Find us on Google+ June 2009 ~ Inventor Tales

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Devil in the Big Box (Bump Maps in Autodesk Showcase)

"Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face."

Nelson DeMille

One of the challenges I've found in Showcase has been something I've started calling 'The Devil in the Big Box'. They're renderings that involve larger objects with large, smooth sides, like a CNC milling center for example.

When you model an object like this in a 3D modeler like Autodesk Inventor, the sides are perfectly smooth. And when I mean perfectly smooth, I mean 'unrealistically perfectly smooth'. In truth, the side isn't 'perfectly smooth' but has slight waves and variations in its surface.

It can show up on any surface, but models with large flat sides seem to be the models that make the effect glare at you.

Using one of my airplane examples (again), here are some pictures of N-9M-B Flying Wing at the Planes of Fame museum.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

If you look at the pictures of the leading edge and underside of the wing, you can see where the surfaces that would be smooth have small dips and variations that cause ripples in the reflection.

Adding the right bump map can help add that 'character' to that surface.

So what did I do that gave that surface a little bit of that 'imperfectness' and add a little more realism? I added a Bump Map.

For starters, what is a bump map? A bump map is a texture image that creates the illusion of depth and texture without changing the actual geometry involved. There's a pretty good definition HERE (thanks to KETIV collegue Nicole for helping me find that!).

Example of a Bump Map

(Click to Enlarge)

They're used to give a smooth surface the appearance of being made out of leather, carpet, or textured plastic (among other things). All from a surface that has no texture of its own.

But one of the things I've discovered is that by the careful use of bump maps, you can get rid of that 'too perfect surface' that results in a rendering that isn't all it could be. Here's an example of a box without a bump map. It looks good, but with a bump map, you can get some interesting surface effects.

First, here's a rendering of the box without any bump map. The surfaces are as smooth as when they were built in Inventor.

(Click to Enlarge)

To add a bump map, select the surface you want to change and hit Ctrl+M. This will access the material screen. Once in the screen, scroll down to the bottom and add the texture you want.

The default directory is (install directory)\Materials. The normal maps (the ones that I've found work best for Showcase have the word 'Normal' in the title, and have a the gradient in them (opposed to the gray scale images).

(Click to Enlarge)

The standard libraries will get you a long way, but if you want to add more, one of the easiest ways is to just pick your favorite search engine, and look for 'Normal Map' or something similar.

You can also change the scale, rotation, and bump depth of the bump map in order to get the effect you want.

The one I used in this example on Google HERE, and copied it into a directory in My Documents, where I keep my custom materials.

Here's the result of just changing the bump map. As in other examples, I haven't changed anything else but the bump map

(Click to Enlarge)

Here's another example of a car from the samples directory. Similar to the box, you can see how just adding the map can change the appearance of the car.

Car without Bump Map

Car with Bump Map Added

(Click to Enlarge)

My biggest tip? Experiment.

There's a lot of different things you can try, and the ultimate rule remains what you (and those seeing the end product) decide is the best!

That's it for another Showcase tip. I'm learning tons, but I still have a ways to go. I guess there's a lot of truth to that 'never ending process'.

On a final note, if you're looking for more info on the N-9M-B, there's an article on it HERE.

Last I'd seen the wing in June 2009, it still had both engines removed while it's being repaired from the engine fire it suffered a few years back.

At least she'll fly again someday.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Search and Rescue for a Lost Window

"Just think how happy you would be if you lost everything you have right now, and then got it back again.”

Frances Rodman

Okay, so this isn't really an Inventor, Showcase, Vault, or even a tip on any Autodesk software at all. It's actually a general tip on any MS Windows application. I've seen it happen to others, and had it happen to myself.

It first happened to me when I activated a window in Autodesk Inventor (although this can happen in any program) and instead of seeing a window. I saw nothing. Puzzled, I clicked the pulldown again, and was greeted with the standard Windows BEEP! What happened? I'm starting to think that my program just locked up on me.

A KETIV Technologies (thanks Javier!) collegue observed my frustration (probably tipped off by an outburst of colorful language), and asked "Did you change resolution or run on two monitors last time?"

Then it hits me. I had been running on a second monitor before, and I'd moved that window to the other monitor! The window was still popping up on the now non-existant second monitor!

Here's an example. I'll admit that I 'faked it a bit' by dragging the window partially off the screen. But I want to show the effect.

(Click to Enlarge)

Of course, now we have to SOLVE the problem. It turns out that it can be easily fixed with a simple trick. Hit 'Alt+Spacebar'. This activates the tools for that window. Then hit 'M' for move.

Use your arrow keys and you can move the window back to the screen.

Once you know the trick, it's easy. The real trick? Just knowing the trick.

