Skywatcher Music [screencast/video]

Some of you may remember that some time ago, I made a vow to produce a music video for one of Sheffield composer, Skywatcher Music‘s tracks.
Here’s a couple of little progress videos I’ve made centered around the orange Broadstadium3D models from 3D Warehouse.

Today, I finally completed the first, and actually had enough screencast footage for a second video, so why not?

Skywatcher Music – Chrysippus Allegedly Died Of Laughter

The second video is all screencast, and starts with me completely breaking Adsetts Building (though I didn’t realise that’s what I was doing at the time) – in the preview image above, you can see that it’s too big and floating off the ground.

Skywatcher – Platysma


I want to share with you a bit about my process of how I work through the means of screenshots and explaining them:

Map overlays

Here I’m using an OpenStreetMap overlay of the area UV mapped to my Terrain object: to the top right, I have a UV image editor window and four faces selected on the mesh in front of the cathedral (orange).
The Terrain while in this state is not curved and has no elevation, it’s completely flat.

To quickly navigate to any point in the map, I can select a single face from the 3D viewport, hover over to the map, press a to select all faces in the UV editor and NumPad . to jump to that point on the map, it also works vice versa, and the top right corner I can search for buildings by name.

From a lower view, having the building and street names on the ground is useful. Having a building levitate 15ft in the air, not so much.

There are some buildings you might not have seen yet, they’ve been imported and adapted from the Broadstadium3D libraries on 3D Warehouse: these will need retopologising and UV mapping with my own textures.

Video editing

Here I’m finalising a composite of progress videos, backed to a Skywatcher Music track. Although the cut is slightly rough, I do hope to release this by the end of the night.

The bottom layer with the waveform is the audio for the video, the blue is video file, purple represents image sequences and the pink strips are speed modifiers, to speed up or slow down segments.
This area can get very complicated.

Asset: 'Sheffield 3D' [3D Warehouse]

These are amazing!
There’s a library of 3D models of Sheffield buildings, uploaded by the user ‘
Here is a screenshot of the library, for those of us who do not want to go offsite:

KMZ from Sketchup

This will download a zip file, open and extract it.
It’ll look like this:

Look in this folder called model.dae

The textures don’t quite work….

…and then sometimes they do:

Using layouts from KMZ files is finickity in Blender.
I’m only interested in the mesh itself, its shape, and I’ll completely retexture this myself. One reason being that .kmz files use textures from Google Street View, which, as an open-source project, I can’t (and don’t want to use Google imagery)

Fortunately, as you can see from this (largely upscaled) example of one of the image textures, there’s enough detail to paint over to produce my own textures.

Building: Sheffield Cathedral

I’ll update this later today with some more text and video, but here’s a start of Sheffield Cathedral.

The model itself is from Sketchup, and a collection of models have been uploaded by a user called ‘’.

The Sketchup file format does need a bit of playing about with to get working in Blender: as the textures on the original model are from Google Maps, we’re not allowed to use them because of licencing – so I’ve just kept the base mesh and will UV map it myself.

Buildings: element [312,313,314] – Burner Security Laboratories

Image source: [ wiki]

As I’ve decided to use my full creative element for element buildings, the first thing to do is work out what it will be used for.
I like the shape of this, it’s ominous enough looking for what a malevolent bio-engineering corporation would use – and can picture the back of the 312 block in high security fencing and perhaps covered in graffiti; I’m also considering a subtle dome over the gap between the buildings.

element.312 – Accommodation

element.313 – Laboratories

element.314 – Research


Added the floors and lift shaft of the Research building

Day 2

The Laboratories are at an angle and highly elevated from the ground; I will have to have a look in the real world how they match up.
The rear of the Accommodation building, with Burner Security branding
Added some grass and a pavement texture for staff and residents recreational area
An early attempt at the Research building; I want this to look distinctive, but fit Sheffield’s architecture.
A very low pass render, it almost looks like a painting
Research Building, made the pavement and grass look a little more realistic.

Keentools Facebuilder [blender addon]

Keentools is a small tool I came across a little while ago, but haven’t had much of a chance to play with – so I thought I’d do a post about it, because the Keentools Blender addon is currently in beta and is free – but once out of beta, this could become a paid product once it’s released – so I would grab a copy while you can.

