Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blender: Save Your Settings Tip

I bet there is some deep psychology involved in the fact that we all love new stuff (especially when it's free) but hate change. I can't really help with the psychology bit, but I can show you how to get a shiny new Blender installation to still look and feel like your same old friend.

As far as I know, Blender invented this concept of copying your previous settings (add ons, color scheme, plug ins, units, edit functions, shortcuts) to your new installation of Blender. It's brilliant, other smart software makers (like Adobe) have since adopted it and I don't want you to miss this opportunity. It will only happen ONCE. 

The first time that you open the new installation, you will see this little blue button shown below. Pressing that button may save you a couple hours fiddling and an onslaught of panic attacks, so act now. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I think it's good to go back inside preferences and poke around, maybe change some settings, try out a new theme or color scheme, revise your add ons according to which ones you liked and which ones you never used. But that enterprise is best left for when you feel like doing it, not when your new software version plunges you into the unknown.

Now go get yourself a new Blender so you can see this here cute lil critter and the magic blue button at start up.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blender Quick Tip: Sculpt Mode for FAST Topology Fix

Ok, so maybe it seems like I was only paying attention to ZBrush & forgot all about Blender. But really that's almost impossible since I make most of my base meshes in Blender before taking them to ZBrush. ZBrush is picky about topology though. It likes quads only, regularly spaced and more or less square please. I'm ok with that and normally I at least try to get my edge flow all nice and clean before I leave Blender. 

Blender has improved sooo much over the last couple upgrades! And today I figured out a fast topology fix that means I will never again have a reason not to have near perfect topology on a base mesh. Plus, it's so good and so smart, I thought I should share it. 

Use sculpt mode to clean topology... before sculpting! (seriously)

  • It's only a Tab key away with the new radial menu pop up. 
  • Wire frame works in sculpt mode now (so does mirror modifier btw)
  • Grab Brush gives far greater control than proportional edit ever could.
  • You can adjust size, strength, fall off, switch to smoothing all with easy hotkeys or on the tool shelf.

Even if you never sculpt, try this as a replacement for proportional edit. It's just as fast to get there now and with so much more control over the fall off, you'll get what you want quicker. Plus, proportional edit doesn't let you hold shift to switch to a built in smoothing brush now does it? 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Asymmetrical Symmetry? Really

So there is this thing about ZBrush and me. I call it an idiot savant program because really it can do things that just have to be seen to be believed. That's the savant part. The idiot part is that you frequently have to put these operations together piece meal from a variety of menus, or find the magic button misnamed and hiding somewhere you would never expect. 

I found a great one today, which does something I would never have thought possible. To use it, you must enable symmetry on your model, which is found on the Transform menu and then turn on the Use Posable Symmetry button right under that. Now ZBrush will let you work on the model symmetrically basing its calculations on the topology of the model rather than an axis. What does that mean? That means that even if your model has been moved off center, or posed (!), ZBrush will still let you make changes to 'matched' parts simultaneously as though they were still symmetrical. It's really amaZing. 

Lookie here:

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Specs for Berry's Meme

Well, let's face it, I was overdue for a blog entry, and computer specs are integral to everything I do here and elsewhere - how I run the software I use to make stuff and Second Life where I make believe the stuff I make is real stuff. 

First off gotta say that although I don't regularly do Strawberry Singh's memes, I often think that when they are fact finding missions, they perform a valuable public service. This one I decided I'd follow through with so that there would be at least one person on a pretty good but by no means great computer who can nevertheless report great performance and experiences in SL.

My Facts & Specs Follow

1. Share any of your computer specs (video card, memory, etc..) 

CPU: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-3770 CPU @ 3.40GHz (3410.06 MHz)
Memory: 16333 MB
OS Version: Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1 (Build 7601)
Graphics Card Vendor: NVIDIA Corporation

Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 650/PCIe/SSE2

^ It's about a year old, it was also a custom build. I was pretty strapped for cash, so I kept the graphics card from my then burned to the ground computer, but I made sure that I put in a big old power supply in case I get rich suddenly and can go get top top toppest nvidia card. 

The extra RAM was the biggest improvement factor for me. I only had 2 gigs before this upgrade, and like you could rarely run more than SL and maybe a couple web pages at a time. Now I almost always have Photoshop and Blender open while I am in Second Life with no problems.

Other stuffs: We have some in common - Windows 7, Photoshop CC, Wacom Intuos also the small one, yes, yes and yes!
Blender 2.71, ZBrush4R6 are frequently tag teamed with SL and I use 2 browsers Opera as main and Chrome for some things, both of which usually have multiple tabs open. 

My monitor is at least 6 years old now and has survived 2 different computers and a few random system upgrades. it's an HP w2408 and I have never seen a monitor I thought looked better. It's wide enough to have 2 programs open side by side, meaning that so far I have not felt the need to have an extra monitor... but some day.

