Boots Easter Commercial

I recently finished work on an Easter version of the Boots commercial we did before Christmas. Again all the CG is done in Blender and rendered in Cycles, with a little compositing done in Nuke.

The commercial uses a lot of the elements from the previous one, but has some stuff moved around, an updated camera animation and lighting and new products. I managed to reduce the render time significantly, by tweaking materials and settings. With shorter render times we decided to render depth-of-field this time around, as render DoF looks a lot nicer than when done in post using depth maps. For me the biggest change was getting a new GPU that supports CUDA, so adjusting lighting and tweaking rendering was a whole lot quicker. It’s nice to be able to move the lights around and almost instantly see the result. Unfortunately our render farm only has low end graphics cards, so the final rendering was all done on CPU’s.

In addition to this updated Boots commercial I’ve used Blender on two other projects recently. Firstly a pack shots for a Toro commercial, and a short ad for Comoyo. I will see if I can post the Comoyo one here in the near future. It’s very short, but uses particles, dynamics and fur, as well as half the deformers available in Blender.

May 20, 2013  Leave a comment

Running Jot on Windows

After publishing the Jot Exporter for Blender, I’ve noticed a lot of people are having trouble getting Jot to run on their computers. I’ve put together this short tutorial to help explain how. The screenshots are from Windows 8 Pro 64-bit, but the process should be the same for WinXP, Vista and Win7, both 32 and 64-bit, and Home, Pro or Enterprise editions.

Begin by downloading Jot from her and double click Drag the jot folder within to the root of your C: drive.

c continue reading »

April 3, 2013  8 Comments

Resurrecting Jot

You may be wondering who Jot is, and how I’m going to go about resurrect him or her? Of course, the question is not who Jot is, but what Jot is?

Back in 2002 there was a presentation by some talented people from Princeton University of a very interesting stylistic renderer at Siggraph. The images and videos they showed looked fantastic. Here was a renderer that could make your animated 3D models look like charcoal drawing or Greek vases in real time and with great artistic control.

But rather than I tell you about it, you can see for yourself.

As to resurrecting Jot, that is somewhat of a bigger task. In 2007 the source code for Jot was made open-source and posted here. As far as I can tell there has been no active development on it since 2007, or maybe even earlier, but luckily the compiled 32-bit Windows version of Jot still works, even on a 64-bit Windows 8 system and under Wine on Linux.

Wanting to see if I could get it to run natively on Linux, I downloaded the source code, and found there were lots of references to both Linux and OS X in it. While I’ve dabbled in quite a few scripting and programming languages through the years, I’m not much of a C++ coder. I tried getting Jot to compile on my 64-bit Ubuntu machine, but got stuck with integers loosing precision when being cast to different types (probably because int on 32 and 64 bit system behave differently). I’m sure it’s a relatively easy problem to solve for someone who knows C++, but the source code for Jot is not the easiest place to start for a complete n00b C++ developer like me.

Having failed miserably at getting Jot to run natively on my Ubuntu box, I decided to take a different approach. Since Jot came out ages ago (in computer time), the exporters that came with it were long out of date, so there was really no way of getting your models and animations into Jot, unless you happened to have an ancient version of Lightwave lying around. And there is really only so much fun you can have with the dancing cactus that comes with Jot, so I decided to try to write an exporter of my own. I mean, how hard can it be.

I dug into the Blender Python API, the Jot documentation and the .jot sample files, and began coding away. Blender was the obvious choice to make the exporter for, as it’s open-source and has a vibrant community of both artists and developers around it. Surprisingly quickly I had a copy of Suzanne up and running in Jot. After some further hacking away at the exporter, I now have a  working Jot Exporter for Blender. It supports meshes with modifiers, camera and animation, and can updated meshes without messing up the annotation you’ve done in Jot.

The next step is really up to you. If you’re an artist, try it out and make some cool stuff with it. While I may eventually find the time to learn enough C++ and math to keep working on Jot myself, it’s not extremely likely. So if you’re a developer that finds Jot fascinating, and have the time and skill, please get in touch. It would be very cool to see some of the technology from Jot integrated in Blender or Freestyle, or to see Jot itself come to live again.

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – Mark Twain

April 1, 2013  13 Comments

Making Comics with GIMP Book

The first week of my Christmas vacation in 2011, I spent with a cold and fever.  I had already begun feeling unwell on the last day of work, and a long flight to Thailand, followed by a two hour bus ride with an overactive air-condition blowing down my neck, topped with a 4-5 hour stint of windsurfing, probably didn’t help. So that first week in Thailand I spent sitting on the patio of the house we were staying at, slowly getting better. Admittedly it wasn’t the worst place to be sick, though just sitting there quickly got a bit boring, so I grabbed my laptop and began writing a comic book plug-in for GIMP.

