everyone likes shiny things

So I’ve gotten a little behind on blogging.. sorry guys!  But, I promise I’ve been working really hard on finishing up the animation.  In fact, it will be premiering TOMORROW! Get excited! While I’m waiting for my last render to finish up, I’ll try to catch you up on what I’ve been doing.

My next step after modeling was to begin texturing the models, to make them look like the objects they are supposed to represent. Texturing is sort of like painting or putting clothes onto geometry. There are two main ways to go about it: procedural textures and image mapping. I used both methods for different purposes.

Procedural texturing means that textures are mathematically calculated with a special little program within the 3D software package called a shader.  A shader is assigned to a piece of geometry in the scene, and it uses information from lights (which I’ll talk about in a second) and other scene components to calculate the exact color of each point on the surface of the geometry. Procedural textures use mathematical concepts like fractals and Brownian noise to generate interesting, natural-looking patterns.  For example, I used a fractal procedural texture on the surface of the seafloor, to generate subtle, natural-looking color variations.

Image mapping is another way to texture 3D objects.  Image mapping is used when you need a lot of control over how specific parts of the object look, or you want to use photographs or other existing images to texture pieces of geometry.  For example, I used image mapping to ‘paint’ the reentry cone. I used a technique called UV mapping, where I selected specific polygons on the model and projected them onto a 2D plane. Then, I went into Photoshop and painted exactly what I wanted to go onto each polygon, and then imported that back into my 3D software. The 2D image is then projected onto the 3D geometry using only the polygons that I selected.

Like the models, I strove to make the textures aesthetically appealing and readable as opposed to completely photorealistic.  Of course, photoreal textures are quite a bit more time-consuming to develop, so time was also a big factor in that decision.

Texturing is closely linked to lighting, which is the process of placing various lights in a 3D scene to illuminate the objects.  Basic lighting is necessary to even see the objects when they are rendered, but really good lighting can make an average scene into something beautiful. CG lighting stems from real-life cinematic and photographic lighting, and we use things like the 3-point lighting system (key, fill, and rim). CG lighting is different in that lights can be placed anywhere in a scene, and their individual parameters can be adjusted very specifically.

Designing the lighting for this animation was a bit tricky.  Obviously, the bottom of the seafloor is pitch black, so my lighting was completely invented and couldn’t be motivated by real-life conditions.

To start, I added an environment light, which is akin to daylight on an overcast day- that is, it lights the scene evenly from a big sphere surrounding all the objects in the scene. Then, I added more lights to direct the viewer’s attention to the important parts of the scene. Of course our majestic CORK is the focus, so I gave it a nice key light, with a fill light on the underside of the reentry cone. 

Above you can see my final lit scene, and a screencap from my software program that shows the lights (in red).

Specular highlights are the small, bright spots on shiny objects. I decided to use separate lights on the CORK to tune the specular highlights only- CG lights are much more flexible than real life lights in this way!  I wanted to make the shiny metal texture of the bay components eye-catching but not too overwhelming.  I also added other lights to shine on the seafloor around the drill string and the CORK- something that isn’t motivated by real-world conditions but helps to direct the viewer’s eye where I want it to go.

Even though the bottom of the seafloor would never look like this, the goal of my lighting and texturing was to create an appealing and believable environment to show off the coolness of CORKs!

Stay tuned- in my next installment, I’ll go over the process of animating the camera movements and rendering out the final animation. I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out, and I hope you guys will like it 🙂