Tuesday, September 01, 2009

how to make a scorpion teapot

yeah, it's been a while since i posted. i missed me, too. august was, by and large, pretty great. i've got a handful of things i want to write about, if i haven't forgotten them already.

somehow, september is here and school has started. i'm taking two uvu classes to a) improve my skills and b) qualify as a "student" to work on byu's student animations. this spring, i took an "intro to maya" class at byu and loved every minute of it.
maya is a professional-grade program used to create just about anything in 3-D. it's pretty dang. it's also got a pretty dang steep learning curve. no iphoto-like easy interface here.

our assignment was to make a teapot, teacups, and surrounding environment. a teapot is a sort of unofficial mascot of the 3-D graphics world, as it was the first shape rendered in the computer (or something like that). several people have asked to see my little teapot, but just putting up the final image would be the destination without the journey (if you're one of those people, just scroll down to the end; it's there). i think it's pretty cool seeing how this all comes about, and it's sharing time.

our first assignment was to bring in some teapot sketches. like any good designer, i googled "teapot" to get some ideas, and, like googling anything, learned that the world of teapots was vaster than i'd imagined. i sketched a few of the more interesting designs, and my teacher suggested that the one on the right here would be a good choice. at this point, i didn't know what would be considered "too hard" or "too easy", so i took his word for it.
his only caution was that the spout would be a little too complicated and recommended substituting a more traditional one.

3-D design is made up of different phases, with people generally specializing in one or two areas.
  • modeling: creating the shape of the object (a teapot, grumpy old man, lovestruck robot, etc...) using basic geometric shapes and molding them accordingly.
  • shading/textures: designing and applying the look of the model. essentially, you're designing wrapping paper that looks just like woody's shirt, buzz's space suit, or little green alien toys' skin. and making sure that paper fits just perfectly.
  • rigging: assigning joints and how they bend and move to the model. our teapot just sat there, so we didn't get into this.
  • lighting: pretty much the best part of it all.
  • animating: again, the teapot is just a teapot. no jumping lamps here.
so, to model a teapot, you start with a sphere. click the "create: sphere" button and you're on your way. then you have to squish it, stretch it, and cut the top off so you can put a lid on it. that's a few days' work for newbies like us. but we felt pretty cool.
you can also see that maya lets gives you a top, side, and front view, as well as perspective camera that you can move in x,y,z to see whatever you need (disregard that sunset in the bottom left corner; i couldn't get that to go away for this example.

oh boy, i made a sphere.
and since my teapot is mostly spheres (handle, lid, legs), making a lot of spheres got me a lot of the way through modeling. which was good, because unlike my new friend ryan next to me, model and i didn't get along. i was never sure why maya politely told me i couldn't select that line, why shapes didn't bend like i asked them, or why far too many things disappeared when i said "remove selection." let's just say that i won't be applying any where to be a modeler.

as i was looking as this teapot, i noticed that the handle kind of looked like a scorpion tail. hmmm, a scorpion teapot.... tilt the pot forward a little and it looks like it's getting ready to attack. and that's more interesting that just a tea set on a tablecloth.
so, i modeled some legs and added a stinger on the end of the tail (and another atop the lid, just to carry the theme). despite the suggestion to add a traditional spout, i found a way to make a spout similar to one on the original pot, which i liked.

put them all together (once you've figured out how to group objects, so that your tail spheres don't all go floating off in different directions), and lo and behold, you have the skeleton of a teapot scorpion. this is where the different perspective views were helpful: working in 3-D, it was often hard to see if everything was lining up correctly. sometimes they were hovering apart, other times they were sinking into each other too far. flipping between direct "side" and "top" views was very helpful. ultimately, the rule is what my teacher said: in 3-D graphics, if it looks right, it is right.

and, at this point, you can ask the computer to show it with a surface, but the default is a dull gray. how exciting.
shading is, for me, about as much fun as modeling; with enough wrong moves, i eventually got the right look. i looked up some scorpions on google images, found some color schemes, and colored my teapot. wanting to make a nice teapot, i made it out of marble, able to alter the look and colors of the mineral veins and distribution pattern. i added rougher textures and slightly different colors where the legs and tail meet to show the cement that the different appendages were attached to the body (it's not a real scorpion, just a teapot, remember).
it doesn't look too fancy in the interface, but rendering the actual image was much higher detail.

and yes, little teacups as tribe of little scorpions to battle the big monster (and hooray for the duplicate function!) they're pretty shallow cups to drink out of, though....
while it looked like i was 90% done, we were reminded that the last 10%, lighting and fixing all the issues, can take just as long.
the first step was to create and environment. i found a picture from my trip to death valley last year (one of the few from that trip that was not lost in the great computer crash of '09), a sunset shot that pretty much dictated how my lighting scheme was going to look.
the bold orange sunlight created some interesting looks for my ground. everything seemed to glow as if they were standing on the sun, but when i turned the sand dark blue, then the orange light reflected a nice dark brown. cool.

now was the fun part: lighting. i added an orange sun to start with. interestingly, the shapes are, by nature (i guess?), extremely reflective, and by setting your render settings to a higher quality, you can see reflections in everything. pretty fun.

lighting in 3-D computers is the same art as lighting on a movie set. the theory is, anyway. from there, some aspects diverge pretty fast. i about died when i found out that lights only cast shadows if you want them to. i've spent hours trying to get rid of extra shadows on movie sets.... but adding key lights, back lights, fill lights, kickers, and everything else is the same, even if you get to choose what you want the light to illuminate (or not). so, while trying to comprehend a world with a new set of physics, i lit my teapot scorpions. in the shot below, all the red shapes are different lights.

finally, with the background added and the camera (the little green thing at the front of the plane) set, it's time to finesse the composition. overlapping helps create the illusion of depth, as do things diminishing in size in the background. but don't let it get too jumbled.

finally, you can turn your quality all the way up and do a final render. for this, i think it took about 40 seconds to render. on xing, the armadillo film i was working on, a mid-size render would take about 2-3 minutes (not quite enough time to get in a guitar hero song, but we'd try anyway).
the teacup in the foreground never fit how i wanted, so i actually took the cup and warped it into and ellipse, then broke apart the handle and just positioned the final few spheres to peak into the frame. if it looks right, it is right.

since this, i've worked on some dead armadillos, an over-imaginative girl with a rhino, and am starting on a ninja milkman and an arabian pizza delivery guy.


Becky said...

So, I'll be honest, I did not read the whole post, but I looked at all the pictures and it was cool to see it come together (I'm sure it's even cooler to read the whole post, but a certain little boy does not want to nap, is getting into things and thus, limiting my time and attention for blog reading...)

The Former 786 said...

"Monster Teapot Stories Inc."

Seal it, send it, it's gold!

Well done, Jeff. Very impressive.

~Bekahjo said...

That is totally awesome. I have a lot more respect for all the time spent on animated movies. And way to combine teapots and scorpions--very clever indeed =]

Laurie said...

I think my mind is blown. You're a natural!

Nana Layne said...

WOW Jeff!!
Keep up those classes, this is so impressive!

Em said...

I spent my whole summer internship in Florida doing Maya tutorials and never made it past the bouncing ball. I commend you heartily.

Ryan said...

Your final render is absolutely amazing! You're really good at 3d graphics. I wish my high school had a Maya or 3DS Max class, I'm stuck with CAD.

(PS. I'm Natalie Shirts's little-taller than her-brother)

Jack said...

i don't know where to begin, so let me just say, "super dang, manfriend!" i love it and am more impressed than a bear made of playdough that's been punched in the gut...that means i'm really impressed. i am, however, scared to have tea

Leith said...

I am in awe my dear Jefferson.

kwistin said...

so, i read this the week you posted but had lots of thoughts. then, when i had time to write my thoughts, i'd forgotten what they were. you know how it goes. let me sum up:

1) i love your opener: "hi.
yeah, it's been a while since i posted. i missed me, too." i don't know why; it just tickles my fancy. i feel the exact same way when i blog after a while (like this last post i did).

2) i'm glad you included definitions.

3) it was fun reading about maya, since i've never stepped virtual foot in that program. i found it funny how maya would 'politely tell' you things...funny how programs have personalities of their own. too smart for their own good, sometimes.

4) LOVE that when you got the scorpion idea, you took it and ran. successfully.

5) i especially like the 'if it looks right, it is right' idea for this work. however, when i look back at previous projects, i kick myself for the amount of unnecessary work i'd done. learning curves: necessary evils.

6) shading sounds like a nightmare.

7) cool that you were able to use your 'movie set' skill with lighting.

8) i respect your attempts on trying for the guitar hero song during rendering.

9) love love love the final product. love it. i was pleasantly surprised to see the incredibly warm light reflecting off the surface (i didn't skip to the end). also, the composition was played out in a fun way and i like the little teacups' personalities, just waiting in line to be filled by mother (papa?) scorpion-teacup. reminiscent of 'beauty and the beast'.

well done, sir.