Category Archives: 3d

Zbrush, c4d etc…

Building the miner

As the Outer Empires mining ship’s textures are being finalised and I’m going to prepare a sprite sheet to be added to the game, I thought I’d upload a few of the screengrabs and rough renders of the build process to show how it all came together.

The first thing I did was have a skim through some of my books and online to get some ideas and these shots show how I threw some basic shapes around to help me sketch out some ideas.


The top one was my idea of a dumptruck type of shape but I was struggling to see how to take that any further without it being too sleek, I wanted a more blocky shape with a feeling of mass. The second one was starting to be too much of a Chris Foss design so that got scrapped but I did like the cargoblocks so one of those was expanded upon and taken into the next idea.


Now we start to see the final shape appear. The rods and the front would have been more clusters of antenna, used to scan for metals in the asteroids but I started to think that would be too hard to see on the model when it zoomed out in the game. To keep the whole thing symmetrical I dropped the individual objects into a null and then placed that inside a symmetry object. Working on one side and the other side being updated at the same time is a great time saver and it also means the texture is mirrored after the UV’s have been set. The only thing is to remember to convert the mirror to an object before exporting to obj format or else it only spits out one side.


Starting to bulk up the detail and adding the solar panels. Something kept bugging me with the panels and I started to think they looked like goldfish fins.


After the hell of UVing, the almost zen like calm of texturing. To work on a nice res I setup 2k textures and baked out the AO and a UV layer on each colour map. I’ve found that sometimes baking the AO isn’t too accurate, sometimes I’ve ended up with light areas that are around areas that should be dark so a bit of tidying up is needed before they get used in the diffuse channel. I also tend to setup a fairly basic light rig that covers the whole object or else the shadows won’t be in the right place. The AO is also applied to a layer in the colour channel and set the layer mode to multiply then placed above the other colour layers, this helps to add shadow and some detail to the colour map. My texturing tends to involve hundreds of layers as I work on tiny bits then I combined a few layers when I’m happy with them, this stops be from constantly working on the same details over and over again and forces me forwards.


Notice the changes? There was something that was annoying me and I couldn’t put my finger on it, then it dawned on me, it was the scale. My original idea was the cockpit area would be a huge area and the small black strip around it was the window/viewport but as you moved back along the hull the scale seemed to change. I ditched the ridge and the panels around the top then scaled up the crane arm and it all clicked into place.


Obligatory wireframe shot.


Getting towards the end I started to mess around with a background to get it into context.


Right at the very end the solar panels got dropped, they did look far to small and out of place underneath so off they went. The blue exhaust was done with a copy of the colour map in the luminance channel but it didn’t quite work so I added a blue omni light with hard shadows which is set to ignore the flame objects. The light spills out and the hard shadow setting helps to give the illusion of a very intese light source at close range.


The final version, now I just need to create the final sprite sheet for including in the game.

Outer Empires mining ship

A few weeks/months (I can’t remember when) back I was asked by Paul Hutson, creator of the MMO game Outer Empires, if I’d be able to come up with a 3d model of a mining ship for an expansion of the game which introduced budgie farming. OK, not really it’s asteroid mining, but budgie farming sounds interesting.

Somehow I’ve managed to keep my mouth shut about this all but Paul and I had a chat one evening about how he saw the expansion going and we threw a few ideas around leaving me with the slightly daunting task of trying to figure out how a small sized asteroid mining vessel would look in the Outer Empires universe. Skimming through a few books and online gave me a few ideas (planet cracking anyone?) and I set to with a few 3d sketches. It took a while to get some kind of shape which I liked, one of the first ones was something that looked like a dump truck and the shape wobbled around different sizes before settling on the final design. Even when the 3d model was built I went back to tweak it a bit while texturing and I’ll dig up some of the early renders to give an idea of the build process. In the meantime, here are three renders of the final design.




Built in a shockingly short time (for me anyway), UV’ed, textured and rendered in Cinema 4D with a little texturing support from Photoshop.

All this leaves just one burning question, how deep you have to plant a budgie for it to grow?

cinema 4d and some rpf love

There was a bit of banter on twitter about DOF in Cinema 4D and I have to say I’ve never had really good results with it. Most people seem to complain about it not working with fur, reflections and other post effects it’s common issues from what I gather but my reason for not using it was always time. It takes too long to run out the effect, test to see if it looks ok, tweak and re-render. So years ago while I was still working in video I stumbled across the rpf file format. This was in the days before twitter, blogging and general social sharing of info so it was a shocker at the time to find info you needed sometimes. rpf files store a lot of info and you actually end up with a set of files that have not only your scene, alpha but also some 3d data. What I will attempt to demo is how to use of this info. I admit that this may not be the best workflow, several people have mentioned other tricks that I may play with but this is to show how I’ve done things in the past.

Cinema 4DSo enough blathering, the first thing is to put together a basic scene to demo how the rpf file works. Here I’ve got a bunch of cubes stretching away, a couple of lights and a camera. Heres one of the first things to note, there is a light with a brightness of 0. I’ve called it ‘place 1’ and its tucked away between the 4th and 5th cube. More on that later.

Cinema 4DNext I animate the camera and go to the render settings, fill in the options and this is our second take note part. See the ‘compositing project file’ options? Ever seen that before? No? Great Scott man you’ve missed out then. Tick the save box and the 3d data box then click the save project file option, select your destination and hit render.

Cinema 4DWhat you get is a bunch of rpf files and a project file with the extension aec. ‘Whats that then?’ I hear you cry (actually everyone is snoring so I’ll shout it myself.


Well, its an After Effects project file but if you try to open it in after effects right now it will just throw a fit, get moody and ignore it so you need to install the AE plugin that comes with Cinema 4D.

Go to the Cinema 4D folder, find the ‘Exchange Plugins’ folder > After Effect > win/osx folder (pick for your system) and within there should be CS folders with plugins for each version of CS. Open up your one, unzip the file within and place it within your AE plugins folder.

Got it?

Good, now go start up AE and goto import > File and pick the aec file NOT the rpf file. I know normal instinct is to import an image sequence but this is the magic part.

Cinema 4DWhat imports (if your plugin is in place) is a folder and a couple of comps. One of them will be the scene while the other will be called something like Camera+Light, the third thing will be your image sequence of the rpf files. Time to have some fun.

Double click the camera+light comp and you will see each of your lights and a camera as a layer. Each item will be labeled as you left it in Cinema 4D so some logic helps and you should find your placeholders there. Here I’ve imported a random image into the comp, made it 3d and copied the x,y,z position from ‘place 1’ and put it into twittertop’s (0,0,785.158)… And lo, did the jpg take on the exact position of the placeholder.

Cinema 4DIts also worth remembering that you can edit the lights with AE and change the colour, brightness etc… it wont affect your rendered rpf files but it will affect anything you add to the scene in AE.

Cinema 4DNow we switch back to our main scene (untitled 1 on the screen shots) and if you scrub the timeline back and forth you will see the camera pan around the jpg as if its part of the scene, well thats a bit rubbish isn’t it? It just appears over the top of the scene. Pointless at this stage but lets dig a little deeper into AE.

Cinema 4DFirstly put the Camera+lights layer below the rpf layer. Select the rpf later and goto effect > 3d channel > Depth Matte and apply it to the sequence. You may find your layer vanishes in the preview window but this is fine, drop down the effects on the rpf layer and then drop down the depth matte. Now comes the magic, you need to tweak this number until you see something happen, with this the number sometimes has to be quite high and in this case its -2600. As you change the number you should see the cubes vanish as the depth matte moves down the depth. Oooooo its like some kind of evil wizardry that’s stealing the cubes….

Cinema 4DScrub the timeline back and forth and you may notice that the depth matte isn’t perfect if you camera moves, its working on a fixed point from the camera so you may need to keyfrome the effect if your camera moves.

Cinema 4DOnce you have this setup you want to have the other cubes appear so select the rpf layer, duplicate it (cmd+d on a mac, buggered if i know on a pc) and move it below the camera+light layer. Finally Invert the depth matte with the invert option (its that simple). We now have our image wedged inbetween our cubes.

Cinema 4DNow we come to the final bit and what kicked all of this off, DOF. You can use the effect from effect > 3d channel > Depth of field for this. At this point the info from the depth matte comes in handy as if you want the DOF to be based around your imported image you simply use the same depth numbers here. Yes you will need to keyframe but you know how to copy and paste keyframes don’t you? If you don’t you can copy a keyfrome, select where you want to paste it. So you copy the depth key frome and paste it onto the DOF focal plane. Copy the DOF filter and paste it onto the other RPF layer and your done apart from the mass amount of tinkering your mind is currently ticking over with.

I used this depth trick to produce the Kamppi advert a few years ago so you can see it in action on my YouTube channel.

For those who care to try out a final thing, heres my quick project with files and stuff. You may need to tweak some of the paths but thats your problem, not mine. Suck it up and act like a man… or a woman. I’m not sexist.

rpf-demo project download its 16mb if your interested. Please feel free to ask away either on here or twitter and I will do my best to answer as best I can.