Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Maya 2015 Extension 1 has some really nice improvements

As if Maya 2015 wasn't jam packed enough with new features. It looks like Extension 1 has some really cool added features. Here are some that stood out to me.

  • Performance Profiler. At first I thought this would be a simple ui with some real time feedback on Maya's performance but it turns out to be way more robust. You can now easily spot choke points during any process and the profiler will identify the exact maya action that's sucking up your performance. This is great if you want to optimize a scene.
  • Send to feature is now extended to game engines. The really awesome send to feature that lets you send a scene from one package to another now extended to engines. Now you can take an asset from maya and in the click of a button, send it straight to Unreal.
  • Modeling toolkit fully integrated. It looks like the modeling toolkit has usurped a lot of the obsolete modeling tools in Maya proper now.
  • Cloud import export. This one seems pretty cool. You can upload content directly to a server. I'm curious to see this feature progress.
  • Color Management. This one is really great. You can transfer your color information from compositing tools like flame into Maya and the viewport will properly update the color scheme of your scene to match the tool that you originally set your color values in. 
Hit the jump for video demonstrations of these tools in action!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mari 2.6

Working at LucasFilm has exposed me to a lot. One thing that I learned about that I didn't see much of at EA is The Foundry products. In particular the tool that stands out is Mari. I've taken some time to talk about Quizel's dDo and there's also Substance Painter out there which both handle surface painting beautifully but Mari handles surface painting so well, I really need to share it.

For starters Mari 2.6 supports GLSL which allows you to author surfaces on shaders familiar to those in modern game engines. If the shader out of the box does not quite match up, you can write a custom shader in Mari that fits your engine better using their Custom Shader API. Your shader will still be able to support all of Mari's great authoring features which allow artists to really build accurate surface materials that will translate nicely to an engine. Mari's shader engine will soon be able to also simulate rendering engines like Arnold and VRay as well.

Another thing that really speaks to Mari's power is it's robust Python API and terminal mode. You can write batch scripts and pipeline scripts in Mari to process assets through Mari without having to even open the UI, freeing the artists from doing any sort of monotonous tasks by hand. It's really easy to write python scripts for Mari too. There are already scripts out there to transfer Mari assets into Maya and back.

One of my favorite features of Mari at the moment is it's particle texture transfer system. Basically you can take a super high resolution film quality asset and overlay it on a game resolution equivalent and transfer all of the detail from one mesh to the other. This is similar to Zbrush and Mudbox's detail transfering except for surfaces. You could transfer surface detail from a really high resolution mesh with tons of UDIMs to a game resolution mesh with one UV map and get the proper diffuse, specular, normal, roughness, etc. maps for your engine. All in all, this software is really great and I highly recommend it.

Hit the jump for some video demonstrations of Mari 2.6

Disney Lookdev process for Big Hero 6 and Frozen

I'm so glad that I stumbled onto this gem of a presentation by Disney. They go into incredible detail on how they designed their characters for Big Hero 6 and Frozen with lots of emphasis on design principles like shape and appeal. The process is definitely painstaking and requires lots and lots of disciplines to coordinate their efforts. It's definitely needed to get the best possible design that holds up against lots of animation. These guys show you how they designed some major and minor character from concept to finish and include steps like stress testing the character rig. They also talk about the pipelines between sculpted concept and usable asset. If you're into character development and look development, I highly recommend taking the time to watch this presentation all the way through. There is so much content to take in and the workflow that they demonstrated definitely feels straight forward and approachable.

Hit the jump to see the full video presentation at the Zbrush Summit this year:

NVIDIA Turbulence/ Unreal 4 Particles and Vector Fields

So I've seen this technology evolve over the years and it looks like we're getting closer and closer to seeing GPU accelerated particles becoming easy to access in an engine. In this case NVIDIA's APEX Turbulence ended up turning into NVIDIA Turbulence and now evolved into Unreal Engine 4 Vector Fields. it's getting easier to access and experiment with this tech for any kind of high fidelity particle animation or fluid animation in real time. I've talked about the Titan's real time fluid effects that was shown earlier this year but there is something really mesmerizing about Vector Fields and I wanted to definitely share what I've found thus far. If you happen to have a copy of Unreal 4, definitely check it out. It's 20 bucks a month and you don't necessarily have to pay every month if you don't want to.