So if you've changed resolution, unplugged a second monitor, or switched to a different monitor, and all of a sudden you call up a window and the computer 'locks up'. Try this trick. The window may just be popping up off screen.

Talk about saving some frustration!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A 'Component' by any Other Name

Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Today I returned to Inventor today after spending some serious time with Autodesk Showcase. I'll be returning to Showcase soon. I've been on a mission to create some more renderings for the website (

But today I was asked a question that forced me to hunt around a bit.

"How do I change the names of Assembly Browser nodes?"

Here's an example of what the Browser Nodes are. When the files are initially created. The nodes inherit the file name of the component when it was created.

(Click to Enlarge)

I've run across this before. This time, I got that little light bulb in my head that said 'it's in there somewhere'.

So what did I do? I did what any good techie would do. I dove into Inventor (taking a moment to scoff at the instructions), and began clicking through tabs furiously, convinced that my expertise would help me locate the tool in no time.

About fifteen minutes and grumbling incoherently at my machine. I broke down and hit 'F1'.

With the help of the appropriately named Help system. I found what I was looking for in no time. A tool named 'Rename Browser Nodes'

It's located on your Assembly Ribbon, under the Productivity Section. Click the arrow in the lower right hand side of the button to see all the tools.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

Once you get the tool. You'll be able to rename the Browser Nodes to the Default (the original name). Filename (the filename, including the extension), and the Part Number (which will insert the Part Number iProperty).

(Click to Enlarge)

For example, I'm going to rename my browser nodes with the Part Number.

The assembly I'm going to use is a Craftsman style table I built as a project (my feet are resting on it as I type this). I modeled it in Inventor, created the drawings, and also used Producstream (now Vault Manufacturing) to create the a part numbers.

(Click to Enlarge)

The numbering sequence is simple. It starts from 000001 and increases from there. No special numbers for assemblies, subassemblies etc. Here's an example of one of the part numbers

(Click to Enlarge)

In any case, all I want to do is renumber the browser nodes with my part numbers.

So.... You guessed it. I just choose 'Part Numbers' from the Window above.

With that done, my browser goes from this:

(Click to Enlarge)

To this:

(Click to Enlarge)

Once you know where it is, it's not really all that difficult. If you need to switch it again, just repeat the steps, and choose a new option!

Well, that's it, back to Showcase for a while!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lighting the Mood. Autodesk Showcase Lighting

Firelight will not let you read fine stories but it's warm and you won't see the dust on the floor. ~Irish Proverb

As I've been working with Showcase, I've started to try different things to see what effects they would have on the scene I was working on.

One of these was lighting, and particularly the color of lighting can have on a scene. I don't profess myself to be some sort of lighting expert, but here's some of the things I've learned from other users, and by poking around after saying 'I dunno, let's try it!"

By default, the colors of your lighting is white. For many scenes, that will be sufficient. But just like you can create an effect and impression, changing the light colors can add some nice touches.

One thing I've done is look a photos for inspiration. Here's an example of a picture I took at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, near my home in Southern California.

This F-86 Sabre is parked indoors, so it's lit mostly via skylights that let in natural light, but tint it slightly yellow.

But the tail is catching the natural light coming in through the open hangar doors, which is more of a natural white.

(Click to Enlarge)

You can use the lighting in Autodesk Showcase to simulate similar effects.

Here's a scene where I've used a personal computer in the 'Desert Dawn' environment (hey, don't we all keep our computers on desert roads?).

But this scene has a lot of red and blue hues in it, so it shows how the lighting can affect the look of a scene.

In this first picture, I've used all white lights. You can see how the computer looks 'bright' compared to the rest of the scene. Almost like it's been lit by an artificial light source. This is fine, it does make the the lit object standout (which may be the desired effect).

(Click to Enlarge)

There are currently two lights, one in front of the computer, and one in the back of the computer. For what I'm doing here, I won't change the lighting position at all, just the color.

(Click to Enlarge)

But what happens if we start changing the colors of the lighting?

If I choose one of my lights, right click, and choose 'Properties', I can start to change the properties of my lighting. There's a lot of settings, but for now, I'll just focus on color.

(Click to Enlarge)

Once you choose properties, you'll see the light properties come up, you can click on the button that affects the color, bringing up the color screen.

With the color screen up, you can click on either the wheel, or the scale. Both will let you change the color of the light in their own ways.

(Click to Enlarge)

Now, I'm going to change the lighting properties of the light, and give it a red tone. Notice how the image looks different, it's a 'warmer' (at least that's my term for it) light.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

Now giving the back light a blue hue.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

Finally, you can change multiple lights, and see the effects. Here I've changed the front light to a red hue, leaving the blue light alone.

(Click to Enlarge)

The effect is pretty dramatic. Personally, I'd keep one of the white lights in there because the original color of the case (white) has been lost. But in many cases, it's about what your audience finds compelling.

