Software to "Make it so"
April 4, 2006 12:23 PM   Subscribe

How are these pictures created?

I've recently become fascinated with drawings, sketches, computer animations, etc. of fictional space craft. These 1 2 3 seem to have been rendered using some sort of software, but I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what it is. Anybody have experience in this area?
posted by Smarson to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maya or Lightwave?
posted by ed\26h at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2006

Some sort of version of sketch style rendering in Lightwave or other 3D tool. I would gather it would be relatively easier to just set the rendering to sketch than make different textures for the turrets, port-holes, etc. It shouldn't be hard to replicate this effect once you have a model.
posted by geoff. at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2006

The rendering software is secondary to getting the photo-realistic lighting effect you see in those pictures. It's the rendering method that matters, which in this case is radiosity rendering.
posted by pmbuko at 12:48 PM on April 4, 2006

Funny, I randomly ran across that very image a few days ago. It's from a contest on CGTalk and is showing off the early stages of a model, before he textured it. The final image is a tad more impressive. Here is the thread on it when it was a work-in-progress. It shows a lot of the incremental steps in the modeling. It mentions somewhere in there that he uses 3ds Max for the modelling and Photoshop for compositing and touch-ups. You can generally only afford 3ds Max if you pirate it or are a professional.

Also note that he won the contest and about $5000 worth of hardware and software with these modelling skills.

If you're interested in this kind of thing, you should definitely check out the rest of the contest entries.
posted by smackfu at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2006

The first one, at least, does not look that sketchy. It just looks like it was rendered using a surface with a high amount of diffusion (a "soft" surface). With a few exceptions, it's difficult to trace an image back to the software that created it. The exceptions mostly have to do with cutting edge lighting effects when one of the makers gets it figured out before the others. It's been a long time since I had my fingers in this but I remember when studio max 3d started having "radiosity" effects and how awesome those pictures looked compared to lightwave.

Once you've got a good model designed, even relatively modest renderers can make images like these. I used to make stuff like this, print it to 35mm B&W film, develop that, and make photographic prints. Done well, this stuff looks like actual photographs.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:51 PM on April 4, 2006

So it's two seperate jobs - modeling & lighting - with seperate software for each. Is that correct? Maya is a modeling software, where as lightwave and 3ds Max are effects/ lighting software. Do I have this close to right? Thanks for your patience.
posted by Smarson at 12:57 PM on April 4, 2006

I guess they are often seperate. Lightwave, for example, had a decent modeller (keep in mind I'm talking circa 1998, no idea what it's like now) but I used Rhino 3d for most of my modelling, it was a more sketchy and "organic" modeller compared to lightwaves, which was more mathematical. Never really fooled around with Maya. One bad thing about this stuff is that most of it is so expensive that once you choose a platform you kinda have to stick with it, unless you're making mad money (I wasn't).
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2006

Maya is a modeling software, where as lightwave and 3ds Max are effects/ lighting software. Do I have this close to right? Thanks for your patience.

No, that is not correct. There are some packages that are just modelers or just renderers, yes. But Maya, Lightwave, and 3DStudo Max all do all of those jobs and more, including animation. (not used in your examples).

The basic steps are like this.

1. Sketch out an idea.

2. Make the model (a geometric, mathematical approximation of the shape)

3. Render an image from it.

I do this every day for my job.
posted by fake at 1:35 PM on April 4, 2006

Modelling, texturing, animation, and rendering are often tasks for separate people in the professional 3D world. Often they're each done using separate software as well, but major 3D software packages (Lightwave, Maya, 3DSMAX, etc.) have functionality for all four. It's just a matter of picking the right tool for the job. A dedicated amateur with only a copy of, say, Lightwave, can still do impressive work.

