Johnny’s Workshop

August 23, 2008

UFOs at the You Yangs (Part 1)

Filed under: Vue 6 xStream — april15th @ 5:04 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of UFO footage.

Enough to warrant the design of a simple, hierarchical classification system?

Err … sure, why not?

You may have noticed the absence of a category for crystal clear, non-hoaxed footage of extra-terrestrial spacecraft. I’m afraid that’s because I’ve never seen any footage that would warrant the inclusion of such a category. Find me some and I’ll update the system, otherwise I’m sure whatever you’ve seen could easily find its way into one of the pre-existing categories.

Here are some examples:

Type 1-Ai1, 2, 3,

Type 1-Aii1, 2, 3, 4, 5,

Type 1-B1, 2, 3, 4, 5,

Type 2-A1, 2, 3, 4,

Type 2-B1, 2,

I’ll keep adding links until there are at least ten for each category. If you want to nominate any, just let me know and I’ll do an update.

Now, I’m not saying spacecraft flown by extra-terrestrials have never been filmed by humans; only that I’ve never seen any conclusive footage. All the high-quality UFOs videos I’ve seen have been hoaxes or artwork.

Why are there no high-quality videos of the real thing? I know what Occam’s Razor would have us conclude … but that’s no fun. I’d rather believe the government has seized all the best footage and kept secret our regular contact with extra-terrestrial civilisations. Bastards!

I’m probably coming across as skeptical to the point of being close-minded but I’m not. Honestly. I would love nothing more than to be provided with unassailable proof of the existence of advanced extra-terrestrial civilisations; it’s because I’m so taken with the idea that I can’t settle for lousy footage of some tiny, blurry shape in a distant cloud. Nor can I settle for eyewitness accounts because I have no way of knowing whether or not people are reliable / honest / capable of distinguishing between oil refineries and flying saucers. There’s a huge difference between seeing something incredible with my own eyes and merely wanting to believe the testimony of an eyewitness.

The reason I brought this up is that I’ve decided to create CG footage of a UFO (or two) at the You Yangs. I’m going to make the entire video CG and strive for photorealism but I’m not going to try and pass it off as real. Mine will be Type 1-B footage; a project undertaken so that I can learn more about visual effects.

I’ll post blog entries as I complete each stage of the project. Partly to keep you, my loyal reader, in the loop but mainly because I’d like to receive feedback and ideas throughout the video’s development.

Sound good?

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May 27, 2008

Streetbattlefield Fighter 2

Filed under: 3ds Max 9,Battlefield 2 — april15th @ 1:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I don’t know what useful and/or exciting things you, my fickle readers, did during the first two weeks of May but a good portion of my precious time was devoted to 3ds Max. The focus of my efforts? Learning how to import, reconstruct and texture some of the more complex models from Battlefield 2 (and its various mods).

After a week of rendering those models and experimenting with different types of lighting, I decided it’d be fun to make a little composition. Originally, the plan was to create an animated scene that I could upload to YouTube but within a few days I changed my mind and decided to do a single frame instead:

Streetfighter 2 and Battlefield 2

An animated version of the scene remains a possibility; it’s just that I’m still hopeless at rigging and preparing the soldiers for this scene would have required a lot more time and effort than I was willing to commit. An experienced animator probably could have done it in no time but I’m an amateur and burdened with other priorities. I still haven’t told my neighbour that I found her cat and that’s something I should have done weeks ago. I’ve also got half a dozen DVD rentals that are seriously overdue.

The idea to recreate Guile’s level from Street Fighter II appeared out of the blue. I knew the Allied Intent Xtended mod included a well put-together F16—modelled and textured by clivewil—and it was probably the availability of that model, more than anything else, that compelled me to try. Growing up, I was a big fan of Street Fighter II, so the prospect of recreating a familiar image and spending a few days reminiscing about my Godlike SFII skills held great appeal.

More importantly, creating the scene allowed me to get better at using textures, Bipeds and the Physique modifier, and required the careful posing of half a dozen 3D models of humans. I’d never tried that before and it seemed a fun way to learn the basics.

Except for the clouds (created in 3ds Max) and the HUD (added via Photoshop), everything in the scene was sourced from Battlefield 2. Well, everything except clivewil’s F16 which, as I’ve already mentioned, was from Allied Intent Xtended, one of the very best BF2 mods going around. Some of the models were tweaked ever-so-slightly because I wanted them to better resemble the objects featured in Guile’s scene. For the most part, though, they were left alone. Battlefield 2 offered the equivalent of virtually everything seen in the original SFII level, so it was just a matter of finding the right objects, importing them into 3ds Max, applying textures, then moving them into position.

