Vacation blog

Stockholm, day 2

It’s a record – an entire vacation with only good weather. It drizzled a bit in Amsterdam and a bit today, but that counts as good 🙂 Today we went to Skansen (thanks to Caro for the suggestion!) in the morning. It’s the world’s first open-air museum, founded in 1891, where over 150 buildings from all over Sweden have been dismantled and reassembled so you can “stroll through five centuries of Swedish history.”

In the afternoon we finished our tour of the Royal Palace, seeing the Treasury (no pictures allowed) which holds the royals’ crowns, scepters, etcetera, the Tre Kronos Museum, with the history of the original palace which burned down in 1697, and the church where all the royals are buried, dating from the 13th century.

Finally, we had our first good meal in Sweden, in the old town, where the Royal Palace and many other sites are located. Tomorrow we return to reality…

Here’s a sketch from the Palace museum.

And a detail from one of the gravestones in the church. There are lots of skulls and crossbones, some only barely discernible. Many people have walked on these stones over many centuries.

Skansen has a zoo as well. These are a couple of Sweden’s only remaining type of native pigs. They’re doing their best to keep up the population though.

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The capital of Finland was a big change after St. Petersburg. But the weather was lovely again.

Here’s the port with the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral in the background.

The cathedral was stark in comparison with the ones we’ve seen in the two days we spent in Russia. But the organ pipes were pretty.

Our tour guide told us that Finland was recently named the happiest country in the world. But, she said, we are a serious looking people. There were two more matching guys on the other side of this building. She told us that they represent the four emotions. The first guy is happy, the second sad, the third angry and the fourth fearful. Or, perhaps, the other way around 🙂

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St. Petersburg

We have just spent two days in St. Petersburg. If you haven’t been, put it on your bucket list.. We took a two full day tour (back on the boat between days for dinner and the evening/night) with SPB tours, and because most people just take the cruise company tours, our tour had just 4 people on it. We saw Peterhof, Catherine’s palace, St. Isaac’s cathedral, the church of the spilled blood, took a canal ride, visited the Hermitage. Whirlwind – but every site seemed more impressive than the last. I couldn’t possibly tell you much about any one of them, so you will have to Google..

The other couple chose to visit a different room of the Hermitage, so Lana, our guide, seeing that we didn’t mind walking very fast, took us to twice the usual number of highlights in this vast museum. Buzz shot this racing through one gorgeous room after another:

One of the Tsars collected tapestries, displayed in a darkish corridor so they would fade as little as possible.

Beautiful details in every possible place – these are just doors between two of the hundreds of rooms in the Hermitage.

The Church of the Spilled Blood. In one corner, the stones on which the murdered Tsar fell are preserved exactly where he fell (no, I couldn’t see any blood). The entire interior is covered in mosaics. And I mean every square inch.

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Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the lovely small capital of the former Soviet republic of Estonia. This is the house and office of the president – except that the first female president decided she’d rather live in her house in town with her family. So now it’s just the office of the president. Personally, I wouldn’t turn down an invitation to live here.

The town hall boasts this clock, which even has the correct time.

We visited the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe (or in the whole Milky Way, says Buzz). The outside of the building says 1422, but that’s just the first known reference to the business. Nowadays they sell modern products, but there still seemed to be many vials of eye of newt and the like. Hopefully just for show…

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At sea

Great view last night:

We had dinner at the reservations-only venue, Candles. No complaints about the food here! Our day at sea was relaxing and fairly uneventful. Nothing to see but the sea…

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Eight miles (that’s 22000 steps) walked to see five hours  worth of Copenhagen today! It’s a city of only a million. The day was clear, and the crowds not bad. Our tour guide walked us around at a rapid pace, so I won’t try to remember what each of these pics is – they can speak for themselves today 🙂

(Thanks to Buzz for his skill as the family photographer.)

This is from a tee house we were in.  Like a lot of the buildings here, it was once a royal something-or-other.

This is an inlet a few blocks from the ocean.

There are a lot of bizarre statues around town.  This is in a park.

This was once a royal garden; now it is a public park.

This is from a Catholic Church, above the altar.

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Kiel Canal

Heard of the Kiel Canal? We hadn’t… It was constructed in the late 19th century and cuts east-west through northern Germany, so ships can avoid going all the way north around Denmark to travel between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Large cruise ships can’t go through it, as there are several bridges over the canal and the ships are too tall to pass under them. Our little Star Breeze (438 feet, 212 passengers) fit just fine. We spent the entire day cruising through the canal.

Old Dutch windmills are good tourist draws, but the modern ones are more useful.

The Star Breeze entering the lock, preparing to go through the 98 km canal. The canal is fresh water, fed by rivers. So the water in the lock is kept slightly higher than the seas. That way the downward pressure when the lock is opened keeps the salt water out of the canal.

A container ship in the lock next to ours. We didn’t see any other pleasure boats in the canal.

A pretty German smokestack.

This little guy joined us for quite a while as we waited in the outgoing lock.

Exiting the canal on our way to Copenhagen.

