Saturday, February 20, 2016

Voxel Car Animating

John Marine | 1:38 AM | | | | Be the first to comment!
Animated voxel cars? Recently, I experimented trying to rig my voxel model cars. It is very possible to animate even voxel cars. I will explain my work flow and thoughts in this blog post, and I even have plans to share with you all. Be sure to stay with me in this blog post to see all of my plans. I hope you get to enjoy this blog post and all it has to offer.

Voxel Car Animating

"Go where no one has gone before." To many people, these are excellent words to live by. My idea is nothing new. In fact, I can tell you animating voxel cars is not going to set the world ablaze or blow peoples' minds. People have inquired me about my voxel model cars. One of the reasons why I've put aside trying to offer my vehicles for download/sale is because I have been trying to find new ways to implement my machines. Also, I simply wasn't ready to try to offer my material for download/sale.

Previously, all of my voxel vehicles were all static models. This is good enough for making various scenes, but for taking certain cars further in their design and to open new possibilities, you have to make these creations to be worthy of animation. This is what has crossed my mind in trying to make my already interesting creations even more interesting. I considered the possibility of trying to animate my cars after seeing some videos on how to rig cars in Blender 3D. While I know my voxel model cars won't blow away people with their design, I can still use my creativity to design the most interesting-looking cars. And most importantly, I can take my creations and animate them. This will make it good for applications ranging from animations to game assets.

It is time I set the mood by offering many different views on making my voxel cars in better detail than I have previously. Gain my perspective by reading further.

The Inspiration.

I have seen games use voxel vehicles as well as voxel model vehicles for games. When I designed my own voxel model cars, I am influenced mostly by the Gran Turismo series because I had intended on maybe developing a racing game. I started making voxel model cars once I started to follow the work of another voxel artist. This allowed me to come up with my own voxel model cars. As far as variety is concerned in the types of cars, I am mostly influenced by other game series with a variety of cars- such as the Grand Theft Auto series. But in terms of voxel cars in a voxel environment, my biggest inspiration is "3D Pixel Racing." Even though "3D Pixel Racing" wasn't as well-received by gaming fans because of its lackluster game play, I trust that I could be able to make voxel model cars with perhaps another game developer to exceed certain other independent (indie) racing games.

The Experiment.

So at one point, I began to wonder how exactly you rig a car in Blender. I have never attempted to a rig a car prior to taking part in this experiment. I decided to play along with a two-part video series to take car models and make them drivable. The experiment worked as I took on a different kind of modeling method. The animation process began with me taking one of my voxel model cars and doubling the scale of it. I even began to model wheels separately and then import them with my model car. Doing so meant I had to remove the static wheels for a more friendly design for putting on proper wheels in Blender. My more enhanced wheel models were imported into Blender and resized to fit the wheel arches of my voxel cars. This was a snapshot of one of my first attempts to learn how to animate a car in Blender:

voxel car animation
^ from: (my MagicaVoxel gallery in my Facebook profile) - Rudimentary as it looks, this was my first attempt to not only learn how to rig a car in Blender, but also to learn how to design my cars to be better made for animating.

Getting better at something means you take more chances and try to sample various other things. Same applies to my efforts to design my old cars and trying to make them better ready for animating. I went with my rudimentary car because I had envisioned making better-looking and more detailed versions of my voxel model cars. I didn't want to ruin any of my original cars trying to learn how to rig cars. That is, until I finally successfully was able to find a way to rig a vehicle. After that, I decided to try my hand at taking one of my existing cars and make it suitable for rigging (namely getting rid of the static wheels). This time rather than take an existing car and doubling its size, I decided to take one car at its original size and simply fit some wheels on them (after resizing the wheels). The end result is this more handsome looking effort:

voxel car with voxel wheels
^ from: (my MagicaVoxel gallery in my Facebook profile) - This experiment involved one of my original voxel model cars at its original size and fitted with my detailed voxel wheels.

Since I was using detailed wheels on a regular scale voxel car, the car does appear pretty awkward in its design, especially around the wheel arches. The more important thing in all of this is the ability to set up a proper model for which rigging is possible. I was fairly happy for the most part with mounting the wheels to the car. I became a good bit happy knowing I mounted a nice set of wheels to these cars. It got me to wonder how I can re-style these cars so they look a bit more handsome when equipped with these extra sets of wheels.

Now to explain my workflow.

The Workflow.

Let me share with you my workflow as well as different changes in methodology in creating my works.

