Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tutorial: Scanning Electron Microscope - Part 2

After a quick bit of experimentation, this is what I came up with:

The following is a step-by-step of how it's done. Typically I would do a quick render test between each step to see how things are looking. I encourage you to go "off-script" and do some experimentation of your own -- try different settings and different materials and see what kind of results you get. The files for this tutorial can be downloaded here (3ds Max 9, and Brazil r/s 2.0).
  1. Setup
    1. File|Open... SEM_models.max
    2. Open the render dialog - assign Brazil 2 -- turn off the material editor lock (render/test to see what we're starting with)
  2. Build the first Material - bumpy with edges falling off to white
    1. Open the material editor (medit) - select the top left medit sphere - drag-and-drop it onto the large sphere in the scene.
    2. Assign a falloff map to the diffuse slot
    3. A quick render/test shows this is too dark, so change the front color from black to a medium gray
    4. It still doesn't look like we're getting what we want, so turn on skylight and do a render/test -- that looks OK, so turn skylight back off (if your computer's fast enough, keep skylight on )
      Notice how skylight evens out the illumination. When working without skylight, and without lights in the scene, the light is in line with the camera, so it can be tough to judge what's really happening. Experiment with different lighting as you work to be sure that what you think you're seeing is what's really there
    5. Assign a Noise Map to the material's bump channel - render/test - make it fractal, 5 levels, and size 5 - set the thresholds to .2 and .8 for higher contrast in the noise.
    6. A quick render test shows the noise size to be too small, so increase the size to 20 and set the map amount (which controls the intensity of the bumping) from 30 to 50
  3. Build the Second Material - smaller bump details with edges falling off to white
    1. Drag-and-drop that top-left medit sphere to the next slot over, making a copy of the first material
    2. Drag-and-drop this second material onto the small sphere and the curly tube (torus knot)
      When prompted, Rename the material (don't choose "replace"). You can rename it to anything you wish.
    3. Another quick render/test shows us that the bumps are too big and too intense for these smaller parts, so set the size of this Noise map to 5 and the map amount to 30
  4. Adjust the Camera and its Depth-Of-Field
    1. Select the camera, and in the command panel (modify tab), turn on DOF. Set the f-stop to 5 (smaller number = more blurry), and set focus distance so the front edge of the small sphere will be in focus (219 units is about right)
      Tip: By converting the camera view to a perspective view, you can see the focus plane (colored green) in the viewport, allowing you to adjust the focus distance interactively.
  5. Render
    1. This all looks good now, so go back to the renderer panel, turn on skylight, and set the sample rate to min 0, max 1, and render.

4:20 screencap video. This follows the steps described above but has no audio. It is also scaled down quite a bit, so it may be limited use.

This was just a quick-and-dirty approach, so there's a lot that could be improved upon. I think it has the right overall feel, but the subject matter (the model) itself could be much better and much more interesting. Some geometry hair or some type of particle scatter could add a lot of detail. If I was to spend more time on it, I might try modifying the lighting a bit -- perhaps relying on something more directional, using area lights. Once the subject matter was improved, I also might go with less DOF -- this turned out a bit too blurry for what these images typically look like. In addition to the bump mapping, I might consider using some actual displacements so that the edges of the objects aren't quite so clean.

I do like the images I've seen with the false-color paint-overs, and if I was to try for something like that, it could probably be accomplished with some simple coloring in the materials themselves, and in that case, some GI might give some neat blending/bleeding. Here's an example of a really well done paint-over of a real scan -- you can see how some GI might work well in a case like this:

Keep in mind: This is just one approach -- there are many directions that this could have gone, and many advanced features, like GI, subsurface scattering, and displacements, that may be useful for achieving the desired look. There are no rules for this stuff, so experiment, have fun, and keep the goals in mind.

As an example of another approach, the following image used area lights and subsurface scattering to get the edges of the cube right (the inset image is the original reference picture, the larger picture is a Brazil rendering):

images: cubes -
Josh, flyfoot - unknown

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tutorial: Scanning Electron Microscope - Part 1

Come up with a setup for doing a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) look.

When we think of images from a scanning electron microscope, what comes to mind is an image like that above: Typically black and white, pretty grainy, super close-up, and very alien looking. But let's look at some reference and dig a bit deeper.

Start with a reference material search. I almost always start with google's image search. Doing a search on SEM or "Scanning Electron Microscope" will give you a ton of stuff to look at.

I like the look of SEM bug pictures, so here's a pretty typical example:

(Bugzillaeus spluttraefus, the common spluttermite)

Overall look/feel: grayscale image; a single, simple subject against a black background; has an alien feel to it. There are color images out there, but the coloration is all post-process, paint-over, or color-wash.