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Harlingen, Netherlands

Harlingen is in the north of the Netherlands. It’s a very pretty, large town. We are here on Sunday, when most businesses are closed, and it’s a nice change after bustling, noisy, dirty Amsterdam. We visited the only remaining factory where Delft tiles are hand made and hand painted. The gentleman painting the tile above has been doing this for 45 years.

Our tour also included a trip along the dike, built to separate fresh water from salt and provide protection from flooding to a large part of the country, which is 1/4 below sea level.

Originally City Hall, now just another pretty building.

There were several old warehouses which were labeled with the countries the goods came from. This one is Poland, next door was Russia, across the street Java and Sumatra.

After WWII, the residents of Harlingen placed metal plates in the sidewalk outside the houses of residents who were sent off to concentration camps and who never returned…

Someone in Harlingen had beautiful flowers outside their house.

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Doei Amsterdam, hallo Star Breeze

We spent our last morning doing a little shopping. This mall must have at one point been something much more impressive. Buzz took a few pictures of it, planning to use them to model a scene.

There are reputedly 900,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. It certainly looked like there must be 100,000 just parked at the Central Station.

One could spend days just wandering around looking at the architecture. But we are out of time and have boarded our ship and set sail!

Note from Buzz: we were shopping for pj’s, because Buzz forgot his pajamas…

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Artists and Canals

We took a canal tour. These are “dancing houses”. Since the ground is rather unstable, the houses were built on posts, which have settled. In some cases the wooden posts have started to rot over the centuries.  Many houses are leaning into each other. These have been shored up so they won’t topple into the canal. We think…

Here’s a detail on a piling for a bridge crossing a canal. So much ornate artistry!

We went to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, both well worth a visit. Here’s “The Book Shop…” by Johannes Jelgerhuis, 1820. Speaking of detail, it’s quite amazing how much there is to see in one painting.

And this is Buzz’s favorite piece of art in the whole world!

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Welcome to Amsterdam

We arrived at noon in Amsterdam, after a 6 hour layover in Chicago, found our hotel and crashed for a few hours. Suitably refreshed, we went out for dinner and a stroll. In a ~50 meter ped/bike tunnel we found an astonishing mural made up of six inch fired tiles. Here’s one small section.

Various renderings

lobby of hotel

This was modeled with Maya, rendered with Redshift, with all Redshift materials.  Redshift is a GPU renderer and the render time was somewhat shorter than my experience with Arnold, but perhaps only roughly 1/2 as long.  However, I was using a consumer grade graphics card (Nvidia 1080 founders edition).

Various renderings

Maya: A Moai

This is a Moai-like statue similar to those made roughly seven hundred to a thousand years ago on Rapi Nui.  The island was renamed Easter Island by Europeans when James Cook stumbled upon it on Easter Sunday.  The statues represented the ancestors of the indigenous people.  The statues were carved from sandstone in the face of a hillside quarry (thus they are flat-backed).  Then the Moais were cut out of the hillside, rolled on logs across the island, and mounted on altars, often on the coast of the island, facing inland.  The statues could be as high as 20 feet.

This was made in Maya with Arnold materials, rendered with Arnold.

Various renderings

Close up of a house

This is a single frame from an animation that was made with Maya and rendered with mental ray.  The little boy in the window is eating Trix while swinging his legs under the table.

You can click on these images to blow them up.

Here are two minor variations, with the wood trim around the window colored differently and with a cement-textured bump map added:

3D animation tutorials

More on bump maps

When to use bump maps.

This was made with Maya and rendered with mental ray.

The stone walls have a heavy bump map.  The material was made with a tileable stone texture and the bump map was made from the same seamless texture.

The bed was sculpted with the Maya sculpting tool found in Modeling under Surfaces.  The bedspread material is made from a seamless cloth texture and the bump map for it was made from the same seamless texture.

The cement floor was made from a seamless cement texture and again, the same texture was used to make a bump map.

The sink/toilet combo and the metal bars were made with mental ray “paint” materials.  Since they are smooth and shiny, they are not bump mapped.

This images can be clicked on to blow them up.

Here are two variations:

3D animation tutorials

More on bump maps

Bump maps on plaster, metal, stone, and mortar.

The image below was made in Maya and rendered with mental ray.  The plants inside the building were made with PlantFactory.

The blue and white plasters were made with two seamless plaster textures used as the color of two mental ray materials.  Each material has a bump map made from the plaster texture used for its color.

The roof of the structure was made with a gold steel seamless texture used as the color of a Blinn.  The reflectivity, eccentricity, and specular rolloff were cranked up to make the material shiny.  The same gold steel texture was used to give the roof a deeper sense of depth.

You can click on this image to blow it up:

Below is a close-up of the front of the structure.  Note the heavy use of bump maps in the stone and mortar on the top of the arches.  This is crucial to making them look realistic.  Again, you can click on this image to blow it up.

3D animation tutorials

Bump maps in Maya & using Photoshop to layer a texture

Bump mapping and layered textures.

The back wall on in this scene is made with a Blinn, with a layered textured made in Photoshop used as its color.  A bump map was added to the Blinn.

The layered texture was made with a yellow paster seamless texture, with a added Darken layer consisting of a damaged plaster seamless texture.