3ds Max Scene

The only object that could have been more faithful to the original was the Supply Crate. In Street Fighter II, the corresponding object is a destructible wooden crate (a rarity in video games) and BF2 definitely had one that was suitable but I think the Supply Crate, for this version, has more novelty value.

The scene’s main source of light is a Skylight with its Multiplier set to 1.3, however there are also three Omni Lights; two within the hangars to prevent them from being pitch-black and one in the foreground to increase the overall brightness of the fighters and onlookers. Without the Omni lights, the lighting had a more consistent, realistic feel but video games from that era didn’t really strive for photorealism, so I had no qualms about brightening things up.

As hoped, it was a fun project and though I’m sure it could have been done better, I’m happy with the end result. Happy enough to move on, anyway.

Let me know what you think.

(Click to enlarge)

May 3, 2008

The Hypno-Orb.

I’m back. Don’t pretend you haven’t missed me.

For the past month-and-a-half, I’ve been refining the workflow needed to composite computer-generated images into real-world video footage. I thought I had it figured out months ago but for the very first time in my life, I was wrong.

The techniques involved are reasonably complex, so for the foreseeable future I’m going to practice all the steps and revise my notes over and over again until they’re perfect. The human resources folk at Village Cinemas devised an effective way to keep any part-time projectionist work from slowing me down, so that’ll help, too.

The clip below was created using a number of the techniques I’ve been studying, including match-moving and high dynamic range image-based lighting, so it has a touch of photorealism, despite the mistakes I made:

Except for the reflective sphere, everything in the clip is real. Well, everything except the Hypnotoad sound effect. Originally, the clip was silent but with the presence of an unusual noise, there’s at least a small chance some mindless, drug-addled YouTube visitor will see the video and become confused and/or frightened.

November 15, 2007

UFO Design.

Filed under: 3ds Max 9 — april15th @ 3:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ever since posting that woeful UFO picture on April 1st, I’ve been meaning to use 3ds Max to come up with some better UFO designs.

No-one’s impressed any more by simplistic-looking flying saucers. They don’t want to see a lamp shade held up by barely-visible string or a nicely-thrown hubcap. They want to see something cool; something Barzloff-esque so that they hesitate for a split-second before writing “FAKE” into the video’s Comments section.

My Uncle Ben always used to say, “With great 3D applications and post-production software comes great responsibility,” and in the years since he was gunned down by street hoodlums, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for what he meant.

For most of the past week, I’ve been suffering a bad cold and sore throat, so I’ve happily devoted less time toward studying and more time toward projects requiring no serious thought, including this new UFO design. The work was very stimulating, mind you, because it was all done whilst listening to lectures about the decline of the US dollar, the arrival of peak oil (and its catastrophic consequences) and the possible collapse of the US economy in the near future. The lecturers were kind of hazy on the details but essentially we’re all doomed.

Anyway, check out my UFO design! As you can tell, it’s a work in progress and not at all complex but WIPs can be fun to share, too.

November 10, 2007

Battlefield 2 in Real-Life.

Edit: The tutorial on getting Battlefield 2 models into 3ds Max is now available here:

http://machinima-tutorials.com/wiki/index.php/Getting_BF2_Models_Into_3ds_Max

Keen to put my patience to the test, I recently forced myself to learn the process of importing BF2 models into 3ds Max 9. I figure it’s another skill that’ll look great on a résumé; especially when applying for a job in which the ability to import BF2 models into 3ds Max 9 is a vital prerequisite.

BF2 models aren’t as high-poly or nicely-textured as those found in HL2 but they look fairly realistic nonetheless; especially when rendered using HDR Image-Based Lighting:

F35b BF2

Agreed?

I’ll try to do something creative with them soon and hope that Electronic Arts doesn’t sue. Not that you can get blood from a stone …

Click to enlarge:
f35s.jpg

October 25, 2007

Getting Half-Life 2 Models Into 3ds Max

Yesterday, via one of my YouTube accounts, I received an unexpected missive from a young fellow named Charles who was keen for information.

Charles wanted to learn how I’d managed to get certain models from Half-Life2 into 3ds Max. Hopefully, he won’t mind my inclusion of the message in this post:

Mainly because Charles asked so nicely, I’ve decided to write out what I hope will be a comprehensive, relatively easy-to-follow tutorial on the subject.

Generally-speaking, I hate online tutorials. Too many of them gloss over crucial information and assume the reader has prior knowledge that he/she usually lacks. Far better, I always say, to include too much information than nowhere near enough. In the movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington’s character, Joe Miller, says, “Explain this to me like I’m a four-year-old,” and I think that’s a good quote to keep in mind when trying to impart certain types of knowledge.

