I've been working on a freelance project for the past couple of months, hence the radio silence. That work is finished for the minute, so I decided to use this week to finish up a few small projects before settling back in to regular work. One of those small projects was good, the other...
How to make something that no one needs:
While this is an excellent recipe for mild embarrassment and moderate time-wasting, if you really want to excel at 'Making things no one needs™' you will also need to post your solution to social media, first, lamenting the original problem and then again when you have 'solved' the problem. Writing a blog post about the ordeal is optional, but somewhat cathartic.
Said problem was that there didn't seem to be a way to select all the keyframes for a given channel in the Graph Editor in Blender:
But poor naive Past-Ray was missing something, but it would be a few weeks later until he found this out:
Of course, by that stage I had already completed the script, promoted it on Twitter and given myself a good ol' pat on the back for being so clever. Suffice to say, the script has now been relegated to a new folder called 'Obsolete Scripts'.
You have now got to the end of 'Making things no one needs™' and should be able to make things that no one needs all by yourself. Feel free to refer to this handy guide if you ever feel like you're in danger of making something useful.
A cup half full
It's a shame really, Blender used to be known for it's hidden features and tools that were only accessible by an obscure shortcut and I had been glad at the thought that those days were over, often frowning upon those outside the Blender community who still thought this was the case. "But everything is accessible through a menu!" I would mentally shout at them. Apparently not.
Maybe I should be looking at this slightly differently. Maybe it's because hidden features are so uncommon that brought about this whole event. Had I been used to features not being in menus I might have dug a little deeper into the user preferences and hot-keys to find it. Not being able to find it in an obvious place, to me, was a sign that it couldn't exist. Perhaps, just by chance, I have come across one of the few remaining hidden features. Here's hoping.
As for the second, slightly more successful script, 'Batch Render Tools', whose usefulness flies in the face of this guide, I think that deserves a blog post of its own as it requires a bit more of an explanation.
It's been 4 weeks since I last wrote here, leaving The Internet to descend into madness as it tries to comprehend a world without regular blog posts from me. "When will the literary drought end?", The Internet cries into the dark. "When?!", it cries again, worried that no-one heard the first time. Fear not, I have heard you. The drought/darkness (delete as appropriate) is over. I have returned, albeit briefly, to quench your thirst for ramblings, quenches and of course, thirsts, or my name's not Ray 'The Thirst-Quencher' Mairlot*.
*I will continue to proclaim that is my name up to, but not beyond, the point of being asked to prove it.
While once my time was abundant, now, my time is taken up by (and I'm happy to say, will continue to be taken up by) freelance, but I did manage to steal a few hours away to work on a small script at the weekend. Or one of the weekends. I forget which one and it's not really important to telling you what I worked on. What I'm trying to say is, it's an extraneous detail that doesn't deserve to be expanded on. Let's just say a weekend and be done with it. Embrace the ambiguity.
The script I made is currently a standalone script, but if it proves to be worthwhile it will be packaged up to be part of Animated Render Border (my add-on on the Blender Market), upgrading it to its third and probably, final version. What always improves something? More of that thing! In this case, that means more render borders, ie, being able to set multiple regions of the image to render, instead of just one.
My test was successful as the image below shows; two borders are set using a temporary UI and then rendered into one image:
There are a few hurdles before I can say it will be definitely released, such as trying this out on larger scenes. Essentially, the script renders the frame twice and then*** combines the results, so if a frame takes a long time to build the BVH or do some volume pre-processing then any time saved by doing a border render might be lost by having to do this pre-processing twice.
***30th April! I remembered, that's when I made the script. Thank goodness. Anyone who was worried about the lack of detail before can now calmly recede from the depths of ambiguity, back into the comfort of specificity.
When will I get to work on it again? I don't know. Will I probably start another experimental script before finishing this one? Yes, it's more than likely. But, for now, it's back to having no time, which is really no complaint at all, because I can attest to the fact that getting paid to do something you enjoy is far better than not getting paid.
And with that, perhaps somewhat abruptly, the end.
In my last post I noticed that the forearm models looked a little less than perfect. The forearms were one of the first parts of the model I made and originally I really wanted to make sure they conformed to the reference images I had. Coming back to them now, I think I made them conform a bit too much. Even though they appeared to fit the references, they were a weird shape when viewed from the top. I thought it would be better to reshape them to something more logical even if they didn't match the reference images as well:
As it turns out, having updated the models to a better shape, they do still manage to fit the reference images somehow. It makes sense that the more logical shape is the correct shape, so it's reassuring that the references seem to confirm that.