Hit the jump for video demonstrations and tutorials on how to get started with Unreal 4 and NVIDIA Vector fields now:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dreamworks Premo

This software!

Dreamworks' Premo made a big splash at SIGGRAPH this year. For those new to the software, Premo is Dreamworks' new animation tool that was used to make How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was developed over the span of 5 years or 300 man years to produce and looks incredible! Their previous tool Emo showed its age over the years, making basic animation tasks more complicated than they needed to be. Premo allows animators to really focus on their craft in a fast and intuitive manner. Dreamworks worked with HP and Intel to come up with a better hardware and software architecture that can best utilize multi processing from today's powerful CPUs to get maximum performance. This allows animators to animate characters at full resolution and without needing proxy models. This is a really big deal considering how much detail characters have in Dreamworks films. I am ecstatic of the results after watching How to Train Your Dragon 2. They were definitely able to hit subtlety in a beautiful way and get great performances from their characters. You can definitely see how that is possible by watching Premo in action.

Hit the jump for some great articles on Premo and a video of it in action:

PyCharm and Maya

This was a little bit overdo so I wanted to make sure to talk about PyCharm a little bit. I haven't had a chance to fully use this IDE like Eclipse and Visual Studio. I can say that from initial testing, I really do like PyCharm and I think that it is a great option for tech artists when writing scripts for their DCC apps and for Python programming in general. Note that I am also comparing from a Windows perspective and from a pricing perspective. I notice that Linux users tend to lean toward Eclipse over other software partially because it supports multiple languages, compatible with multiple platforms, and free :).

Hit the jump for some video overviews and some links to setting up PyCharm with Maya 2013. Also I'll provide a brief comparison of Eclipse, Visual Studio, and Pycharm.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

From EA to LucasFilm

It has been an exciting year for me between working on Madden15, Teaching at UCF, and starting this blog. I am excited to announce that I also moved to San Francisco this year to work at LucasFilm! I joined a serious dream team and I am really excited about the work that I will be doing. Down the line, as more stuff gets publicly released, I'll talk a little bit more about my work here. San Francisco is an amazing city! The people here are great and there are so many things to try. I hope for this to be an exciting new chapter for me while I continue to experience new stuff both professionally and personally! I will also continue to update this blog with more new on games but I will also add film topics now that I will be more exposed to that. The tutorials will still come as well. Thanks to everyone who helped me along the way! I'm living out my wildest dreams and cannot be more grateful.

Madden 15 coming out

Madden 15 is about to come out this month which is very exciting for me! This image sums up a lot of the work that I did for the game this year. We made great strides in graphics and character likeness. My main contribution was in the facial animation workflow and pipeline. We had lots of problems in previous years with facial rigs breaking randomly on coaches and players. When facial animation wasn't broken, usually the animation would tend to break the likeness of the model. We made huge improvements in this front as well as in the modeling from to get really believable likeness on key players and coaches. I'm really proud of all that was achieved in this past year. It's like night and day compared to last year. Fans are definitely noticing the improvements and I am definitely excited for the game to come out. We needed to make sure that these major fixes applied to every single character across the game so if there are no broken faces on any of the players this year, it will be a great success.

Sadly this is my last year working on Madden as I have moved to LucasFilm. I will say that working on these titles was an incredible experience for me. There's a great group in Tiburon making this title and I will definitely root for them every year.

Hit the jump for some video trailers of the game!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Autodesk Scripting and SDK Learning Channel

I like to bookmark as many cool resources for digital art and programming as I can and I am more and more impressed with Youtube these days. Particularly Autodesk's use of Youtube to upload their latest SDK related tutorials as they make them. If you're into scripting and you use Autodesk packages like Maya, Max, SoftImage, Motionbuilder, etc., you should definitely subscribe to this channel! There is a lot of great content for beginners and experienced scripters alike. They are made using the latest versions of the software that you'll be working with. There's also a nice emphasis on game development with these tutorials so that's another plus if that is your industry.

