Getting into 3D modelling and animation

3D modelling and (everything 3D for that part) used to be an arena owned by gurus. I remember when I first started playing with 3D in Povray back in 1996. I learned Bryce and completely enjoyed making landscapes with it, but it didn’t allow any kind of real 3D modelling.

Polygonal 3D modelling tools were scarce and expensive. Getting into 3D modelling was hard simply because the cost of the software was prohibitive.

Let’s zoom into 2016.

Aalto Votive in Lightwave © Jaakko Saari

Aalto Votive rendered in Lightwave © Jaakko Saari

Getting into 3D modelling for free (and reasonable cost options)

The world has changed some, to say the least. We’ve got free application Blender. SketchUp Make (free for non-commercial use). Sculptris. Windows 10 comes with free copy of 3D Builder. And for 99 dollars you can get amateur version of 3D Coat, a sculpting and 3D painting program that rivals even the zBrush (the professional grade sculpting program that’s used to make movie models. Amateur has some limitations but not severe ones). Even professional level applications which allow animations, particle effects, bone deformations and so, such as Newtek’s Lightwave are no longer crazy expensive.  Even Autodesk has a new pay-as-you go model, for less than 200 dollars per month you can get the best of the best.

Getting into 3D modelling and animation with Sketchup

SketchUp Make is free for personal use.

Definitely the cost can no longer be an excuse of not getting into 3D modelling. If you are passionate about it but can’t afford a software, just download the free version and go from there.

But the cost is not the only thing that has changed. I would argue that the tools are also way better and easy to use than they have ever been. Sketchup Make for example has a very low learning curve. You don’t necessarily need to know about ngons or polygons in order to use it. It helps if you do know the basic theory of polygonal shapes but you start to create 3D shapes even with zero knowledge.

For digital painters for example, the ability to build simple 3D buildings can help to achieve a good perspective. You can for example render out a simple scene and then paint on top the 3D construct..

Getting into 3D modelling and animation with Lightwave

Recent version of Lightwave is no longer so expensive, but it has never had such a strong potential.

Recommended 3D software production

If you are on a budget and need to create models for animation or TV production, I would recommend Newtek’s Lightwave. It has everything that a full blown 3D animation production would require, comprehensive 3D modelling tools, physics effects (that finally work now that we got Bullet Dynamics), node based materials, bone deformations and it works fully in Linear colour space. The latest version (2015 as of writing) costs $695 at the moment which is a bargain. Only thing that Lightwave doesn’t really have at the moment are the sculpting features and built in PBR support.

Getting into 3D modelling and sculpting with Sketchup

Spaceship modelled in 3D coat’s voxel sculpting room.

If you need sculpting I would recommend either Pilgway’s 3D Coat or Pixologic zBrush. I have commercial licenses for both and I love them both in their own ways. 3D coat has excellent UV unwrapping, pixel painting and retopology tools, and their voxel based sculpting truly rivals the bigger brother although the tools might not be refined to the extreme the same way as zBrush is. 3D coat is also somewhat often updated  and their support is fast.

zBrush 4 has not seen update since 4R7 P3 and it’s been a while, but the latest release continues to be the ultimate and arguably the best 3D sculpting application this planet has. It’s weird app to use (in a good way) as it’s kind of designed for artists and those who have studied sculpting academically. For example 3D models are called tools for some reason, and so on. Pixologic is preparing a new application, zBrushCore which they are going to release later this month in zBrush Summit which according to them is “streamlined version of zBrush”.

zBrush prop modeling

a prop being modelled using zBrush sculpting tools

If you have curiosity towards 3D modelling and graphics but haven’t had the courage to try, by all means do try. You can download free trial of even some of the pro tools and give them a go.

Updated September 22, 2016: I forgot to mention 3D Builder!

Check out the tutorial using 3D coat primitives:


Unexpected Source Within Us

Someone told me the other day, “What you are doing is just like child’s play”.  I silently congratulated myself. If this is so, then I must be doing something right, I thought with instinct.

Now, we often forget what we can do. I was looking for some stock images for this article, but then I remembered, I have a huge library of images of my own. Then I chose this photo I took in Jeju island of my wonderful photographer friend Sinji. A perfect image for this article. But still, how could I forgot?

Unexpected source within

Unexpected source within us

One of the reasons why I started this blog and my youtube channel is that I believe that we have this unexpected source in ourselves. By talking about things we can do and about stuff that helps us to do it, (such as reasonable cost but extremely high quality microphones) I could help someone.

