Playing with Blender’s New Hair Particles

So, I was working on fixing up some armature problems with the characters for I’m Not Mad.  If you watch David’s Lip Sync you can see there were some major fixes needed for the Dan and Dave characters.  Well, in the time since I started working on the character models Blender 2.46 was released.  In 2.46 a new Hair Particle system was added to make working with hair a lot easier.  So, here’s the David character’s new hair.

I definitely found it a LOT easier to work with this new system than the old one.  My work is not 100% perfect, but I think it’s good enough for now.  Oh yeah….it’s purposely messed up in the front/top as he often doesn’t comb his hair.

Revisiting the Experiment

Almost a year ago, I mentioned that I had discovered the site www.mytoons.com. In that blog post I mentioned that I felt my animation wasn’t really getting the amount of views I hoped they would get. So I put my animation on mytoons and when the results weren’t immediately different, I completely forgot about my experiment. I check back on MyToons.com from time to time because of their great newsletter, Animation Snack. But I hardly ever check on my own videos. Well, I did a check today and the results are astonishing!

My 11 Second Club animation has, as of today, 225 views on Vimeo. On MyToons it has 2004 views! A whole order of magnitude more views! My Trick or Treat animation has 141 views on Vimeo. Pretty sad for something I tried hard to bust out in about a couple months’ time. On MyToons it has 2091 views! (and I use Vimeo on drop the bomb productions!) Schrodinger’s Cat has 345 views on Vimeo, but 2287 views on MyToons. And, finally, Jose’s Dinner has 300 views on Vimeo and 2210 views on MyToons!

Plus they’ve recently been updating the video pages. I think they look MUCH nicer than they did before and do a better job of presenting the metadata about the animations than they did before.

So, if you are into animation, I strongly suggest putting your short films and animation reels on MyToons.com.

What I’m Up To – Animation-Wise

Well, I’m filling up my space time with programming and animation.  Here’s what I’m currently up to with animation.  First of all, there’s “Sugar. I have the script and most of the props complete for the animation.  I got a little frustrated when I was working on Nick’s armature and started working on programming and some other projects.  I intend to get back to Sugar very soon now and finish it up by the end of the year.

I’m also actively working on “I’m Not Mad“, a serialized animation my brothers and I have been kicking around for about 2-3 years now.  I’ve finished up the character designs/modeling and now I’m working on rigging up the characters and doing an animation test.  I don’t have a script for the first story arc yet, but I do have a story I need to flesh out.  I’m the primary writer and my brothers will be helping me out with details and dialog for their characters.  I’d like to have started animation on the first story arc by the end of this year.

“Headache” is an animation I wanted to work on as the first in a series of unrelated shorts featuring the same character.  Think, for example of Disney cartoons or the old Looney Tunes.  The main characters were in a lot of short films and none of them were really related to each other.  I’ve got the major story points down and I hope to at least have the character modeled, if not rigged by the end of 2008.

Finally, I am working on an animated adaptation of “The Pig and the Box” with screenplay by my talented friend, Lisa Lau.  She’s already written the screenplay so the ball’s back in my court.  I’d like to have the characters modeled and rigged by Q4 2008/Q1 2009.

So, there you have it, that’s what drop the bomb productions is up to for 2008.  I hope you will enjoy watching my animation as much as I enjoy creating it.

FarmerJoe – An easier render solution.

I’ve been very happy until now with drqueue. Developed by Jorge Daza, it’s a very nice render farm management software with a nice GUI. It worked relatively well for me for “Jose’s Dinner” and “Schrodinger’s Cat“. However, there were two big kinks in using drqueue. First of all, Windows support was so sketchy it might as well be non-existent. So my most powerful computer was left out of the render-pool. Second, with the latest iteration, it no longer works on BSD computers. I tried for a few nights to make it work, but to no avail. So I turned to FarmerJoe.