So, here goes …

What You’ll Need:

Half-Life2 | The PC game. Obviously.

Source SDK | The Source Software Development Kit. Download this via Steam.

3ds Max 6/7/8 | (There is an SMD Importer for 3ds Max 9, too. Visit THIS post for the details).

GCFScape v1.6.6 Full | Extraction tool used to glean desired files from HL2‘s .gcf files.

VPK Tool | Tool used for conversion of .vtf files into .tga files that 3ds Max can handle.

MDLDecompiler Version 0.5 | Decompiles the .mdl files extracted from Half-Life2.

Max 6/7 SMD Importer | A plug-in for 3ds Max. Allows the user to import .smd files.

(At the time of writing, all those links were valid. If you’re reading this months from now and some of them are no longer working, let me know and I’ll do an update.)

Downloading and Installation

Everything listed above has to be correctly installed if you’re to stand any chance of success. Installing 3ds Max and Half-Life2 shouldn’t be an issue and I’ll assume anyone reading this tutorial already has both installed, anyway.

The Source SDK is to be downloaded and installed via the ‘Tools’ tab in Steam:

GCFScape, VPK Tool, MDLDecompiler, and the SMD Importer can be accessed via the links above. After clicking the links, initiating the downloads is fairly straight-forward but just in case, here’s a badly-presented table that shows exactly what you’re after:

The SMD Importer is a plug-in for 3ds Max 6/7 (it also works for Version 8 but not Version 9) and basically adds files with the extension .smd to the list of files that can be imported into 3ds Max:

All you need to do is extract the smdimp.dli file from the smdimp_max6.v013a.rar archive you’ve downloaded, then move the file into your 3dsMax\plugins folder:

From now on, you’ll be able to import .smd files into your 3ds Max scene(s). Nifty, eh? Another thing you must do is move the mdldecompiler.exe file into your sourcesdk\bin folder:

Okay, moving on …

Extracting the 3D Model from Half-Life2

For this tutorial, I’ll explain how to extract the Strider but the same principles apply for the other 3D models. For some models, it’s a bit more of a challenge to find all the associated files (due to Valve’s naming conventions) but this guide should lead you in the right direction.

01. Create a ‘destination folder’ and give it an appropriate name, eg. Strider. This is the folder that will eventually contain all the files associated with the 3D model:

02. Navigate to your \Valve\Steam\SteamApps folder. This is where all the game cache files (.gcf) are stored:

The ones of interest to us are the source models.gcf and source materials.gcf files.

03. Double-click the source models.gcf file to open it within GCFScape.

04. With the source models.gcf file now open, expand the hl2 folder. Select the now-visible models folder, then click the Edit menu and choose Find (shortcut: Ctrl + F). Type ‘Strider’ into the search field and hit Enter. GCFScape will then search for all files that include the word ‘Strider’ and will display the results in the window pane on the right:

05. We want all the files identified by the search, so select one at random, then use the Ctrl + A shortcut (Select All) to group highlight all the others.

06. Okay, time to extract. Right-click on the highlighted files (making sure not to deselect them) and from the context menu that appears, choose Extract.

Via the Browse For Folder window, choose the Strider folder that was created earlier and click OK:

Here ends our fleeting interest in the source models.gcf file.

07. Now, double-click the source materials.gcf file to open it within GCFScape.

08. With source materials.gcf now open, expand the hl2 folder, then materials > models > Combine_Strider:

Within the Combine_Strider folder, you’ll see three files: striderdecalsheet.vmt, striderdecalsheet.vtf and striderdecalsheet_normal.vtf. We’re going to extract all three using the same method we used earlier.

09. In the pane on the right, select one of the three files at random, then use the Ctrl + A shortcut (Select All) to group highlight the rest.

10. Right-click on the highlighted files (again, making sure not to deselect them) and from the context menu that appears, choose Extract. Via the Browse For Folder window, as in Step 06, choose the Strider folder and click OK.

Here ends the ‘extraction’ phase. We’re doing well. I just hope, thus far, this has all been making sense. The next thing we must do is decompile the primary model file we extracted earlier.

Decompiling the Model (.mdl) File

11. Double-click the mdldecompiler.exe file to launch Cannonfodder’s MDL Decompiler. Remember that the executable should be in your sourcesdk\bin folder:

12. Uncheck the Use Steam File Access checkbox, then left-click the ellipsis button for the Choose Model File field and navigate to the Strider folder.

13. In the Strider folder, there should be a number of .mdl files. From the list, select Combine_Strider.mdl and hit Open.