Immediately below is the original yellow plaster texture, followed by the damaged plaster texture.

Below those are the final layered texture output by Photoshop, followed by the final texture’s bump map.

The bottle is a revolved NURBS surface with a mental ray glass material.

The desktop is a wood seamless texture with a bump map made from the same texture.

The original yellow paster, before layering.

The damaged paster texture used as the Darken layer.

The resulting layered texture used in the scene.

The bump map used to give the back wall its gritty look.  You can see how important a bump map is!

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This was made with the “toon” setting on Maya.  Go to the Rendering main menu, then go to Toon.  The color setting is 2; i.e., only two colors are allowed on the body of the cow, thus creating the 2D appearance.  The lettering was done within Maya under the Create > Text tool.


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Basilica Cistern, Spice Market, and Galata Tower

We started our final day at the Basilica Cistern. This is the largest of several hundred cisterns under the city, and was built in the 6th century. It is hard to convey the scale of this place with a picture, so here are some numbers. It is over 100,000 square feet in area, and capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet of water (that’s 100,000 tons of water). There are 336 marble columns, each 30 feet high, supporting the ceiling. Now there are only a few feet of water in it, but plenty of fish swimming around. A walkway has been constructed so visitors can walk through the cistern.

We went next to the Spice Market, where all sorts of things are sold, and chose to buy our Turkish Delight from the one shop owner who did not chase us down the corridor, shouting at us!

A two hour boat ride on the Bosphorus included this mosque, right next to the modern bridge spanning the river.

Finally we went up the Galata Tower for views of this beautiful city, which we hope to return to some day.

Thanks for reading!

Vacation blog

Istanbul – Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sofia

We landed in Istanbul at 7 AM, and decided to take a tour in the morning before being dropped off at our hotel.

The first stop was at the Blue Mosque, and here’s one very small detail on the ceiling of this amazing building.

The Topkapi Palace was a residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years. At the end of the Ottoman Empire, almost 100 years ago, the palace became a museum. It is in amazing condition, and in addition to the many buildings and courtyards, we saw priceless jewelry and other artifacts. Sadly, tourism is way down as people are afraid to visit the city. But for us, this meant lots of sightseeing with virtually no queues.

Our last stop on this tour was the Grand Bazaar. It’s the first indoor mall…

When we told our guide we were interested in pottery, she showed us to a very nice shop. All of the shops are desperate for business, and it’s pretty stressful to walk along as they follow you, shouting the whole way. So it was great having the tour guide advise us where to go. As is the custom, they gave us apple tea as we looked at their wares, and we bought a set of tea cups and a platter.

After we checked into our hotel, we went to the Hagia Sophia, the world’s largest cathedral for nearly 1000 years. Built as a Greek Orthodox church, converted to a mosque, and now a museum, it is a fascinating mix of Christian and Islamic art.

Many astounding mosaics at the Hagia Sophia…

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At Sea

In cruise lingo, At Sea is a day cruising, without stopping at any port. But the dictionary also says it is “to be confused; to be lost and bewildered” so the term sounds funny to me…

We spent the day following the coast of Turkey north and then going through the Dardanelles toward Istanbul. Wendy visited the spa, Buzz read and took pics of the scenery. We ate more great food. The ship was very comfortable to hang out on. It only holds 148 passengers, and on this sailing there were only 115. It does have the smallest pool I’ve ever seen – one lap equals almost one stroke.

There were many castles to defend the strait as we passed from the Aegean into the Sea of Marmara. This one looks like a heart shape from this vantage point, but is apparently in the shape of a three leaf clover.

One of the crew members who maintains the ship badly injured his hand. Fortunately we were close to the coast so he could get to a hospital quickly. The process of transferring him from the ship to this Coast Guard boat was quite complex. We hope he will be ok.

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Kusadasi, Ephesus and Mary’s house

Kusadasi is our second stop in Turkey. We went first to the house where legend has it that Mary was installed by the Apostle John after Jesus’ crucifixion, and lived in till her death at a ripe old age (about our current age, actually).  The house is up high on a hill.  We are told that there were those who wanted to harm Mary (Romans) and so she was kept hidden there.  Three popes, at least, have been here and can attest to this being the very spot.

Kusadasi means “bird island”. Which confuses visitors, because it is not an island, it is very much on the mainland. Below is the actual bird island that the city was named after.

Ephesus was a port city, but now it’s 4 miles inland, because back in about 700 A.D. it became marshy and malarial and then covered by several meters of silt. No one knew anymore where it was, although it is a very important biblical city, until engineers for the railroad happened upon it in the late 19th century. (Paul got kicked out of Ephesus and later wrote a letter to the Ephesians…) Archeologists have been excavating ever since, and they have only uncovered a third of the ancient city. This is the reconstructed library, which is 80 percent original (the rest being concrete, where the marble hasn’t been found). It was the third largest library in the ancient world (Alexandria had the largest).

This little guy doesn’t need to hunt mice, as the keepers of Ephesus put out cat food and water in bowls. There’s a box for donations for the cats…

Here’s the theater at Ephesus, which held 24,000 people, and is still used for concerts – the acoustics are great even by modern standards.

