Friday, March 25, 2011

Ah! what's a work flow?

What's a workflow? Say you are looking at Blender 3D. You've seen the web sites, the videos, the mesmerizing array of features, the confusing menus and advanced finished animations that all say one thing to you, the learning curve is too steep for me. Panic attack! Go back to MSPaint!

First realization is that I do not need to learn all of what Blender can do to do what I need it to do. If I don't do animation why stress over it. Animation would not be in my workflow. My workflow is what I do. So, in looking at Blender I see what I want to accomplish, say model objects, position objects to build a scene, add lights,  render that scene, and print it.

To do this I need to learn the basics of 3d modeling (similar in most 3d applications), the Blender interface in general, then the specific operations for the things I want to do (my workflow). We had to approach AutoCad the same way, else we'd never get any work done. Once you know, you know, you know!?

Now that you know, you can improve your workflow by hitting the forums to interrogate ones who do the same as you, to learn a new trick or two. The user videos on line are great show and tell. And if you can get in a Blender focus group (buds that blend, margarita maker society, the spinners.....), especially a local group, meet at the library or something. It is face to face bragging, tagging, whining, tipping and tripping. Nothing improves your workflow like friendly fire and encouragement. Then down the road, "Gee, animation looks like fun."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

settling down to business

Here at the Linuxville chateau penthouse studio of all things Linux and art, things are shaping up. Settling down to business means establishing workflows in applications you know and learning new stuff. I have been drawing with ball-point pen for years and thanks to a scanner I am extending that work. Also the GIMP is teaching me a thing or two as is Inkscape. Open source graphics software is great for cutting your teeth in digital art and getting a good bite on skills. If your work is not hampered by Photoshop or Illustrator requirements the road ahead is very exciting, like driving with free gas. Free lancing creativity is like off-roading.

My setup so far is two computers right next to each other. The main one has all the graphic apps on it and the secondary one is an old HP Vectra I use for documents and instructional videos downloaded from YouTube. The hum is minimum because the HP Vectra is fan-less so for an old PC is very quite. Low hum is key to keeping your sanity. I do need an updated CD player, it is very loud. And being the slow machine teaches me patience. This translates to slow down and think through the art.

Then the main machine and the secondary are connected to the same network via a router. I use a program called Synergy to share the keyboard and mouse of the main machine. When you collect hardware it is usually because stuff wears out but not thrown away. The keyboard still works except for the "e" key. I also have LCD monitors with bad driver boards, dag if I could only replace the board. LCD driver boards cost as much as a new display, go figure. Synergy allows me to share the same good keyboard on two PCs. I am still swapping files via a jump drive till I get file sharing activated.

I recently added Blender 3D and K-3D into the mix. I like 3D, it adds sculptural possibilities to my work. The cool thing is that the 2D work can mapped on and into the 3D work. They all play nice together. 

Samples of my work exist at:

Now the trade off of being a digital artist is doing stuff to stay on the screen and/or doing stuff to be printed. I need a printer. First to judge the quality and tweak the work for the best printed outcome. Then to create a configuration file of best settings so that I can get the same results from any printer I use, including a printer at a print service establishment. This is what digital art is about, pushing pixels as far as they can go.

Friday, March 04, 2011

2d with depth

Unless you are starting from scratch, you can grab and discard many 3d applications looking for the one. I like many artist have a load of background. Me, I've been an electrical CAD drafter for years. I haven't done much in the way of 2d part drawings and very little if any 3d work. I don't draw people or creatures or spaceships. Then I am not a pencil sketcher. I use ball point pens and love those rolling writer gel pens. I draw ideas of interior design art and furniture, sculptural pieces, rooms and houses.

