Escape Studios: PG Cert 3D for Vfx LOGBOOK 1-6 weeks

Hello, my name is David Ker and this is a summary of what I have done so far on the PG Cert 3D for Visual effects course for the first six weeks. I started off with tutorials online because I was not present in class for the first three days of the course. So the first part of this log will be about things i had to learn from the online lessons and then gradually moving into the classroom. WEEK 1  Introduction to Maya The User Interface Introduction to Modelling Introduction to Textures Introduction to Lighting, Shading and Rendering I started off by learning how to navigate the Maya interface by knowing the fundamental tools and then built on that as I needed to.

Understanding the Maya user interface
Understanding the Maya user interface (Source: Author)

I went on the AutoDesk Maya 2015 website to gain more knowledge and got some really helpful illustrations explaining the interface in more detail which helped a lot in my understanding of the interface better as shown below.

Explaining the User Interface
Explaining the User Interface (Source: Autodesk Maya 2015 website)

The menu bar presents the more general tools you will find in most software like; file, edit… I also learnt to access the drop down menu that categorizes the different aspects in maya like; Animation, Polygons, Surfaces, Rendering, and Dynamics. For every function you choose the menu changes as shown below.

Understanding the drop down menu
Understanding the drop down menu (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the main menu bar (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

Moving on I learnt how to navigate through the functions on the status line more; how to create, open and save scenes instead of using the main bar. I also learnt how to switch selection sets to make specific selections, how to use the snap tools and their shortcuts X,C,V (snap to grid, snap to nearest curve and snap to point respectively).

Understanding the Status line
Understanding the Status line (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the Status line (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the Status line (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

Conveniently being able to collapse and bring back options on the status line is something i found beneficial. It made me able to shrink in functions I did not need at a particular time as shown below.

Understanding the Status line (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

Interestingly i found out a way of customizing the shelf to put more frequently used functions on the shelf by using ctrl+shift and clicking on the function in the menu bar (i.e hypershade or outliner).

Understanding the Status line (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

To be able to open up menus using the shelf, specific tools need to be selected as it was for the drop down menu shown earlier. So to open up functions for a surface, polygon…as the case maybe you have to select the surface option or polygon option as shown below.

Understanding the Shelf (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the Shelf (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the Shelf (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the Shelf (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

Then there is the work space where most of the work within Maya is done it is a central window where objects and most editor panels are shown.

Understanding the work space
Understanding the work space (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

I got to know the 3D scene a bit better by understanding the axis indicators X, Y, Z and there color codes and also the shortcut keys to navigate through the tool box Q, W, E, R (selection, move, rotate and scale respectively)

(Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
(Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

And lastly was the channel box. I learnt how to show and hide the channel box and also how to manipulate the figures for the rotation, translation and scale of objects which is always represented in X,Y,Z.

Understanding the channel box
Understanding the channel box (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)
Understanding the channel box (Source: AutoDesk Maya 2015 website)

Getting familiar with the interface was fun and educative at the same time. Exploring the interface more opened up more possibilities to the things i could achieve with Maya. In the first week of the course I was also introduced to modelling with curves, in one of the exercises which was the making of the vase. The CV curve was used to create the profile of the vase which was a bit tricky at first making the points stick where you want them to. Using the snap tools proved helpful as the made points snap to the grid and move along a curve. The revolve tool was the interesting bit, with just a click the profile was made into a vase, which was quite cool.

Drawing the profile of the vase
Using the revolve tool

The primitive man was a fun way to get familiar with the default shapes in Maya and also hierarchy. I got to Place the different basic shapes that represented body parts into different hierarchy to enable me pose the primitive man.

Primitive man
Setting up the hierarchy
Primitive man pose
Posing the primitive man

There was a reiteration in the use of curves to model which can be seen in the making of the apple in the fruit bowl. This was a good way in getting familiar with modelling with curves and also using the revolve tool again. To further achieve the look of an apple, the geometry was deformed a bit by manipulating the vertex which gave more control in achieving the irregular form intended.

