Category: Tools


So it’s been an eventful few months! In the software realm I made the decision to not upgrade my Foundation XSI copy to Essentials. And boy am I glad. My main reason was… do I want to spend more time learning ‘another’ tool, or learn something cool – like matte painting or improve my drawing skills? That was a no brainer.

Of course, as many of you know, days after the deadline to upgrade, Autodesk pulls a fast one and buys XSI. My reaction: ‘eek!’ The debate on CGTalk raged on. Lots of people don’t like it. I, for one, don’t like it either – I hope I’m wrong. Anyway, the track record is that Autodesk buys something to improve their ’stake’ in the digital realm and doesn’t do much to innovate. That’s the main reason I’m still using good old Maya 7 (another reason is the cost of maintenance, I find I don’t get much bang for the buck). Now I’m seriously thinking about Blender. It’s looking really good. Maybe with the upcoming interface change it will look really, really good. Good enough for personal projects – but then again, that’s another new software package to learn! Argh. Might be worth it though…

Don’t get me wrong. As a freelancer I’ll upgrade my software to match my client’s needs, but do you know what? Most of my clients haven’t upgraded to anything remotely labled 2009 (Maya, Max, or otherwise). Even my last project in XSI was using version 6.5. Doesn’t look to me like there is a rush to upgrade.

Virtual PC

Ok, so I’m a bit behind the times… did you know that Microsoft has released Microsoft Virtual PC for free? So what’s the big deal, you ask… well, for one thing it’s cool, and for another thing, it’s useful.

So what is it? It essentially lets you run a PC within a PC. This means you can run your regular version of windows on your hardware, say for example Vista and then in a window under Vista run Windows XP or Linux or what have you. It’s probably a little slower than having dual boot, but much easier to ‘install’. You can even install an old copy of Windows 95! (do you really want to?) But maybe you have an application that worked in ‘95 but stopped working when you upgraded – you might be able to run it again – under a virtual PC. Cool eh?


Wow, I’ve been so busy I plumb forgot about this blog! I haven’t even consistently visited my favorite web and blog haunts!

Anyway, I’ve been working with XSI more and I think I like it a little bit more. I found solutions to the problems that I was having. It’s still not as fun as Maya, but generally it’s working for me. I haven’t done too much modeling or rendering in it, just character animation – so it’s probably too early to tell.

I’ve also been thinking about getting a copy of Renderman for Maya – if you’ve used it and have good or bad things to say, please let me know. I’m trying out the evaluation version and it seems pretty seamless with Maya. Nice.

Lastly I’ve also been debating about getting a Cintiq or a tablet for at least the last year – for my drawing/painting itch. I passed on the Cintiq and opted for a portable smaller version of it… a tablet PC. It’s a slate tablet, so it has no keyboard attached to it – nice and portable. I do have a mini bluetooth keyboard if I need it and it works great. I really love the slate tablet – nice and small. I initially had some problems with it (sounds like it was a memory stick issue), but the service people have been really good so far. I get it back Monday and I’m sure I’ll post a full entry on the pros and cons. I may even spill the beans on the model and configuration!

Oh and one more thing, check out this cool illusion. I was totally convinced that they were two separate shades.


So I took the plunge recently and purchased a copy of Softimage/XSI Foundation. I already have Maya, Max, Lightwave, Project Messiah and Cinema4D – so it’s not like I needed another 3d tool, but I do require it for a freelance project – so I guess in a different way I need it. Anyway, I’ve only played with it for a weekend and I’m liking it. I modeled, rigged and animated a biped character to see what the workflow was like and it was very similar to Maya’s.

The built in auto rigging is pretty ’standard’, but it was nice to be able to do that out of the box. I did find a weird bug while trying to bind the mesh to the skeleton (the UI method kept ‘cancelling’ on me, so I had to figure out the command equivalent and execute that instead). I still have to play more with weightmapping, UV mapping, dynamics and rendering, but so far so good. I did a bit of surface material assignment and final gather rendering which turned out nice.

For character animation I still like Maya better. For example, Maya seems a bit more intelligent in showing you the character set keys in your timeline when you have a character set selected, while with XSI you have to go and change that manually. Also, in Maya when you select a curve in the curve editor it will highlight the object name/channel in the object list – I couldn’t see XSI doing that. Not a show stopper, but definitely stuff that gets ‘in the way’ and slows you down… of course I may be missing an option or setting that lets me do exactly that, but I haven’t found it yet.

So for now, from a character animation perspective I’d say my favorite is still Maya, with XSI a close second – of course that may change since my preference for Maya may be more because I’ve used it more than XSI… time will tell. Happy animating!


  • As usual it has been a busy couple of weeks. In that time Pixologic, the Zbrush people, decided to release version 3.0 of their software. I have to say that this is one of those really ‘fun’ tools. I wish they had more clear documentation and training material, but you do with what you get (hey, maybe I should create some video tutorials… then again, maybe not). I sculpted this head in about an hour (with more time spent later noodling). The tool has a bit of a learning curve, but most of your questions can be found on Pixologic’s forums (although that can take even more time if you don’t know what you need to search for). Hopefully they will create some decent documentation in the near future.