I remember architect company whose manager’s son was a big fan of making game levels with Unreal Engine. When his father saw the graphical fidelity of the level he asked his son’s help. The son was able to produce visualisations of the buildings that were so detailed that they ended up kind of hiring him. This is the unexpected source I’m talking about. When we are playing like a child (well, granted, level editor in UE4 doesn’t look like child’s play one bit!), we can come up with miracle stuff. Playing like a child, we can be able to come up with stuff that’s worth of some serious money.

So next time when your company needs some stock music for that video clip of yours, how about get that Garageband open in your mac (it comes free with your mac after all), gather your company folks together for a jam session! At least you are going to have tons of fun doing it and you might come up with really original music! Trust me, it’s worth it.


Do you need UV filter aka. lens protector?

Do you need UV filter aka. lens protector?

You know that first camera accessory you have ever bought, the one that the salesman in the camera shop so enthusiastically tried to force you to buy? Yes, I’m talking about these guys; do you need UV filter?

While this might be the first filter you have bought it might be the least useful.

The only thing this will do is to protect your lens. Now that’s a good thing right? That expensive lens might need some protection right? Well this might be true, but let me explain you the mindset of those who use their cameras daily (and depend on them).

Professional photographers rarely use UV filters. They can’t afford having  extra piece of glass sitting on their lens. The filter, any filter for that matter, adds extra risk for glare, and might and will also affect colour rendition. Professionals can’t afford this, because image quality is their life quite literally.  Now high end UV filters might be good but they are quite pricey, often more expensive than basic lens repair.

One professional photographer I talked with in Japan said “I like direct communication with the subject” meaning that adding extra layer of glass would only create distance between them. I think this explains the mindset of a professional well. I think it’s quite beautiful way to think actually.

Do you need UV filter?

Do you need UV filter / aka lens protector that was sold with the lens?

Do you need UV filters for lens protection?  The salesman in camera shop might tell you that this piece of glass might save your lens if you drop it, not unlike insurance salesman.. One thing is sure, this is insurance that might cost you in image quality.

Ok, I do get that near salty water or in sandy desert, these might come in handy. Or maybe near small children. So I keep mine around just in case, but rarely use it in normal conditions.

My advice would be to use lens hood instead. It protects the surface of the lens way better from snow, rain and glare. And is way cheaper.

Please see the video above on my thoughts on UV filters.


Layer Masks Trick in Photoshop CC

Here is a layer masks trick I use in Photoshop all the time when dealing with textures. It’s quick way to make a tiling texture also and get rid of seams.

Layer masks are very powerful as they allow non-destructive workflow, you can just paint black and white values hiding and revealing the layer below. You can also go back always to further define your masks, something that is impossible to do if you use the cloning or healing brush method. It’s good to use brushes that are sharp and have relatively small falloff in order to avoid introducing softness to the image.

This is also good to use if you need to hide parts of an image. You can hide the part you like, and then simply move the underlying layer to replace the part. It’s also kind of mesmerising to see this happening a fun way to do this. This is something I use all the time when I deal with images or textures like this. The possibilities are amazing as you can combine parts of the image and see the effect instantly.

You can also apply effects to the layer masks since what they basically are is just black and white image. Grey values can also be used to indicate semi-transparency.

It’s also good idea to keep the original untouched layer in the stack just in case you want to return back to the original or use parts of the original one.

I hope you find this useful. Please feel free to share this with your friends.

man and boatyy

My Honest iPhone 6s Plus Camera Review

Now that the iPhone 7 is behind the corner, I thought to write my thoughts of the older plus sized model. Please click on the images to reveal unprocessed originals. Without further a due, here is my iPhone 6s Plus Camera review.

Introduction to iPhone 6S Plus Camera

Yamashita Park in Yokohama - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Near Yamashita Park in Yokohama (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

I have been enjoying using my iPhone 6s Plus Camera. The optical image stabilisation is a big improvement over the old 6 (not plus) phone I had, but for the larger pixel density, I am not quite sure. Optical image stabilisation  also makes hand held video appear super smooth and fluent, almost to the point where it looks like it’s shot using a gimbal type stabiliser.

The exact still image resolution is now 4032×3024 which is plenty for images, and I certainly wouldn’t need more from a mobile phone camera. The faster A10 chip will help the increased image processing need.