Surface notes: grainy; very imperfect and bumpy; has an almost fractal look to the detail and structure; parts appear lit so that the surfaces facing the camera are dark while the glancing surfaces appear to grade to white.

Camera notes: cropped in tight which give the ultra-close-up look; has depth-of-field (aka DOF - blurry subject in foreground and background). The general reference search shows that not all SEM images show DOF, but I like the look so I'm going with it.

Lighting notes: The lighting is unusual given that the camera-facing surfaces are dark while the edges are white, but there is shadows and dark voids where we'd expect under normal lighting circumstances.

Initial thoughts/plan: Use this effect on a subject that makes sense in context (I'll go for ultra-simple in this example) -- taking an existing scene file with something like a house in it, or a logo, might not make sense (in other words, the image won't "sell" as being real) -- something more recognizable might work, but my thinking is that you'd want to be able to animate it so that you could establish the shot in a less recognizable, more believable context before revealing the more familiar subject. Technically/Feature-wise, I'm thinking we use falloff's to paint the surface, bump-maps for noise, render to encourage grain, use DOF, and simple lighting with some skylight to bring out those shadows in voids and around details.

images: top - Michael Spaw, spluttermite - unknown, greenpic - rustyshackelford

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Concepts: "Look Development"

I was going to post a more advanced (and fun) tutorial today, but I immediately realized that I was talking about a concept called Look Development that not everyone is familiar with, so here's my definition:

Look Development (aka "look-dev") is the process, or method, that an artist (or team of artists) goes through to come up with the look of the final imagery for a project. Look-dev also includes figuring out and demonstrating the techniques and tools (aka "the pipeline") that will be used to achieve that goal.

At a nuts-and-bolts level, the look-dev artist's job is to examine reference material (or style guides), determine what characteristics need to be duplicated in CG to match the effect, or feel of the project, and come up with a technical method for producing the desired look.

In practice look-dev can be viewed as a three-step, recursive process that goes like this:

observation -> execution -> critique -> observation -> execution -> critique -> lather -> rinse -> repeat...

Observation is, IMO, the most important step, and is the step that separates the mediocre artists from the really good artists. Good artists have a good eye, and a good eye is something that can be developed with practice and honest self critique.

What's being observed depends on the project's goals, and could vary from requiring a photo-realistic match of some natural phenomenon, to requiring the duplication in 3d of a set of stylized 2D layout drawings from a team of designers. Oftentimes, when the final look isn't well defined, The look-dev team will be helping develop that final style.

The goal of the Observation step is to define what characteristics make up the look you're going for. What kind of surfaces are involved? Is there something characteristic about the camera being used? What kind of lighting is required to reach the required look?

Execution is the "figuring it out" step. This is the trial-and-error part of the process where the look-dev artists experiments with tools and techniques, trying to come up with the process that will produce the desired look (ie. the process that will match those characteristics that were defined in the previous step). An artist that's good at (and efficient in) the execution step is an artist that's familiar with the tools available -- not only what they're capable of and how they work, but also where their limitations are and what kinds of work-arounds are available.

Critique is the final step of the process, and all that requires is looking, critically and honestly, at what you produced in the Execution step, comparing that to what you were shooting for in the Observation step, and deciding if you need to put more work into Observation and Execution.

Look-dev is a process that's key to the work of individual artists as well as industry teams. In team environments, different team members take on different rolls, with supervisors leading the observation process, technical directors doing the work of the execution phase, and creative directors involved in critiquing the results. As an individual, the look-dev process can help you focus your efforts and help you avoid the moving-target problems that can sabotage even individual efforts. (The "moving-target" in a team environment is usually that creative director, but that's enough of a discussion that it's probably best to put it off for a future post) :)

see also: a good case-study article on look-dev for a game, and Neil Blevins' shader theory section

images: Grapes - Johan Thorngren, Mr. Squarepants - Blur Studio.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Orientation: Render Dialog

Render Dialog

The Render Scene Dialog is where you assign the Brazil Renderer and where to find many of the settings which will control Brazil r/s' various features.

Open the Render Dialog

  1. From the Rendering menu, click Render...
    The Render Scene Dialog opens. You navigate within the Render Dialog by switching between the tabs at the top of the dialog and by opening and closing, or dragging the command rollouts within the dialog.

Tip: Many people don't realize that you can quickly navigate within rollout panels by using the right-click menus within the current rollout.