I am still using MagicaVoxel to model my cars. All of the cars I've made and shared pictures of were made through MagicaVoxel. The latest version as of this post is 0.97.1. I have been using MagicaVoxel to make and edit my cars. In my time, I have shared about 15 of my regular cars as well as a few commercial vehicles and some race cars. So I've released maybe 20+ models in pictures. With so many vehicles, I had broader visions for voxel model machines I have created. One such thing I made mention to was the fact I started modeling tires and wheels to be separate items from the cars. What this allowed for was a number of options to make my already detailed voxel model cars even more detailed. MagicaVoxel only allows you to do so much, so enter the other programs I am using...

VoxelShop is what I use to take my MagicaVoxel designs and convert them to COLLADA format. Originally, I used VoxelShop to convert to a low-polygon format. This is good if you want to make good use of voxel models in a refined package. However, you can't refine the voxel model as much. So one thing I did was try saving in some of the other available formats you can export models to in COLLADA format. Models exported from VoxelShop in COLLADA format can be exported in one of four different COLLADA export settings. The one I found works best for further refinement of models is to save in Legacy format. The most important (at least to me) aspect of saving voxel models in COLLADA Legacy format is the ability to save voxel models in materials. I will explain later what makes this material aspect special later in this section. While models saved under the COLLADA Legacy format offer the most complete and comprehensive design, created models come in with some of the most triangles, a high number of verts, and the largest file size. So something like this may not be too suitable for trying to maintain efficient models.

Now for the final element of my experimental car rigging- Blender. Blender is a powerful program that can deliver amazing results in modeling and animation, granted you know how to use it. My voxel models made in MagicaVoxel and refined in VoxelShop are imported into Blender. This gives me an opportunity to try to further refine my voxel models. What some people may not know about my voxel model cars is that my cars actually have interiors to them. That is because I had intended making a lot of my cars have visible drivers and passengers animated with the cars. Recently, I began re-adding windows and windshields to my cars after trying to go for a non-window approach to my voxel cars. That means taking a certain car color and making the windows that color. Remember what I typed about the importance of saving COLLADA files with the Legacy option and the materials? Well in Blender, you can change the properties of any materials of any model. Every color of a model is its own material. Since the windows and windshield are their own material, I can take that color and make it transparent so you can see through the windows. I set the transparency of the windows in Blender to 0.5 for the best results. The use of colored materials also gave me the possibility of making glowing lights. If you were to combine both the use of transparent materials and materials that emit light, this means many more opportunities and options to design cars with. As I made stylish looking tires and wheels to my models, I imported my wheel designs and applied them to my modified cars. The wheels are resized and carefully mounted to the car.

Modeling/Animation Notes.

Let me share with you some of the different things I have noticed in my attemps to rig my voxel cars. Use these tidbits in case you want to rig your own voxel cars.

• The only real changes I make in MagicaVoxel to my cars is to simply remove the static wheels. The cars will look a bit awkward with fancy voxel tires and wheels, but the wheel arches aren't too bad for the cars to be fitted with the detailed wheels.

• The only thing I really needed to change is to change the orientation of car models in VoxelShop in importing to Blender. With cars facing in the front in MagicaVoxel, I have to use the Mirror Z feature in VoxelShop to flip the car models on the Z-Axis so they'd appear properly in Blender without needing to rotate them in Blender.

• Now that I think about it, I could only export the car bodies to COLLADA Legacy format only to allow for the opportunity to make the windows transparent. I could use the Optimal COLLADA settings for all items besides the car body.

• One problem with importing COLLADA Legacy format models in Blender is that the geometry of imported items is not centered. The models' geometry of COLLADA Legacy models are centered at the bottom as opposed to the center of the model's geometry. This can be easily changed in Blender by setting the origin to the geometry of the model (Ctrl + Shift + Alt + C, then select "Geometry to Origin").

• I import my voxel wheels by first mounting them on the left front side. Previously, I would mount the tires by duplicating the left-front tire and making three extra copies. When I got around to editing various settings to animate the tires, I simply just made that one tire followed by editing its settings. After I did all the editing and parenting, THEN I made duplicates of the tires to all four parts of the car. This just makes the process easier so I wan't have to individually edit each wheel and their settings. Don't forget to parent each of the wheels to the car body. When mounting tires on the right side of the car from the left side tires, rotate the tires by 180°.

• This is an important recommendation in Blender... do NOT use Ctrl + C to copy over wheels. Instead, use Shift + D to duplicate the wheels and mount them accordingly to the car. I stress this because using Ctrl + C to make copies of the wheels somehow makes extra copies of the car body. Duplicating will save you from having to delete the extra copies of your car's body.

• Trying to model for collision is a very tricky process, and I have not yet mastered trying to make a proper car with a sufficient collision system. Trying to give my cars a decent physics system is a success; making the system work properly would be a proper accomplishment. It is something I still need to work on.

And those are the notes I have to share with you on my editing.

Future Experiments.

The next things I want to try to experiment with my voxel model cars are as follows:

• animating cars using armatures/bones
• simulating lights and light systems
• adding visible drivers and passengers
• drivers and passenger animations with the cars
• improved driving and suspension dynamics

If I come up with something interesting, I'll chat about it here on "John's Creative Space." So stay tuned. Finally...

In Case You're Wondering...

Here are the two videos I have seen in learning how to rig cars in Blender. Take a look at them:

^ "Blender Tutorial: Basic Car Rigging | Part 1 - Drivers"

^ "Blender Tutorial: Basic Car Rigging | Part 2 - The Rig"

In the future (as I mentioned), I want to try to animate cars with armatures/bones as an alternative method to rig cars in Blender. These two videos are what I've used to try to animate cars.

Voxel Car Announcement

There have been people who have inquired me about my voxel model cars. One of the main reasons why I haven't offered my creations for download/sale is because I simply am not ready to release them online. I also have been trying to come up with new ideas to work on them and enhance them. I am simply not going to release anything right now, especially half-hearted efforts. I will offer my voxel cars for download and/or sale when I feel I have designed them to where they can be properly enjoyed and utilized for a number of applications. I never offered any of my voxel creations for sale or download. There are people who offer models without them being ready to be animated. I could offer my creations as they are and leave the dirty work to modelers. However, I sort of feel there is extra incentive in offering static and animated work to others. So I want to try to provide the best possible package to satisfy as many parties as possible.

Since you are reading this right now, allow me to announce my initial plans. I will make voxel cars as somewhat of a "Starter Pack." These will be a few basic models I will create to help you get started as well as give people the opportunity to use my creations. Most of all... my base package of voxel car models I will create will be offered for free. I plan to offer these creations on services like Turbo Squid and The package I will offer will include my voxel model cars both in static form and in a form with the static wheels removed. The versions with the static wheels removed will feature one set of wheels you can use to mount onto the car through Blender or some other 3D modeling software. If you think this all sounds good, there is a catch- you are going to have to do all of the animation and other advanced driving dynamics if you plan on making videos or games. I'm trusting that the ones I offer my creations to will do a much better job of utilizing the content fully than I [ever(?)] will.

What are my plans after releasing my base package of voxel model cars? I will simply try to re-work some of my existing voxel model cars while also making new models. I also will work to make more voxel tires and wheels for which they can modeled with other cars. In other words... I simply will try to build up my own portfolio of voxel model cars. I even have interest in perhaps making my own Blender animations featuring my voxel model cars. These will be for promotion purposes, not to mention simply making my own video content. Unlike my "Starter Pack" of voxel model cars, my existing creations will be offered for a fee. Machines of a certain category or group may be offered as bundle packages for a fee. This will only bring everything together and offer more options for the modeler.

All of these machines are different from any of my previous creations. So in other words, you'll be getting completely original models apart from my already existing

A Note About My Re-Working of Cars.

The cars I've already created will be re-worked and may appear much different. These are all in trying to get the cars to look a bit more presentable. Future posts on "John's Creative Space" will feature my models in new forms. So the re-worked cars may look a bit different from the old picture where I combined most of my voxel cars into one picture.

Most of what I wanted to discuss is now over.

Special Message

I would like to thank everyone who has supported my work for the longest. I'm glad you all have enjoyed my work. I am sorry I've taken so long to try to address the availability and offers of my voxel models. One thing I am sure of is that you probably won't regret me making my material available to all of you. Once again- thank you all who love my work.

As of this initial post, I have not yet made my "Starter Pack" available. Once I do great a set of vehicles to include into my package, I will let all of you know and let you be able to access my creations. You will then finally get to enjoy the various voxel cars I've created. For now, I thank you for reading this post on John's Creative Space! Take care and be well.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Gaming Videos

John Marine | 9:37 PM | | | | Be the first to comment!
Some people record game videos. Programs like FRAPS, Bandicam, CamStudio, and OBS among others allow people to make and record videos to upload online. I recently entertained the thought of making my own game videos. So for this blog post, I will discuss the different options as well as my ambitions of making and uploading videos.

