Another Art Upgrade!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Zauber Paracelsus

Zauber Paracelsus

Well, I am back to working on the comic, and I have yet another art upgrade in progress. Seems like I do this the start of every year. This one, however, will be far more comprehensive than previous art upgrades.

What I am doing is I am working on an overhaul for the city of Four Rivers. It occurred to me that I had made several poor design decisions with the city, particularly with land usage. There was too much empty space, and the buildings were not as densely packed as they should have been. That, and I allowed Second Life's notorious scaling bias to creep into most of my building designs.

So, the whole city is being redesigned from scratch. And in the process, I am discovering some capabilities in blender that I didn't know it had.

For example, particle systems allow a lot of tricks. One I knew of is that it could display mesh objects as particles instead of halos or textures. What I didn't know was that it could instead display a random object chosen from an object group. If I were to, for example, use entire buildings as particles, then the particle system could be used to populate a city with random buildings.

Further, I found that in Cycles, there is an Object Info input node, which allows a shader to be affected by an object's location, object or material index, or a per-object random value. Using this, I was able to make some complicated building materials that were semi-randomized. For example, a brick wall which would have its hue, saturation, and brightness randomized. I was also able to make doors have random textures by packing 8 doors into one texture, and then using a randomized offset to select the door.

This makes it easier to design a city area: I can allow for random generation to take over to fill in random buildings with randomized materials.

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You can see the results in the render above. There are three city blocks in the scene, each with 112 randomized buildings (not all of them are in view of the camera, however), for a total of 336 buildings. Each building has the color of its bricks randomized between various shades of red, orange, amber, and brown. Each building has a roof with a random shade of one of 8 random colors. The doors are randomized with different textures and differing shades of crimson, red, orange, and amber.

Some other things have been redesigned in the image as well. The walkways along the canals have been redesigned: instead of two adjacent walkways with differing elevations, one walkway is raised above the other. More space-efficient from an urban-planning perspective, and the lower passage is convenient when it is raining (which is frequent in Four Rivers).

As well, the street lights have been redesigned. Previously, they consisted of solid masses of an alchemical substance called "Fireglass". They are still using Fireglass as the light-emitting element, but instead of being a huge chunk of Fireglass, they instead each have a spherical chunk roughly the size of a modern light bulb inside of a glass and iron cage. The effect is much nicer, and probably much less espensive in terms of material costs.

Another redesign is the sky itself. Previously, the sky was simply a dark gray texture that was generated from a noise function. Now, the sky uses some actual cloud textures (with some randomization to remove the appearance of tiling), and it also simulates the horizon somewhat.



I also have a few other things I plan on adding or upgrading to the comic:

  1. For the character art, I plan to return to a cartoony style of 3D models, rather than continuing with the current ones.
  2. I have discovered that one of the options for particle behavior/movement in blender is "Boids", which allows particles to be controlled by a simplistic AI. By using character models as the "particles", it can be used to simulate crowds of people. So, if I can get that under my belt, I can make the streets of Four Rivers a bit more lively.
  3. Another experiment I wish to perform with particles is simulating rain. Four Rivers lies within a geographic region called The Maelstrom, which has a very wet and stormy climate.
  4. There is a project under development that I have been watching, called CyclesGame➚, which adds an alternative game engine to blender, and with a node-based material system similar to what the Cycles rendering engine uses. It would have the advantage of realtime rendering, allowing me to get my comic frames instantly rather than waiting several minutes for Cycles to render. It, however, is not production-ready yet, and is currently undocumented.



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