How it works, is that you first Create a head, this is a blank, generic head object, and you insert reference images into the tool – and select points on the face and head – and line them up with the actual photograph.

I can see this tool being my go-to for character development: at least for the head and face anyway.

I’ve learnt through experimentation that too many points like this does make things very confusing, especially with multiple images from different angles – a word of warning to try to keep things as simple as possible.

The trade off is that the more information that you give the plugin through these pins, is that it can guess the position of the camera more accurately – and will place a 3D camera in its representative position.

For an example, I’m going to leave it at this for now – this is a poor quality, low lit photo so I am not expecting amazing results.
These will vastly improve once I have a studio lighting and chroma key background setup.

Once you’re happy with your model, and are confident that you have captured as much source imagery as possible, you can create a UV map of your subjects face from the images you’ve provided – and wrap it around the head model.

For the curious, here’s how the UV map looks once it has finished processing- if you look to the ears and the left side of my face, it’s completely blank – because images I took and used as reference for the pins did not include this portion of my face, so it has not mapped it, and these blank areas will show on the model as plain black mesh.

The original came out very dark, but that’s my own fault for not managing the 3D lighting, so I’ve compensated by adjusting the colour and levels in GIMP for a realistic look.
A reminder to check all of your views to make sure everything lines up and is in proportion.
You can see from the UV map that there is a part of the right ear missing, so the texture has been approximated and doesn’t have the right scale.
The brightly coloured area to the right of the image is where no texture data was available, so it is rendered as a single colour.

Under a production environment, while I will use this process: I will spend a lot more time on it, this has been a quick demonstration of an experimentation for the purpose of this post.
The game assets will also be taken under studio settings with a 1000 watt halogen lamp which will be pure white light, rather than a 60 watt incandescent light (that has a more yellowy hue) that is commonly found in homes.

This image is the right shape, but it isn’t the right thickness – currently, it’s only one pixel thick.
If you think of this in real world terms, it’s akin to the thickness of the outer skin of an onion. It needs to be thicker.

For games, this will be acceptable because we want to keep the amount of polygons down, but what about for cutscenes, video where we want the characters to look believable to tell the story?

I’ve applied a Solidify modifer to the mesh, which has thickened every part of it – and this does look more realistic, especially if you look around the nostril and the top of the ear: light is shining through it as it would in the real world, it’s not paper thin like the images above.
Only, I’ve solidified it so much, it doesn’t even look like the same person any more – I will have to find a parameter that works for each individual model.

A Tree and a Wiki

There are a lot of trees in Sheffield (we have had some controversy around this of late) – and thankfully we have groups like STAG (Sheffield Tree Action Group) who are doing wonderful things to help keep those numbers up, and prevent them from being unnecessarily felled by our council.

There’s a new addition to the top menu, Wiki.
This’ll be an explorable Wikipedia-a-like of the story-line of the game, and any future projects connected to this universe. It’s based on a series of stories I’ve written before, so the information available will fill up quickly, and will not detract from progress on the 3D modelling front.

I digress. The most obvious place to house afformentioned trees would be a building where a range of interesting plant life can be found, the Winter Gardens (you’ll be glad to know that in 2030, it still serves the same purpose)
But first, let’s have a look at this tree:

Sketchfab model

Winter Gardens foliage area

Tree generation

I’ve naturally tried to find a Blender plugin that would help with creating trees, and there are some available, but they are paid plugins.
If possible, I want to avoid this – keeping with the ethos of this site: a shoestring budget studio.

If there’s a resource out there for free that does some of the work for me, saving time and money – I’ll take that, thanks!
My search for a free Blender plugin turned out to be fruitless (pun intended!) and I look towards free, specialised software instead – and came across Abraro; and was suitably impressed.

Almost every aspect of the tree is customisable, so you can let the Charles Darwin within you loose, and create any kind of tree you can imagine like a mad scientist genetic botanist.
Once you have created your tree – click File -> Export and save it as an .obj file on your computer: you can then import it into Blender either as a new object, or straight into your scene.

When first importing the tree, it did put a strain on my (limited) graphics card, and I would get areas like this across the Blender application, which as you can imagine made it quite awkward to use:

I used the Decimate modifier on it to reduce its poly count from around 29,000 to 1,500.
Not only does this lessen system resources, it also makes it more
appropriate for a game asset.

