Welcome to the Highlander Studios blog.

I won't promise any earth shattering revelations here. What I will be trying to do is post some new products as I release them, share some thoughts on gaming and show some pics of games and other stuff that I enjoy. So come in and make yourselves at home.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Power Armor Work in Blender

     Blender is still my goto software when I need to get a project done for someone. I'm not an expert with it by any means, but I have hundreds more hours of experience using it than other 3D design programs. It makes sense for some projects in particular where parts need to be moved and stay in relation to other parts. My current project is some Hell Diver power armor for Clear Horizons Miniatures.

     I label this version Mark II since it's the second iteration in Blender, but it's really Mark III. There was an aborted attempt to create this in Rhino. The following will include pictures as things developed. Along the way, changes were made as Harold or myself tweaked the design. There were also many changes based on the things I learned from working with this model.

     Here is the set of pictures from the first couple of night's work on Mark II.

     The overriding concept is that the Hell Diver sits in the suit and pilots it more than wears the armor. However, the head sticks out so the head in the model is just a rough place holder. There will be a hole in the collar area where the real head plugs in.

     It was also decided that since there would be multiple poses of this guy, the model should be built with interchangeable sections in mind. The breakdown is: Head, Torso, Hips and Legs, Arms and an optional heavy anti-materiel weapon. So five parts for the basic guy with a sixth optional piece.

     This picture is one with most of the armor completed and the underlying arm and leg structure bulked in. It also has the optional cannon.

     If you look closely, you notice that the torso was shortened. the location of the Shoulder joint was also moved. Work to this point was about 40 hours.

     Applying the lessons learned in work flow made finishing the rest of the parts a lot quicker. I did have to fiddle with the hands a good bit and the feet were done three times before I was happy with them.

     All of the components were finished. This is the point where I saved the parts out as .stl (sterolithography) files and uploaded them to Shapeways to check printability. This gave me an idea of where the problem spots (thin walls, reversed normals and such) were. I cleaned these areas up and sent them to Harold to check out with his printer guy.

     Blender has built in animation functionality. I've never used any of it before so there was a good evening of watching tutorials and another day and a half of learning about rigging, weight painting and parenting. Rigging is basically setting up the armature with bones beneath the surface of the model. The different parts of the model get parented to the bones. this means that the parts assigned to each bone will move in relation to the bone movement.

     For example: the black leg structure is parented to a bone with three segments; one for the thigh, one for the shin and one for the foot. Moving any one of these segments will move the associated portion of the leg. The thigh, shin and foot armor are parented to their respective segments, not the whole bone. Rotating the foot bone segment only rotates the foot armor. There is a hierarchy within the segments, though. so moving the shin bone moves the shin armor and also the foot bone with its armor. Likewise, moving the thigh moves all of the armor in relation.

     These parts are rigid so they have a basic parenting that just moves them with the armature without distorting them. The actual leg and arm structures use a vertex weight painted method to deform the model as it moves so some areas stretch out and some contract. The weight painting assigns priority to different sets of vertices within the model to tell them how much to deform. It's all fairly convincing with a few tweaks.

     You can see what I mean in the following pictures of the first posing test.

     Because my base mesh is so dense, a few areas get funky. There are particular issues when I twist an arm at the elbow too much or bend the forearm. The bicep starts to curl under itself a bit and needs to have some vertices moved manually. Overall the effect is pretty good and will work for creating the different poses for these guys.

     In future models I'll need to adjust the workflow and not add all of the subdivisions for smoothness until after the model is posed. The deformation works better with a low density mesh.

     The time on this project so far is around 70 hours. I should be able to create the poses, save the parts and check them in another 10 to 15 hours. So all told, I'll make about $5 an hour for this project. That's due to my unfamiliarity with a lot of the methods I wanted to try. The education and practice for future animation and design, however, has been priceless.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Fun Stuff - The Dizzying World of 3D Sculpting

     During my convalescence and website tribulations I was busy working on digital sculpting. #D design is easy to drop at a moment's notice and pick up where I left off in the event of interruptions I also have a couple of design projects to do for customers so this got the attention instead of traditional sculpting.