Here's a link:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yoda Alert!: Yoda Model shown in Cracked video! (Bonus points cause they also mention Madden)

Ok so I love going on Cracked! Tonight I checked out what's new and spotted Yoda in one of the articles! Cracked writers grab reference images for their articles and videos all the time and they happened to use a video of someone printing my Yoda sculpt. Sure it was just used for b-roll but it's there none the less! It was even set up right at the beginning of the video at the 4 second mark! Also as another bonus they referenced Madden on the 52 second mark! I love seeing the stuff I work on shown on one of my favorite websites.

Hit the jump to check out the cracked video and the time lapse Yoda print video...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Yoda Alert!: Yoda was used to test out new HoloMake system!

HoloMake just tweeted to me today about how they used my Yoda sculpt to test their new computer guided hand sculpting system. Based on what I was able to gather from the video that they posted, it looks like it takes a 3D model and projects slices of the model progressing upwards on a transparent LCD screen. You use those guides to inform your sculpt so that you can recreate a 3D model by hand. This seems like a really cool tool to learn how to get comfortable with traditional clay sculpting. I think it's really fascinating in general considering the tech that's involved and of course considering that they used my model to demonstrate it!

Hit the jump to see the video of HoloMake in action...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

New features in Maya 2015

It's that time of the year where Autodesk starts to announce all of the new stuff that's coming with the their next installment of all of their software. Maya has seen some really great changes that I'm excited to play with ranging from modeling and rigging to vfx and rendering. Some of the most exciting features are Bifrost and Viewport 2.0 finally being fully featured with all aspects of Maya!

Hit the jump for a breakdown and the video presentation that Autodesk released which demos all of these great new features.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Joe Alter's LipService w/LBrush 6.0

I wanted to talk a little bit about Joe Alter's more recent tool LipService and LBrush. As a side note, I absolutely loved Shave and a Haircut and was really excited to find the Joe Alter decided to tackle a new problem such as muscle deformation. You can see in the pictures below the major difference between regular skinning and the results that you can get from LBrush. What I love about this workflow is that it allows you to sculpt the model with each pose and the blends between deformations interpolate very nicely with each other. The results are fantastic and I see huge potential in applying this in real time applications too!

Check out the link to the main site to get more information:

Hit the jump for video demos and more samples...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Quixel's dDo and upcoming suite is beautiful

My good friend Shawn McNeely introduced me to this Photoshop application a while back and I've been meaning to share it with everyone so here it is. dDo is this really great app that lets you create detailed texture maps using procedural materials. It's a little tricky to wrap your head around until you see it in action. Basically think procedural shaders like what you would see in film but once the effect takes hold on your model, you can bake and edit the textures down and use them in any application you want. This is excellent if you want to add things like rust or wear and tear on your hard surface model or if you want a system that can bake material behaviors like metals or plastics in the form of textures like diffuse, specular, and normal.

Quixel is not coming out with an inexpensive suite and a pre-order for their new product for freelancers. It's about

Hit the jump for videos demonstrating the power of dDo and Photshop...

GDC: Facial Rigging Highlights this year

Facial rigging made giant leaps in games this past year to further come closer to film level quality. Some of the big stand outs that I saw at GDC and otherwise were from Crytek and from Bungie with their facial re-targeting systems. Ryse stood out a ton with their high fidelity and animation friendly rigs that gave 4D scan quality animation with easy customization.

Hit the jump for video and extra reference to how they these guys accomplished these high quality animations...

GTC: NVIDIA Titan X is stunning!

GTC followed GDC in a big way with new announcements coming from NVIDIA. Along with presenting their new Pascal chip set and giving an update of their Tegra K1, NVIDIA demoed their new Titan Z Graphics card. This card is simply stunning. The biggest part of the presentation for me was the real time visual effects that it can support. I cannot wait to get my hands dirty with these features in the near future because they are real game changers.

