Pluralsight: Creating Dynamic Fur with XGen in Maya

I went through the following tutorial on Puralsight to learn the basics of using XGen. I then experimented with this to try and create a soft fleecy body for the Octaves. Learning a new system and trying to apply it in time for a deadline was quite challenging. University projects were good preparation for this but I found that there was an extra level of stress involved in the workplace.

Creating Dynamic Fur with XGen in Maya

An important note that wasn’t explained in the tutorial is about file paths. XGen likes to create folders for each modification that is applied to the groom. If any of the file paths to these folders are wrong then the groom will disappear. I found that XGen would sometimes make errors and save folders to the wrong collection directory. It’s therefore important to check that the initial folder creation is where you want it to be. I also found it helpful when working across multiple computers to make sure that all the file paths are relative. Instead of having the full path directory, start the file path with “$DESC/” so that the ‘description’ folder will be searched from whatever collection the XGen is set to.

XGen also seemed to have a bug for me. Whenever I imported a collection into a scene, two ‘description’ folders would be created within the ‘collection’ folder. One of these folders would contain all the information needed but would be ignored by XGen while the other folder would be read by XGen but contained an empty setup. This was fixed by a simple cut and paste. Maybe there was a reason for this?

My notes from the tutorial:

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Gnomon Creating a Sci-Fi Alleyway

Creating a Sci-fi Alleyway. Detailed Environment Techniques with Devon Fay  – great inspirational tutorial on the gnomon workshop.

What a beautiful piece of art Fay’s “Sci-fi Alleyway” is. I love this feeling of rain-slick, beaten up alleyways filled with old tech and Japanese references. The image has really stuck with me and I can’t help but think of it when I look down narrow alleys in Belfast. Even during the weekend, I saw a poster in The Ramen Bar in Dublin and immediately thought, sci-fi alleyway!

This is the VR (or AR?) dream.


Summary of my notes from the tutorial:

01 Refine your idea

Define your idea. Find as many references that you can, e.g. stills from movies, images from real life culture. Pick some shots/photographs that you like and do block out studies of these to get inspiration from how they’re constructed. Start to narrow down the themes that you like and want to see in your final image. Photobash/create concepts of these themes.

02 Blocking

Use a human model for scale and start to block out the composition that you want. This will require a lot of iterations of how walls and blocks are placed. Bookmark the possible camera angles that you want. Constantly consider how balanced the composition is and other compositional aids.


03 Finishing the blockout

Research the different construction elements of your scene. Try different blocked constructions in different layers. How is the place lived in? Consider story.

04 Find the crack:props

Jump into something that’s doable like a chair. Make quick concepts. Keep a constant eye on composition as the addition of detail might unbalance the scene. Consider how much time needs to be spent on an area. Will this be visible in the camera? It’s not one prop but the culmination of all the props that make the environment feel like a real place.

05 Detailed prop creation

Examine lots of references. Reuse old models that you’ve created.

06 Initial lighting set-up

Fay uses VRay. Use the optimal settings for speed. In Vray you can save irradiance maps instead of re-rendering these every time. For speed you can choose to only update this before bed at night.

07 Scene modelling

All the little details will make your scene seem real. Reuse materials and textures from past work as much as possible and from references that you’ve already gathered. Think of having a range of materials. Overall composition is more important than making a single prop perfect.

07b Storytelling

Keep thinking about the weight of areas in your composition and how the relative amount of detail draws the eye. Keep your environment functional for your characters. If something is off then maybe the character is explaining it through an action e.g. reaching a high shelf with retractable arms. Always consider the story aim. Is it about a particular character or is the story about the place? How do the characters live in this scene? How is this world inhabited? Continually ask these questions. Consider how depth is created with overlapping objects and avoid tangents.

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08 Tools and Scripts

Useful scripts: chain creator, wire creator, zoomerator, spPaint 3D, rock gen

Fay uses Marvelous Designer for cloth simulation and Quixel Suite for texturing. Quixel suite uses maps for creating masks.

11 Custom photshop textures

Cut out bits of textures and reblend them together edges, adjustments and cloning.

12 Texture sheets and tilables. 

Create a texture sheet for assets that appear a lot around your scene for example large sheets of sticker, logos etc. By working this way you only need to use one material for all your stickers and only need to adjust one material. Look for materials that you can download online and dissect why they look so good.