14. Time now to choose an Output Directory. Left-click the ellipsis button for the Choose Model File field and again navigate to the Strider folder. Click the Select button to accept the folder as the Output Directory.

15. Click Extract. The extraction process will involve two additional prompts:

Click OK for each prompt, then click Exit to close Cannonfodder’s MDL Decompiler.

Almost finished!

Converting .VTF Files

16. Launch the VPK Tool downloaded earlier by double-clicking the VPKTool.exe file included within the download:

I should mention: there are alternatives to this particular tool but I’ve not yet tried the others, nor have I experienced any trouble with this one.

17. Select the Texture tools tab, then the Open file button.

18. Navigate to the Strider folder and change the Files of Type: field to Source VTF texture:

You should see the two .vtf files extracted earlier: striderdecalsheet.vtf and striderdecalsheet_normal.vtf.

19. Select the striderdecalsheet.vtf file and click Open. You’ll now be able to convert the .vtf file into the .tga format. As a .tga file, the texture can be applied to a 3D model within 3ds Max and that’s exactly what we want. Just click the Convert to TGA button:

20. Now, repeat the above step to convert striderdecalsheet_normal.vtf into a .tga file.

Thankfully, the Strider only has those two .vtf files. Some of the other 3D models have more. For those other models, you’ll need to convert all the .vtf files, one-by-one.

21. Now that it’s no longer needed, you can close the VPK Tool.

Finally! All the necessary files have been extracted / converted and the model is ready to be imported into 3ds Max.

Importing the Model into 3ds Max

This part is easy!

22. Open 3ds Max (Version 6, 7 or 8; whichever one you’re using) and from the File menu, select Import.

23. Navigate to the Strider folder and change the Files of Type: field to Half-Life 2 SMD (*.SMD):

24. Most the of .smd files you’ll see in the Strider folder are actually animation files. They can be imported afterwards if you’re keen on using Valve’s keyframe data to animate the model. Right now, you should select the model’s _reference.smd. In the case of the Strider, it’s the Strider_reference.smd file.

At this point, I sincerely hope, the Strider will appear in your Viewports and you’ll be very happy.

THE END

Now, to get on with life …

*If you’d like to get the same model into 3ds Max 9, simply go through all the steps above, save the .max scene and close your old version of 3ds Max. Open 3ds Max 9 and then simply Open the .max file you saved earlier.

September 26, 2007

Placenta.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve devoured a number of tutorials on High Dynamic Range lighting and reflections. Most of them were shit. However, their deficiencies were eventually addressed thanks to the sheer volume of information they yielded as a whole.

All the same, I think someone should carefully organise all the information available online. I’m tired of going through this ordeal every time I want to learn something cool.

Thanks to all the recent studying, my quest to composite photorealistic CG elements into real-world environments has been progressing well. The real test will come when I post UFO hoaxes on YouTube and fierce debate erupts between close-minded skeptics and close-minded believers. In the meantime, here’s another rendering:

Oh, yeah, the title of this post. Whenever I render a ‘glossy’ version of the Strider, I find myself thinking of a line from the ‘Method to Madness’ episode of Family Guy: “Now you’re being born … ready? And BURST through the placenta!”

September 20, 2007

CGI Recognition Challenge! (Part 2)

Filed under: 3ds Max 9,CGI Recognition,Photographs — april15th @ 12:47 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

This one’s somewhat trickier than the last but if you know anything about Newton’s law of universal gravitation, you’re off to a good start.

September 14, 2007

A Strider from Half-Life 2.

Filed under: 3ds Max 9 — april15th @ 5:49 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In recent days, I’ve rendered some very short animation sequences. In fact, they’ve all been a mere 91 frames in length because that’s how many frames make up the single animation file I’ve been using for all these experiments.

The file, a_walkN.smd, is from the game Half-Life 2 and I’m guessing the ‘a’ stands for ‘animation,’ ‘walk’ refers to the type of motion, and ‘N’ stands for ‘North’ … and that concludes our intensive three-week course.

What does this magical 99.3KB file animate? A Strider. They’re similar in many ways to the tripods in “War of the Worlds,” except that if they came across Dakota Fanning, they’d waste no time blasting her brains out.

The clip below was originally just a test to see how long it’d take 3ds Max 9 to render the animation with a simple lighting setup but the end result looked rather nice, so I thought I’d be polite and share.

September 4, 2007

CGI Recognition Challenge!

Filed under: 3ds Max 9,CGI Recognition — april15th @ 1:19 am
Tags: , , , ,

The photograph below shows my fireplace mantel, along with an assortment of random objects. Composited somewhere amongst the real-world objects is a synthetic object rendered with light more or less identical to that found in the original scene.

Can you spot the computer-generated image?

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