November 10, 2017
This is a scene that I composed in a couple of days in Blender. The grass and dirt textures were painted on. The textures are relatively small tiles of high resolution. The tiling is minimized by a shader that uses a chaos mapping technique. Additional brightness and saturation noise was added to the grass to add variation. The trees and bushes are instanced particles on several low resolution meshes that are shrinkwrapped on the base ground mesh. There are three particle systems for different tree types and sizes. I will be making some improvements in this soon. The water shader was made of the “tricky water” shader plus a mixture of a glossy shader to brighten it up a bit.
October 25, 2017
A 360 degree panorama of the Alamo Plaza and surroundings as it might have appeared in 1836. The point of view is on the cannon platform in the southwest corner of the compound.
This is the position of the Alamo’s largest cannon, the 18-pounder which was fired in defiance of Santa Anna’s demand to surrender. This location is next to the Low Barrack which served as the main gate. You can see part of an outer fortification around the entrance Looking to the southeast, there are a row of cottonwood trees along the avenue known as The Alameda. This is Commerce Street today.
The Plaza de Valero is to the south. Now the site of the gazebo and Menger Hotel, in 1836, it was occupied by small jacales and a few stone houses. After the Mexican army took advantage of these structures for cover in an early skirmish, the Texians burned the closest jacales to the ground.
Continue panning to the right to see the acequia that ran along the outside of the west wall. This ditch was made by the Mexican army during its occupation the previous year replacing one that ran inside the compound. The town of San Antonio de Bexar is across the river and can be easily recognized by the San Fernando church. Its bell tower is flying the red flag indicating that no quarter should be given to the Texians. A careful observer can also spot the footbridge over the river to the southwest as well as the back of the Veramendi house.
Inside the compound, along the west wall, a partially filled ditch marks the remains of the old acequia. Looking north, you can see the blacksmith shop with outside forge and the thatched-roof Treviño house. Pan to the right to see the north wall cannon platforms, north row houses, granary and convento (or Long Barrack). You can just see the church of the Alamo above the thatched-roof kitchen.
This render involved the completion of the details in the blacksmith/forge, improved thatch texture and extensive “landscaping.” The memory requirements for the scene made it necessary to render using the CPU. The 6000 x 3000 pixel render took 4 hours to complete.
August 15, 2017
One of the earliest acequias in San Antonio was known as the Concepción or Pajalache Acequia. Built in the early 1700s, it served the fields south of San Antonio de Bexar and the Mission Concepción. The acequia was reputed to be as wide as 20 feet and could be navigated for maintenance by a small boat. The source of the acequia was a reservoir on the San Antonio river formed by a stone dam near the present-day Briscoe museum and Presa (Dam) Street.
This animation shows what the dam might have looked like in 1836. My main reference was photos of the Espada Dam south of San Antonio.
This was perhaps my most complex project to date and took about 8 weeks to complete. Much of the time was spent exploring different workflows to create the waterfall effect.
Blender can simulate water but not at this scale and does not easily produce whitewater (spray, foam and bubbles). I modeled the dam and basic ground in blender and imported to Houdini which has a complete set of water simulation tools. After learning how to use the tools an get something satisfactory, I explored ways of importing the simulation back into Blender for rendering. I was able to get a pretty good result for the basic water but not the whitewater. I ended up rendering the falls and lower water flow in Houdini and compositing with the rest of the scene from Blender. The Houdini render at a resolution of 640 x 360 took about 5 hours.
I spent about two weeks in Blender working out the other elements of the scene: deciding on the composition, modeling the dam and acequia gate, and adding the foliage. The ripples in the reservoir were made by animating a displacement texture in Blender.
I used Photoshop to create a mask for compositing and Houdini to bring all of the elements together.
June 16, 2017
Colonel Ygnacio de LaBastida, Commander of the Engineers of the Army of the North in 1836, made a map of the area around San Antonio de Bexar and the Alamo compound. The map prominently featured two ponds just to the east of the walls of the convento courtyard and adjacent to the Alamo acequia (a probable source of the water in the field). This image depicts a view of the back of the Alamo across one of these ponds. The vantage point corresponds to a location approximately at the northeastern corner of the present day Alamo grounds.
For this render, I improved the textures on the rear of the Alamo church and convento and continued to experiment with terrain modeling and flora.
May 31, 2017
This is a view of the outside of the west wall of the Alamo compound. The thatched roof structure is the rear of the Treviño house which served as the headquarters of Travis. In the foreground, there is an acequia that ran parallel to the west wall. This acequia replaced the one that ran inside the compound.
My recent work has been centered on improving the ground model and workflow. I reworked the acequias to have a more rustic, ditch-like appearance because I now believe that the dressed stone lining was added later in the 19th century.
To make this scene, the ground was replaced with a relatively small plane with even subdivisions, then shrink-wrapped on the base ground mesh. The surface was tessellated using a noise texture. The edge of the acequia was sculpted for a more natural look. The water shader was improved. Several types of grass and weeds from the Grass Essentials product were added: a base of short green grass, a pattern of longer brownish grass, longer green grass on the edge of the acequia, a very long yellow/brown grass and finally some nettles.
Some improvements were made to the model of the compound: the poles in the roof and the bricks in the windows were made more irregular. Wood lintels were also added.
Photoshop was used to improve the contrast and correct the tone.
April 19, 2017
This is an improved animation test. New textures. Better lighting. Changed the church facade to reflect earlier (1840) drawings. Added officer on horseback. Added flag bearer.
- Models and background render: Blender
- Crowd simulation and animation; Compositing: Houdini
- Textures: Allegorithmic Substance Painter
- Video editing: Movie Studio Platinum 14
March 19, 2017
This is my first attempt at using Houdini in my work flow. Houdini is a powerful procedural modeling and animation tool that is widely used for VFX productions–think explosions, fire, floods, etc. One possible use for me is in the creation of scenes with large numbers of Mexican soldiers. This is a test of Houdini’s crowd simulation to depict the arrival of Santa Anna’s army into San Antonio de Bexar on February 23, 1836.
My workflow to create the scene shown above was as follows:
- My previously created soldado model from Blender and Substance Painter was modified to use a single material.
- Marching and standing animations were created in Blender.
- The animated soldado was imported into the free Houdini Apprentice version using FBX as an agent primitive.
- In Houdini, the agent was used to create several groups of soldados in formation with randomized sizes and animation offsets.
- The ground mesh and buildings from the Main Plaza were imported into Houdini using FBX.
- The scene was composed by translating and rotating the marching groups.
- A camera was added and positioned in Houdini.
- A matching camera was positioned in Blender.
- The scene in Blender (no soldiers) was rendered as a background image.
- The animation was rendered in Houdini containing just the soldados and their shadows.
- The background, marchers and shadows were composited in Houdini and rendered.
- The composited output sequence was rendered to MP4 in Movie Studio and uploaded to YouTube.
The result still has some work to do. This part of my model still uses materials and textures from 7 years ago. The lighting needs work. The standing soldiers need animation and more variation. The scene should include other types of soldados, officers, horses and townfolk.
I am also interested in exploring an alternate workflow in which the Houdini animation of the crowds is imported through the Alembic format into Blender for rendering. This requires the purchase of the Indie version of Houdini.