GIMP Book interface.

GIMP is a tool for doing design, graphics and image manipulation, but it also has quite a few serviceable brushes and tools for painting and drawing. I have used it to draw a couple of my comics, “Gawkers” and “How to Come Out for Religious Nuts“, and was quite happy with it, and since I drew those GIMP has only gotten better. Though there were still two features I missed, that I had gotten used to when drawing “The Raft” in Manga Studio. One was a tool for quickly creating panels, and the other was a story mode, used to mange the pages of your comic.

When writing and drawing comics, I tend to write the story out as a screenplay, after jotting up the idea and a basic skeleton on a piece of paper. I prefer this to writing a full script, as I like to have more freedom when drawing, so that I can juggle around the number, shape and size of panels on the page to best tell the story. This process is quite dynamic and I tend to do it in a very loose and sketchy style, making it easier to discard stuff that is not working (before spending hours rendering it nicely), moving panels around, editing dialog, adding pages and playing with the layout as needed. This stage is where my plug-in, GIMP Book , is probably most usefull.

GIMP Book manages all the pages of your comic book, giving you a quick thumbnail overview of all the pages and an easy way to sort them and move them around. Some of the features include:

  • Custom templates, which are used for all new pages you add to your comic. The templates are standard .xcf files, so you can easily set the resolution and add a standard set of layers and layer groups you want to use.
  • Thumbnail view showing the pages in spreads, so you can see what pages will be facing each other in print.
  • Storyboard mode, where the pages flow, handy for drawing storyboards or web comics, when you don’t care about page spreads.
  • Sort the pages simply by dragging them around.
  • Deleted pages are stored, so you can import them later.
  • Name your pages anything you like, to help remind you what’s on the page.
  • Import pages from several image formats.
  • Export your comic to a variety of formats, optionally resizing and cropping the exported files to fit your needs.
  • Add layer tags that let you define which layers should be shown or hidden on export. This can be used to hide your rough sketches on export or to do multi-lingual comics.
  • Works in GIMP 2.8 on Linux and Windows (not tested on OSX, but should work there too).
Just like GIMP itself, GIMP Book is released as open-source software, so you can easily get it here and try it for yourself. The manual and installation instructions can be found here.

I’m currently using GIMP Book to draw a short comic. So far it’s been working great. I’ve added a couple of features here and there along the way, as I’ve found the need for them, but have been quite happy with how the tool turned out. And with all the tools the GIMP team added in version 2.8, it’s becoming a great tool for making comics.

Now I only need to get around to making that panel drawing tool.

February 24, 2013  1 Comment

Boots Commercial uses Tractor Dispatcher

A few weeks ago I worked on a commercial for Boots using mostly open-source tools, includand Gimp and Blender, with the new Cycles renderer.
While Cycles can produce beautiful images, like with most physically plausible renderers those images tend to be quite noisy. There are several tricks to reduce the amount of noise in Cycles, but one of the most effective is simply increasing the amount of samples. Unfortunately taking lots of samples is very time consuming, and render times can quickly go through the roof. Fortunately, I did a test early on in the project, which got rendered quickly. Though unfortunately once I got closer to the final materials and lighting, a lot of noise had crept back in the picture, mostly in the shadow areas and due to reflective materials. I did some tweaking, but eventually had to turn up the sampling and render times shot through the roof, to a point where it was unfeasible to render the commercial on a single workstation.

Fortunately, just a couple of weeks earlier I had hacked together a render dispatcher for Pixar’s Tractor render manager, that we use at Storm Studios.  Having 20 machines at my disposal for rendering, rather than one, was a complete life saver on this project. Since I finished work on the commercial, I’ve cleaned up the code a little, and added a few more features to the dispatcher. If you happen to have access to a render farm running Tractor Engine, you can grab the addon here and try it for youself.

December 13, 2012  Leave a comment

My Site is Up

Welcome to my site. I don’t really have any big plans for this site, other than having a place to collect some tools and games I’ve written, and maybe publish a few tutorials. To start with I’ve added my Tractor Dispatcher for Blender addon to the site, and more tools and tips will follow soon on a very irregular basis.

– Ragnar

December 13, 2012  Leave a comment

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