FarmerJoe technically does not have FreeBSD support, but I emailed the developer and he sent me an unofficial FreeBSD script. I’m hoping I can help him include it in the official release for the next release. FarmerJoe is almost infinitely easier to setup than drqueue. That’s not to say there aren’t some slipups. It still takes about a day or two to get used to what it’s asking you to do and how it works, but it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Of course, one of the best parts of FarmerJoe is that it can be launched from within Blender with a nice Python GUI. Sure, it’s not so horrible to launch a render from drqueue, but it’s so much more intuitive to be able to do it from within Blender. I really like this solution so much I think it may be the first project at which I truly contribute to get the features I’d like built in.

Here’s the method I use to setup and run FarmerJoe.

1) Setup a directory that is shared to all of your computers
2) Put unzip FarmerJoe to that directory
3) Edit the conf file to point to this directory and edit the path to Blender on each of the operating systems

# Master Server Configuration
port = 2006
master = 192.168.0.104

jobs = jobs
logs = logs

linux_root = /mnt/render/FJ
linux_blender = blender
linux_composite = /usr/bin/composite

### Added by Sven Mertens ###
freebsd_root = /mnt/render/FJ
freebsd_blender = blender
freebsd_composite = /usr/bin/composite
### /end of modification by Sven Mertens ###

windows_root = z:\FJ
windows_blender = C:\Program Files\Blender Foundation\Blender\blender.exe
windows_composite = composite

osx_root = /Volumes/farmerjoe
osx_blender = /Volumes/farmerjoe/bin/osx/blender/blender.app/Contents/MacOS/blender
osx_composite = /usr/local/bin/composite

# Application server Configuration
appserver_port = 2007

4) Go to the master computer and run the master/webserver like so ./Farmerjoe.pl –master && ./Farmerjoe.pl –appserver

5) Check on the website to see that all the slaves have connected

6) Go into Blender on any computer and run the python script to submit the render to the master

7) chmod -R 777 * the jobs directory – and you probably want to do this before you connect any slaves

8) Go to each slave and run the slave as so  ./Farmerjoe.linux for linux ./Farmerjoe.pl for BSD (if you have the modified Farmerjoe.pl that works with BSD) and Farmerjoe.exe for Windows
9) Go do something while your animation is rendered blazingly fast (depending on how many machines are involved)
10) Come back and collect all of the rendered frames from the frames directory
11) Do it again? Or Quit the slave and master programs and turn your computers off and stop heating your office/basement

So it’s incredibly easy to use and the author is very aproachable. He usually answers email within 24 hours and I imagine he gets a lot of it. So I’d say this is a great program and a good example of when it’s not a bad thing that in the FOSS world two people develop programs that do the same thing. One can end up being a little more complicated, but perhaps better suited to studios (studios have indeed used drqueue) and another can end up being a lot easier to use with a bit of compromise. For example, it’s not easy (or possible?) to re-render only particular frames that have messed up in FarmerJoe, but this is much easier to do with drqueue. (Although not without the occassional bug)

In the end, you must do what has been counciled time and again – try them both out and see which works best for you.

MakeHuman makes huge strides

first_render
You’re probably asking yourself two questions. 1) When did Eric get awesome at modeling humans? and 2) What are these bald, naked women doing on this site? In fact, you probably asked yourself those questions in the reverse order. Extra points for the MakeHuman team if you didn’t even realize those were computer images and thought they were real.

second_render
So, to start off with question 1, I didn’t model those humans in the traditional sense. In other words, I didn’t start with a box or plane and build up a human from there. Instead I used a program called MakeHuman which has similar goals to the commercial software Poser. Poser, as those of us into 3D art and animation know, is software for the posing, animating, and rendering of humans (and occasionally other creatures). Both software packages exist because animators may not want to also be character modelers. Instead they may wish to use a package such as MakeHuman which creates the character meshes and materials for them and then work on the animation. In such a context I wouldn’t call it cheating. After all, in a studio, most artists specialize on one part of the animation (eg animation, modeling, texturing, etc). I may even see myself using MakeHuman or Poser if I wished to have a realistic human character in my animation.

So now it’s time to answer question 2. The reason why these are bald, naked women has to do with the current functionality of MakeHuman. Unlike Poser, which has been around for a few years and has tons of clothing which can be imported into it, MakeHuman is limited to making naked people for now. Why are they women? Because even if I tell it to make a man, it lacks a penis, so I found that disturbing. Why are they bald? Again, although Poser has software and 3rd Party Plugins for producing hair, MakeHuman does not yet have that. So they’re bald. But there’s hope! You can export them to Blender!

smallhuman-largebox_fornet
However, as you can see above, the character is pretty small. Either that or the Blender cube is huge! But I always thought of the Blender cube as being one render unit cubed. In fact, I usually start with a scaled up cube for a character’s head. Now I could have used the fact that the character was now imported into Blender to add hair and clothes. But first I wanted to see how the rendered human would look:

smallhuman-largebox3_fornet
Unfortunately, it looks as real as a Barbie Doll. Well, make that a Barbie with huge eyebrows! I’m sure I’m doing something wrong or somehow could have imported the material file that was created when I exported the mesh. So, since I’m not that good at creating hair yet, I decided not to waste my time working on it. Perhaps in the future when I decide to actually use a MakeHuiman model.

On the plus side, I found MakeHuman a pleasure to use. To create your human you select different parameters such as sex, age, fat levels, breast size, and breast shape and the mesh is created for you. Then you can tweak it further (I didn’t) and the best part is that it’s already rigged! So you can move the character into the poses you want right away. As longtime readers of this blog know, rigging is my pet peeve – it takes forever to do, is hard to get right, and needs to be done before any animation can happen. So if you like working with humans and would like to have models which are ready for posing right away, I’d definitely recommend checking out MakeHuman. They’re getting better and better with every release. And if you’re creating still images, this is perfect because you can get an already posed human to use in your artwork.

Now, I can’t leave without telling you about something I discovered during my research. I read 3D World and they’re always talking about different 3D programs which I don’t use so I had to make sure that Poser was indeed the program which is comparable to MakeHuman. In the wikipedia article I discovered that there is a niche out there of Poser porn! After I read the article, however, I was not surprised. It makes perfectly rational sense. Looking at the models I knocked out with just around an hour of usage of MakeHuman, you probably feel that they aren’t photo-realistic, but are pretty close. So imagine a pornographer with a larger budget and a talented staff. They could create porn with these characters which would look real enough. The best thing about animation is that the actors don’t complain, can work 24 hours a day, and can be put into situations impossible with real humans.

 

At Ease Soldier
At Ease Soldier

 

Upgrading to the latest Dr Queue Render Manager

Since I don’t have any animation needing to be rendered for a few months, I decided it was a great time to upgrade Dr Queue to the latest version.  I’d heard that a lot of improvements had been added since version 0.60.  So let’s see how the upgrade process goes:

On Mario, my Fedora 8 machine, I had to install scons first as it’s now used to buld dr queue.  I also had to build it on my FreeBSD machines, starting with KingKoopa, the render master.  This also required python to be installed.  For Mario, it was very easy, I just ran the install script and it wrote over the old stuff and appears to work.  I’ll probably need to copy the new directories over to the common hard drive.  Peach and BulletBill already had python installed so they didn’t need scons installed.

I tried running the scons on FreeBSD, but it didn’t work right away.  Apparently he wasn’t checking for it in the SConstruct file so I edited that.

I was unable to get it working so I’m going to send an email to the mailing list.  I’ll let you know what the fix was.

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First Pass at Nov 2007 11 Second Club



11 Second Club – Nov 2007 – first pass from djotaku on Vimeo.
This is my first pass. I’ve gone through and animated nearly everything for the character on the right (mancandy) except the lip sync. To see it in full HD awesome quality, follow the link containing the video’s title right under the video.

I’ve just finished up my second pass. I finished up Mancandy’s animation and did the arm/hand animation on lil guy. I think it’s coming along very well for my first attempt at something like this. I’m going to set it to render tonight at respower and I hope to find all or most of the frames to be done by the time I get up tomorrow.

After that I have to work on lil guy’s head and eyes before finally starting work on the lip sync. Finally I’ll have clean up work on the animation and then fixing the camera. The 11 Second Club only allows 4:3 video, not widescreen video. With luck I’ll be mostly done by the end of this weekend.