I’ve only included this image because the crash makes it looks Vaporwave.

Not all models work, this is overly detailed and results in lots of rogue mesh, though you can see the actual shape of the tree in orange.

Below, I’ve modified the trunk and shape of a Black Tupelo so that it is shorter and more bush-like, and experimented with the leaves.

It turned out massive and soon after loading, Blender gave up and shut itself down: this’ll have to be something I branch into once I’ve upgraded to a higher spec PC.

Image result for black tupelo
A Black Tulepo

It looks very scientific (above)

The tree with its leaves enabled.

Some renders!

Some slight colour modification in GIMP, no changes to the actual content of the model.

These have been scaled down by your web browser to make it fit the screen on your device, but you can right click the image, and open it in a new tab to see it full size: mobile users can usually press and hold their finger down on the picture to open in a new tab, which will allow you to pinch and zoom around it.

Tonights render queue

Update: Ground [various areas]

I’m going to update this as I go tonight, so won’t have any set title – because I’ve no set plan for this session, just progress, but first:

A frame of lastnights grass animation

Tuesday 4th February

I noticed that the road actually goes through the building, this will be for the delivery trucks to enter and exit the warehouse – and I’m going to keep it like that, for an indoor map that allows players to bring vehicles into the arena would be an interesting element – be it heavy weaponry, or a vehicle full of backup!

To the right we can see the terrain elevation dips from one end of the building to the other, where the drive through road will be.
If we look closer, they’re not lined up in height: as all these objects are locked to the Terrain heightmap, I can only model upwards.
For the meantime, I’m going to leave it like this, so I can easily access the Ground beneath it
This will form part of the transition from the Road into the interior map.

I’ve got ideas for Sheffield Central Delivery Office, so this will become it’s own post.
For now, I’m keeping it miscellaneous


Not all buildings on the map are named, some have the generic name of element.# – these are lesser known buildings that haven’t been indexed on openstreetmap
For these buildings, I have made an agreement with myself that I will have complete creative control over what they are used for: these are so if I need to go straight into modelling without worrying about real-world accuracy, I can. These are where the storyline will take place.

What fun can I have with this?

Throughout the story, there’s a benevolent, omnipowerful biological engineering firm, Burner Security; they specialise in organic weapons of war -genetically engineered supersoldiers. They’re the bad guys.
This set of three buildings would be ideal for one of their laboratories:
Offices, Research and Chrysalis chambers for cloning.

This multi-floored, interior map will be intense!

Much of this building will be hidden from view, accessible from within other buildings at certain points.

The buildings intersect in a way that I can merge the buildings on the street and model in hidden entrances to the element building

There’ll be lots of hidden places in this game: I want one of the enjoyable elements to be urban exploration.

Time to sleep

Update: Walkway [freestyle]

This turned out to be a happy accident.
By the time I had realised I had left Freestyle strokes enabled for the Terrain, it had already been sent to the Sheepit render farm – when I first saw it, I thought it was ruined but let the render complete, to see how it looked when animated, and I was nicely surprised:

What this has done is has taken where the terrain ends at a 90 degree angle, this will be where a building is, and intersects with the ground: these are the white lines.

Freestyle rendering is often used for toon/comic style artwork, but it’s useful for seeing perspective, and the general flow of the mesh – here I’d experimented with setting each object as a different colour: see if you can tell which colour is which object by looking at the shape of the mesh, and the colour of the Freestyle strokes.

As you pass through the walkway, the perspective shifts – this could be a useful method of displaying an ingame map, or at least stylised imagery to look like a game.
As every frame is different, it really does give the illusion that the lines are shifting, and it almost looks Outrun retro, if it were an 80s colour scheme.

To the right you can see the checkered floor I built in yesterdays screencast, and the ribs of the glass Winter Gardens. We’re now in the middle of the Freestyled terrain, and can even see the elevation below the top arm of the walkway.

Only another 3,297 frames to go before the Skywatcher Music composition is complete!

Something new!

I’m well aware that I’ve been spending the past few days on the same area, so wanted to start on something a bit newer.
I’ve added a grass texture to all the vegetation areas:

It doesn’t look perfect, but it’s an improvement on plain green.