Animating fabric being folded, cut and stitched.
August 21, 2013 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I want to explore animating fabric being folded, cut and stitched in 3D. Is there any particular 3D software that would make simulating this particularly easy, or even just marginally easier than others? Or is it actually pretty basic? I can spend a bit...

And/or any fora where this question might get more specialized but still objective consideration?

Many thanks!
posted by dpcoffin to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Based on the way you've written this question it sounds like you're not familiar at all with 3D modeling, simulation, or rendering, so before you get into the world that is successfully animating fabric, I think you'd do well to understand some of the basics of the medium so you have more reasonable expectations of what you can and cannot do when it comes to modeling fabric in 3D.

IME, fabric is extremely complicated to render correctly, let alone animate. Like extremely. I think fabric is in the top tier of things that are difficult to effectively simulate in 3D modeling, along with hair and maybe fluid dynamics. You'll probably want to become familiar with Maya and 3DS Max, and you'll likely need to shell out some dough for plugins that will make the fabric render process a little easier (but not by much).

Here's the thing though: those plugins will really only help if you just wanted to animate fabric on a person. Additional complexity comes into the mix with the fact that you you want to show fabric being cut, folded, and interacted with. Check out the movies Brave and Shrek and look for the scenes that have to do with manipulating fabric there for a better idea of what that can look like. Then notice how few scenes show that kind of animation. It's because it's a PITA, even for experts like the folks at Pixar and DreamWorks.

Now obviously you may have different expectations and you're not worried about your animation looking realistic. But if you are, know that you may be trying to do something that even professionals are still trying to grok correctly. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:58 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hmmm; thanks. I did kind of guess that, but you're right; I'm not that familiar.

OTOH, realism of the fabric is not my top goal. It's not the texture or physics of the "fabric" that I want to be convincing; it's the folding, cutting, stitching that's the point. Could be totally vectorlike; simple diagrams with no shadows or surface texture, for animated step sequences of sewing and related operations with flat shapes that simply retain their perimeters in a convincing way as they fold, get trimmed, etc. Could just as easily be paper or sheet metal, so long as there were no extra features that tried to sell the metalness or paperiness.
posted by dpcoffin at 2:26 PM on August 21, 2013

From the action that you've described, the animation of the fabric in CGI would be challenging. Maybe somewhere at the high-intermediate/low-expert level, depending on how real you would want it to look.

I say this as someone who works in CG so take that with a grain of salt, as I can only imagine that you're shooting for the highest quality.

So, Maya would certainly suit your needs, with it's robust cloth pipeline. Expect a steep learning curve if you're new to CG.

I don't know why you need this work but - do you have the budget to hire an artist to do it for you? Lots of CG nerds hang out here, you could also post an ad here.

Good luck!
posted by shino-boy at 2:46 PM on August 21, 2013

Again, it's not the fabric that I'm interested in getting right; it's the sequence of steps that it's put through when stitched, pressed, etc....for helping to describe the process, not the material. So long as the object/material being shaped doesn't visually distract from the folding, etc. it'd be fine.

And I'm definitely not shooting for highest quality in the CG/rendering-light/wowing-Pixar sense.

A sewing diagram doesn't need to render fabric textures well to be high quality; it simply needs to convey the steps well and not confuse. Just like medical illustration is often clearer than photography, since the illustrator can eliminate everything extraneous and distracting.

Video sewing demos, for example, can defeat their own purpose if hands get in the way, or the thread isn't contrasty enough, or the fabric too textured or patterned, or some critical move is done too fast, all no matter how well lit, well recorded, high-res., etc.

But it's sounding like this might be more trouble that it's worth...
posted by dpcoffin at 3:40 PM on August 21, 2013

Blender is a free download - I haven't used it, but it sounds like it might work for you, and hey, since it's free, you get to try it out and see if you enjoy modelling and animating. It is pretty complex, but some people pick it up quicker than others, the only way to know is to try it out,
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:24 PM on August 21, 2013

Strangely enough, clothing design is actually a topic of active research in computer graphics. See, for example: I don't know if these are quite what you're looking for. Also, as far as I'm aware this kind of software hasn't really hit production yet. Although it's certainly possible that it has and I just don't know about it.

If these papers are in the right ballpark, then you might take a look at the source code from the first one. If the code is in a reasonable state (research code is often kind of a mess) and you're a solid programmer, you may be able to rework it to fit your needs.
posted by Serf at 10:24 PM on August 21, 2013

I've just re-read your replies and realized that you're probably looking for something different. The projects from my previous comment are primarily concerned with taking sewing patterns and turning them into garments draped on a 3D model. If you're trying to make step-by-step animated demonstrations of particular sewing techniques (or something like that), then I don't have any better ideas than just using standard 3D modeling and animation software. Sorry.
posted by Serf at 10:37 PM on August 21, 2013

Well, if you want a vector animation program, Flash is still the industry standard.
posted by shino-boy at 1:36 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just in case anybody's still interested, here's what I've been (dis)content with in the past, from Illustrator and Motion. It's basically just a cross-section of a sewn structure with some simple motion indicating the sequence of events. What I'd be minimally happy with is to be able to easily create the bending of the lines, not just moving the static images about. And of course, adding some Z depth, extruding back from the edges, especially so the stitching would be more dynamic...

I tried Flash, and maybe it would be perfect, but adding the 3D extrusion thing is presumably beyond it, no? It didn't seem any better for what I wanted than Motion, but I could easily have missed something.

The main thing would be to able to bend those edge/lines without them stretching like rubber bands; marking some points as fixed, others as bend-points, and easily dragging, and ideally building up a library of primitives for basic events so that doing a lot of these wouldn't be such a nose-bleed...

No doubt this isn't the best place to ask, so if anybody knows of a general animation board to take it to, that'd be grand. There's no way this could ever be a gig I'd farm out; it's either down to me or out.

Thanks again!

Oh, yeah; I saw this and it seemed like a start... Am I WAY off thinking maybe I should check out Cinema 4D...?
posted by dpcoffin at 1:04 PM on August 25, 2013

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