Procedural Bestiary and the Next Generation of CG Software

In the previous essay “Procedural content creation F.A.Q.” I’ve claimed that it would take few months to assemble a full-scale creature generator. So I took those months and did it – introducing Kozinarium v1.0:

Procedural Creature Generator from Denis Kozlov on Vimeo.

Procedural systems I’ve been developing during the recent years served different purposes, not the least one being exploration of how far one can go in formalizing the visual art, expressing its language in machine-readable terms. “Quite far” is the answer I’ve got, and today I’d like to share my vision of the next generation of artistic tools which could empower anyone to render their imaginations with almost the ease of thought. But first, let’s take a look at how these procedural systems are made.

Procedural Content Creation F.A.Q. - Project Aero, Houdini and Beyond

I’ve finally found the time to put together a long-requested video demo for Project Aero and would like to use this opportunity and answer some of the questions I’m often hearing in its regard.

Procedural Aircraft Design Demo from Denis Kozlov on Vimeo.

What is Project Aero?

Project Aero is the software I’ve developed for rapid design of aircraft concepts. The video above demonstrates its main features.

 What does “procedural” mean?

In a wider sense it means “automated” - created algorithmically by a computer (rather than manually by a human operator or sampled like a scan or a photograph). Here are the good places to learn more:

Render Elements: UVs

Continuing on the topic of AOVs with another brief anatomic study. This article closes my series on post-render image manipulation, I believe and hope that understanding of other AOVs like Z-Depth, Direct/Indirect Lighting passes or World/Rest Position can be easily derived from the principles already discussed, common sense and the Internet. And the following video could serve as a good example of utilization of these principles.

Now let's take a look at the UVs...

Render Elements: Normals

This time let's do a brief anatomic study of a Normals output variable. Below is my original manuscript of an article first published in issue 188 of a 3D World magazine.

A brief anatomic study of a Normals output variable
A typical Normals element rendered in screen space

Packing Lighting Data into RGB Channels

Most existing renderers process Red, Green and Blue channels independently. While this limits the representation of certain optical phenomena (especially those in the domain of physical rather than geometric optics), it provides some advantages as well. For one, this feature allows encoding lighting information from several sources into a single image separately, which we are going to look at in this article.

Storing masks in RGB channels

Storing masks in RGB channels
Base image for the examples in this article

Finally returning to posting the original manuscripts of the articles I've written for 3D World magazine in 2014. This one was first published in issue 186 under the title "The Mighty Multimatte".

CG|VFX reel 2015

CG|VFX reel 2015 from Denis Kozlov on Vimeo.

My reels tend to become shorter and shorter. Here goes the new one – a generalist's reel again, so I have to take the blame for most of non live action pixels – both CG and compositing. With only a couple of exceptions, the work has been done in Houdini and Fusion predominantly. Below follows a breakdown describing my role and approach for each shot.

On Wings, Tails and Procedural Modeling

Project Aero: Procedural Aircraft Design Toolkit for SideFX Houdini
Project Aero: Procedural Aircraft Design Toolkit for SideFX Houdini

I find Houdini a very powerful tool for 3D modeling. In fact, this aspect was largely motivational for me to choose it as a primary 3D application. And talking procedural modeling I mean not just fractal mountains, instanced cities and Voronoi-fractured debris (which all can be made look quite fascinating actually), but efficient creation of 3D assets in general. Any assets.

Evaluating a Particle System: checklist

Below is my original manuscript of what was first published as a 2-piece article in issues 183 and 184 of a 3D World magazine. Worse English and a bit more pictures are included. Plus a good deal of techniques and approaches squeezed between the lines.

Part 1

Most of the 3D and compositing packages offer some sort of a particle systems toolset. They usually come with a nice set of examples and demos showing all the stunning things you can do within the product. However, the way to really judge its capabilities is often not by the things the software can do, but rather by the things it can not. And since the practice shows it might be not so easy to think of all the things one might be missing in a real production at a time, I have put together this checklist.

Flexible enough software allows for quite complex effects 
like this spiral galaxy, created with particles alone.

Project Tundra

Project Tundra 01
01. Tundra

Since I find it very cool to call everything a project, here goes “Project Tundra” with some anagrams. Pretty much all visual elements (except for a couple of bump textures) are completely synthetic and generated procedurally with Houdini and Fusion. So almost no reality was sampled during the production of the series. Some clouds from these setups were used. 

Bit Depth - color precision in raster images

Bit depth diagram

Last time we have been talking about encoding color information in pixels with numbers from a zero-to-one range, where 0 stands for black, 1 for white and numbers in between represent corresponding shades of gray. (RGB model uses 3 numbers like that for storing the brightness of each Red, Green and Blue components and representing a wide range of colors through mixing them). This time let's address the precision of such a representation, which is defined by a number of bits dedicated in a particular file format to describing that 0-1 range, or a bit-depth of a raster image.

Pixel Is Not a Color Square

Rater images contain nothing but numbers in the table cells

Continuing the announced series of my original manuscripts for 3D World magazine.

Thinking of images as data containers.

Procedural Clouds

Sample outputs of self-made procedural clouds generators

I've been playing around with generating procedural clouds lately, and this time before turning to the heavy artillery of full scale 3D volumetrics, spent some time with good old fractal noises in the good old Fusion.