2. Which viewer do you use most often? 

The default LL viewer is the only one I ever use per se, but I do take other viewers out for test drives to see whether things look different and if so in what way. Also, students and help seekers are frequently on other viewers, so I like to have the answers to where the buttons or menus are for them. And about once every year, I download and try every single not V1 style viewer just for fun.

3. What is your FPS when you have your graphics on ultra? 

I never actually use the slider, instead I select the stuff I want high or low individually. For instance, I might keep draw distance low, rarely turn shadows on, but would not last a second without Advanced Lighting. 

Anyway, using the slider and the Ultra setting, my FPS was 30 while running through the woods, and a bit higher when I stopped. Maybe that doesn't sound so high, but experience-wise I felt no lag whatsoever. 

With my usual Preference settings that look like this:

I can run through the woods or rip up The Cornfield (speaking of experience!) and my FPS is in the 50-70 range. So I think the shadows are actually what makes the difference. But as I said, the big difference in FPS number does not translate to any real noticeable difference in felt performance or the experience of lag for me. I hope people are not letting the quantifiable overshadow the qualifiable by convincing themselves that a high FPS means they are not lagged and a drop in FPS means they are lagged, or that place is laggy or whatever.

4. How often does Second Life crash for you? Is it usually just a viewer crash or your whole system crashes? What are you usually doing at the moment of the crash? 

Really I almost never crash. But the times I do, it is often because I have too many chat windows open in a crowd of people. So even though I almost never crash, I do sometimes if teaching a largish class.

I also sometimes crash when I am all alone on my platform because I have too many chat windows open and in particular if I have too many text fields open and waiting for entries. For example I will be yapping away in 2-3 groups, 1-3 private IMs, typing in search in inventory and editing/renaming an object, when blammo  I get disconnected. Really, on those occasions, I think the viewer is trying to do me a favor. 

I have only crashed to blue screen a couple times. It was in the past and while on the Firestorm viewer. I think it had to do with the fact that my graphics card was not well served by having vertex buffer objects on. At any rate, it scared me, and worse, once it left me with a video card showing as uninstalled in the system hardware list. 

5. Do you know of any tips or tricks in the settings that would improve performance?

Well, much depends on which part(s) of the performance matters to the person. Draw distance down is my first line of defense and after that if I have a lag spike or whatever I turn off avatars (Ctrl Alt Shift 4.. or corner 4 as I call it). No avatars to render equals huge reduction in lag. But I know a lot of people think avatars, their own included are the most important part of the scene, so maybe that's not the best cure for them. 

I have been noticing more and more lately that keeping my chat windows down to a dull roar also helps with textures staying in focus, which have been a bit of a plague for me for a few months.

I'm not sure if inventory size affects performance or crashing, though I have long suspected it might. The people I find I say WB to the most often seem to have mega inventories 100K-ish in common. Me I keep a quite modest 20K inventory and I have everything sorted inside system folders generally, which someone told me made losing stuff less likely. If we could rename system folders, and I wish we could, my "Photo Album" could be renamed My Filing System.  

Ok, that's enough about that. Thanks for the inspiration Berry. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blender Tip Smooth Operator

If you want, start humming along with Smooth Operator since apparently setting something to music helps you remember stuff.

Here is a very nice time saving Blender trick I decided to share as a mini one image tutorial. I use the Smooth operator on the Specials menu quite a bit to average out the size of my polys before sculpting, but it was also the perfect trick here to avoid sculpting.  

This shows my somewhat patchy patching job after joining the top and bottom half of a body on an imported obj. I am also working on only half the body to save time, then planning to apply a mirror modifier. I could head into sculpt mode to smooth this out with a brush, but my intended use of a mirror mod means this is not quite as straightforward as it sounds. I would need to apply the mirror mod first, then divide the mesh again if I had further work planned. I could also slowly, using proportional edit maybe, move the verts around until this area made a nice smooth transition. puhleeze.

Instead, use C for circle select to quickly grab some faces (smooth works on edges and verts too, but I find Face Selection mode makes it easiest to see what I'm doing on this). Then press W to bring up Blender's Specials menu, choose Smooth. Now the super timer saver step is press the F6 key to get the Last Operator pop up where you can control the amount of smoothing (number of times that smooth is applied) using the slider. Bonus, in 2.7 you can also choose which axis to apply smoothing to.

Blender gets better and faster all the time.   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ebbe Linden & Education In Second Life

Ok, so this is a bit off the topic of content creation, but certainly fits in with the general Some Of My Best Friends Are Pixels thang I got goin', well the pixels part anyway.