I have a slight worry that this project is a bit like 'Painting the Forth Bridge', in that once I finish one part enough time will have passed that another part will seem outdated or messy enough to need re-doing. I don't intend to redo a lot more of it, though I think some of the chest panels need refining.
I actually have some freelance work over the next few weeks; I'm not sure how much of my time it will take up, but it likely means less work done on this project for a while.
Such is life.
This post is mainly about using the Shrinkwrap modifier for modelling, which is below, but there's also a quick update on some of my projects right at the end.
My Favourite Modifier
Before I started the 'Heartbreaker' project I probably wouldn't have said that the Shrinkwrap modifier is one of my favourite modifiers in Blender (not that anyone had actually asked me, or likely ever would). Maybe in the top 10, but only just. I would probably have gone for one of the classics, like the Subsurf or Mirror, you just can't go wrong with those two. However, that's all changed. If anyone ever asks me*, I will say my new favourite modifier, at least regarding modelling - which is what I'm doing most of the time - is the Shrinkwrap. It has become my go-to, problem solving, reliable friend.
*Which they wont.
Are You Insane? And What Does The Shrinkwrap Modifier Even Do?
No, I am not. A valid question (the second one), thank you (me) for asking. In its simplest form, the Shrinkwrap modifier is tasked with snapping the current object onto the surface of another object. It also has the ability to only snap specific vertices if you specify a vertex group.
Here we see a simple subdivided plane being shrinkwrapped to the surface of a sphere:
I think the Shrinkwrap modifier was probably first created as a retopology tool, the snapping allowing you to easily create new, low-poly geometry, over your high-res model, without having to constantly think about manual snapping. Considering this, I'm not sure that 'Shrinkwrap' is actually the best name for it; maybe 'Snap' would have been better. The Snap modifier has a ring to it. But then, who am I to start renaming things? Sure, I was technically the best renamer in the area of Greater London in the years 1993 - 1998*, but I have no official certification for that, so I'll leave actual naming and any subsequent renaming to those that do.
*I retired from the gruelling world of competitive renaming undefeated and vowed never to return, due to the physical stress it caused my body.
How Does Retopology Tie-In To Hard-Surface Modelling? Are You Sure You're Not Insane?
It's not so much that retopology fits into hard surface modelling it's more that some hard-surface modelling scenarios and retopology share some common needs. Also, please stop asking if I'm insane.
There are two scenarios that can be very time-consuming when modelling:
This is very similar to what retopology requires and these two problems both happen to be the Shrinkwrap modifier's strength: conforming vertices to a specific surface.
That's All Well And Good, But Show Me Some Specific Examples
Please don't be so demanding. I've got some examples from 'Heartbreaker', the project I just literally won't shut up about.
The 'Heartbreaker' Iron Man suit has a tendency to have many separate panels that all conform to the same profile. Below, on the left, is the forearm, which is made of many pieces. They all have the same bulge and crease going through them, which would be time consuming to model manually. Instead, I built one continuous surface to describe the surface I want my mesh to conform to, shown on the right. All the pieces on the left conform to the profile of the mesh on the right (the Shrinkwrap target):
Heartbreaker also has many examples of detailing cut into curved panels. Cutting into curved surfaces is notoriously difficult as any sharpening edge loops on those details end up causing undesirable pinching, particularly at corners. It's also very difficult to perfectly maintain a curved surface while adding in new geometry.
Here, the head remains perfectly curved despite having cut details into it, thanks to good ol' Shrinkwrap:
Here is a wider view of the top of the head on the left, with its Shrinkwrap counterpart on the right:
The 'eyebrows' in the above image were excluded from the Shrinkwrap by adding all vertices apart from the eyebrow to a vertex group and selecting it on the Shrinkwrap modifier.
*If I've already started modelling something, but decide I need a Shrinkwrap, I will sometimes duplicate the object I'm modelling, simplify it, and use it as the Shrinkwrap object.
I also like to change the 'Maximum Draw Type' to 'Wire' in the 'Display' panel of the 'Object' tab in the 'Properties Editor' for the Shrinkwrap object so you can see the object you are modelling as well (shown below). Also, you may find it useful to turn on 'Draw All Edges', also in the 'Display' panel and 'Optimal Display', on the Surbsurf modifier, if you're using one.