So when I look at a software I want my ways of doing things and thinking to come out. I want precision like a drafting program but also to be able to wrinkle and fuzz things. Nobody like things too cold and rigid, the natural line, the calculated flaw and the accident is what makes art interesting. Then there must be a way to manipulate color. In 2d this is easy, paint it and you're done. Most 3d applications of note require a system of light placement and camera placement. Color itself is mapped on a surface or is integral to a material assignment of the part, like marble or glass.  With the many variables and setting to be fiddled with, you can virtually do anything, virtually. Every operation requires a new found knowledge to get the results you are looking for.

The main caveat is finding all the stuff you want under a user interface you can understand and control. That's the rub, you got to live with it long enough to get a grip on it. Take the red pill, go down the rabbit hole. To be a Jedi takes the most serious commitment. You may have to push all other similar applications aside. The glitz and glamor of finished work posted in galleries can be a distraction if another artist produced something wonderful in an application you are not using. Ooooh, I want to do that too! Can I do that in this? Another argument is this application is used in the industry, yours is not or is new and untested in professional use. Sometimes some dude gives a biased review, or a bad review to a version from 5 years ago. You read it today and think, maybe I should be using something else. Hey, pick up your weapon, swing it around, face Vader (yourself), decide, slay, your done. You are now on your way.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

I've been here before

I just had the realization that one year ago I was attempting to use Blender 3d and K-3D. The problem I had was besides no patients, I had not committed myself to learning and fussing with 3d. Some of my drawings involved layering flat planes, then putting shadows under them to make it look like they were floating, thus simulating 3d. Now I can see better how to use 3d.

The first trick was to get the concept of working in 3d space. Playing with Wings 3d was good for that. Wings 3d is fast for somethings but lacks some tools I guess would make it a dream application, like boolean functions. What's that? It's when you can overlap shapes and add them together or subtract one shape from the other. Each graphics application has it's quirks, limitations and hot points.

As I said in a previous post Blender crashes on my laptop, someday I will get more power. Wings is quick but short on some tools. I just revisited K-3D, like Blender it has a learning curve but basic functions are awesome. I'm trying to get more video tutorials and I think I will just have to play with it. Getting used to the workflows to get things done and seeing some inspiring pictures is what I need. I kept putting off committing to learning one software because either the documentation wasn't clear, not enough tutorials or the user interface was not workable for me. Sometimes a great piece of software is an in house app. The designers feel that it would be good to let others use it. Blender was like this. Every tool in the book is in there, it's not simple. But once you get the hang, it is cool. K-3d seems like this also and I hate being the first kid on the block with anything. K-3d has a good feel so I'm giving it a shot along with Wings 3d. Ain't nothing to it but to do it.

still here but in 3d

I have discovered two things, well three. One is that Blender 3d crashes on my laptop. The main screen comes up, I can insert a figure, then.........oh darn. This happens with version 2.49 and 2.56. Speaking of 2.56, Blender's got a new GUI that's less confusing but just as deep. That's number two and number three is Wings 3D. If you want to figure out how 3D drawing software works, Wings 3D is the short way to go. Wings is a mesh modeler with not too many bells and no whistles.

Now the secret to working any 3D software is getting your brain around how 3D works on a 2D screen. Wings goes a long way in giving you that idea. Not having whistles means that convenient operations are non-existent and it takes planning ahead to get some thing done with minimum headache. But you learn to think and design at the same time, who does that!?

My biggest complaint is that 3d graphics are number crunchy crazy so you need resources like good video chips/card and enough memory. My laptop is ancient and at 512mb of main memory is borderline crippled. My desktop in the remote penthouse of the chateau of upper Linuxville has 1024mb, works the 3d apps just fine. My serious recommendation is to max your system memory for no worries.

So what, you found some manuals, they only tell you about what each function is. You need tutorials. Tutorials give you the play by play via a small project, you know hands on. Even better yet video tutorials because you get play by play instructions, see it then do it. Once you know, you know, you know?

My next project is getting the power of upstairs downstairs. In my present living arrangement, that is awkward. I could use a cart with wheels for my big desktop setup or a new beefier laptop. I like the new laptop idea, maybe a tablet.