All posts tagged: maya
audi R8 3d model maya
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Remember that 3d model of an Audi R8 that I started building in Maya two years ago? Don’t worry, I hardly remember many of the details myself (lol) but I’m happy to report that I’ve revived it from the dead and managed to get it wrapped up. The entire project started as a way for me to dive head first into the world of 3d modeling in Maya, and it even though I bailed on it early on I’ve still considered it a successful exercise. First of all, the work that I put into it way back then was the perfect introduction polygonal modeling and I was able to put the project aside feeling like I had a gained a very solid understanding of what it takes to build complex surfaces in Maya. I wasn’t an expert at that point (heck, I don’t even consider myself an expert now) but the knowledge I gained from that short stint of automotive modeling allowed me to jump into other Maya projects with ease.

But you know me – I feel uneasy when my pile of unfinished projects start backing up and I couldn’t resist the urge to pull this R8 out of my archives and finish what I started two years ago. The biggest reason for wanting to finish, I think, was the fact that cars are my biggest passion in life and I’ve always wanted to get into automotive design and modeling. And I’ve never built a complete 3d model of a car. So yeah – I just had to finish this, if only to say that I’ve built a car in 3d.

So, if you recall, here is where I left off in August of 2014:

Audi R8 3d wireframe

Audi R8 3d wireframe in progress

Audi R8 3d wireframe

Front 3/4 view

And here is the completed 3d model:

audi R8 3d model maya

Completed Audi R8 3d model in all white. Don’t look at it too closely…there are a ton of embarrassing panel gaps that would make a 1975 Lincoln look good in comparison!

Wireframe over the 3d model

Wireframe over the 3d model

audi r8 3d model wireframe

This is definitely not low-poly. I chose to model the tires instead of using texture maps, so that added a lot of complexity to this project.

audi R8 wireframe 3d model

One of my biggest mistakes was not taking the time to be sure that the polygon flow matched from panel to panel (compare the doors to the front and rear quarter panels). This resulted in a lot of messy transitions and weird panel gaps.

audi R8 wireframe 3d model

It may look decent at first glance, but there a ton of newbie mistakes here. Oh well – all I can do is to apply what I’ve learned to my next automotive 3d model!

Is it perfect? Absolutely not! The surfaces of the Audi R8 are generally simple and not overly complex, but there were a few sections that I really struggled with. The taillight area is a total disaster and not anywhere near accurate. Same goes for the headlights – no matter how many vertices I pushed and pulled, I just couldn’t get it to look smooth and accurate. This entire model is what I consider to be a “10-footer”, meaning that it looks okay from a distance of 10 feet or so, but things get gnarly when viewed up close.

Even though it’s quite rough around the edges and very amateurish in spots, it’s a relief to have it wrapped up and close enough to call “done”. Many of the flaws were from errors I made very early on in the modeling process that wouldn’t be able to be rectified without starting over from scratch. Could I have fixed many of the problem areas? You bet. But it would have taken a lot of time to do – time which I would rather spend working on my next automotive model instead of trying to polish this turd.

soap box illustration
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Are you totally sick and tired reading about me gushing over Maya yet? 2 out of my last 3 posts deal with my recent (er, ongoing) transition to this new modeling software and I’m here once again to let you know that still loving every minute of it. Mostly – though I’m not going to lie when I say it can be frustrating at times.

Most of that frustration has come from trying to figure out how I can keep using all of the 3d models I’ve built in FormZ over the years. Before I started using Maya, it scared me to death that all that work I’ve done over the past 8 years might be rendered obsolete by switching 3d platforms. You’ve probably noticed that I reuse a lot of my existing content to create new illustrations for my royalty-free stock image collection, and the thought of not being able to use any of that content anymore was keeping me up at night. Of course I still (and always will) have a licensed copy of FormZ in my creative arsenal, but that’s not the point – I want to do the bulk of my work in Maya from this point forward and reverting back to FormZ to create my stock illustrations is not what I want to be doing.

That said, figuring out how to import .fmz files into Maya has been a high priority for me. Early attempts were not good – Maya doesn’t like smoothed solid geometry very much, and simply exporting generating an OBJ file and then trying to import didn’t work well at all. A lot of geometry ended up getting lost in the translation, and the parts that did make it were often broken beyond repair. I was frustrated, but the optimist in me knew that there had to be a way.

It took me a long time of old-fashioned trial and error to find the best method of exporting solids-based smooth 3d models from FormZ to Maya, and I’m happy to report that I found a workable solution. To show you how that works, let me take you through the steps using my soap box 3d model as an example:

Step 1:  Prepare your model for export

In FormZ, open the 3d model you wish to export and delete all the lights, cameras (views), and unused shaders. It’s also smart to delete any geometry that is unrelated to the model you wish to export.

wireframe mesh

All unnecessary components (lights, views, unused shaders, etc) have been deleted in FormZ. Only the mesh wireframe remains.

Step 2: Export to DXF

Once you’ve deleted all of that unnecessary data, go to File > Export and select DXF. You would think that a more common format like OBJ would work better, but trust me on this – I tried them all and DXF works the best. Give it any name you like and save it anywhere – it doesn’t matter.

Once you press Save, a popup window will appear presenting you with a series of options for exporting to DXF format. The settings I typically use are as follows:

DXF export settings

DXF export settings in FormZ

You can choose whatever you prefer for Units, as well as the Grouping Method. It just depends on how you like to work.

Step 3: Import into Maya

Jump over to Maya and go to File > Import and choose your DXF file you just created. I should mention that you can import 3d content into an existing scene if you’d like, but I like to import models into an empty scene so that I can quickly identify and fix any issues that may come up.

import dxf file into maya

Navigate to where you stored your DXF file, select it, then press Import

Step 4: Cleaning up your model within Maya

It will take a few seconds for Maya to process the DXF file (especially if it’s a complex model) so don’t worry if it takes a bit of time. But once it’s finished, you will probably get something that looks like this:

reversed normals

Imported model with reversed normals

That doesn’t look all that great, does it? Yes, it appears that the entire model imported correctly, but there are obviously issues with the some of the geometry. Some parts look ok, but other parts are black. Once again, no need to worry! The problem is that the normals on those surfaces need to be reversed, and it’s an easy thing to fix:

A. Select all of your geometry

All geometry selected

All geometry selected

B. Go to Modify > Convert > NURBS to polygons

converting NURBS to polygons in maya

NURBS surfaces need to be converted to polygons

This is what the resulting mesh should look like.

Resulting polygon mesh

Resulting polygon mesh after the conversion

Note that you can select how dense you want the polygon mesh to be in the options panel before you actually do the conversion. For the sake of simplicity, I just went with the default settings.

C. Before reversing the normals, we need to delete the old NURBS surfaces.

The best way of doing that is by going to the Show menu and turning off all the geometry EXCEPT for the NURBS surfaces. Once only those surfaces are exposed, select them all and delete (or save them to another layer if you want to keep them).

Using the Show menu to hide all geometry

Using the Show menu to hide all geometry except for the NURBS surfaces

D. Reverse the normals

Once you delete the NURBS surfaces, go back to the Show menu and turn on all the geometry (the way it was before you turned them off). You should be left only with polygons at this point, so you can select all the black pieces individually or all at once and reverse the normals by going to Normals > Reverse.

Reversing the normals

Reversing the normals

Once that is complete, all of your geometry should look uniform and clean – just like this:

All normals reversed

All normals reversed and ready for texturing

Of course every model will be different, but of all the FormZ to Maya file conversions I’ve done so far, the reversed normals issue is the biggest problem. It did take me a while to figure out that I had to convert to polygons first (hey, I’m still a noob) but I’m feeling much better about my archive of FormZ models that will live on for years to come in Maya.

Audi R8 3d wireframe
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Now that I’ve made the decision to migrate my 3d workflow to Maya, I feel like I’ve totally given up my “pro” status and reverted way back to newbie mode. You know…that awkward (and sometimes painful) stage where it takes far too long to accomplish seemingly simple tasks and nothing seems to be getting done. It’s a frustrating place to be considering how many project ideas I have floating around in my head, and learning a complex new 3d modeling package is putting a serious damper on my output.

Ive been busting my you-know-what over the past several months, and I’m not going to lie that I’m a bit irritated that I don’t really have anything to show for it other than a couple shiny renderings (that I can’t sell as stock) and a bunch of new data about Maya stored in my brain. I’m used to producing content at a high volume, so this is kind of a big change of pace for me. I know that I’ll be better off in the long run though, so slowing down a bit and learning Maya is not something I regret doing at all.

Building my first car

I’m currently up to my eyeballs with my second Maya project: a 2008 Audi R8. I admit that seems like a rather lofty goal for a Maya newbie, but I’m a 3d expert…right? Yes, I’m being sarcastic. While I do have years of 3d modeling experience behind me, nearly of all that has been with FormZ using solids-based modeling methods. The car I’m building in Maya is being constructed entirely with polygons – which is a completely different way of constructing objects. That means that I’m basically starting my 3d education over from scratch and there’s not much I can leverage from all my years of previous modeling experience. Sounds fun, right?

You have no idea. I’m currently about half way done with this car so far, and on two separate occasions over the past week I’ve come very close to giving up and forgetting about this project forever. I’ve been pushing and pulling vertices for weeks now, and it’s so intense that I actually dream about it at night (and these aren’t pleasant dreams). One step forward, two steps back – that’s the way it goes for a beginner to polygonal modeling.

Audi R8 wireframe I'm currently building

Front view of the Audi R8 wireframe I’m currently building

As frustrating as it’s been, I’m also having a lot of fun. Modeling with polygons in Maya has really opened up my eyes in terms of realizing what’s possible with 3d content, so I thought it would be fun to list out some of the things I’ve learned since starting to build this car:

1). Polygonal (subdivision) modeling is very forgiving

I know this isn’t a Maya-specific thing, but coming from a solids-based modeling background, I’m blown away at how forgiving modeling with polygons can be. With a solid object, the geometry essentially had to be perfect to achieve nice bevels and proper transformations – and many times those transformations simply weren’t possible. But with polygons, I can push and pull, merge and cut, extrude, and tweak forever to achieve the shape I want.

2). Tweaking forever can be a bad thing

Compared to FormZ, there is a control or adjustment in Maya for everything. And I do mean everything. That level and control and adjustment gets the designer in me very excited, but I find that the more I mess with stuff, the more I screw things up. This is especially bad when sculpting something very organic like the surface of a car. It takes a long time to get the surfaces and forms right, and I’ve ruined hours of work on my R8 trying to fine tune things after I was already satisfied with a complex panel. It’s tempting not to touch all those buttons and sliders in the control dialogs – and I’m learning to realize that less is more with complex models such as this.

3). A highly glossy and reflective 3d rendering can hide a lot of mistakes in the mesh

This is something I already knew, but Maya takes it to a whole new level. Mental Ray (the built in rendering engine) is really good at producing really juicy images without much effort. That’s a good thing, because I’ve quickly discovered that building a clean mesh is a delicate art, and I’m pretty darn far from being delicate. However, I’ve come to discover that if the end goal is just a pretty rendering or quick fly-by animation, a blingy Mental Ray rendering with some nice HDR lighting will draw attention away from the imperfections.

4). Rendering in Maya takes forever (or so it seems)

Generating quick renders to preview my progress on a 3d model has been part of my workflow for years, and in FormZ I could just quickly rip off small 320×240 production-quality renderings in a matter of seconds to check out surfaces and lighting. It’s not quite that fast in Maya – and to make matters worse, rendering completely locks up my stout Mac Pro until it’s totally complete. As a guy who likes to multi-task, this is borderline unacceptable. I can easily let a FormZ render run in the background while I work on other things, so this is a hard change for me to accept. Someone did tell me the other day that it’s possible to limit the rendering process to certain cores of my Mac’s processor which would alleviate that problem – so that’s something I’m definitely going to look into.

5). I’m not as good as I thought I was

Jumping over to Maya has been challenging enough, but trying to build a detailed car has taken it up another notch. I’m nearly in over my head here, and I hate the feeling of not being able to do what I want to do in a timely manner. This is my first truly organic 3d model, and to say I’m flailing at times is an understatement. I know I’m learning though, so I will continue to push on…

Anyway, I’m sure that I’m going to be learning a lot more as I work to complete this car, and I’m getting pretty anxious to wrap it up. I’m not rushing it though – this car will likely just be a part of my portfolio and nothing more, so it’s not like I’m under a tight deadline to get it done or anything. The wireframe previews I posted above show it in it’s current state, which is the result of about two weeks worth of work (about 2 to 3 hours each day). I figure it’s going to take another 2-3 weeks to finish completely, and at that point I’ll post some pictures here to show it off. I’m crossing my fingers that it comes together ok, so stay tuned.

3d rolex watch rendering
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Way back in 1996, I started tinkering in the world of 3d with Alias running on Silicon Graphics workstations at my first job right out of college. From there I migrated to FormZ to design trade show exhibits at my second job – but that was very short lived. I only stayed in that gig for a year, throwing in the towel to go off and design websites during the dot com boom of 1999-2001. I thought my 3d days were behind me at that point, and to be honest, I was having more fun doing websites and user interfaces than anything else I had been doing so far.

2001 to 2006 was a largely 3d-free time in my career. I was strictly focused on user interface design, occasionally messing around with an old copy of 3DS Max whenever I needed to create some basic (really basic) 3d objects for interface projects. It was so sporadic, in fact, that I never really learned my way around Max that well – to say I struggled is putting it mildly.

In 2006, I was looking to expand creatively outside of my day job, and I started shooting stock photography. I launched the Norebbo brand, and I shot photos exclusively for the first month. But it wasn’t satisfying – and I quickly noticed how difficult it was to stand out from the plethora of other photographers who had a lot more talent that I did. I needed an edge! I started thinking about creating stock illustrations instead of shooting photos, and long story short – I downloaded a demo version of my trusty old friend: FormZ. I suddenly found myself back in the world of 3d, and that leads me to where I am today.

It’s been 8 years since I got re-aqainted with FormZ, and I’m happy to say that it’s become a tool I know well and like very much. Nearly all of my 3d illustrations up until this point have been created with it, and I really like the things that it can do. But the things it can not do well (like modeling organic shapes) has been eating at me for far too long and I am at the point now where I feel like it’s holding me back.

Six months ago I started looking around for a more powerful 3d modeling package, weighing the pros and cons of each, and I ultimately decided on Maya by Autodesk. I tinkered with it for a bit, became quickly overwhelmed (lol) and ran straight back to FormZ with my tail between my legs. But two months ago I decided enough was enough and that I needed to start taking classes or running through tutorials so I could begin the migration.

It’s been a hectic 60 days – but I’m learning a lot, and I’m absolutely blown away with how much more powerful it is over FormZ. I’ve followed a handful of really good tutorials, but the Rolex Daytona watch tutorial I completed just a few days ago was fantastic and worthy of a shoutout. It’s a 57-part youtube series created by Stephan Pilz (aka Pixelbahn), and he does a spectacular job of going through the process of building this watch in Maya step-by-step. It took me 4 weeks to finish my own model, but it was most certainly worth the time – I learned so much, more than any other tutorial I’ve found so far. The results speak for themselves:

close up rendering of the rolex watch

Close up rendering of the face of this Rolex watch

Front perspective view

Front perspective view

Rolex watch wireframe

Rolex watch wireframe

Maya default surface texture

One of the things I really like about Maya is that I can quickly evaluate surfaces, even after textures have been applied

Maya viewport windows

Maya viewport windows

This is by far the most complex 3d model I have ever created, and I owe it all to Stephan for creating and publishing this tutorial. After building this Rolex and learning some really great new modeling techniques, I’m really excited about going off on my own and building some new things that I never could do with FormZ.

Yes, FormZ will always be part of my workflow (I love it too much to abandon completely), but Maya has officially become my 3d weapon of choice. This is going to be good!