Blender Stuff I made

Alien Force artwork breakdown

The secret project I’ve been hinting at since late 2017 was a sci-fi album cover for the trance musician Alien Force. It was completed back in November last year and has been waiting for a distribution slot since… until now!

Back in October 2017, Alien Force told me to make an album cover for him on the basis that I knew how to use 3D software. It would be unpaid work, but I took it anyway because it was something that would take me well out of my comfort zone. I appreciated that he asked me to produce something without seeing anything like a portfolio.

The brief was to capture something of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar but “menacing and awesome” too. After a month of back and forth outside of the day job, we settled on this:


After slogging through one too many full 3D re-renders, I learnt the value of being able to iterate as rapidly and painlessly as possible. I broke the scene up into layers which would only come together at composite time. Each element (the background star field with nebula, the swirly orange clouds, the black hole and the spaceship with its jets) was rendered separately as multilayer OpenEXR and composited together.

The background nebula and stars are done procedurally, pretty much as Aidy Burrows and Gleb Alexandrov teach it in their excellent Space VFX Elements course for Blender. The swirly orange bits are from failing to make Gleb’s accretion disk shader to work but getting something usable anyway. If any of this stuff interests you at all, check out that course!

Don’t get too close!

The blown-out glow of the black hole was one of the key bits of Interstellar’s look which Alien Force wanted to keep. I used a super bright emission shader, Blur, Sun Beams and Glow filter to blow the glow out from a line a couple of pixels wide to something which better sells how bright it is.

Spaceship! The pink bits are sharp marks, the nicer way to get sharp edges while doing subdivision modelling.The grey texture map is used for displacement.

The spaceship is a relatively simple model which uses the “Follow Active Quads” UV unwrapping trick along with some 32-bit textures to greeble it up. This technique was the centre of a five year old thread on BlenderArtists called “Sculpting with UVs and displacements”. Definitely worth checking out if you ever need to build a detailed-looking spaceship quick!

Spaceship! With UV-mapped greebles…

The subtle outer glow of the spaceship was added in composite, something to make the silhouette pop against the nebula and stars. The green glow within the silhouette of the ship was a happy accident – I rendered out every single pass for the spaceship and stumbled on a mysterious pass called “DenoisingNormalVariance”. It made the end result look cooler, so that’s good enough for me.

The composite was put through Troy Sobotka’s awesome filmic LUTs. This let me work confidently with a high dynamic ranges, knowing that the LUTs would bring out the missing dynamic range instead of clipping it or losing it altogether.

Default LUT in top left, filmic LUT at lower right.

Here’s a comparison between Blender’s default internal look and Filmic to finish off with. The biggest difference is visible in the spaceship. With the default LUT, the exhaust is blown out and the contrast on the ship itself is less. The Filmic LUT preserves more detail in the exhaust and brings out extra contrast in the surface details on the ship itself.

If you want to hear the Alien Force EP itself, you can have a listen on Beatport. It looks like in the process of slapping the logo on the black hole they also cranked up the saturation hard, but that’s showbiz. 🙂

Thanks for reading and I hope you liked this breakdown.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Journals Music & Synthesisers Stuff I made

Hello cocky!

It’s been 30 July to 5 August 2017. I took this week away from the day job to relax and recharge, catch up on some movies, maybe get Shot 3 of AAAAAAAAA done. but mostly I wanted to get on top of an impending backlog of soldering.

The soldering I managed, and I made at least some progress on the middle goal too!

Do you think their arms get tired while they’re in T-pose?

This cute little cockatoo will be riding the cactus in Shot 3. I want to have it rigged and ready to animate tomorrow. Since I have no more synthesiser kits to build, that could very possibly actually happen…

On Monday I’m back at the day job next week and I’ll be hitting the ground running, so we shall see whether this cocky gets to dance or not. Hope so!

A moment in the sun Journals Stuff I made

Funny signs and Making Time – the quollism version

18 to 24 December 2016 has zipped by. Things are very definitely getting summery here. We had a stupidly hot 42.4C day on Wednesday, there’s bushfires all over the place, and I’ve finished up at the day-job for the year as of yesterday afternoon. It’s been another fairly light week for AMITS activity.

I made that “do not bury” sign I was talking about last week and slapped it all over the bus stop. I’m liking it. As long as I can convey that the signs are specifically for Gronky, it has the making of a good ambient gag and it has merch potential too.