The specs of the camera are following:

  • 12MP sensor with phase detection
  • F2.2 aperture
  • Real (optical) image stabilisation
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 5MP front camera
Sail Training Ship Nippon Maru - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Sail Training Ship Nippon Maru in Minato-mirai Yokohama. (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

The shots here are unprocessed except that the previews are resized using Lightroom. The default effect filters are nice and especially black and white images can offer some stunning contrast and sharpness. I have however not included them in this review because I hope to focus in the natural straight out from the camera images made with the default Camera app.

Unfortunately I couldn’t do video camera review since I don’t presently own 4K monitor and 4K video ability of the camera is what most people would be interested I feel. Maybe later. I can tell however that the 1080p video shot in either 30fps or 60fps is of great quality.

Buildings in Yokohama - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Buildings in Yokohama iPhone 6s Plus camera original. (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

Image Quality

The photos are generally good quality, even in low light. The white balance and colour rendition is quite natural, and there’s tons of contrast and sharpness. Quite a long way we have came since first mobile phone cameras indeed.

The noise reduction algorithm is a bit aggressive. It won’t matter as long as you don’t do pixel beeping, but once you do, the truth is revealed. Photos taken with standalone app won’t compete with those taken with proper cameras such as Fujifilm X100 or so. 100% crops look almost like painting.

100% crop iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

100% crop shows image noise reduction algorithm.

I am not sure how the “raw” images would look from the sensor but if I could choose I might choose graininess/noise than this fuzzy paintbrush noise reduction stuff.  There isn’t much you can do to these images after they are processed by the camera.  That said I am not sure how much average user would mind this.

The photos definitely don’t need extra sharpening.

Pictures taken hand held in low light are very nice as the one below (the model is very nice too!)

Beautiful Genchan - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Always beautiful Genchan (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

The front facing camera seems improved as it’s 5 megapixel now. The LCD screen flashy thing is nice because it tries to adjust to the colour temperature. It however shoots only 720p video which is a little disappointment. Here is a test I did with lovely Genchan, the flash was engaged.

iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

iPhone 6s Plus front facing camera in low light. (with lovely Genchan!)

Live Photos, Panorama, HDR Etc.

Live photos feels a bit of a gimmick. I can’t quite understand what’s the deal with this, except that these are kind of like GIFs with photos I suppose. Sorry but I can’t find myself using this at all, and neither the panorama mode as I am not very much into such thing, except when I wanna show my studio or setup in Facebook, as Facebook will automatically convert pano into interactive rotate thingy which is nice.

Automatic HDR is nice to have as it can automatically lift the shadows while preserving the highlights. Here is one example:

Couple enjoying a view from Marine Tower in Yokohama - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Couple enjoying a view from Marine Tower in Yokohama (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

You can see complete sky in full detail as well as the clothes details of the people and the carpet. HDR can help in situations like these. It’s nice that it is not overdone and the photos don’t look like otherworldly alien landscapes; it is simply to aid in difficult lighting situations. Right choice from Apple I feel.


Now, to take pictures with tablet is.. one thing. But also to take pictures with Plus sized iPhone feels a bit weird because of the size. I almost dropped my iPhone Plus to ocean, and once almost from a skyscraper! It is super easy to lose grip to this thing especially without a substantial case. The volume button will act as a shutter release but ah my god it’s easy to accidentally press the button on the other edge and put the whole thing to asleep! I would have preferred that the sleep button would convert to shutter release during photography session, I mean who would want to shut down the phone while taking pictures?

Man and Cruiser in Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Man and Cruiser in Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

But there’s a trick, you can use also the iPhone Earbuds control as a wired shutter release! Yeah, it’s kinda cool. (Well at least in pre iPhone 7 era.. while we still had the .. wired.. iPhone Earbuds.. There went this little cute trick to the memory lane)

The default camera app is not bad by all means, the tap to focus is snappy and it just works. The exposure compensation however is super clunky and so is the AE/AF lock. You tap and hold for it but it disengages easily, so I find myself not using it. I use the exposure compensation however, constantly.

Roses in Yamashita Park in Yokohama - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

Roses in Yamashita Park in Yokohama (Click to download iPhone 6s plus camera original)

Alternatives to the default Camera App

The default app is in many cases restrictive even though it allows access to basic features. Luckily there are alternative apps such as Camera+, Manual or ProCamera for those who want more manual control.


