Will it Blend?

As far back as I can remember Maya was always my first go-to 3D application. I tried Max for a few months but either the interface or the workflow never seemed user friendly enough. Blender, although free, seemed like that kind of guy that everybody thought of as “sensitive and quiet; thanks but I’ll talk to you another day”.

So, my history with all these 3 applications comprises 11 years of experience or marketing exposure. I’ve always thought that Blender was difficult to use or maybe I was already used to Maya workflow. Even though I’ve never done anything professional and my work with Maya has been limited to hobby and it never exceeded periods of more than 2-3 days at a time spread into 11 years, I suppose it’s safe to say that I was determined that Maya was good enough for me.

This was true until one day I saw quill18‘s Ludum Dare challenge. I came across his effort or rather the event itself on a late Friday thanks to a recommendation by Google Now and I spent a good portion of that weekend watching him build his game live. During that weekend, all I can think of was how effortless it was for him to do things in Unity but that’s another topic to discuss later. Since he looked like he knew what he was doing, it was apparent that his choice of 3D application must have been equally good and effortless. Still, I thought to myself if people are paying #$@! load of money for a Maya license surely those guys must know what they are doing as well. True, but Blender looked promising as well. However, I wasn’t ready to be converted just yet.

A couple of weeks ago, after waking up very early on a Monday morning, I already knew it was going to be a that kind of week since the cat had started yowling at a freaking hour of the day (perhaps night, the sun wasn’t up yet!) for a reason only known to himself, I decided to give it a go to Blender. I picked an easy Youtube tutorial, well I judged it would be easy by looking at its length. I was thrilled with the simplicity of the method used in the tutorial and the result I got. Here are a few pictures of what I achieved after 1 hour.

Cloth Soup

As you can see it’s a dense red cloth spread over a glass bowl. The technique that was used to simulate the cloth was simple and it totally blew my mind. The cloth you see is actually a plane. It’s configured to have cloth physics. So, it was placed at an angle above the bowl. When the animation starts and the gravity kicks in the plane or rather the cloth that first looked like a flat sheet started to take shape as it touched the curves of the bowl. Overflown parts of the plane curled over itself and created nice folds. At some point I stopped the animation to render the scene and the result was more than satisfactory for a first try. All this process is explained in more detailed in how to make a Cloth Napkin and Cloth Texture with Holes video.

The video walks you through the process of applying the right settings but you are free to pick any texture you want. I tried to pick something that looked dense enough but also with some holes in it. As you can see it the second video, there is a video to exclude those holes in the texture and make the cloth reveal light through it. The following is an example of turning the dark areas into alpha channel.

Cloth Soup Alpha

Now, this is the exact same model and texture but the dark areas in the texture have been punched through with multiply blend mode. The result looks darker but there is in fact no change in light setup. I guess the physics behind this is that the light has to travel between the holes of the cloth and bounce off and eventually die off. After getting an exciting result such as this I decided to try my luck with a different texture that had more irregular and bigger holes. I also changed the input color from red to blue since it was defining the end result. All the texture files I used were actually grey or neutral so the color information is coming from the shader itself.

Cloth Soup Blue Alpha

What came next as idea was lace. That’s when I went fancy with settings and noticed some odd behavior the way cloth physics were configured. It had a natural thickness to it and although it didn’t seem to cause any problem visually with the previous examples the result looked odd when the texture was changed to lace. It was as if the plane that was used for the cloth was no longer plane but it was looking as if it was blown out a bit. Almost like a thin pizza though. Thin enough but it still had volume. Although that thickness was probably needed for normal cloth and linen texture it caused great grief when the texture had so many gaps like in a lace. It was basically casting shadow on itself. I don’t have examples of this because that’s around this time that when I was fussing with the settings and frantically trying to fix the problem Blender died on me. It was a good 2 hour run all in all and it was fun!

I’m hoping to try more tutorials, perhaps from the same source. It’s simple enough and his style is repetitive enough to build confidence. Often trainers assume you’ve seen all the other videos so they skip steps. Either way is fine but when the video is name “Beginners” then it’s not really acceptable to send me to another video because I have just begun with your video so help me out. Anyway, this can be a whole other discussion about teaching methods. I’d like to conclude by saying that I can see myself giving more chance to Blender and maybe one day Blender and I might blend together.

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