(In Lightwave, last I checked, the modeler and layout/renderer are actually separate applications. In 3DSMAX and [I think] Maya, they're integrated.)
posted by neckro23 at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2006

RustyBrooks - How did you print the models to 35mm film?
posted by bshort at 2:01 PM on April 4, 2006

All of the packages are capable of 3D modeling, animation, and rendering but have different strengths and weaknesses. Your 1st tier are extremely expensive ($10,000-20,000) and complex to use/learn but have the best modeling environment and rendering engines and are used by top media companies to make long animation/movies/full 3D characters and environments. 2nd tier is more reasonably priced and is used by students, gaming companies, and smaller shops. Gaming companies use 3ds Max extensively because Softimage/Maya is overkill if you're just modeling characters and simple animations in 3D.

1st tier
Softimage (Avid)
Maya (Autodesk)

2nd tier
Lightwave (NewTek)
3D Studio Max (Autodesk)
posted by junesix at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2006

bshort - probably with a laser which exposes the negative.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2006

I printed to film using a film printer. I don't know how it worked internally, exactly, but basically you load a roll of film into it, and then use the driver that comes with it to say "put this image on the film, advance, adn then put this image on the film". Our school had one when I worked there, and then the place I did research had one. In the late 90s it was often cheaper to get a high quality large print from 35mm than it was to get a large format digital print. I mostly used it for fun. I printed a lot of 3d stuff that I worked on, and I used it to make "masks" that I would print together with regular 35mm pictures to make crazy borders, text, etc (i.e. compositing in an analog fashion)
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:36 PM on April 4, 2006

Yeah, I always figured it was a laser but also there may have been an LCD screen or projector in there, and the camera took an image of it? I don't know. It was pretty high-res as I recall.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2006

To elaborate more on pmbuko's comment, the "chiseled-out-of clay-look" was done with a radiosity solution, such as VRAY, Brazil, or Mental Ray. These are 3rd-party rendering plugins that work with modelers like 3dstudio max and Maya. The images you sent are also most likely textureless or using a default matte texture.
posted by unlicensedarchitect at 3:37 PM on April 4, 2006

Modellers often display their models this way, so you will see this look quite a bit. It is to do with the way light is cast - what you are seeing is an object receiving light from a completely white environment. Light is being cast from every direction.

The look is fairly easy to set up and can be acheived with most software nowadays.

How renderers have advanced is sort of a bit confusing. All of the above applications were originally developed with their own renderers. Film companies like Pixar(just as an example) have always made their own software, and they developed renderers which were generally more advanced and able to handle the high resolutions needed for film. The film and effects companies then eventually offered to sell these renderers so that all diferent smaller companies could use them. You can licence Pixars software called renderman if you need to, but its very expensive.

The companies that make the widely available 3d software like 3d studio max and maya eventually bought Mentalray from dreamworks to add as part of their software.

you can download the personal leaning edition of maya for free here

You will be able to play around with mental ray using this, you just have to change from the default renderer to mental ray. turn on image based lighting, and turn on final gather. The learning curve is pretty steep but that should get you on your way.
posted by phyle at 9:42 PM on April 4, 2006

I have a long and comprehensive (though increasingly out of date) list of the 3D software packages out there on my website.
posted by jiawen at 1:58 AM on April 5, 2006

junesix, which tier would blender be in?
posted by flabdablet at 6:32 AM on April 5, 2006

Bah, Blender isn't even a corridor. Maybe a Jeffries tube.
posted by parallax7d at 6:58 AM on April 5, 2006

Probably tier 3 or tier 4.

Blender has a nice interface and is easy to learn but that's all it really has going for it. It's light on features and power and you'd be missing out on a lot of the tools, books, journals, and tutorials developed and written for 3ds Max and Maya. Most importantly, it's rarely used in industry and schools don't teach it so any serious modeller looking to get work wouldn't bother. The interfaces and developing environments in these programs vary enough that you'd almost be starting over when switching from one to the other.

Blender is like Paint Shop Pro. It'll teach you about image editing but at some point you'll need and want to learn Photoshop.

As an alternative to the free blender, there's the free Maya Personal Learning Edition that displays watermarks on images. Autodesk has a 30-day trial of 3ds Max.
posted by junesix at 8:30 AM on April 5, 2006

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