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Bodrum, Turkey with gulet schooners and the underwater archeology museum

Bodrum has been a port town since at least the 11th century B.C. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was here – the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (turns out the word comes from King Mausolus), built in the 4th century B.C. But in the 15th century A.D., the Knights of Saint John – same guys who ran Rhodes, our last stop – dismantled the mausoleum to build their Castle of St. Peter.

Our guide in Bodrum described the town as the St. Tropez of Turkey. Americans mostly come here on cruises, but many wealthy Europeans have second homes here on the Turkish coast. These boats, called gulets, are made right here in the area.

Local wildlife…

The Museum of Underwater Archeology is housed in the castle. Contrary to our initial guess, one doesn’t go underwater to see the museum. It is rather the foremost museum in the world devoted to finds from shipwrecks, dating back as far as the 14th century B.C. This chalice is from a 3400 year old shipwreck, which also held a gold scarab inscribed with the name Nefertiti – the ancient Egyptian queen.

The castle grounds feature samples of almost every flora found in the Mediterranean.

After our aerobic hike around the castle and museum, we are chilling at the ship this afternoon. Today is the second day that the sports deck is open (because the ship is anchored, not at the dock). But I (Wendy) have already crossed Kayaking in the Mediterranean Sea off my bucket list – the pic is from Sunday in Mykonos – and so my water sports plan now is to go sit in the jacuzzi.

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Santorini and donkeys

Santorini is a “candidate for the lost kingdom of Atlantis” according to the guidebook. It’s a tourist trap with incredible vistas. The towns on the island perch atop steep cliffs.

There is a long, winding set of wide shallow steps that you can climb to get to the top of the cliffs rimming the island.  A popular tourist thing is to either take the funicular up or ride a donkey up.  We took the funicular up and walked down.  These are two of the many donkeys available for riding.  (If you walk, you get to step through donkey poop the whole way.)  Notice the wire muzzles on them.  Do donkeys bite?

At the top of the cliff is a community with more white boxy houses with blue trim.  This one seemed the most elegant:

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Mykonos and the Delos archeological site

This is Mykonos, a Greek island in the Cyclades.  Like other Greek islands, it has white, cube shaped houses and blue windows/doors/domes.

There is a story people tell about how Jackie O brought a female pelican to the island to mate with a pelican named Petros who had become a mascot on the island.  But it turned out that Petros was also a female…  Anyhow, Petros lived for 29 years and was apparently stuffed after he died.  We went looking for Petros, who was supposed to be somewhere on the island. We thought we had found him – see below – and I was taking pictures of the stuffed pelican when he suddenly moved.   Oops, it turned out that this pelican is alive.  Just after I took this shot, a woman entered the red door behind the pelican, and when the door closed, his beak got caught in it. (But he pulled it out and seemed to be ok.)  Notice how tall he is – about 3 feet.

I (Buzz) just finished a class at Iliff on the philosophical search for happiness (Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, etc.)  But then we found happiness right there on Mykonos…

From Mykonos, we went to Delos a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to look at ancient ruins from about 1000 BC through the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. The twin gods Artemis and Apollo were born here, and our very knowledgeable tour guide told us the story of their birth, there at the center of the Cyclades Islands (and believed to be the center of the ancient world, as well).  Below is the remains of a house, with its marble entrance still intact.

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Kerameikos and the coast of Greece

Kerameikos is the most ancient cemetery in Attica.  It was also an area occupied by potters, and it sat both inside and outside the Athens city walls.

There are very few tourists at the archeological sites.  But we did find this one fellow at Kerameikos:

We caught our boat at the port in Athens and are currently out at sea.  This is a view off the rear of the boat as we were leaving the bay area.

I overheard a young women who had recently graduated from Princeton telling her mother that her boyfriend at college was a great guy but she wasn’t so sure she could really stay with him.  He isn’t from a very good family and he has like zero connections in the world…   At Iliff we call this White privilege.


Foodie update: Beet risotto with horseradish and fennel for my first cruise dinner. It was lovely, but sadly I didn’t take a pic.


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Our new digs

We’ve been trying to get the place fixed up, but it’s hard to find a good contractor in Athens…

The garage is almost done, though: 18 cars.

We have some problems with the guest house being a bit overgrown…

Now, I don’t want any juvenile remarks about this one…


Speaking of juvenile, tomorrow I’ll do the commentary…


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1st class food and the mess that is Athens

“Business First” food on United is really something else. I guess when you pay that much for a plane ticket (we used flight points to upgrade), they figure they should give you something besides just a trip across the ocean and a seat that reclines. Dinner consisted of:

  • Dish of hot roasted nuts.
  • Pick your own warm roll from a selection.
  • Appetizer of salami and melon (“You don’t want your appetizer? Can I get you another drink?)
  • Tossed salad. (Would you like another roll?)
  • Entree – Shrimp and bream fish with lobster sauce, lentils, and julienned vegetables; Buzz had chicken with white beans, greens and onions.
  • Cheese and grapes platter. (You don’t want your cheese? Can I get you something else?)
  • Ice cream with choice of hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream, nuts, strawberries, cherries. Or all of the above.
  • And of course all the alcohol you wish. We each had a beer…
  • Breakfast 6 hours later.

– Wendy

Athens is pretty down and out.  Many of the store fronts are empty and/or abandoned.  There is graffiti everywhere; there must be an army of kids with spray paint cans that come out every night.  There are piles of garbage bags that apparently have not been picked up in weeks or months – with men my age picking through the stuff and pulling out junk, presumably to sell.  Many of the shops that are open are selling stuff that looks like it was rescued from one of the garbage heaps.  -Buzz

3D animation tutorials

Making an arch in Autodesk Maya with the Polygon Bridge tool

Let’s make a simple archway using polygon modeling and the Bridge Tool.

Polygon cubes – two of them. 
We start out by setting the Main Menu Selector in the upper left of the Maya interface to Polygons.  (This step is not shown.) Next, we create a polygon cube.


Duplicating the cube.
Since we just created an object, we are already in object mode, but in case we’re not, we right click and using the Marking Menu, put us in Object mode.
With the cube selected, we select Edit > Duplicate.  Now we have two identical cubes.

Positioning our two cubes.
Now, we use the four way view to separate our two cubes using the  Move tool. We don’t need to put them into any particular locations to create our archway.  But it’s always a good idea to position objects in a deliberate fashion, so that later when we are putting more objects into our scene, we don’t need to move objects arbitrarily in 3-space to get the scene configured the way we want it.  In this case, we’re keeping our two cubes equidistant from the z-axis and at an identical distance from the x axis.

archw-25-2014-07-12-15-32.jpg   arch-3-2014-07-12-15-32-1.jpg
Setting up the Bridge Tool.
As it turns out, the Bridge Tool that we will use only works on pieces of a single object.  So, while still in Object mode, we shift-select the two cubes and select Mesh > Combine.
(If we need to, we go into object mode, as shown.)

Increasing the height of the side pillars of the arch.
We have already placed our cubes so that they are at the same height in the x-z plane; this will make it easier to ensure that our arch will not be lopsided. We don’t want our archway to begin its sweep close to the ground, so while we still have the two cubes (which are now part of a single object) selected, we use the Scale tool to make them both taller.   We note that the two cubes still have the same height, so our archway will not be lopsided.

Now, we click click and go into Face mode, because that is what the Bridge Tool is going to act on – two faces.

The Bridge Tool: making the archway.
Now, we right click and go into Face mode, because this is what the Bridge Tool is going to act on – two faces.

With the top faces of the two cubes shift-selected, we select Edit Mesh > Bridge, and we click on the little box at the right side of the menu selection, so that we can adjust the tool’s settings.

We set the number of divisions to 10.  We also choose Smooth Path.

Then, we hit Bridge, and boom, we have an archway!

An example arch.
Here’s a model with an arch made using this technique.  It was rendered with mental ray.


3D animation tutorials

Autodesk Sketchbook and the Wacom Bluetooth stylus.

I do 3D modeling and animation.  I do not draw.
But – I have been experimenting with the Wacom Bluetooth stylus on my iPad.

The iPad and similar Android devices (as well as the Microsoft Surface notebooks) do not have pressure sensitive screens.

So, if you want to have pressure sensitivity when you draw, you need to use a stylus that senses when you press down (as opposed to the screen sensing the pressure); the stylus then sends a Bluetooth signal to the iPad.

The drawing application (in my case Adobe Sketchbook) catches this signal and makes the line you are drawing fatter.  (Of course, the app must be compatible with the Wacom pressure sensing Bluetooth protocol.)

It works great, with zero lag time!


3D animation tutorials

Lights in Maya – with mental ray

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we look at the basics of creating lights in Maya, using ray tracing, and manipulating shadows.  We also look at the rudiments of global illumination and final gathering.  And we look at depth map versus ray traced shadows. Here, we look at a few other aspects of lighting in Maya, in particular, with the mental ray renderer.

Ambient occlusion.Ambient occlusion is a (usually subtle) shadow effect, which involves preventing light from reaching small, detailed areas in a scene. Here is the closet scene we have used in several of the videos and previously in this blog:


In the scene, the only light is an ambient light.

Here is the scene rendered with mental ray:


Here is a rendered closeup of the left knob:


If we go to Window, and then Rendering Editors, and then choose Render View, can then set the renderer to mental ray, and then choose Options.  Under the Indirect Lighting tab, we can check Ambient Occlusion.


Now we go to the Passes tab and click on the top icon with the little orange light on it – the icon is just above the red dot in the image immediately below.

We then hit Create.
Now we go back to the Main window and check off the Use Local AO Settings and set the Maximum Distance to 6.


3D animation tutorials

Bump maps versus displacement maps in Maya.

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we have looked at the tradeoff between painstakingly crafting detailed geometry versus using bump maps to simulate geometric detail. Here, we look at another alternative, displacement maps, and compare it to bump maps.

Bump Maps. As a reminder, a bump map does not change the geometry of an object.  Rather, the normals information in a texture is used to create the illusion of texture on a model. Here is a Blinn material with a checkerboard bumpmap applied to it:



This was created by first creating a Blinn material in the Hypershade, then creating a checkerboard texture in the Hypershade.  Then, with the material selected, the texture was middle-mouse-button dragged to the Bump Mapping box in the attribute editor above.

Displacement maps.

Here is another Blinn material, but this time, instead of using a bump map, we are using a displacement map.  We don’t do this by selecting the material itself.  Rather, we go to the Hypershade and choose the Shading Groups tab (instead of the Materials tab).  Then we select the second Blinn. We then create another checkerboard texture and drag it to the Displacement Mat box in the attribute editor of the Blinn Shading node.



To emphasize this distinction, the image below shows the various tabs in the Hypershade window.  Notice that the two Blinns are labeled blinn3 and blinn6, and Maya provides very different icons for the two of them.  The first icon gives us a hint that a bump map has been applied.  The second icon is more abstract and indicates that we are using a different technique, namely displacement mapping. Notice also that the Materials and the Shading Groups tabs are quite different.




The resulting render.

Below are two versions of a polygon glass dish in the same rendering.  They are identical geometrically.  On the left, a bump map has been used to create the feeling of detailed geometry.  On the right, a displacement map has been used instead. And the attributes of how the texture has been projected onto the material are identical.  The only difference is that in one, the texture serves as a bump map, and in the other, it serves as a displacement map.

The bump map.

The bump map creates an illusion of texture, but does not give us internal shadows or the sorts of light refractions that true, geometrically thick and detailed glass would.

The displacement map.

The displacement map, on the other hand, does much better.  However, it too, is only a simulation, although one that demands more computational time.  The geometry of the glass dish has not been changed; rather, at the point of rendering, Maya has substituted a 3D representation of the model, thus providing a true 3D rendering. Notice the depth of detail on the dish on the right.  The top of the dish gives a mottled look to the checkerboard that is reflected back to the viewer, while the one on the left simply bends the lines in the checkerboard. And the base of the right dish looks like true geometry, while the one on the left looks like there are simply dark lines drawn across the glass.  We’re getting the kinds of internal shadows (shadows being cast by a model onto itself) we expect with true geometry.

In sum.

All in all, the displacement map gives us a much richer sense of thick, cut glass. You can left click on the image below to blow it up:



3D animation tutorials

Adding ray trace shadows and mental ray sun sky to the bottle.

This is a continuation of the previous blog posting.

Ray trace shadows.

First, we switch from Depth Map to Ray Trace shadows:




Here is what we get:


We see that the shadow is softer.

The Mental Ray sun and sky.
Now, we go into the Options settings of the Render View window and click on Physical Sun and Sky, which introduces a special shader, along with some added lighting:

Now, we get this:



Notice that the added light from the Mental Ray Sun and Sky material is completely washing out the table on which the bottle sits.  We would have to work with this to get it looking good.

3D animation tutorials

Adjusting the Resolution attribute of a Directional light in Maya.

Shadows as roots.

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz we took several looks at shadows and how they root objects in a scene so that they don’t seem to be floating in the air.

Shadow resolution.

Here, we look at adjusting the resolution of a shadow. First, we create a Directional light by going to Window on the top menu, choosing Rendering Editors, and selecting Hypershade.  Then, inside the Hypershade window, we choose Create, then Lights, then Directional Light. Directional lights are meant to model sunlight, i.e., light that is moving in parallel rays across the scene. With the light selected, we then hit control-a once or twice, until the Attribute Editor of the light appears. We set the shadow Resolution to 512 and choose Depth Map shadows:


  Then we render our scene, which consists of a glass bottle sitting on a countertop:


We see that the shadow of the bottle is quite jagged.
So, we change the resolution to 4096:


We render the scene again:


The shadow is much smoother now.

The renderings were made with the Mental Ray renderer within Maya.
Depth map shadows, as we have seen in the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, are sharper than the alternative, Ray Trace shadows.
Finally, it’s important to note that a Directional light, because it is spread across the entire scene, usually needs a higher shadow resolution than other lights in Maya.

3D animation tutorials

Using the Penumbra and Dropoff settings on a Maya spotlight.

The spotlight and its attributes.

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we make use of spotlights, but we are limited mostly to adjusting the Cone Angle attribute and the Intensity attribute.  Here, we will look at two other important attributes: Penumbra and Dropoff.

Three lights in the closet.

We will use the closet scene we have seen several times in the tutorials and on this blog. Here are the lights in the scene (shown in the Hypershade, by going to Window, and choosing Rendering Editors).  There are two soft point lights inside the closet and a spotlight positioned outside the closet and pointing directly at it.  The spotlight has a cone angle of 94.


Spotlight attributes.

Below is the Attribute Editor that pops up if we select the spotlight in the Main window and then hit a control-a once or twice.


So, just what is Penumbra?

The penumbra is the part of a shadow where some light makes it past whatever is casting the shadow.  It is a softer, gray shadow around the edges. So, we see below that a larger penumbra setting gives us a more gradual edge to the spotlight. And likewise, a penumbra of 0 creates a harsh edge to the light.  Without penumbra, there is no grayish zone.