Outline of the apple
Outline of the leave
Using the revolve for the apple

Still in the first week of the course an introduction to polygonal modelling gave more familiarity to the use of the extrude tool. It was the tool used most frequently in modelling the chair. The same technique of extruding faces and edges was used in modelling the tap also.

Combining and merging the vertices
Mirrored and grouped chair
Complete chair

We went on to basic lighting of a scene but firstly we were shown which lights in Maya represented lights found in the real world. Lights such as directional light which is meant to mimic the sun, spot light which is used for a light source emanating from a point and area light which is used to create light through a shape i.e. light through a window.

Directional, spot, point, area and volumetric lights
Lighting up the scence

The first week was a good orientation into Maya 3D, its interface, a general introduction to modelling, textures and basic rendering settings. The lighting class was especially interesting because it did make the scene come to life. In summary, after one week of the course I learnt how to navigate the Maya interface.I gained a better knowledge of how to locate the tools I needed and also their corresponding keyboard short cut keys. So instead of having to click the select, move, rotate or scale tool every other minute I just use the Q, W, E, R short cut keys respectively. I also learnt the importance of always having to set your projects so that Maya knows exactly where to look when you working in a scene. The modelling class gave me the basic tools i needed to start modelling and also how to use short cut keys to access the modelling tools by using shift with the object selected and right mouse clicking. Everything learnt in the first week does come to play a major role in my achieving my first 3D composition in Maya. WEEK 2 Modelling NURBS Curves and Surfaces NURBS Surfaces to Polygons Polygon Modelling Topological Rules At this stage of the course I was to decide on a suitable composition of a 3D model of which I chose to model a Gibson L0 guitar and a guitar strap. I was able to start this off with the knowledge I gained from the previous classes. i had the guidance of my tutor, studio assistants and as the work progressed so did my use of more tools too. The first stage was choosing a theme for the project which initially was a bit of a challenge.  I wanted to model so many things for the project in one go. I was advised by the tutor to stream line my idea and stick to one piece and have supporting elements/props to sell the idea.  So I came up with the theme ‘Music’ after I eliminated unrelated props and decided to stick with a singular prop and its supporting props. The second stage was getting reference materials to enable me best model the guitar. Key references included front, top, and side views and a lot of supporting images taken from different angles but for the purpose of this log i will show a few. Gibson_L0 P2065900 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA P2065923 P2065914 P2065915 P2065922 P2065899 While modelling the vase an image was imported to serve as a guide, this same technique was used to import the key references as image planes for the front, top and side views respectively for the guitar. After the image plane was set up I used basic shapes (poly cube and Poly cylinder) and manipulated them using modelling tools. Tools like the extrude tool, merging vertices, fill hole etc. guita guitarwireframe guitarrough guitarsmooth Week two was a step further into modelling, so it gave me a better footing as I commenced my first project. I was introduced to new tools like, the loft tool, extruding along a curve, the bridge tool, putting text to a model and also how to use the snap tools and their keyboard short cut keys X, C, V (snap to grid, snap along a curve and snap to point respectively). I learnt also how to create Booleans which I used in achieving the hole in the pegs of the guitar. For the strings I used a poly cube and scaled it to the desired length and moved the vertices to achieve the bend at the guitar bridge. In creating the tuning pegs too i used a poly cube and manipulated the vertices to achieve the required shape. I used the smooth tool to smooth the overall geometry.

View showing tuning pegs
View showing the bolean tool used

The lesson of creating the head phone was a good one. I did get some helpful ways to work around making my vertices when irregular to align in a line using the R and J short keys (selecting the vertices press R to bring up the scale tool and while holding J you click and drag to snap along a line). This was really helpful when vertices tend to go out of place when modelling the guitar. In summary, there was a lot learnt in this week’s class that made modelling a lot more efficient. Being able to use the short cut keys, understanding that your models always had to have a good typology(edge loops, quads etc.). neck WEEK 3 Modelling Continued Polygonal Modelling continued Organic Modelling Non-Linear Modelling UV Mapping techniques (Organic and hard surface) At this point of my project I had successfully used the poly cube and manipulated its vertices several times to achieve the body of the guitar. I created a poly cube, increased the subdivisions so I had a range of edges and vertices to work with. I Started off by shaping the vertices to match with the image plane I had of the guitar. After I was pleased with the form, I selected some faces at the middle of the body and deleted them. I made an extrusion to achieve the thickness in the sound hole.