The new bus stop, complete with instructions for Gronky not to bury it.

Aside from tweaking the action in the bus stop scene, figuring out how to fix broken file references and a false start on building a pitchamatic, that’s about all I got up to this week. Lately I’ve been summer-tired and super distractable – learning the open-source stenography system Plover has been nifty but time-consuming, and the day job had an end of year ramp-up before booting me out of the office over Christmas for the first time ever. I’m hoping with the coming week away from the day job I can get some more planning work done and recover some momentum.

Jason van Gumster’s excellent Open Source Creative Podcast spent its latest episode talking about making time for personal projects and it’s well worth a listen. Much of what Jason talks about I’ve done myself over the last couple of years.

Making time to make a movie

The time to make A Moment In The Sun is very much consciously set aside. I don’t watch a lot of TV and when I do it’s half-hour episodes of light and fluffy stuff instead of something heavy and long like Westworld. I go months between gaming, then I binge on something hard for a week or two. (The most recent one was Grand Theft Auto V back in September.) Gaming or watching TV and the odd movie pass the time just fine, but actually making stuff is a more fulfilling use of my time and energy.

As a night owl I tend to work late into the night instead of waking up early. I also need more than five hours of sleep a night (unlike Jason) so if I work a few late nights, I make a point of catching up on sleep over the weekend. This is easier to get away with in summer because the days are so hot that I can do laundry later in the afternoon and it’ll be dry by dusk.

My working hours depend on the stage of production I’m at. If I’m writing and playing with ideas, the work is more nebulous so I’m less strict with myself. As soon as the tasks get more concrete and tangible, there’s spreadsheets and lists of things to do and that makes the path ahead much clearer.

On weeknights I try to start work on AMITS by nine o’clock and finish up by midnight. (If I’m really inspired and enthused, I may even get straight to work once I get home.) On Sundays, I like to have started by midday and I’ll keep going until late evening with a long meal break somewhere in the middle. I’m fairly militant with my family and friends about Sundays being my movie day, which means any shopping and laundry and other life maintenance gets squeezed into Friday night or Saturday.

Every day I log time spent and activities performed so that I have a record of what I did and when and how much of it I did. Among other things, it makes writing these little weekly updates much easier because there’s less to remember. 🙂

Enthusiasm is also a massive factor in getting work done, but that will get a blog post of its own. Bye for now!

A moment in the sun Journals Stuff I made

Stories, shovels and scene-referred display

It feels like I didn’t get a lot done this week of 4 to 10 December 2016, but gut feelings are often self-deceiving lies – I got many things done. 🙂

As of Sunday evening, I have four A4 sheets of thumbnails telling a simpler, shorter  story than before. The only extra bit I’ve added since Sunday is a new stinger ending, recycled from an abandoned version of Sombrero that’s about a year old and the version of AMITS I abandoned just before that – except now they’re mixed up together. Yay bus stop!

I’ve been trying to pin down the exact design of the robot as well. It’s tricky. Rather than stay stuck, I created a military shovel for Gronky. Here’s a gallery of renders of the proud new shovel owner.

Why more than one render? The super cool thing this month in the Blenderverse is Troy Sobotka‘s nifty filmic LUTs. Read this for more info on why it matters. Big shout out to Troy for creating the filmic LUTs and evangelising them like a boss!

The Cycles materials in the render are all temporary placeholders, but the wider dynamic range is very welcome. Check out #filmic_blender on Twitter for better examples.

To finish up this week, here is the shovel in “pick mode” tumbling through the air thanks to a rotation pivoting system I rigged into it. Look out! 😀

Shovel FLY!

Welcome to 16 to 22 March.

This is a rough mock-up of the first shot of the film featuring a quickly modelled burrow with stones around the entrance. It shows the framing pretty nicely and also gives me a list of things to see to. This should be alright for layout and animation purposes but there’s a ton here to pin down and fix before render.

Not much happened this week in the way of movie making. I made a few minor adjustments to the story and otherwise let things settle for a week while I got on with dayjob stuff.

I switched over to left mouse button select in Blender on Wednesday just to give it a try. The biggest changes are that RMB becomes the cursor/scrub button and Face Select doesn’t work as nicely in Weight Paint mode. Other than that it’s mainly a muscle memory change for selecting elements and scrubbing/placing the cursor.

Nothing much else to report then. I had a few attempts at making poffertjes which didn’t work out but that’s neither here nor there.