Below, the Penumbra is set to 10 and the Dropoff at 0.


Below, the Penumbra is set to 0 and the Dropoff at 0.


Below, the Penumbra is set to 10 and the Dropoff at 94.
We add a drop off setting here in order to point out that the rate at which the light degrades as it moves through space also has a very powerful impact on the shadows cast by a light.  This is done by limiting the amount of light that touches an object.


3D animation tutorials

Sculpting geometry with Maya with the Soft Modification tool.

Organic, hands-on model crafting.

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we look at the Sculpt Geometry tool in Maya.  It is a key tool for folks who want to have that sense of crafting an object in a direct, hands-on fashion, almost like you are working with clay.

ZBrush and Mudbox.

This is an important issue, today, as more and more animators move toward Pixologic ZBrush and Autodesk Mudbox – both of which offer an organic sculpting capability for crafting models.  Many animators are creating their characters in one of these applications and then importing them into Maya for refinement, applying materials, and then animating. ZBrush is more popular and more powerful, and offers a Maya plugin.  Mudbox, as it is a companion product to Maya, has a built in workflow that allows the modeler to move smoothly between the two applications.

The Soft Modification Tool.

While the Sculpt Geometry tool, which uses a painting metaphor and can be used with polygon, subdivision, and NURBS models, is very popular, there is another tool in Maya that is also quite powerful. It shares something with the Sculpt Geometry tool, and with another tool that we have looked at in the video tutorials, the Soft Selection Tool: the Soft Modification tool can be carefully tuned to have a drop off effect on geometry surrounding the point of application of the tool.  (The Soft Selection tool is also covered in 3DbyBuzz.

The settings.

This is how the Soft Modification Tool can be activated:


Here are its settings:


Note that the top slider controls the falloff radius.

Using the tool.
Below, we see what happens when we right click, go into Object mode, and select the Moai model we have used in the tutorials and in this blog.  It does the same thing that the Soft Select tool does, using a rainbox of colors to tell us how far outward the tool will have an effect.



It is important to note that the tool needs to have a very low setting on the slider in order to make your modifications localized.

3D animation tutorials

Using Maya expressions and variables to animate models.

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we look at using a simple Maya expression to rotate a door knob.  In this posting, we reexamine this and then take a look at two other expressions. Then, at the very end, we’ll look at a few useful MEL system variables, and at defining user variables.

Example 1: Expressions in Maya and the doorknob.

There are many cases in which keyframing the motion of an object is very difficult, in particular, in situations that require precise, cyclic changes in the attribute of an object, or in the relationship between two or more attributes. In the image below, the knob on the door is selected, and then we have right-clicked on the Rotate attribute.  This brings up the Edit Expression option.



The expression editor.
Selecting this in turn brings up the Expression Editor:



We have entered an expression in the Expression Editor – it tells Maya to change the value of the rotation attribute along the x axis over the course of the frames that appear on the timeline.
Specifically, Maya is told to rotate the knob through an entire 360 degrees.
We then hit Create on the Expression Editor.

Example 2: Applying an expression to the visibility attribute of an object that has a material with a glow intensity.
Let’s do another example.

The foggy street.
In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we made use of a street scene, with a sidewalk, pavement, grass, and fog.  We inserted the of lights of a car.
What we’ll do here is color those lights, one red, and one blue, and then have them flash on and off randomly.

Lights that are not lights.
Here’s the important point, though: these “lights” are actually spheres with blinn materials that have a glow intensity.  They are not Maya lights.  Here is the attribute editor after we have selected the blinn material for one of them:



What we will apply our expression to is the visibility of the two spheres – not to the material on the spheres.

Assigning an expression to the visibility of an object.
Below, one of the spheres has been selected in the main window, and we have opened up the Expression Editor by going to Window at the top of the Main Menu, selecting Animation Editors, and then choosing Expression Editor.  Then we clicked on the visibility attribute in the second column from the left.
Here is the expression after we have typed it in and hit Create:



The expression makes use of a random function with reevaluates the visibility of the sphere for every frame.  This is a great function to have – because one of the most difficult things to do is to generate what appears to be random values.

We then must do the same thing to the other sphere.

The result.
Finally, here is a sequence of three frames, taken across a series of 30 frames:




Now, we have flashing emergency lights, perhaps from an approaching police car.


Example 3: our squashing ball.
In a previous posting of this blog, we looked at using a Squash deformer to flatten a ball when it hits the ground.
You might remember that we also wanted the ball to stretch out as it rose up.  We did this by using the scale tool and keyframing the ball stretching out as it went up.
We’ll do this again, but in reverse, and not by using the scale tool.  We will use a squash deformer when the ball hits the floor, as we did before.  But we will use an expression to stretch the ball out as it comes down.

The stretch expression.


The result.



Notice the squash deformer, which we introduce just before the ball hits the ground:


Useful MEL variables and user defined variables.
System variables.
Here are some useful facts about MEL variables:
currentTime is a system variable which contains the current timestamp.
frame is a system variable which holds the current frame number – this is very useful, since expressions get evaluated on every frame.