Assigning Brazil r/s as Your Renderer

  1. In the Render Scene Dialog, click the the Common tab
  2. In the Common panel, open the Assign Renderer rollout.
  3. Click the "..." button for the Production: renderer option
  4. Click to select "Brazil r/s V2.0," and then click OK

  5. Click the Lock To Current Renderer icon to the right of the Material Editor options.
  6. Click the Renderer tab and explore the various rollouts created by assigning Brazil r/s
    Tip: Once Brazil r/s is assigned and you've switched off the lock button, use Save as Defaults to make this your default rendering setup, which will save a lot of steps in the future.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Brazil r/s in the 3ds Max interface

Brazil r/s in the 3ds Max interface

Once in the 3ds max interface, you'll see something like this:

  • Notes: For a more detailed description of the 3ds Max interface components, see the topic: "The 3ds Max Window" in the "3ds Max Reference" help file.


  • By selecting items in the BrMax menu, you can do things like access Brazil's global options, control the message window, show/hide the BrMax toolbar, and check for updates.
  1. On the 3ds max menu bar, click "*BrMax*" on the far right.

  • Note: this menu item is likely to change as we go from pre-release to released version.
  1. Also explore the File and Rendering menus -- you will be using those as we Open and Save scenes, and Render some imagery.


  • The 3ds Max toolbars give you quick access to many functions in max. The user has a great deal of flexibility in terms of customizing Toolbars in max. See the 3ds Max Toolbars section of the 3ds Max Reference for more details on customization options.

Dock and Hide/Unhide the BrMax Toolbar

  1. Click and Drag the BrMax toolbar to the left edge of the 3ds Max interface -- when you release the mouse, it will dock to the edge of the interface.
  2. Using the BrMax Menu, select the "*BrMax Toolbar*" menu item several times to Hide/Unhide the BrMax Toolbar.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


No post again today -- was working on it, but blogger's giving me grief... still working out the kinks in this thing :)

In the meantime:

Also -- if you haven't seen Blur's Transformers FMV, DOITDOITNOW!!!!1

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Brazil r/s in the Windows Interface

Level I: Basics/Orientation: Brazil r/s in the Windows Interface (3ds Max Version)

Before moving on to individual tools, let's get acquainted with what gets installed and where. First we'll start with the items that show up in the Windows interface, and then we'll move on to all the locations you can find Brazil's interface elements in the base application.

Brazil r/s uses a standard windows installer, so it's very easy to get up and running. Once installed, Brazil r/s adds some items to your start Menu in the windows interface. We will assume you just did a "typical" install. If you're interested in all the custom installation options, please refer to the Brazil reference manual.

Brazil r/s in the Start Menu:

  • In the SplutterFish/Brazil menu, you have options for managing your installation, checking for updates, and a shortcut to the SplutterFish homepage.

Checking for Updates:
  1. Select "Check for Updates" from the SplutterFish/Brazil Start Menu
  2. Click the "Check Now" button in the "Check for Updates" section of the dialog

  • Using this dialog you can automatically contact and check if you have the latest version installed. You may have to adjust your firewall options to complete this action.
Launch 3ds Max:

Next, we will look at Brazil r/s in the 3ds Max interface, but first, you have to start 3ds Max
  1. Double-click the 3ds Max Icon on your desktop

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No time for a post today

Apologies -- got busy w/ some blog/author related management tasks as well as some work on our BrMaxSDK and setting up an environment for doing screencaps :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

First Outline Sub-section

Objective: a quick tour through the interface.

Level I : Basics/Orientation

  • Brazil r/s in the Windows Interface
  • Brazil r/s in the Application Interface*
    • Menus
    • Toolbars
    • Render Dialog
    • Material Editor
    • Command Panel
    • Rendering with Brazil
    • Viewports and cameras*
    • the Brazil Camera
    • Materials
    • Using the built-in Lights*
    • The Brazil Light
* some of these are going to be similar between applications, but some will need different, application specific sections

Note: All together, there will probably be about 12 of these Outline Sub-sections for all of Level I and Level II.

Next: We'll break into the subsection and actually start into the things that would be part of the course material :)

Friday, June 15, 2007

The view from 10,000 feet

As a starting point, I'm working from an outline for course curriculum currently being developed for training sessions. I'll start with an overview of the entire course, how it's broken down, it's goals, etc., and then periodically post sections of the outline, followed up with some drafts of actual content/lessons. This blog may not stick strictly to this process and may tangent off into more "interesting" topics from time to time... but we'll start with this idea and see what happens. :)

The course is currently broken into two levels: Level I is for beginners, and Level II gets into advanced topics. A new user should be able to start at Level I with little or no experience in 3d rendering or with 3d applications (3ds Max, or Rhino). This may be a bit boring at the very start (how to start the app, where to find Brazil, etc.), but it's just groundwork for the sake of completeness -- after this, we will be introducing the new topics *and* adding additional, more in-depth information that will benefit all Brazil r/s artists (and allow us to have some fun!).


