and re-render. Done.

A quick caveat: If you’re completely new to 3D, be prepared to undergo a new way of learning something. Working in 3D is nothing like the way you work in video editing, or even 2D motion graphics for that matter. Even the implementation of pseudo-3D features in compositing applications like Adobe After Effects is completely different than working in true 3D in any other dedicated 3D software suite. It’s a different mind-set and a different approach to the creative process.

But fear not; once you learn the basic foundations of 3D space, modeling, lighting, surfacing, animating and rendering, you’ll literally have a whole new world open to you that you never had before. I can attest that at least 90% of my fellow editor colleagues, and even motion graphics colleagues (and talented ones at that) do not use true 3D software packages as part of their personal creative toolset. This means more work for me, and can mean more work for you. Admittedly, it does seem to be somewhat of a rare breed for someone to truly envelope themselves in 3D production, but if you desire it and develop the skill set for it, the market is yours for the taking.

Remember, patience is your greatest ally when learning 3D. Before you know it, you’ll be working with fluid dynamics, inverse kinematics, global illumination, and everything else that will knock your clients’ socks off!

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