On Anatomy of CG Cameras

Diagram of the main anatomical elements of a virtual camera
Anatomy of a CG Camera

The following article has first appeared in issue 180, and was the first in the series of pieces I've been writing for a 3D World magazine for some time now - the later ones should follow at a (very) roughly monthly pace as well. These versions I'm going to be posting here are my initial manuscripts, and typically differ (like having a worse English and more silly pictures) from what makes it to the print after editing. Try to enjoy.

Typography Basics for Artists. Part 2 - Matching the Typeface

Anatomic parts of a glyph according to Wiki
Anatomic parts of a glyph according to Wiki:
1) x-height; 2) ascender line; 3) apex; 4) baseline; 5) ascender; 6) crossbar; 7) stem; 8) serif; 9) leg; 10) bowl; 11) counter; 12) collar; 13) loop; 14) ear; 15) tie; 16) horizontal bar; 17) arm; 18) vertical bar; 19) cap height; 20) descender line.
And here it comes finally - the second part of the typography basics for artists, where we're going to address a very common and practical task of matching a typeface to some pre-existing reference. The first part can be found here, and again, the material of these posts should be considered as no more than a starting point for further investigation – a hopefully useful introduction into the boundless world which typography is, aimed at those who do not necessarily inhabit it full-time.

My article on CG cameras in 3D World magazine

It should be out and on the shelves by now. Unfortunately, few errors sneaked into the printed version of the article. However, the editorial promised me to fix those in digital edition and to put the edited pdf into the online 'Vault', which all print readers have access to when they buy the issue. 

3D World Website

A little preview of the article below.

CTU's Faculty of Mechanical Engineering video

Double no: No, I didn't forget about the next part of a typography article and No, I didn't lie claiming it will take a while... And while a while continues, here is a piece of recent work I accomplished with the guys at DPOST Prague.

Czech Technical University 150th Anniversary from DPOST Prague on Vimeo.

Aside from wearing both Director's and Art-Director's hats, I've spent quite some time with hands on material here, taking the 3D work into Houdini to design the cubes effects, animate and render.

Two Killer Tips for Mastering Any Software

RTFM and Ctrl-Alt-RESET
RTFM. Please.

At different stages in the career I've been paid for working in Houdini, Nuke, 3DSMax, XSI, Fusion, Maya, Shake, Blender and After Effects among the other applications. I've been using Lightwave, 3D-Coat, Combustion, Rayz and so many other things. Not even mentioning programs like Photoshop, Corel Draw or Inkscape here. Of course I'm not the master in most of them, but I think I'm OK with learning new software, and here are the two tricks I know.

Animusic - Part 2

After sharing few introductory words in Part 1 at - here are the wireframes we all love so much.

It was incredible ten years ago, it is incredible now. Procedural animation - the concept that keeps fascinating my bent mind, and the concept that wouldn't be possible in any previous era. The idea that instead of telling a computer what to draw, you rather teach it how to draw things changes the whole landscape to me.

The Animusic project was started by two artists Wayne Lytle and Dave Crognale. Their proprietary software uses MIDI input to drive the animation in a commercial programs like 3DSMax or XSI, producing the result of often mind-bending complexity. They get into more details at their website. I would also recommend watching behind the scenes stuff at their YouTube channel.


Understanding Images

Form-color correspondence  according to Bauhaus
Form-color correspondence
according to Bauhaus
I once heard they study Totoro at the aesthetics classes in Japanese schools. Aesthetics classes… Wouldn’t this freaking world be better if we had some?

At least we can be learning things on our own. And one thing I stumbled upon only few months ago, but which I believe must be obligatory for anyone dealing with images in one way or another is Language of Design course by Charlotte Jirousek of Cornell University. Abstract, objective, well-rounded, on the topic so vital and so overlooked.

Wish I knew of it years back - would’ve saved certain amount of time. But even now I find it an incredibly useful read. And the practice of authors/universities keeping such courses in public access admirable at least.


Something abstract and procedural next time.

Typography Basics for Artists. Part 1 - Broad Classification

major font styles
Major type styles.
Typography is a separate world in its own. It lives according to the myriad of rules - aesthetic, conventional, optical and technical. Few professions include understanding of this world in a job description, and they mostly contain a word “designer” in the name - like graphic designers or (suddenly) typeface designers. Among the artists however it is not uncommon to be way less familiar with the principles involved in creating, manipulating and judging fonts. Still it’s a valuable knowledge for anyone dealing with images, which I’d like to address here. By no means I claim myself as an expert in the field - I’m rather trying to draw some directions for further research, which from my own experience might take some time to establish. As in most of the cases, a great place to start is Wikipedia’s articles on Typography and Typeface. The trick is to keep digging further exploring the related links.

Couple of old works revived

While the article announced last week continues cooking itself, as an intermission here goes a couple of images which I found in the attic of a hard drive and tried to shake some dust off this week.

Masquerade - image by Denis Kozlov
Grande Pellicano - image by Denis Kozlov
Grande Pellicano

Three great books on color for artists.

In the beginning of the career I've often heard a comment “You've got the colors wrong” or just “Bad colors”. The problem was that more often than not my interest for “What exactly is wrong?” couldn't be satisfied by a distinct answer. Sometimes though, depending on a person, I would receive an explanation about the particular image and a related problem, but what I was hungry for was a more complete picture of how colors work and how to work with colors in images.

Books on color are many. And sadly enough, a lot of them barely scratch the surface or rather suggest a catalog of pre-cooked solutions printed on the very expensive paper. Thus I would like to share today those few which really made it for me – the books I keep recommending whenever someone asks what to read on color.