The making of the P51 Mustang was done in the third week. I learnt how to use the smooth proxy tool which enabled me to model with one half of the model as the hard shaped geometry and the other half smooth. In that way, I did not have to keep going back and forth between smooth and rough geometry (I was able to model the guitar bridge using this tool).


I also found efficient and very useful the isolate select tool which helped me build different parts of my geometry individually in the same scene. I was introduced to UV mapping techniques (Planer- good for planer shapes, Cylindrical- objects that are cylindrical in shape, Spherical- for circular or spherical objects and Automatic- project on all sides of an object). I did however notice later on, if NURBS are used to create an object they should always be converted to polygons. I tried creating UVs for a NURBS surface and it did not UV not until I converted it to a polygon. I mostly used the planer mapping and varied the axis as needed in projecting the UVs for the guitar. UV3 UV2 UV In summary, this week I got introduced to UVs, how to UV map an object, how to lay it out in the UV space using the layout option and also how to snap UV maps for export into photoshop which i applied in my project. WEEK 4  Colour & Lighting Lighting – Traditional Cinematographic and Photographic Techniques Colour Theory, Three Point Lighting Natural Lighting Indirect Lighting Techniques Image Based Lighting Matching Lighting Advanced Lighting Understanding the basic setup required in lighting a scene was taught in the fourth week using the three point lighting technique. In applying this knowledge to lighting my scene was not about directly replicating what was thought in class. it was more about understanding my scene and creating the appropriate lights that best translate the real world lighting conditions to my 3D scene. I had a light source coming through the window and some from the ceiling. I used an area light to mimic the light coming through the window also replicating the window shape. I also used an area light to represent the lights from the ceiling and made it into the shape of what was in the real world (Rectangular). Both lights had different intensities to vary there level of impact in the scene and also were of different tints (ceiling light was yellowish to represent the warmness in the lights and a washed out blue colour to represent the cool lights from the window)



In setting up my IBL(Image based lighting) I had to import the latlong image which I extracted from the shots taken with the Canon 7D using photoshop and nuke. The different levels of exposures of the images were merged in photoshop as a HDR, cropped and then saved. It was opened in nuke after which it was unwrapped with a spherical node and the resolution doubled. Then it was written out as a Hdr. My exposures on the IBL were a bit low so I had to adjust the gain to make it brighter. Below is the highest and lowest exposures from my chrome ball. IMG_1188 IMG_1189 IMG_1190 IMG_1191 IMG_1192 IMG_1193 IMG_1194 IMG_1195 I went on to match my lights with the grey ball i.e. using the values for setting the grey ball (Diffuse weight of 0.9, roughness of 0.1, reflected colour of white, reflectivity of 0.1, glossiness of 0.5 and BRDF Fresnel was turned on). I was however reminded to always colour correct my colours with a gamma correct node with a value of 0.45 which was done on the diffuse colour of the grey ball. In other to match my lights with the CG grey ball I needed to have a reference to match it with. I used the grey ball from the back plate as a reference. I was taught to always take as many reference pictures as possible to be able to best recreate the lighting in the real world. I had to set up the back plate into the scene before I could match the lighting. Creating a mip_matteshadow and connecting a mip_cameramap to it and finally a file node of the back plate connected to the mip_cameramap made this possible. In order to set the back plate a camera was created and the focal length set to the focal length gotten from the camera after which the plane was set to match with the back plate using the grid on the floor.

Back plate with reference materials
Setting up the plane
Set plane

At this stage of the project i was already composing a shot of the guitar using a reference picture i took with a real life guitar as seen below.

Reference for composing the shot

In summary, the lighting class was a bit of a challenge. It did take me quite a while to match my grey ball but eventually i did after a couple of failed attempts. I made variations in the intensities of the lights and also changed the tints to replicate what i had in real like. I also learnt a few things on indirect lighting of which I used the image based lighting technique for my scene and setting up my final gather which is all the inter-reflected light in my scene. I was able to  produce very soft shadows efficiently and eliminate or even out dark corners with final gather. WEEK 5 Intro to basic texturing Hypershade Texturing Masterclass Image Manipulation with Photoshop Texture Distressing with Photoshop Non-destructive Texturing Workflows Camera Projection Mapping The fifth week was mostly a photoshop week and I was looking forward to the class because at this point I had my model done and ready for texturing. Understanding the hypershade was central in knowing where to build shading networks by creating, editing, and connecting rendering nodes, such as textures, materials, lights, rendering utilities, and special effects. To create textures for the guitar I had to create UVs for the guitar parts which I did from lessons learnt in the third week. A planner projection was done for the front and back sides of the guitar and the curved side of the guitar too but it had to be unfolded using the unfold tool to avoid overlapping UVs. The same process of planer mapping and unfolding was done for the neck of the guitar. I got to download textures of wood for my guitar and also a texture for the guitar belt online. wood texture red grain wooden panel design wallpaper White_washed_wood_with_grain_by_paintresseye WashedWoodTexture Texture_Scratch_by_markopolio_stock BodyTexture GuitarBeltTexture

Belt Leather texture

The projected UVs were laid out in the UV space using the layout tool everything was set to default except the UV spacing which was set to 2048 for adequate spacing. After the UVs were laid out, they were then exported as PNG files with a 2K resolution and opened in photoshop. In Photoshop a non-destructive approach and an orientation to the workflows were taught. I used this in achieving the textures I needed for my guitar. My workflow had to be well organized in groups and layers which were named for easy accessibility. Masks were used to manipulate images in layers so that they can always be recovered if ever I decided to change anything (Non-destructive workflow). At this point texturing was more or less intuitive because I was translating how I felt the guitar should look with regards to references. I wanted a look of a guitar that has been really used but yet not completely damaged.

Colour with dust and scratches
Bump Map

WEEK 6  Texturing and Surface Techniques Displacement Mapping Maya Nodes Raytracing (Reflections, Refractions and Shadows) MentalRay Shaders Material Properties and Case Studies (MIA Shaders) In the last week of the course I was further introduced to mental ray production shaders. I did however get to use the camera map and matte shadow earlier on in setting up my back plate. At this stage in my project i had finished modelling, texturing and lighting the scene. I started composing the shot using the reference shot i had taken. I modelled the belt in the last week which was a bit of a challenge. I had never done anything like that before. The belt was modelled using a poly cube using a reference image after which i used the animation tools to create a motion path for the belt and posed it as i wanted as shown below.

Close up of the belt
Long view showing animation path of belt
A view showing the belt in the composition

The final rendering was done in mental ray and colour grading in nuke by matching the black points on the CG with the black points on the back plate and the white points of the CG with that of the back plate

Final Render of the Guitar and Belt

In conclusion, the project was quite the experience. Before now i had never used Maya to model before. So it was quite an achievement for me. However, there are things that i probably would do differently not necessarily because the method i used was wrong, but I do see that there are other ways I can get the model done and efficiently too.I did majority of the work in the last three days because of delays with setting up my lights. I would say that my flow in achieving this project was done by following the below process which has been summarized,

Setting of my project

Setting Colour management for a linear work flow (sRGB/Linear sRGB)

Importing in reference images

Modelling with good topology/assigning materials to my models

Matching my lights in the scene/Setting up my Camera/Back plate

UV mapping my objects

Texturing my objects

Test Renders/Final render


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