2D Displacement Technique in Blender

I stumbled across an interesting displacement technique that’s useful for subtle parallax type effects and ripple distortions. Using this technique, you can add movement effects to still images such as clouds to give them the appearance of movement as the camera travels over them.

The above video talks about the technique, and I’ve added a simple Node Group I developed for it up for download at Gumroad and Blender Market.

Blender Market: https://blendermarket.com/products/2d-displace

Gumroad: https://gumroad.com/l/2d-displace

Plating Generator Greeble Pack by SolCommand

Greeble Pack by SolCommand

An extensive pack of 271 objects have been made available by SolCommand. This pack has been made specifically for the Plating Generator And Greebles Blender add-on.

The collection contains 271 3D meshes that you can use to spread across the walls and hulls of your spaceships, stations, futuristic cities and other projects you may have, in order to quickly make them look much more detailed and complicated in your final renders.

The pack contains various objects arranged in folders ranging from sensors, vents, signs, fuel storage, hatches, scaffolding and many more other random objects and shapes.

The Pack is available both on Gumroad and Blender Market.

The Blender Market sale: Get 25% off all my add-ons and many more

Between 27th to 30th November the Blender Market Black Friday Sale is on – all my add-ons will be 25% off!

By supporting these add-ons you also support their continual improvement, so it is a mega help – you also help out the Blender Foundation too as a percentage of each of the add-ons go to them as well.

My current add-ons are:

  • The Plating Generator – Quickly create a configurable mesh in the form of a fighter jet or starfighter. 
  • Shape Generator – Quickly create and configure countless random shapes for a wide variety of purposes
  • Hull Texture – A versatile, reusable base texture for creating irregular plating effects.
  • Curves To Mesh – Create and configure mesh surfaces from bezier curves.
  • Mesh Materializer – Map objects onto another object using its active UV coordinates.
  • Window Generator – Model many windows at once on the faces of a mesh
  • Bevelled Extrude – Create extrusion effects that have configurable bevel effects on the base, corners and tops
  • Twisted Extrude – Extrude Faces with an Extra Twist
  • Fit Lattice – Quickly fit a lattice deformation cage around a mesh or set of meshes.
  • Configurable Dynamic Jet – Create a configurable mesh in the form of a fighter jet or starfighter.  

You can find out a lot more about each add-ons here.

What have I been up to lately…? KIT OPS SYNTH

Original vision for SYNTH (Credit: Chipp Walters)

I was approached a few months ago by Chipp Walters and Masterxeon101, famous for some of the most leading tools in 3D modelling such as KIT OPS and HARD OPS.

KIT OPS is able to apply a wide range of 3D objects (called INSERTs) that can be used to instantly cut and add to existing objects or create standalone ones with the goal of rapidly creating and exploring new designs. Read more about it here.

They had been interested in my generative modelling work in the Plating Generator and Shape Generator, and had a vision for an extension to KIT OPS called KIT OPS SYNTH.

The original requirement for SYNTH was to simply overlay these INSERTs in a grid like fashion on top of 3D surfaces, but with Chipp’s design patterns thinking and background in NASA we are taking it a lot further….

KIT OPs SYNTH early results, being applied with the new KIT OPS BEVEL (Credit: Chipp Walters)

Emerging features include:

  • A range of layouts can be used: Arrange INSERTs in rows, columns, grids, randomly, and around edges and borders.
  • User ‘layers’ of INSERTs to manage and apply groups of INSERTs in one go.
  • Control the frequency and placement of INSERTS with a variety of parameters: apply padding to the INSERTs, scale them individually, add random rotations.
  • Use Blender 2.91’s new Booleans feature for more accurate cutting.
  • Load and save your configurations to share with others or apply later.

This has already given rise to a variety of promising results you can achieve very quickly with SYNTH. Here is a short video of the random layout being applied using a set of INSERT cutters, by just changing the random seed value:

A short video showing SYNTH’s random layout…and this isn’t even the most powerful layout!
Results achieved in just as few seconds.

There’s still plenty of work to do and a good round of testing to be done before the first release, but I thought it would be good to show the progress so far. In the future, Chipp is looking forward to taking SYNTH to the next level with Machine Learning…but that is definitely a blog for another time.

Adding Materials to Plating Patterns

A short demo of materials being applied to a simple helmet object.