Hit the jump for videos of the Titan Z and the visuals that it can support...

GDC: Engines for all!

HUGE news coming from GDC was related to the public release of Unreal 4 and CryEngine for the public. Unreal 4 is now available to the public with full access to the C++ code base for 20 dollars and month. The in incredibly cheap compared to the million dollars that you used to have to pay in the past. Not to be outdone, Crytek released CryEngine in the same fashion for 10 dollars a month.

To keep this in perspective. Unreal and CryEngine have been cranking out some of the greatest looking games on the market and now all of that power can be yours to wield at a small fee. Also with Unreal, you can distribute your projects and unreal only asks for 5% or your earnings if you use their service. I'm especially excited because I can now dig into these engines more and check out what they do well for any potential project I wish to make.

GDC: Mixamo

At GDC, I was able to go to lots of talks. This one unexpectedly grabbed my attention in an awesome way! Mixamo is a service that allows you to create an enormous combination of male and female characters that you can model out, rig, and animate just about automatically so you can create tons of useful custom game characters in a short period of time.

The main services are FUSE for creating character models and the Mixamo site for animation and rigging services. There's even a Unity app that lets you browse and test animations before using them in your engine from the site on the fly.

Hit the jump for video tutorials on how to use FUSE and the Mixamo service...

GDC: Rigging Dojo

GDC is sadly over and I have to say that I had an incredible experience there. One of the great finds that I personally discovered is Rigging Dojo. This site isn't anything new but it's an incredible rigging resource for aspiring and experienced character TD's. For anyone out there interested in building up their rigging chops, I can't recommend this site enough. It is a great community and training program with great relevant information and great inspirational material for anyone building a powerful portfolio.

The free resources alone are phenomenal but if you pay for a subscription, you can get access to amazing classes and great coaching from the experts in the field. I highly recommend checking out the blog and resource page on the website here:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Visual Studio as a Maya Python IDE

I already love to use Visual Studio for C++ plugin development but when it came to python tool development, Visual Studio used to lack a lot of the features that I genuinely enjoyed in Eclipse. However, thanks to Jos Balcaen, there are amazing new plugins available with Visual Studio's Python tools that allow Visual Studio to have all of the fun perks that Eclipse has as a Maya Python IDE. These plugins are available for Visual Studio 12 or higher. I'm using 12 in this picture with Maya 2014. It works really great and the workflow to connect Visual Studio to Maya is nearly identical to Eclipse. This is a really great deal especially if you're a big Visual Studio nut and want to use Intellisense or Visual Assist to debug your python tools. This is especially sleek if you're primarily using Windows and of course if you can afford a license :D.

If you have Visual Studio 12 or higher, you can set it up as a Maya Python IDE using this link:

Currently, I'm doing an audit between Visual Studio, Eclipse, and PyCharm to see which IDE fits best for my needs. Right now it looks like if you only care about python development, just use PyCharm. It's a really excellent Python IDE in general, arguably better than the other two for Python development. If you want a full fledged multi-language IDE to develop Python and C++ tools for Maya or what not and you only use Windows, go with Visual Studio. If you need something FREE, open source, cross platform (Windows, Linux, Mac), and multi-language and you're willing to put in a little bit of extra effort, go with Eclipse for sure.

Hope this information is useful. Let me know if there is any other IDE out there that can give these options a run for their money and I will research that as well!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Paint in Specular Maps on your models in Mudbox

This may not be anything particularly new going on but I know I've always been looking for a nice and effective way to paint and author specular maps without having to desaturate other textures and blow up their contrast in Photoshop. Autodesk just recently posted this tutorial on how to author specular maps in Mudbox using all of the awesome paint tools that used to be used for sculpting and painting color maps.

I'm sure Zbrush has a response to this somewhere but from my experience, I haven't seen anything that gives you this much control at the sculpting phase of asset creation.

Hit the jump to see the video tutorial...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shader Toy

This post has been loooooooooooong overdue but I wanted to talk a little bit about Shadertoy. Shadertoy is a web based shading test bed that you can use to play around with shader ideas and prototype techniques that you're interested in. You can also share your code results on the website so that everyone can see how you came up with your awesome techniques. A lot of really brilliant shader developers share their awesome code for all to use and the shader language in the site translates pretty well into other applications with a few key word changes here and there.

