Weekend Renders

There’s a reasonable chance that I’ll be asked to serve on the board of our Home Owner’s Association in a few months, and one topic that will be revisited again is an update of the interior of our building. A facelift is long overdue, and having a few convincing 3D renders may go a long way to making it actually happen.

I created 3D renderings of some of the building’s unique features with SketchUp and TheaRender a couple years ago, but decided to migrate the files over to Cinema4D. I love the results I get from Thea, but Cinema4D has excellent modeling tools, is faster and more stable. It also runs amazingly well on my iMac.

View a full res version of today’s featured image here.


My 3D Server Room – Yay!

What you see is a fairly accurate view of the server room at work.

If you’re interested, here’s how I created this. Note that the method I use is just one way to accomplish this. There are “easier” methods, like rendering directly inside of SketchUp with any number of snap-in renderers, (I like TheaRender) but the method I use offers more control, and works better with relatively complex files like this one.

The initial 3D model is built with SketchUp Pro. (Unfortunately, the standard version does not allow you to import or export the most popular 3D formats, so you need the non-free version to do this.) Most of the 3D components are easy to find at the SketchUp 3D warehouse. Creating a scene like this in SketchUp is easy, and the SketchUp 3D model is extremely useful in it own right – more useful, in fact, than the pretty 3D rendering. This is due to speed, ease of use and because anyone can install the free SketchUp Viewer and view a 3D file.

Once the SketchUp model is finished, it is exported in a 3D format that works with your renderer. I chose .obj format because the mesh comes across perfectly. Materials are another matter, but that’s OK. I prefer to assign them in Cinema4D anyway.

Final tweaks on the render are related mostly to lighting. A bit of patience and a powerful machine are helpful here.


Frank & Dot are Octogenarians!

We took a short trip to Cambria and Paso Robles to celebrate dual birthdays with the Hunter clan. On the way, we stopped at the spectacular Post Ranch Inn for a tasty lunch with a view.

We both loved the little town of Cambria. Moonstone Beach is lined with cozy hotels, and the pace is nice and slow. The boardwalk is teeming with adorable tame squirrels. The hotel in Paso Robles was wonderful, but the sweltering temperatures made the town slightly less appealing to me. The good news is that there are more than 330 wineries in the area, so how bad can it be? While out for a taste, we found Graveyard Vineyards worth the trip, and especially liked the J. Lohr Winery, who offered free tastings and reasonably priced wines – a rarity these days.

As usual, I took a boat load o’ pictures. Here are few of my favorites.

Happy Birthday, Frank and Dot!


Weekend Render Madness

For fun this weekend, I did one of the Cinema4D tutorials by the amazing Chris Schmidt. I learned so much in the process. The techniques used to create the spherical wire mesh on the microphone are awesome and so much fun!

Thank your Nick and Chris for the awesome tutorials!

Dude mic is based loosely on the industry workhorse, Shure SM58. These inexpensive mics sound great and are certainly indestructible. As ubiquitous as duct tape, I dare you to find a live performance that doesn’t include at least a few of these fabulous microphones.

Here’s a link to the full-resolution render.

This is the first time I ever added a some grunge to the materials. It’s amazing how a few imperfections add to the realism! And, once the mesh is complete, I can’t help but render the image with alternate materials. I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely buy a Dude Mic if it was available with an ultra-shiny iridescent chrome body!


This is My Brain on Protein

Did you know that there are databases in the public domain with free 3D models of organic materials like DNA, enzymes and proteins? Accurate and highly detailed, these models can be downloaded from a number of sites and imported into most 3D packages, including my favorite – Cinema4D.

I have no idea what I’m looking at here, but every time I click the render button, I learn a lot. It’s fun and informative to render the structures with whacky materials, and I think the results are pretty cool. They seem a bit too busy for computer wallpaper, but they sure would look good printed and hung as a set in my office. Yes, I should do that.

In case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t work product. No one asked me to do this. It’s just that I have these 24 cores in front of me all day begging for some bits to do chew on. It takes just a few minutes to set up these scenes – the majority of the time is spent rendering the relatively hi-res images. I figure that if I push the render button enough times every day, I’ll eventually produce some interesting (and maybe even gorgeous) results, and in the process become more proficient in Cinema4D! Win-win!

To me, this is as much fun as you can possibly have with a computer.

Tower of Power

I had some free time while kelly was riding Go-Go today at Xenophon, so I went out looking for photos.

This PG&E tower, on the Xenophon property in Orinda, is about 18″ square; too small for a dude to crawl into, so I stuck my X100S into the center of the structure and pointed it up. The resulting shot surprised me. I really didn’t expect much, but there’s something about it that appeals to me, so I’m sharing it now.

Bottle Number Two

Modeling this bottle was a great learning experience. I used several cool tools and features to create it. The etched glass on the front of the bottle is a displacement map made by simply assigning a simple image with an alpha channel to the material and sticking it to the front of the bottle. I am amazed at how well displacement maps work! The real fun, though, was the top closure, which I learned is called a “swing top“. To create it, I used the bezier spline tool with sweep and symmetry nurbs. These powerful tools enabled me to create the complex shapes using exactly NINE points. Incredible!

I grabbed a wine label from the Internet and made a change or two before applying it. As an exercise next time, I’ll have to find the best way to give the labels a tiny bit of thickness, and perhaps an imperfection or two.

The finished render is a bit more subdued than Grant’s photo. It’s a challenge to recreate all of those specular highlights – especially those on the “etched” portion of the bottle, but I’m very pleased with it. :)


Click here for a full-resolution view of the rendered 3D bottle. The Cinema4D Physical Renderer achieved this level of quality on my humble iMac with eight rendering cores in just 24 minutes. (It looked ALMOST this good in half that time.) Amazing? Yes, I think so!

Cinema4D vs. Studio Photography

Inspired by a recent post on Grant’s site, in which he alludes to the many challenges of product photography, I decided to create a challenge for myself. I wanted to see what level of photorealism I could achieve with the Cinema4D Physical Renderer and a few simple 3D objects by recreating Grant’s product shots.

To begin, I intentionally chose the simplest bottle from his series of shots and recreated it in Cinema4D. The bottle and the virtual wine inside are simple splines inside lathe nurbs, meaning they consist of a total of about 20 points spun around or “lathed” into the 3D shapes you see here. The stopper is a couple cylinders with the appropriate materials applied. I’m still a beginner with Cinema4D, so creating the bottle and cork took more than an hour to get just right using Grant’s photo as a guide. I could probably recreate it in 10 minutes now that I have more experience with the bezier curve tool.

(At this point I should thank the Greyscale Gorilla for the awesome tutorials, without which none of this would have been possible. Thank you, Nick and Chris!)

My next thought was to recreate the label exactly, but that quickly morphed into something else. :) The label and foil textures were created from scratch with PhotoShop and a few Custom snowflake shapes from the Symbol palette. Since Cinema4D can use native PSD files with layers an alpha channels intact, this work was easy. I tweaked the PS files and applied the changes in Cinema by simply reloading the modified image. Nice!

The final render was done with the wonderful Cinema4D Physical Renderer. This made it easy to apply a tiny bit of depth of focus to match Grant’s shot. (One of my early renders had the camera focused on the bottle instead of the label, leading to the label being the tiniest bit out of focus. This slight imperfection resulted in perhaps the most realistic-looking render of all. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere …)


Click here for a full-resolution view of the rendered 3D bottle.

My conclusion is that in some cases, it’s easier and probably cheaper to get great-looking results in the 3D realm than with a camera. Among the many advantages:

  • Infinite depth-of-focus. (Or not.)
  • The ability to render with alpha channels makes post-processing easier.
  • Almost unlimited pixel resolution. Objects can be rendered for the web, for print, film, etc.
  • Objects can easily be rendered with different materials.
  • 3D objects can be rendered on different platforms and with newer, better renderers in the future.
  • 3D objects can be animated.

This is fun. More to come!


Today’s Mystery Render

I often don’t know exactly what I’m rendering or how it works or how it will be used. I certainly have never seen one of these things. I’ve heard it referred to as a “cartridge”, and that’s about all I know. I’m pretty sure the real cartridge shell is not transparent – I’ll bet it’s boring white – but I assume the person who will be presenting this image to the boss will want to say something about how it works, so I rendered it this way.

Here’s the full-size image. (I know – I’m trying to understand why there’s obvious banding.)

BTW, I know my 3D work may not be that exciting to regular visitors to thedude.com, but to me this is stuff is even more thrilling than my photographs, so I’m sharing it whether you like it or not. So there.


I Walked Five Miles to Get This Shot

The eastern half of an icon of the Bay Area is coming down after carrying up to 300,000 cars per day for 77 years. Progress is slow, but this week a gap appeared in the longest cantilevered section, and I decided that this needed to be captured.

Luckily, the replacement span has a very wide, smooth bike and pedestrian path on the side facing the old bridge. Unfortunately, it’s quite a haul along the Bay Bridge Trail just to get from the parking lot to the foot of the new bridge, and at that point, you’re only half way there. It’s a good 90 minute walk to get out to the most interesting parts of the bridge. I’ll need a day or two to recover, but have no regrets. It was a beautiful day, and I got the shot!