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.
November 13, 2016
Facade with new statues
The facade of the church of the Alamo has four empty niches. In 1836, it is believed that they contained statues of four saints: Anthony, Ferdinand, Francis and Dominic. The statue of Anthony had been damaged during some of the work on the compound the year before. This statue was found years later in a weedy lot near the Alamo and is on display in the Long Barrack museum.
My latest work has been to replace the low resolution statues in my model with improved high res digital sculptures.
The new statues were crafted by using the following workflow:
- A base mesh was created in MakeHuman and imported to Blender
- The model was posed along with some of the accessories that the figures carry.
- The posed models were imported into ZBrush where the clothing, hair and other details were sculpted in high detail.
- ZBrush was used to derive a lower polycount mesh from the high detail model.
- The low polycount model was imported into Substance Painter and the high detail model used to bake normal maps (giving the appearance of detail in the render).
- A limestone material was applied along with a layer of dirt.
- The resulting textures and low polycount model were imported into Blender and placed into the scene.
Here are renders of the individual statues taken from Substance Painter.
Saint Anthony (Antonio)
Saint Ferdinand (Fernando)
Saint Francis (Francisco)
Saint Dominic (Domingo)
And here are their SketchFab renders:
September 2, 2016
This is an experiment to use the YouTube 360 viewer for panoramic images.
I can now do 360 videos with animation (although this one is static).
In order to view this on iPhone/iPad, you need to use the YouTube app.
August 30, 2016
Facebook recently introduced a panorama viewer which lets a consumer view a 360 degree image by panning the mouse or moving a mobile device. The viewer requires an equirectangular image with a 2:1 aspect ratio and certain embedded metadata.
I created a scene in Blender with an equirectangular camera placed in the southern courtyard of the Alamo.
This site does not support panoramas but the scene can be viewed on my Facebook page: Alamo 2.0 or with a direct link to the post: Panorama Image (link may not work if you are not signed in to Facebook).
Panoramas give an immersive feeling–especially when viewed on a mobile device that can pan the image as the device is moved around. They are quick to download and work on just about any modern browser that supports HTML5–unlike a game engine presentation. Panoramas even support 360 videos.
An app could display a map with hot spots for 360 views or even use geo-fencing to pop up a view when the user walks to a certain place in San Antonio. Adding characters would place the viewer in the middle of a battle scene. Rendering in stereo for Google Cardboard would complete the VR experience. I am pretty excited about the uses of this technology for presenting my model.
July 29, 2016
Southeastern corner of the Alamo Church
This is a view of the southeastern corner of the 1836 Alamo Church from my model. The render was done in Blender Cycles. For this render, I completed the texturing of the walls and made improvements to the “door of the dead.” I lowered the tower a bit and added some cross supports. I am learning to create more realistic vegetation using the Blender Sapling add-on and the Grass Essentials product from Blender Guru.
See full resolution photo in the Gallery.
June 28, 2016
A short animation featuring my improved facade on my Alamo model.
June 21, 2016
Alamo Facade (see Gallery for full size)
Seven years ago I posted a video of my first Alamo 3D model on YouTube. Since then, I have been gradually improving my technical abilities and tools to create a more photo-realistic result.
The render above, represents my latest work: reworking the Alamo church facade. For comparison, here is a render of my model in 2009.
Here is a summary of the improvements:
- Using a physically accurate render engine with global illumination (Blender Cycles) produces realistic lighting.
- The lighting source is from an HDRI image (Hyperfocal Design). This is another important contribution to realistic lighting and background.
- Color grading. The rendered result was corrected to improve color balance.
- More geometry. The new model has a higher level of detail. For example the spirals in the pillars.
- Higher texel density. The size of the textures is sufficient for a sharp image of objects that are 1-2 meters from the camera. Also, the texel density is more uniform across objects in the scene.
- Bump and normal map textures add detail without increased geometry. For example, the decorations on the doorway.
- Physically based material workflow. Materials were created using Allegorithmic Substance Designer and Painter.
- Hand generated textures. The stonework textures were created by hand using a workflow involving Photoshop, Inkscape and Substance Painter. This allowed the addition of realistic weather, dirt and damage effects.
Not visible in this render are the other improvements like the complete modeling of Bexar and more realistic landscape around the San Antonio River.