I love this site so much as it is a great example of what technical art is all about. Making something beautiful with code and design and sharing your achievements with friends and colleagues.

Here's a link to the site

Hit the jump to see some of my favorite example shaders!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ptex: No more needing to UV models to begin texturing!

I wanted to bring up this awesome tech that Disney put out. Ptex is a system that allows you to texture models without the need for UV's. In a production, a texture artist can start working on actually texturing their models without the previous dependency of creating UV's first. Disney began developing this years ago and were able to first implement it in the movie Bolt. It's a really nice way to work especially because in the past, you would need to blindly UV your models and kinda guess which areas should get more UV real-estate. Now you can texture your model first and make informed decisions when UV'ing your model later on in the pipe.

Why not just skip UV's altogether? Well not all systems support Ptex. We have Autodesk and SideEfx supporting this tech as well as the various in house tools that Disney and Pixar work with at the moment. Currently the tech is spreading out and will probably be supported by game engines and other renderers soon. Disney did a decent job documenting the progression of this project here.

Hit the jump to see the latest video demonstration of Ptex using Mudbox.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Otronicon 2014!

Last weekend was phenomenal! I volunteered at the EA Sports experience booth at Otronicon 2014 and had a blast doing it. Otronicon is a science and technology fair held in the Orlando Science Center for kids to come and see the cool stuff that local studios and companies do on a daily basis. EA had a great showing with all sorts of booths. We did a photo shoot for kids, an augmented reality booth, a facial mocap booth, a 3D facial scan booth, and a bunch of fun games made available for everyone to play. I personally manned the 3D facial scan booth for the weekend. It was really fun to see how people responded to seeing 3D models of their faces generated on the spot after taking pictures. Like any science fair, there were also tons of 3D printers and I couldn't resist. I got my body scanned and printed too! Very fun event held every year. For anyone living in the Orlando area, I highly recommend going to this event. 

Hit the jump for more info from their site and pictures!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nvidia Tegra K1! Super computer in your mobile device.

I was honestly not expecting anything truly special to come out of 2014 in terms of ground breaking progress in my industry but of course Nvidia had to go and pull this stunt. During CES 2014, Nvidia came out and revealed their new Tegra processor. Basically Tegra is the most powerful mobile processor on the market boasting a quad core processor that was previously inconceivable. I was expecting the new line of Tegras to be more of a suped up Tegra 4 with a faster quad core processor and that could handle maybe some limited DirectX11 features. Instead we got the K1.

This chip is so powerful that Nvidia does not consider it a successor to the Tegra 4. In fact this processor is not 4, not 8, not even 12 cores but 192! That is the muscle of a super computer that you leave remotely in some silo in silicon valley. This is a revolutionary piece of hardware! Nvidia was able to pack all this power into one mobile chip using the keplar architecture which was previously only used on super computers. You can basically do anything you want graphically on a tablet if it's powered by one of these things. Epic Games  has actually set up their Unreal 4 engine to work with this chip and were able to see all of their brand new feature sets that we were drooling over last year on a tablet.

There's no cloud computing happening here. Everything is running on the tablet in real-time. The hardware is so powerful that it's comparable to some of Nvidia's best desktop graphics cards. Nvidia aims to completely merge the gap between desktop and mobile architecture, allowing you to develop the best looking product and expecting it to simply work on your tablet and computer with no downgrading.

I'm still really taken back by this announcement. I think this is one of the greatest game changers in computer technology. Not just because mobile computing has almost completely caught up to everything else but because individual machines can potentially have the power to take on super computers. I never thought I would see that gap bridged this soon.

Also did I mention this is just the 32-bit model? Nvidia is also coming out with a 64-bit model called Denver! Even more power?! I can't even!!! <FAINTS>

Hit the jump for to see the reveal as well as some UDK demos on a tablet using the Tegra K1!