So after going to see Disney’s Moana last night (and probably going back to see it again tonight. SUCH A FANTASTIC MOVIE!) I was nearly drawn to tears at my own failure to expand on my love of creating 3d. Anyone who has been on this site for more than a few minutes is fully aware that I create some 3d images using mostly pre-existing content.

For example my character Sonja is actually a modified version of DAZ Studios Genesis 2 model. The model itself can be tweaked in thousands of ways ranging from the most obvious (height, bust size, arm length) to the most mundane (tear ducts, muscle definition, nose upturn). These settings combined with an endless supply of textures that can be applied to the body, clothing, hair and accessories means I can make literally millions of characters from one model.

The DAZ Studio interface, loaded with Sonja Red

Despite the wealth of available content there comes a point where someone like myself, who has a specific, custom project like Destructive Tendencies, just can’t find a suitable stand in for something we have created on paper and would like to see in the 3d realm. A perfect example would be the god-weapon Slash.

Katana Slash is my own design.

In this case I could have found a good katana and made some custom textures to add all my skulls and purple color, but the problem is that Slash is not a conventional design. I have something very specific in mind for his shape. This means I have to custom build him!

Years and years ago, before you couldn’t really reach the internet without going through one of the big online giants like AOL or CompuServe, I found myself interested in learning how to make 3d objects. I don’t remember what the impetus was, I only remember furiously scouring the internet for a good, free software program that would let me make things. I had some experience in drafting and some experience in computers, now it was time to put the two together.

Unfortunately finding a piece of software that wasn’t confusing as all get out was extremely difficult, but eventually I found what is, to me, the greatest little 3D modelling program ever: Truespace. Though now defunct the guys at Caligari, the software’s creator, knew how to make software that was intuitive, fluid, powerful and easy to use. I spent years pirating copies and working with other users and learning how to harness its power.

I made a lot of stuff with TS, but it has been long gone, bought out my Microsoft at some point and then left to die.

I still use the last version of the software that was released, for free, and it has served me well up until recently. Though a great piece of software still, it is dated and lacks many of the basic tools that make creating content easier.

Enter Hexagon.

Hexagon is also a pretty old program by most standards, and is likely not the most powerful, but it is free (from DAZ3D) and it will help me achieve my goal of creating new content in a unique and powerful way.

Hexagon powered modelling.

Though not especially powerful itself, Hexagon did allow me to model a Moana inspired ray in about 5 minutes, and if I wanted to I could pull that model into DAZ Studio and add all kinds of goodies like bones to allow me to move the tail or the wings. I could also use Hexagon to create an texture map, coordinates on the model that correspond with the coordinates on a flat image like a .jpg or .bmp. When applied the texture map wraps around the model and makes it look like something more than just a grey slab of flesh.

Now, anyone who frequents my page knows I am in love with Final Fantasy, and the designers and developers at Square-Enix are masters at taking simple models and turning them into masterpieces.

A fairly simple object, as wireframes go.

Their masterful technique uses fairly low polygon models, models that consist of very few faces in the grand scheme, and applies a number of different texture maps to them to create incredible looking results!

Here is the  same model as above, but rendered in solid, textured format. At the moment it has no textures applied, so it really just looks like a chunk of plastic.

Let’s call this ‘Zero Texture’

Now, by piling on simple, yet extremely well done ‘maps’ we can turn this chunk of plastic into something incredible! Here we add a texture map to give the axe a stony kind of look, a specular map that tells the rendering engine about how the surfaces of the object interact with light, and a normal map, which tells the rendering engine about the surface of the object as far as it actual ‘texture’ (is it smooth, bumpy, grainy). In addition I’ll put an Iray specific ‘shader’ on the object, which further tells the rendering engine how the objects surface interacts with lights and the surroundings.

Three different ‘maps’ applied.

It doesn’t look like a whole lot now, but once we put it through the renderer:

Admit it, your impressed!

Let’s get an even closer look at some of the detail!

Is that thing real?

The render above took less than 5 minutes, consisted of a single light and a single object that had 3 map files applied totaling less than 500k worth of data.

How’s THAT for efficient?

I mean, you can certainly create much larger and more detailed objects with hundreds of thousands to millions of polygons. You can create larger and more detailed texture maps consisting of giga-pixel images that take upwards of hundreds of megabytes, but…..this, this is incredible, and this is exactly what I hope to achieve.

Hexagon is not the first step. The first step was Truespace so many years ago, and for too long I let my skills sit and stagnate. Watching the movie the other night got me excited, and though I doubt I will ever be able to reach the beauty that was Moana, I am going to try as hard as I can to make my own universe come to life. A universe of magick, monsters, demons, technology, science. There are many other universes out there, but this one is mine, and it’s story is my own. I want to bring it to life.

If your interested in getting started in 3D stuff visit DAZ3D for all the free tools you need!

Update: Looks like Hexagon has been bumped to 20$. Still super cheap for what your getting.