13 Final Lighting

Tweaking passes is a lot faster in Photoshop. Fay also renders the lights into separate passes.

14 Putting it all together in Photoshop



Paint Effects for Stargazing Environment

Week 10

I was just beginning to research how we could create the grass in our stargazing scene when I came across this method using paint effects. In this tutorial, Hermes demonstrates how you can simply paint clumps of grass with the stroke of your pen/mouse. These grass clumps can then easily be modified and animated by using the turbulence tab under the attributes. I will research more into how flexible this system is for creating our own style, particularly for adding elements that look like brush strokes, or on the opposite end of that, very flat and graphic.

Maya 2014 tutorial: Animate grass to react to wind

In order to research more into how Paint Effects can be used I looked through chapter 10 of this book:

Mastering Autodesk Maya 2016 

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These were some of the questions which arose before or during my reading through the chapter.

Chapter 10 Paint Effects pg 419 – 471

What do I need to figure out from these chapters?

  • How do I make my own custom shape to paint with?
  • Can I shade these whatever way I want to? How can I make a custom grass shape and shade it the same colour? And then light it?
  • Do they look good with light rendered with Maya software?
  • How can I animate these with ‘turbulence’ to match the wind in the scene?
  • What surface will I paint these on? Will the ground be visible?
  • How can I shade and light the grass so that it only fluctuates between two colours when it blows in the wind. Dark grass that catches hard light. – light link only the grass, make the ground the same colour?
  • Do you need to cache the wind/turbulence animation? Will the animation be retained in history?

These are some notes which I took while reading. There are still some areas which I haven’t covered yet e.g. Sorcha was telling me about painting along curves to create hair. At least I know that it’s possible.


Painting on 3D objects pg 425

  • You can paint in any camera or through the paint effects window.
  • You can create a bumpy/organic surface by lofting a surface between two dynamic hair curves (explained in a different chapter).
  • Paint Effects can be used with pressure sensitivity on your stylus using the pressure mapping settings e.g. mapped to scale. I didn’t fully understand how to make this work at first so I searched online and found this video which helped:

Pluralsight Creative (2013) Top Tip: Using Pressure Sensitive Features Within Maya

  • Both nurbs and polygon objects can be painted on.
  • Make 3D objects “paintable”. Objects must be UV mapped in the 0 to 1 space. You can paint on a moving surface such as water. You can generate paint effects on a nurbs curve.

Understanding strokes

  • A stroke node and a transform node is created when you paint. The brush node is also connected to the strokes and retains a construction history.
  • Each stroke has its own brush node but you can edit brushes at the same time with brush sharing.
  • You may need to make changes in the node editor e.g. to change the type of curve controlling the stroke.
  • A different curve node is created depending on the type of surface which is painted on.

Designing Brushes

  • Paint effects is a development of L-systems; mathematical algorithms used to simulate living organisms.
  • Some brushes add shapes to the scene. Others work by affecting the appearance of geometry behind the brush. E.g. ‘erase’ paints black holes in the alpha channel.
  • Mesh strokes don’t render in Mental Ray. However, strokes can be converted to polygons.

Rendering Paint Effects

  • Light linking does not work with paint effects.

This article from Autodesk was helpful to load the Paint Effects shelf and add custom brushes to the shelf: Prepare to use Paint Effects.

Digital Tutors: Modeling Architectural Destruction in Maya

A lot of the ideas we discussed for our sci-fi scene contained destroyed objects. This tutorial has a lot of helpful pointers for what you should be thinking of when modeling destruction. One of the most useful methods I took away from this was that an area should be extracted from its surroundings first if a lot of resolution is going to be added e.g. if you’re going to splinter the end of a piece of wood.

This is the tutorial:

My notes:

Modeling Architectural Destruction in Maya

Look at reference to see how different materials respond to stress. Wood splinters, concrete breaks in a particular way, glass etc.

Select faces of section you want to modify and extract. Cut a jagged line with the edgeloop tool and extract the cut area. Fill the missing geometry around the areas that have been extracted.

Re-use pieces that are broken off as rubble for later. Focus on the type of material you are cutting up and think of what tools you can use to do this. What kind of damage do you want to do? From where/to what extent.