User defined variables.
Variables created by the programmer, always have a $ in the front, e.g.: int $buzzint;.
Keep in mind that after the $ there has to be a character, and not a number.
Another example of a use variable: float $buzzarray[] = {1.1, 32.2, 23.3, 14.4, 45.6}; 
One more example: matrix $buzzmatrix[9] [2] ; 
There are also local and global variables.

Local variables.

Here are two local variables:
{ int $kingint = 1; int $buzzint = 0; if ($kingint = 1) print ($buzzint); }; The squiggly parens mark the scoping of the two variables.

Global variables.
This program will print the same result as the one above, but it contains a global and a local variable:
global int $kingint = 1; proc buzzproc() { int $buzzint = 0; if ($kingint = 1) print $buzzint; } buzzproc();

Control structures.
Lastly, we note that MEL has a handful of control structures.  Here is an example:
global int $kingint = 1; proc buzzproc() { int $buzzint = 0; while ($buzzint < 3) {print $buzzint; $buzzint = $buzzint – 1; }; } buzzproc();
Note that this program will run forever…

3D animation tutorials

Using anisotropy with mental ray to control the transparency of frosted glass.

In the video tutorials on 3DbyBuzz, we used the mental ray mia_material and its frosted glass preset to create frosted glass doors for a closet.

In this posting, we focus on one particular setting for the frosted glass, Anisotropy.
Anisotropy is an attribute that can be set in the mia_material attribute box.  This controls highlights that run across the scene in multiple directions.

Anisotropy settings.
In the image below, we see the Anisotropy settings for the mia_material that makes up the frosted glass of our doors.


Set to 1.
Below is a render resulting from an Anisotropy setting of 1, meaning that the left-right and up-down values of the highlights are equal, or more precisely, that the highlights are even in all directions.
Thus, the glass doors blur the white shelves behind them.


Set to 10.

Below, the setting is 10, creating a highlight that is not equal in all directions.  In particular, the top-down highlights are softer than the left-right highlights. The effect is to undo some of the frosted effect of the glass, as the highlights don’t blur the shelves as much. You can think of it this way: in order for the horizontal shelves to be distorted to the point of not being easily visible, the white coloring of the shelves needs to be moved upward and downward.



Set to 100.

If we crank it up even more, we see that the highlights are very weak in the top-down direction (compared to the left-right direction).  So there is now virtually no frosted glass effect.


A number less than 1.

Below, we see what happens if you set the number to .1.  Now, the highlights are greater up-down than they are right-left, and the doors are distorted again.


3D animation tutorials

Using ambient occlusion with a mental ray material.

In the previous posting of this blog, we looked at a few ways of manipulating light in a Maya scene, focusing on the mental ray renderer.  We looked at global illumination and final gathering, caustics, and irradiance. Now, we look at another way of fine tuning light effects with the mental ray renderer on Maya.

A sample model.

In this lesson, we will use a scene built by Dreamlight.  It is called La Piazza Realistic Mediterranean Town, and was originally built for Daz3d.  I exported it out of Daz3d as an FBX file and then imported it into Maya.  I then replaced the materials on the central tower in the scene with a mia_material that is colored a light tan.  We will only look at a piece of the scene.

Ambient occlusion.

The mia_material has a special setting called Ambient Occlusion:


Without ambient occlusion.

Here is the rendered scene, using mental ray, and with Ambient Occlusion on the mia_material settings not checked off:


Note that the left face of the tower is hidden in shadow.

With ambient occlusion.

Here is the same scene with ambient occlusion turned on:


Note that now, we can seem much of the detail on the left face of the tower.

What happened?

Importantly, remember that ambient occlusion is a property of the material that is on the tower.  The rest of the scene does not have a mia_material on it. By turning on ambient occlusion, we are telling the mental ray renderer to not let the strong spotlight that falls on the right side of the building wash out the right side and cast the left side into shadow. Importantly, there is a second light in the scene, an ambient light.  When we turn on ambient occlusion, we are telling Maya to pay less attention to the spotlight and to let the effects of ambient light effect the material.

With only ambient light and without ambient occlusion.

Now, here is a rendering where the spotlight has been turned off and ambient occlusion on the mia_material is turned off.  Left click to enlarge it:


Wow!  it turns out that the mia_material, without ambient occlusion, will not accept the effects of ambient light.

With only ambient light and with ambient occlusion.
Now, with only the ambient light turned on, but with ambient occlusion turn on in the attribute editor for the mia_material, we get the following.  Please note that the ambient light had to be made much stronger in order to light up the tower by itself:


The lesson.
With ambient occlusion turned on, and with the spotlight turned on, mental ray accepts the effects of ambient light and so the ambient light created by the spotlight and the ambient light illuminates the tower, making the detailed light and shadow of the tower more visible.
With ambient occlusion turned on, and with only the ambient light turned on, the ambient light by itself lights up the tower.

A proper rendering.
Because my manipulation of this scene does not do the artist’s work justice, here is a rendering of the center of the original scene, created by the Daz3D renderer.  Left click on the image to enlarge it: