Rabbits Full of Magic

28 September 2012

 

Computer Magic: Star Wars Uncut: Part 01 Making a surreal CGI monolith




Creating a computer 3D animation is very close to a deity simulation. You construct forms out of simple or complex shapes, position them in 3-dimensional space, enact a complete control over gravity, wind, and supernatural forces. To make the above image I downloaded some HD marble textures in JPG form from g00gl3, then applied them to the models in various ways. Applying textures is one way to turn a rolling grey hill into a grassy field. You get (or take, or create) an image of grass and then stick it onto the form like it was wallpaper. After that, you can change the image and the way it is displayed, as well as tell the form to use the image information to distort itself in 3D space. The forms are called 'mesh'es. Using mesh's 'normals' property, it will raise itself in places where the image is bright and lower itself in places where the image is dark. Imagine taking a sheet of paper, posting a top-down image of a mountain on it, and it rising up to look like a 3-dimensional model of a mountain.

So if you put a picture of marble or stone, the mesh will look like it not only has the flat image on it, but it actually has the physical texture.

My goal in this shot was to duplicate a space pirate frozen in a block of carbon similar to the monolith in 2001, levitating as he is being guided through the room of futuristic Cloud City. I originally wanted a single arm extended out for a bizarre look, but it just didn't seem to go with the rest of the imagery. So I went with a single hand, as it's a more interesting form when taken at something of a distance than a whole arm. A hand has 5 fingers and the smaller shape makes it more interesting as a 3-dimensional object; an arm as seen from a distance is more or less a straight line. So i g00gl3d around and found some free 3D models of hands and placed one inside this monolith i created. I wanted it to have a real shiny, polished feel but still look like a piece of stone, so i applied a number of textures and altered how the light shines on the mesh. As a god, you have lots of control over how light is seen in your new reality. There are some invisible lamps here and there, and I'm tempted to go in again and place even more, but I'm not entirely happy with the amount of control I have over them. But this is why it's a deity simulator and not a God simulator.

I've been working in Blender for around 6 years now, which is open source and free software that will allow you to model, animate, and render 3D scenes at pretty much HD production quality. I have been using version 2.46 for this scene, as it is the one I'm most familiar with. The folks at Blender have an annoying tendency to completely rewrite the UI every other time they update it.

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