Level I: Basic usage/Navigation/Customization

Level II: High-end techniques

The current outline is something that covers two 3-day workshops.

Level I will cover basic Brazil V2 usage and navigation, giving the new user the skills and knowledge they need to efficiently operate Brazil r/s. The minute function of every button in the software's interface will not be covered as the focus will be on getting going, general usage, and concepts. The extensive Brazil r/s reference manual does cover every button in the interface and the new users should have the confidence to benefit directly from the researching the reference manual after completion of the Level I course.

Level II assumes an artist that not only understands the Level I material, but that they have taken the time to become relatively proficient with the software (something that only the dedication to time and practice will produce). Time will not be spent on navigation of the interface so much as techniques that will make the user a top-notch Brazilian. The goal of Level II is to make an artist technically proficient with both the tools and the rendering concepts required to become an effective, expert Brazil V2 TD.

If that all sounds totally dry and boring, don't fret. We'll try to throw in some more interesting commentary and how-to's along the way :) ... oh, and of course -- we'll be tossing in more pictures too :)

Next: The first Level I outline section -- objectives and orientation

How to Contact Us

Comments are currently off on this Blog, and it is being run as a non-official, somewhat personal project... so for now it's probably best to contact me directly via email with any suggestions or questions.

e-mail: cptvideo [at] SplutterFish [dot] com

I will do my best to respond, but I'm very busy and do get a lot of email. If I don't respond to you, please don't assume I'm ignoring you. I do read all email, but oftentimes I just don't have time to respond to everything I get.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

About This Site

Welcome to the Brazil r/s V2 Field Guide

Artists using Brazil r/s professionally are kicking ass throughout the CG industry. The key to this is developing both an excellent eye and the necessary skills to work with your chosen tools efficiently. The goal of this Field Guide will be to develop Brazil r/s training-style materials so that anyone willing to put in the time and dedication can become an expert Brazil r/s artist.

The approach here will be to develop training materials via this blog; posting overviews, and portions of the "course" outlines, followed by actual lessons. These lessons will probably be interspersed with breakdowns, commentary, and technical discussions that will expand upon the basic ideas being covered. That's the big plan anyway, but this approach may evolve (or devolve) as we move forward.

Brazil V2 is currently integrated with both 3ds Max and McNeel's Rhino 3d. This guide will probably jump back and forth between these different applications, but we will be making an attempt to keep the material meaningful regardless of which application you choose.

The plan is to start from an outline that requires no familiarity with 3ds Max or Rhino at all and move on into more advanced rendering topics. This blog won't provide training in modeling and animation, but it will attempt to focus on the rendering aspects of 3d applications in general.


CaptainVideo! is Scott Kirvan -- CEO, co-founder, and programmer at SplutterFish, LLC. SplutterFish produces the Brazil Rendering System.

More authors are expected to join in this effort and if necessary, more disclosures will be added.


Since the goal of this blog is to provide an educational resource, and not a news site with stories that reflect some moment in time, posts may be edited/updated/removed at will and at any time.


I will attempt to read every comment up here. I do read all my email, but I may not reply if you email me -- don't make any assumptions based on a non-reply, I'm just very busy.

Comments may be edited. If so, the edits will be marked with "ed." or some similar notation to make the change clear.

Not all posts will have comments -- this is intentional. Comments that are off-topic will be deleted. Comments that are replies to posts without commenting enabled will be considered off-topic and will be deleted.

In the past I've found that sometimes you have to delete a comment, even though it may not be intentionally malicious, just because it's flamebait -- I may have to do that here, and if I do, please understand that it's not done to attack you, and that what you posted may be ok if reposted in a more thoughtful or polite manner.

I may post commentary in another person's name if I get the information via phone or email. When I do that, I'll make it clear that this is what happened.

Trolls and Asshats

Asshattery will get you banned. Trolling will get you banned. The following will get you banned:

  • Knowingly posting false or malicious material;
  • multiple postings under different names;
  • generally engaging in troll-like behavior;
  • misquoting/attacking your host, your host's friends, family, or community;
  • being impolite in the extreme;
  • ad hominem attacks;
  • being an asshole.
If you have to ask yourself, "what's he mean by 'being an asshole'?", well... let's just say that you might want to avoid commenting altogether :) If you really feel the need to flame away and attack this community resource, or those involved, then please just start your own blog -- it's easy.


This is not an official SplutterFish site. This is an experiment in composing, authoring, and assembling future training material in a public and open environment.


FAQ goes here....