Use ‘fill hole’ or ‘bridge’ etc. to fill gaps that are made from cutting away jagged geometry. Insert multiple edgeloops where extra resolution is needed for detail. Where on the model has the stress been applied to? – only destroy these areas e.g. above or below. Is the stress damage on the front face or has the object been broken on the side?

By destroying the model you are exposing areas that would not normally be seen e.g. under floors and between walls.

Metal framework bends under stress. Metal will probably not have little chunks cut out of it the same way that concrete does. Wood will have sharp snaps that splinter and therefore require higher resolution. Electrics will be pulled out from their settings and will have trailing wires. Some wires will be connected and some disconnected. Use the cv curve tool. Displace and move the created curves out of the same plane. Resize the nurbs curve to adjust the radius of the extrusion. When modelling destruction, try to maintain the ratio of volume between missing sections and the amount of rubble. Buckle areas e.g. the floor. You can add more resolution to nurbs by using ‘rebuild surfaces’ (or by individually adding isoparms). Look for sharp versus rounded edges in your geometry.

Digital Tutors – Pipeline Integration With Mudbox and Maya

These are the notes from a tutorial I did in order to to test out whether we could use this method for adding detail to our monster characters in Maya. The idea is to make a low poly mesh in Maya and then generate a normal/displacement map from the sculpted detail in Mudbox which can be brought back to Maya for rendering.

My notes:

02. Importing and Exporting Geometry
Exporting as an .obj file exports the geometry and UV map etc. .fbx contains more detail. The grid size in Maya and Mudbox don’t match. In Maya, freeze the transformations before exporting. When exporting from Mudbox, check window>preferences and check the settings e.g. fbx blendshape. Then select the object and >export.
03 Importing and exporting texture file
You can export your paint layer by right clicking and exporting maps. If you want to export your paint layers separately, make sure that ‘flatten layers on export’ is turned off in the preferences. Paint the desired layers. Then select the object and export as an fbx. This will automatically set up a layered shader of the different paint layers.
04 Transferring normal and displacement maps.
Go to >maps>texture maps> new operation. A normal map is like a bump map that allows you to work with a low resolution model but makes it appear highly detailed. The target model is the level 0 low resolution in mudbox and the source model is the highest level sculpt. Change the method to subdivision instead of raycasting (as we are working with the same mesh that detail has been added to). Choose ‘tangent based’ for geometry that is going to be deformed. A normal map is only the illusion of detail where as a displacement creates geometry. For exporting displacements – export as a 32bit exr. Plug the file into the displacement of the material. In order for the displacement to work the geometry needs to subdivide at render time. Go into rendering editors>mental ray> approximation editors. Under subdivision hit ‘create’ a new approximation. In the attribute editor > set subdivisions to 03 (for example)
05 Using the’ send to’ features in maya and mudbox.
06 Creating base meshes in maya.
Meshes with topology problems such as non-manifold topology will not be able to subdivide in Mudbox. Try and create an even quad layout.
07 Working with UVs.
You can create UVs in Mudbox from the menu which will break each face up into shapeless coordinates. You can export UVs as an .obj file and select the object in Mudbox and import UVs. You can tile the UVs in Maya/Mudbox also so as to dedicate more resolution to each area. Paint layers are based on the UV layout but sculpt layers are not. You can however transfer paint layers from bad UVs onto good UVs for example.
08 Modifying and updating topology.
Sometimes as we sculpt, the flow of topology on the original mesh may not match up with our sculpted result. Reroute the topology to match the detail.
09 Adding New Pieces of Geometry
Send your geometry from mudbox over to maya as a guide for adding new geometry around it.
10 Importing Joints and Weighting
A rig set up in Maya can be imported along with the model. The rig is accessed in Mudbox through the ‘pose tools’ tray along the bottom. A model can be exported as an .fbx – make sure the ‘import rig’ option is ticked in the preferences for .fbx.

Siobhan’s Head Topology

This is the mesh that I drew on top of Siobhan’s face for reference during modeling. I had also aligned the front and side views in Photoshop but there was still some areas like the nostrils that didn’t line up perfectly in Maya.

This topology/facial articulation reference from came in very useful: