Saturday, February 20, 2016

Voxel Car Animating

John Marine | 1:38 AM | | | |
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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