The Plating Generator now comes with the ability to add materials to the plating patterns it generates on the mesh, an often requested feature. Jaroslaw Waskowiak tipped me over the edge with this specific request (among many great suggestions):

Material variations, randomizing UVs, assigning different maps to different “plates” at random

So I set to work:

Different variations can be applied without the need for displacement maps
A close-up of the underlying topology generated and different materials being applied.
A screenshot of the settings that control the colors on the plates.
A vertex color layer can be applied so the same material can be used with different colors.
A simple example of a material’s color being driven by a vertex color layer via the Vertex Color Node.

You can assign different materials which will be applied to the grooves and randomly assigned to the plates. You can also vary the vertex colors of the plates so you can get different colored effects from the same material.

The add-on works by using the existing topology to cut out grooves for the plates in an interlocking pattern. Once those grooves are cut, the faces of the plates can be grouped and different materials automaticaly assigned.

Animation Nodes version

A version of the add-on in animation nodes with materials being applied. The file is part of the supplied samples.

I’ve also included an Animation Nodes version if the add-on so you can play with dynamically changing the effect. The file is part of the samples.

Here are another couple of examples of the add-on at work:

The plating effect (triangular mode) being applied to a basic torus shape with vertex colors applied.
The standard Blender Suzanne object with the same helmet effect applied.

Read more about the feature from the documentation.

Houdini Version

Houdini Version of the Plating Generator

I am also working on a Houdini version of the Plating Generator, but it’s not quite ready yet…here’s a sneak preview of the settings:

If you’d like to test the Houdini version, let me know in the comments.

Using L Systems to model cities

I’d been meaning to research L Systems in Houdini for some time, and wow had I been missing something. I first came across them in some of Akira Saito‘s posts where he had made some interesting mech-like beings using their organic structure:

A recent tweet from Akira Saito

I’d squinted at them before in Houdini’s L System documentation but didn’t really make sense of it. I then came across a great in-depth tutorial (if you’re as geeky as me it’s well worth the time) by the eloquent houdinikitchen who overviews the theory well with lots of examples to give a good understanding:

HoudiniKitchen’s tutorial on L-Systems

The basic idea is that you provide a set of simpl(ish) instructions called Turtle commands that describe a starting state, such as:

F+FF

…which means “Branch up one (F), rotate 90 degrees (+), and then branch up twice (FF)

Then you give it more ‘simple’ rules using the same language that alter this basic structure every generation, such as:

F=FF++F++F+F++F-F

…which says “next generation, replace all the Fs in the previous statement with the instructions here”.

This can give rise to some complex plant-like structures like the ones shipped with Houdini:

Basic L-System Tree

But interestingly you can create things like hexagonal structures as well. After a little experimentation I quickly got what looks like a snowflake:

I then tweaked the “Generations” parameter so that Houdini was part-way through a generation, which gives a more distorted structure like this:

The same hexaganol structure but at generation 4.8

I then used my own random 3D Shape Generator node and a Copy to Points node to randomly create building like structures for each point in the ‘tree’ and got this effect:

Zoomed out…
…zoomed in a bit more….
…and closer

You can download the sample file here – it will require the Shape Generator asset to work, which maybe you’ll humbly consider supporting me by taking a look at it on Gumroad here:

Nebula Generator goes Panoramic

I’ve just updated the Nebula Generator‘s 2D and 3D versions in Blender to have an additional panoramic set up, available as separate files in the downloads.

This allows you to render a panoramic view of a nebula which can then be used to produce hdris for evironments such as game backgrounds.

The 2D version was fairly straightforward to set up by switching the camera type to Panoramic and the Panorama Type to Equirectangular. This is because the set up is linked to Blender’s Cycles environment:

The 2D Nebula setup in Cycles

The 3D version was a little more challenging as the EEVEE setup does not support the Equirectangular camera mode yet. I did however come across a really useful video tutorial by United Filmdom Ltd. that describes how to set up multiple cameras to render out the views and then re-assemble them in a cube map, using a Cycles camera to to the work. It’s a little trickier and doesn’t end up with perfect seams mainly due to EEVEE’s bloom filtering (which can be edited using something like the smudge tool in Photoshop).

From this I got some good examples of the 3D nebula as a background:

A sample HDRI is here and here.

I’ve incorporated this set up as an additional set of files on the Nebula Generator available on Blender Market. If there are any questions about it do get in touch.