So as a frequent reader & long time fan of Strawberry Singh's blog I sometimes almost do one of her infamous and usually super clever Blogger Meme Challenges, but then I don't. This time, I am bustin' out, and taking Flat Ebbe on a tour since it's just too good an opportunity to miss.

That's Flat Ebbe & me at Builders Brewery, a school, help group, sandbox and all round educational nexus in Second Life. I knew that Ebbe would like it here since as I understand it from his public statements so far he is pretty keen to reestablish Second Life as a viable forum and platform for education. 
Me too! 

So in keeping with the meme theme, here are the three things I would like to tell Ebbe:

1. I was genuinely thrilled to hear that education in SL was on someone's agenda again. I hope that the agenda is broad enough to include support for in world educators and learners as well as attracting brick and mortar institutions and students from the outside world. 

Now two of my current pet peeves - both related to content creation and specifically to streaming costs and how Land Impact is calculated. Although I realize this is probably way below Ebbe's pay grade, I bet he knows someone who knows how to fix this kind of thing.  

2. First, the Land Impact algorithm for mesh objects could be improved. It doesn't really give a fair calculation of streaming cost based on volume, because as soon as an object pokes outside of a hypothetical cube, the LI goes up as though the object in question is now occupying a proportionally greater chunk of screen real estate. But in the case of a long skinny object for instance, this is a misreading. Specifically, there is no way that a 500 tri tree trunk should cost more in Land Impact than a 5000 tri tree stump, no matter how tall the trunk in question is.

2b. Second, I guess it probably saved time to make all materials and Alpha Modes invoke a streaming cost calculation, but Alpha Masking, which is super fast and potentially a great lag reducer should NOT raise the LI no matter what surface it is used on. Specifically, as it stands now, changing the Alpha Blend on any sculptie plant (the vast majority of plants in SL are sculpties) would significantly reduce lag and render times in those areas, yet due to streaming costs calculation, would have the effect of doubling the prim allowance required. 

3. Love that you're engaged and engaging, maybe restart the blog as a semi regular what's new. Lot's of tiny stuff changes and often for the better, but goes unnoticed.     

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blender Limited Dissolve ~ A love Letter

I confess I feel a bit like I am revealing a dirty secret, but it's such a recent and delicious discovery for me that I wrote a love letter (illustrated of course) to a Blender operator and I'm going to show you my solution to a workflow problem that has bugged me all week.

I've been sculpting and painting these cute little figures in ZBrush but then taking them back to Blender to get ready for SL. Now I don't know if you know this, but ZBrush tends to encourage some pretty high poly work, certainly way beyond what Second Life is prepared to allow.

He's cute, right, but he and his little friends have given me nothing but grief at the finishing up for Second Life stage. I tried exporting subdiv 1 from ZBrush, about 4-5k polys - reasonable for SL, but barely enough to wear their normal maps which are supposed to preserve details such as facial features. Then there were the textures to worry about. I polypainted them in ZBrush, which being ZBrush uses an equation something like 1 texture pixel per poly, so since a 1024 has more than a million pixels, you better have more than a million polys while you paint. But woe to anyone who thinks she can drop that same texture on a subdiv 1 and still expect to see any detail let alone pretty. Subdiv 2 wasn't much better, and now I was spending a significant chunk of time trying to reduce the face count before upload. If he was jewelery or a worn item, of course, SL being SL, I could get away with as much as the uploader would allow... cough. This would not be the responsible thing to do, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

And I think I found the ideal desperate measure - Limited Dissolve in Blender. I am head over heels in love with it. 

First let's be clear - this is not exactly sound retopology practice. I'm not even sure some of what I ended up with deserves the name topology. The only way you might end up wanting to use this over say, removing edge loops or doing retopo was if you happened to have some very high poly models that already have polypainted textures and UV maps, meaning it's a bit late for retopo, and a bit dense to be bothering with removing edge loops, and too soon to decimate.

Now I know what you're thinking, maybe that whole work flow is flawed, maybe I should give up polypainting textures in ZBrush and go back to texture in Blender or Photoshop after retopo but, but, but sob, I just can't.

So if you can't keep from sculpting and polypainting but you still want to strip away enough geometry to make a viable SL trinket, here's my dirty secret love letter to Limited Dissolve.

Ok, if a one button reduction from 171 faces to 5 isn't enough to make you all tingly, I am truly surprised you read this far. If you are feeling pretty excited try to hang on a bit longer so you'll know some of what to expect on the honeymoon.

So far I have no way to predict which areas will work first try, or what sort of angle will produce the desired results. More careful study might answer those questions, but it all happens so fast and it's so easy to tweak, that the only dilemma is what you will say when someone points and laughs at your huge randomly placed ngons.


Now you know my dirty secret love of Limited Dissolve.
Sign me 
Desperately Seeking Less Geometry,

garvie garzo