  • On the game front I finally had a chance to try out a DirectX 10 game on Vista. If you don’t know, DirectX 10 requires Vista and a new breed of video card (NVidia 8800+ and ATI has a similar version – how can you tell I’m an NVidia fan) in order to run. I downloaded a demo of Lost Planet . It was pretty cool. It took advantage of HDR and some cool new shaders. I cranked all the settings to high and it ran really well (at least 80 fps, if not more). A neat feature was the ability to run the game in window mode in Vista. Overall I think that the eye candy of most games have reached a plateau with today’s latest graphics cards. You probably won’t get much more ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ from the visuals (unless you get into 3d monitors or something like that).

  • On the movie front: There is an animated film being created by Berkley Breathed, based on his book “Mars Needs Moms!” (say that 9 times in a row). Breathed is the creator of the Opus comics. He’s apparently teamed up with Zemeckis to do a mo-cap feature. According to Breathed they are using mo-cap to ‘annoy the animation community’. Well, at least he’s honest. If you know me at all then you know I won’t be seeing this movie at a theater or on DVD.

    One other note in regard to movies… what’s the deal with all these sequel movies? I know, they make money. If the first one is a hit, then people will go see all the other ‘versions’. Your marketing job is already half done. Personally I don’t get what people see in a movie like Shrek. I saw the first one. It was okay. The second was not so okay. From the trailers the third one appears to be even lower than ‘below okay’. Even though it’s animated I have no desire to see it – whatsoever.

    On the other hand I’m itching to see Ratatouille – 1) it’s not a sequel (sequel = yawn – generally speaking); 2) it’s actually animated (and what I’ve seen, animated really well); 3) it appears to be an actual story (an interesting story that hasn’t been done before)! I don’t buy all the hype that Remy’s (the main character) being a rat is going to affect people negatively. He’s a darn tootin’ cute lookin’ little rodent and that works just fine for me. Even his fat brother, Emile, is appealing. I think the designs of the animals as well as the humans are well done. They totally fit the genre and are interesting to look at. Moreover, the acting really sells the characters’ charm.


  • On the web front there are a couple of new favorites in my favorites links. I don’t know why, but this guy’s work (Florian Satzinger) is totally interesting and appealing to me. I just really like his designs. More of his work can be found on his blog and his company website. Needless to say I’m spending time analyzing his work. Too bad he doesn’t have any training/tutorials on character design.

    Another blog that I make sure I visit is Chris Walley’s blog. Chris is a Geologist and, among other things, he writes Christian Sci-Fi Novels. I’ve only read two of his books so far, but I have really enjoyed them. They are the Lamb Among the Stars series (with a third book on the way – keep writing Chris!). I also enjoy reading his blog.

Maya 8 and Max 9

It looks like there is another upgrade in the works for both Maya and Max. Nothing much to write home about – I think… It looks like the improvement that is at the top of the list for both products is that they are now both compiled for 64 bit machines.

Realtime GI and Subd

You know when you press ‘render’ in Max, Lightwave or Maya and it takes minutes to render because you are using displacement maps on your subdivision surfaces and global illumination to get those nice images? Well, now there is a game engine which supports this in real time… amazing. The visual line between cinema and games is blurring very quickly.



A Couple of Updates

My Palomino pencils arrived the other day – and, for those who care, I still like my Tombow the best. It just has such a nice dark if you need it and it’s smooth as silk (not as smooth as a Colerase), but overall I like the Tombow pencil the best. There are a couple of close seconds, but please don’t take away my Tombow!

Apart from my daily play (err… work) for my current client(s) I’ve been slowly going through the Famous Artists Course – the 1954 version (the one that includes Norman Rockwell as one of the instructors!). There are a lot of gems in this set of books if you can still find the volumes. I found mine on eBay. Anyway, I’m not enrolled in the actual course or anything (there is still a modern day version of this course where your work is critiqued on a regular basis), but instead I’m just going through the books. Nothing to show yet, just copying a lot of photographs and sketches in order to train my eye/brain/hand.

On the game creation front, I’ve decided on a very cool game engine. There are only two main drawbacks that I’ve encountered so far… The first is that the development environment is on a Mac. But, oh boy, what a development enviroment! So now I have a cool dual core intel Mac. The neat thing is that you can create the game executable not only for the Mac, but also for Windows. The second drawback is that it’s only OpenGL. When Windows Vista comes out it seems like OpenGL will run ‘under’ DirectX. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but if it is then that shouldn’t be too much of a problem because I have also decided to reduce the scope of my first game. I’m coinciding the game with a children’s book I’m writing and illustrating in my “spare” time. As for the game engine, the support is good and the community is growing.

If you like Linux or ever wanted to play around with it without messing up your current Windows installation, you can burn a CD or DVD with Knoppix (Debian Kernel 2.6.17) and then boot from the CD or DVD! It’s a neat way to be able to learn/play/work with Linux without worrying about dual boot or having an extra machine to load Linux on… the only real requirement is having a bootable CD or DVD player.

One other note of interest, if you haven’t heard. Popeye the Sailor Man is coming to DVD in 2007!


If you use Photoshop for your painting, drawing and 2d work, here is a link to some free brushes for creating hair. Nice collection!

Play Time

Here is something to add to the toys you received this Christmas. You may need to install Java to play with it.

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