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.
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.
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.
April 24, 2016
Animation of a soldado walking in front of the San Fernando church in the Main Plaza of San Antonio de Bexar.
Continuing my study of animation, this render is an improvement of the previous try. The feet make good contact with the ground thanks to a feature of MakeWalk. I fixed some problems with the skinning of the model to the rig and I used the Blender compositor to reduce the render time by only rendering the foreground for the full sequence.
December 25, 2015
Ben Milam looks at Mexican position on San Fernando church
In 1835, Ben Milam lead a small group of Texians into San Antonio de Bexar in an attempt to take the town from Mexican forces commanded by General Martin Perfecto de Cos. From the courtyard of the Veramindi house, Milam studied the Mexican positions around the San Fernando church using a field telescope given to him by Stephen Austin. He was killed by a shot to the head from a Mexican sharpshooter in a tree across the river.
This 3D model was made using the Makehuman tool and Blender. The textures were created in Substance Painter.
Link to Sketchfab model.