Tom, At Last

Oooh, I’m so happy. After months of beating my head against a wall, I can finally create a wardrobe for Amanda’s Syzygy characters!

I slogged my way through all those 3DS Max tutorials, meshed and re-meshed and adjusted bone assignments until I was scaling vertex weights in my sleep, and finally. . .voila! A Tom character dressed the way Amanda has described him.

The shirt is a little short on detail for tight shots. But I won’t stress too much over that right now, since I don’t know that I’ll actually film any close-ups of Tom in this outfit anyway. A simple retexturing with a better image and a bump map would do wonders for this shirt. But the graphics card in my laptop doesn’t render bump mapping, so until I can afford more sophisticated equipment, I probably won’t sweat the small stuff as long as the overall texture looks good on screen.

A “bump map” is a monochrome version of the primary texture image. 3D software reads it topographically—as highs and lows on a plane rather than dark and light on a spectrum. This gives the software information it uses when lighting the object in a scene, and the result is a much more detailed, realistic rendering.

Here is a typical texture file:

As you can see, it’s simply a jpeg image of boards like one might see on the side of a barn. I prefer to use actual photographs, but software doesn’t know the difference between a snapshot and a pencil sketch. It only reads the file type and digital information.

This is what the above jpeg image looks like once it has been applied as a texture:

There the jpeg image is, on the walls of that 3D building. A process called “UV mapping” has instructed the software how to place it.

The result looks fine, but programs like 3DS Max offer waaaay more capacity for detail, such as bump mapping. That’s the part my laptop can’t do. But I can show you pictures (rendered by a more powerful computer) of the difference good bump mapping can make.

Below is the monochrome bump map of the planks you just saw:

When this bump map is added to the information 3DS Max (and ultimately iClone) uses to render a scene, the result this:

The change is subtle, but look closely. All those little knotholes in the wood now look like bas relief.

On a final note, one experience I had during this process was an encounter with established content creators in the Reallusion forum. I tend to shy away from forums in general, and after the disheartening lack of response in a Mod The Sims thread last year, I was more wary then ever about asking for help. But I sucked it up and posted a question anyway. To my surprise, within a matter of hours, not one but two seasoned creators offered suggestions about the problem I was having. Hats off to “Animagic” and “Sen” for talking the new girl through a technology crisis without making her feel stupid. 🙂

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6 responses to “Tom, At Last

  1. Very nice Rhonda, I love what you are doing.

  2. Oh wow, he looks so good!!!! That’s my Tom!!! 🙂

  3. You’re talking about the clothes and I can’t help comment on the guy himself. Tom looks great. Good job with the shirt too. I’m really glad you got that help on the forum. That’s hope. Keep going.

  4. Thank you ! Odara, these iClone puppets are amazing. I notice tiny things, like the shading differences between the skin of the face and the skin of the neck, and of course the hand is yet another color. I’m confident iClone has a feature somewhere to adjust all of that and I’ll figure it out sooner or later. But you know what? That’s getting darn nitpicky. And what that says to me (the perpetual critic) is that if I have to look THAT hard to find something to complain about, then I must be on the right track!

    Speaking of being a critic–for those who don’t know, Odara and I are co-critcs at what is possibly the busiest Sims 2 machinima site on the Web. The moderator of Director’s United asked us to form a panel to offer peer review of existing Sims 2 machinimas or works in progress. It has been a little slow to start, but I am tremendously encouraged by the community’s genuine desire to improve the quality of their work. Tonight I’m putting together feedback about a film submitted today, and I find myself using words like “metaphor” and “archetype” and “stock character.” Keep in mind, these “directors” are typically quite young and inexperienced. But every now and then somebody surprises me with amazing raw talent. The fact that I can use derivative work from a computer game to teach young minds about concepts such plotting and character development is all the more reason to keep doing what I do.

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