View from Marine Tower - iPhone 6S Plus Camera Review

View from Marine Tower (Click the image for unaltered file directly from the iPhone)

The camera in iPhone 6s Plus is not a groundbreaking / spacetime continuum changing improvement for most users I feel. The image stabiliser is definitely the biggest improvement over the older iPhone. I have not had iPhone 6 Plus so unfortunately I can’t compare this to that, but since I upgraded from iPhone 6 to 6s Plus this stuff is new and welcome to me. To expect completely stunning improvement will likely make you feel wanting more. iPhone 6s Plus is a nice camera and very nice video camera.


Here is my 3D Coat PBR texturing tutorial

Introduction to 3D Coat PBR texturing

Here is a short 3D coat PBR texturing tutorial on how to use smart materials (available in 3D Coat 4.5) and quickly create a realistic physically based textures. Smart Materials are excellent way to preview different material properties in real time within 3D Coat, and new Smart Materials can be also created from scratch.

What I especially love is the 3D Coat’s ability to create ambient occlusion and curvature maps. In some cases baking in xNormal is not necessary at all. Smart Materials can then take advantage of these maps to create different effects such as edge wear or dirt accumulation in occluded places. Tweaking Smart Materials on the fly is also easy due to the built in tools, so we can always precisely set the scale of scratches and such.

I didn’t mention about it in the video but 3D Coat smart materials do cube mapping, which is kind of like Substance Designer’s tri-planar projection with a less fancy name, so no worries about those UV seams folks, they won’t show up. 🙂 Good times.

A good alternative

3D Coat is a solid alternative for more expensive programs such as zBrush. It is possible to create entire models from scratch within 3D coat nowadays. Topology tools as well as UV tools have always been a favourite feature of mine in 3D coat, but these days I am creating entire models from scratch within the application, starting from sculpting all the way to the retopology and UV mapping, and now, texturing too. There are some features that even rival zBrush such as per-pixel painting. At this price point, 3D Coat is such attractive alternative indeed.

What’s also great is the support for T-Mikk tangent basis calculation, making this fully compatible with xNormal maps and like.

I will be creating many more 3D Coat tutorials soon. Please subscribe to my channel by all means.

Please check out my 3D Coat PBR texturing video below.


Thoughts on the iPhone 7 camera

My main curiosity about Apple’s recent announcement is the iPhone 7 camera, mainly how well it works. Now I haven’t had chance to get my hands on one or even see one yet, I can only speculate based on what Apple has told us so far. Here are my thoughts on the iPhone 7 camera.

The sensor of the iPhone 7 camera seems to have same megapixel count, 12 megapixel, and again with same focus pixels as before.  Now the front facing camera is 7 megapixel for nicer  selfies and 1080p video.

The flash is now Quad LED with cool and warm tones which should help the natural feel of the flash.

Now the aperture is 1.8 which for me is the most nicest of the new features. This should allow more depth of field and allow better pictures to be taken in low light.

The image signal processor is also updated as well as the chip, now A10 version. I am hearing rumours that the colour accuracy of the iPhone 7 camera is better than before.

Now the 7 Plus has dual cameras, one wide and one telephoto. There is a new trick that allows simulated kind of depth of field thing, some kind of interpolation it seems. To me the pictures with the effect had surreal feel to them. We are so used to see those DSLR shots these days. I can’t quite say what it was but there was artificial feel to them.

As I have just upgraded to 6S Plus I am definitely not in a market for iPhone 7.  However I like the fact that even the smaller version of iPhone 7 camera now has optical image stabilisation and larger aperture lens.aving a smartphone in our pocket which rocks 1.8f lens, it’s quite amazing how far we have came.

When I get chance to play with one, I’ll be glad to report back.  I will also make a full review of my iPhone 6s Plus camera soon.

Please check out the video below for my thoughts on the iPhone 7 camera.


Photoshop Adjustment Layers trick

There’s neat trick to limit influence of the adjustment layers in Photoshop. Just press alt (Or option key on mac) while clicking between layers. In this way we can attach adjustment layer to the layer below. A little arrow will appear. Clicking the arrow with alt (/option key on mac) will remove the connection.

This can be used for solid colours as well, and limit their influence on a simple layer below. In this way we can establish a truly non-destructive workflow. Check out the video below for this trick.