     Just before Cold Wars I bit the bullet and purchased a license for Rhino CAD. I've used Blender for most of my work so far, but there are some things that Rhino NURBS modeling does more easily and quickly that the subdivision surface modeling in Blender. Things like cut holes out of objects, making smoothed objects with a smaller amount of data, fillets, chamfers and blends between objects and projecting images onto non-planar surfaces. All things that would make the workflow faster and easier.

     So I started playing... The first project was from an article a friend posted on FB. Reaction makes temporary housing that nests together for transport/ storage like coffee cups. It was a small, simple design to start my Rhino learning experience.

     I added a few parts. One to connect the units.

     And a set of windows and an AC unit to add.

     Someone on TMP posted a link to Wallace Neff's bubble domes so I made a small one.

     These are all available at Shapeways in 15mm. Hopefully I'll be producing them in resin here before fall this year.

Highlander Studios Shapeways

     I got a little more adventurous with the next project.

     Then I saw a tutorial on T-splines for Rhino. This is an add on that makes modeling a bit more like the subdivision modeling I'm used to. So I've been playing with the trial a bit.

     Smooth organic shapes are easy to combine with hard edged mechanical bits and cut out sections. Interesting stuff to play with at least until the trial runs out.

     This post is a little long so I'll continue with the new Blender work later.


One Crazy Month

     Cold Wars was fun. I always enjoy seeing the people there, especially those I've actually had the chance to talk with and get to know. I sold some miniatures, saw some friends, played some games and started a couple of new sculpts.

     Since then it's been crazy. A week of taking care of Susan while she was sick then a week of taking care of myself after I caught the bug were the low points. I was also informed that my shopping cart at the website would not be compatible with the latest version of PHP and Windows XP will no longer be supported by Microsoft. So...

     I spent a week researching website and eCommerce solutions. Weebly was really tempting. It's a drag and drop web design system that has eCommerce solutions built in. Super simple, super slick and... well, super slimy. I currently use Bluehost for my website. They have a plug in for Weebly that allows you to use their software for free. All well and good. If you need eCommerce solutions you need to buy a premium Weebly addition and the Weebly eCommerce addition. Ok, fine, it was still going to cost less than a totally new professional level Weebly account. I set everything up and started adding products only to find some of the functionality missing. I called Bluehost to see if it was a problem on their end. Sometime webhosts are not totally current with the versions of third party software. After about 30 minutes of talking with the tech there, some other issues I was having were sorted out, but not the Weebly problem.

     My next email was to Weebly customer service (they don't have phone support). I have to say they were prompt in their replies. But the answer I got from them was that they don't supply a full working version to their third party suppliers. I wrote back to thank the sales person for the reply and told her that I thought that was a pretty slimy practice especially when I had to pay extra for both parts of their service to use it on the third party site. She sent a 20% discount coupon code for their hosting.

     I thought about things for a couple of days and decided I really didn't want to give them my business. Bluehost has been really good to me when I have problems or questions and having that 24/7 phone support is really nice. The other factor was that with Weebly, I couldn't see the back end of the website. There is no way to access the files and directory structure. Not having that access irritates me.

     I chose to stay with Bluehost and designed the new website with Wordpress and Woocommerce. Word press is a one click install on Bluehost and Woocommerce has basic eCommerce solutions that work. If I want the super detailed shipping module that breaks things into zones and weight classes and such I have to pay $150 for the add on. But I think I can manage without it. I'm not sure I like the theme for the site, but that's a click of the button change if I decide on something else. For now the backup site is functioning and ready to go when needed.

Highlander Studios, Inc.

     The next decision is to upgrade to Windows 7 or not. Anyone with thoughts about keeping XP or upgrading sing out. My big concern is security, but things get run through a router here anyway so that may not be an issue. Bueller? Bueller?