By the way... I can't believe I introduced this label yet...

About the Label: Videos

Blog posts in this category relate to the production of videos. It includes video-related posts as well as different thoughts on making videos of various kinds.

Gaming Videos

First of all, why would you want to make videos on games? There are many- tutorials, simple gameplay, walkthroughs, long plays, fail videos, trolling,... you name it. A good amount of reasons are there for anyone to even attempt wanting to make and post videos of games. People want to share their love of gaming and showcase it in special ways. Among the popular names in gaming and game videos are the likes of CaptainSparklez, PewDiePie, iHasCupquake, and others. Regardless, you want to be able to provide gaming videos with your own sort of charm to them.

So how do you get started? Well first, you need screen capture software and/or hardware. Consider the latter for recording videos from console to your PC/Mac.

Gaming Videos: Hardware.

You don't need anything spectacular if you plan on recording from a console to PC on the hardware front. For example, you could simply get one of those USB capture card devices that have multi-out ports to record from the Multi-Out of consoles. You could get something like a VHS to DVD or VHS to USB kit and use the different inputs to capture media. This is great mostly for those who don't have HDTV units for which to record media from. One of the real negatives of using these devices is that you can't have HD-quality video and sound in your recording unless you you try to stretch out the regular video or something. This is still an effective and efficient method for capturing some simple game videos.

If you want to record from devices that have HDMI inputs, you are going to need a capture card device capable of reading HDMI input. A capture card capable of HDMI input will allow you to post high-definition videos of games. However (and as you would imagine), HDMI devices can be quite expensive, not to mention also taxing on your PC/Mac space trying to record such videos. What you get can be quite amazing once you put it all together. Two of the most popular options for capturing HDMI video of games today are HDMI capture cards from the likes of Elgato (like the Elgato Game Capture HD) and Hauppauge (like the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition). There are other options (including better offerings from the brands I mentioned), but this gives you a start in regards to wanting to record game videos.

Gaming Videos: Software.

If you prefer your game videos through software, consider any number of programs to help you to record your finest gaming moments. Sad thing is that there are not many quality programs for screen capturing, game capturing, or even game streaming (to be discussed in the next section). FRAPS has long been a favorite of screen capturing for some time. Unless you get the paid version of FRAPS, you are going to be severely limited to how much you can do. There have been many other programs trying to offer their own appeal in the screen capturing and recording department. There was a program used with some early videos called Hypercam. Some old videos have had "Unregistered Hypercam" as a watermark in the top-left corner of videos. One of the more enticing screen capture programs is Bandicam. Bandicam, for what it is, is an excellent program at capturing game video. However, you'll need to buy Bandicam to take full advantage of its capabilities and to be able to edit without having so many restrictions. Even though it an open source program, you will have a tough time trying to make videos using CamStudio unless you find quality codecs and do a good amount of tuning. The good news is that you don't have to pay anything to get the full power of CamStudio. You also don't have to pay anything to use the full power of another free program- OBS (Open Broadcast Software). OBS is more catered towards streaming, but you can still create some quite good screen capture videos of games and programs. I have been using OBS the past few days to envision the possibility of making game videos. For the most part, I want to use OBS to make some videos using the racing game rFactor. Most of my testing has gone pretty well. Only thing is that I wish I can make something proper and complete to provide some quality video material on YouTube.

Gaming Videos: Streams.

I will admit- I have no experience in game streaming. All I do know is that for people who are on Twitch and post game streams, you obviously want to consider some hardware and software to stream effectively. People who stream videos of games online need to consider things like resolution, connection speed, audio and video, and other factors to effectively provide quality streaming media of gaming. Again- I have no experience or any recommendations to anyone in this category.

Once you consider all of these things, be sure to make the most of your experience making game videos.

Game Videos: Resources

Most of what I wanted to discuss has been discussed. What I want to do here is offer you all some resources in case you enjoyed this blog post. Feel free to take a look at these links and items to help start your own adventures in game videos. I would appreciate your business if you looked into some of these items.

CamStudio (free!)
OBS (free!)

Now for you game capturing folks... consider this a gift from me to you for reading my blog post. Help yourself to these items in case you're interested (availability may vary):

Happy shopping! :)

Best wishes to all of you either wanting to make your own gaming videos or your own gaming channels. I'm glad you took time out of your day/night to visit my blog here. I hope you enjoyed your time here. Subscribe and Follow to get more of my work and to know when it is released. Thank you for reading! Take care and be well.

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