The Dragon Project

 

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Welcome to my little project to create a home CG animated short movie. What follows is my personal experiences and opinions working with many different programs.

First let me tell you a little about my experience. I work for an Architectural firm and work with AutoCAD on a daily bases so I'm good at visualizing things in 3 dimensions. You would not believe how many people I come across in my line of work, people with PhDs, even aeronautical engineers who can't visualize in 3 dimensions. And these people design aircraft? Now THAT is scary! But you get the idea.

My first stop:

3D Studio Max 7

I thought my first task would be to decide what program to do this in. We use 3D Studio at work and the guy there is knowledgeable even though I'm not a big fan of AutoDesk products. (3D Studio is by Discreet which is part of AutoDesk) AutoDesk's corporate strategy makes Microsoft look like a charity, and they've been doing it a lot longer. Nevertheless, I decided to wade into this quagmire of a program.

What I found out is that "simple" is not in its vocabulary. This really didn't surprise me, being familiar with other AutoDesk products. If you're willing to devote a lot of time though to learn it, and learn it well, this can be a very powerful tool, capable of film quality effects. Below is a shortened version of my first real attempt with 3D Studio. The objects were all free. The planet objects and textures I got from a NASA web site and the star dome I got from the 3D Cafe. For highest quality I choose 1024x768 at 24 bit planes. To try and keep it smooth I chose 30 frames per second, standard video, however I think if I had it to do over I might choose 24 frames per second, standard film speed, to cut the render time down. The animation is 16 seconds (cut down from 40 seconds). I plan on using a similar sequence just after the opening sequence but I may use a different program to do it.

It is important to note that if you want that Speilbergian effect and have deep pockets and a lot of time to learn the ins and out of the program, you could probably achieve it. There is also a number of plug-ins for 3D Studio, most notably by Digimation which has a wide selection. One I would like to try is a plug-in called "Phoenix" for fire effects, but even this little jewel will set you back about $400.

3D Studio Max 5 currently retails for almost $4,000 which is sad because I have met many talented artists that are denied their primary tools outside of the work place simply because they can't afford it. This seems to be AutoDesk's philosophy. They would rather sell one widget to a small select market at $5,000 than sell 500 widgets at $100 and have a broader customer base.

It is interesting to note that students in school can pick up the program for around $450 which, to me, is a good indicator of just how overpriced this program is if they can afford to discount it more than 85%. This trend isn't likely to change in the software market since AutoDesk is one of the kingpins of BSA (Business Software Alliance) an anti-piracy syndicate which includes companies like Adobe, AutoDesk, Bentley, Microsoft, Novell, IBM ... you see a pattern emerging here. All companies with inflated prices on their programs but now, they're in a position of power to dictate policy to you and me. I'm not an advocate for piracy, but I am also not an advocate for consumer blackmail. Microsoft learned about that the hard way.

So I moved on to looking for 3d models. 3D Cafe is an excellent source for free objects and good tutorials contributed by members of the 3D community. However, I was looking for something special and I didn't mind paying a little bit for a first class star for my little production. Namely, a high poly dragon model.

My first stop was Viewpoint Data labs. They had a couple of models but these were low poly with no textures and wanted over $500 for some of them. These people are defiantly geared to milking the entertainment industry. Sorry guys but no thanks.

Doing some research on the internet I found a myriad of alternatives. I listed as many as I can on the 3d Links page but two rose as my favorite; Renderosity and DAZ Productions, Inc. Both of these are excellent resources for tutorials, forums, art galleries, and a variety of merchandise, both for sale and free. DAZ had a dragon model I really liked called the Millennium Dragon. The Millennium Dragon is a highly detailed model made of over 60,000 polygons and over 6 megs of high-res textures all for under $60. Nicely done, guys. It is also supported by a 3D community that supports it with poses and texture packs. The down side, if it could be called, that was that the model was geared for Poser from Curious Labs which I knew nothing about. I liked the model and the support of the community was so strong that I decided it was worth a look.

 

 

Now things were rolling.

First let me introduce Tara the dragon and star of this project. Ok, I had my star, now I just needed a way to animate her. Although I took a step back due to my experience with 3D Studio it did allow me to explore other possibilities out there. With the object bought, I decided to take a look at Poser.

 

Poser

 

Poser by Curious Labs is an interesting program. At the time of this writing Poser 4 and the companion Pro Pack where out and a proven technology but Poser 5 was on the horizon. I decided to wait for Poser 5 and this gave me a chance to do more research and study. Disappointedly, the beta testers were coming back with less then stellar reviews, commenting on crashes and other instability problems. After the program was released in the latter part of 2002 there was a later uproar from the 3D community that the stability issue had not gone away.

Thankfully, Curious Labs was on the ball and came out with several patches and service releases that took care of a multitude of problems as well as added new features. Poser 5 is such a huge step over its predecessor that a few bumps along the way are to be expected and Curious Labs appears to be committed to fixing them. However, the dark clouds have not entirely left Curious labs. There are rumblings that they are having financial troubles and Poser may yet have another home. It would be its fourth in as many years.

I don't know if this is true but I would hate to see this happen. Poser is a good program and with a little work and dedication it could be the hallmark program it is striving to be.

Here is a little test I did with Poser for my web page.

 

To be continued . . .

Ok, sorry for the delay. I've finally bought Poser 5. I waited a little until they worked out some of the bugs and it seems pretty stable now. Also the price has fallen a lot. (I hope that's not a bad sign)

The program is excellent for working with objects and figures and there is so much out there for it. You rarely have to create an object from scratch and depending on the model, they are so cheap they are hardly worth the time to build it. You can render your entire scene in Poser if you like but I chose a different path. (See the Vue d' Esprit review) (Forthcoming)

Here are some early tests. Actually, these were for the 2003 calendar but it was never released.

       

The backgrounds were done in a variety of programs. World Builder, World Construction Set and Terragen, respectfully. After this round of experimentation I started focusing on getting the dragon to interact with its environment as well as work on lighting and shading. I wanted something more than for it to look like I pasted the dragon on an image. So, more experimenting.

Here is a picture I did for the 2004 calendar. (April & February)

 

The second image I imported the dragon into a program called Mojoworld by Pandromeda. (See the Mojoworld review) (Forthcoming) With it you can create entire planets. The drawback is the incredibly long render times. The image above took three days and one that I did with atmosphere effects took nine days to render. The image to the left I did in Vue d' Esprit took 2 hours. Big difference.

 

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This site was last updated 04/24/15