That's it for now. Don't be afraid to experiment a little bit. You can always change the colors back!

On a parting note, here's a couple of more pictures I took of a Grumman Duck. Here you can see how the natural light coming in from the front hits the nose of the plane, highlighting the front of the airplane.

The natural light filtered by the skylights hit the rear of the plane (similar to the F-86 Sabre). You can also see in the different pictures where the lights come from (The windows in one picture, the skylights in the other).

I've found if I keep things like this in mind, it helps give me ideas on what to do with lighting to create better renderings in the future.

Besides, it gives me an excuse to run off to Planes of Fame and take pictures of cool old airplanes!

Natural light from front, you can even see some fill from the flash on the float (Click to Enlarge).

Filtered light from the skylights fills in the background. Notice how it interacts with the natural light hitting the front of the plane. I look at images like this to get ideas on how to place lights in Showcase.

Happy Monday all!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Showing Off in the (Autodesk) Showcase

“Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”

~ Henry Ford

I've got to admit that I've been on a bit of a hiatus on blogging with Showcase lately, but I've been nose to the grindstone creating renderings for several of our customers. You can see them scattered throughout the KETIV website. The renderings I used were either STEP or Inventor Models, but you can also use files from other 3D CAD sytems. I'm hoping I can branch out here now!

I have to admit that there were times that I had to walk away from my laptop, frustrated by the fact that I couldn't 'quite get it right'. But with some help and encouragement from some of the Showcase guys at Autodesk, I was able to get some of the tricks handled.

One thing I had to learn to do was to 'quit thinking with my engineering brain'. With that linear thought process disabled, I started trying things that I didn't think would make a difference.

And to my surprise, these little things made the renderings 'pop'. In other words, the reactions to the renderings when from 'that's cool' to 'wow, that's pretty cool'. With the appropriate effect on my ego. :-)

The tricks I want to share is the use of the Tilt, Perspective, and Height options. They change the camera angle and perspective that the rendering is being viewed at.

(Click to Enlarge)

Each tool brings up a slider that will adjust the camera angle and perspective.

The first example, is changing the Perspective.

(Click to enlarge).

Here's my first picture, with a perspective setting of 50mm. Special thanks to Castor Engineering Inc for providing data for rendering.

(Click to Enlarge)

Now with the slider moved toward 'Wide Angle' and a focal length of 27mm. Note, this is the only thing I've changed.

(Click to Enlarge)

Here's an example of changing the Tilt from the default.

First using the default Tilt angle of 0 degrees. Thanks to California Analytical Instruments for the models for these renderings.

(Click to Enlarge)

Now with a Tilt of -11 degrees. Just like with the Perspective before, this is the only thing I changed was tilt from one image to the next.

Lastly, is the height. Of all of the three, I probably have used this the least. But it is a good way of playing with high and low camera angles.

Thanks to Datum3 for providing the model used for this rendering!

First, the default, which is 160cm.

(Click to Enlarge)

Next, with the Height changed to 52 cm.

(Click to Enlarge)

You can see how something that at first can seem almost trivial can make a huge difference, and I only used each individually, just think what you can do if you combine the effects!

On one last note, don't forget it's all about making a rendering that captures people's attention, and ideally, draws them in. So there isn't some sort of formula that you can type in "X+y/Z" and get "Compelling Rendering". But just these little things can go a long way to making something that will make someone stop and stare.

And that's always fun!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Putting it in the Correct Folder. Inventor R2010

One of the new features in Inventor R2010 that seems to be getting 'lost in the noise' are the new Assembly Folders.

There are plenty of good features that have come in the new version, and while they deserve their accolades, I don't think Assembly Folders are getting their due.

So, what exactly is an Assembly Folder?

In short, an Assembly Folder is just a folder that's created in the assembly browser. You can place components in this folder and gather up similar components in that folder. It reduces the components sitting at the top level of your assembly level browser, and makes for a cleaner and easier to navigate interface.

Here's an example where I'm starting to use them.

I've a woodshop project that I built a few years ago (a Craftsman style table). If you look at the screen capture, you can see that I have several screws that take up more real estate in my browser than the subassemblies that make up the table.

I'm going to place the screws in a folder called 'Hardware' and collect them in that folder.

The first step is to right click in the assembly browser. You'll see an option to 'Create New Folder'.

Choose 'Create New Folder' and a folder will appear in the browser, and its name will activate, allowing you to rename in. In this case, I've called it 'Fasteners', although you could name it anything.

Now you can just drag and drop the components you want (in my case the fasteners) into the folder. Once this is done, you can see how this cleans up the browser.

If you need to access the parts, you can still expand the folder, and expose the components inside the assembly folder. Once you see them, you can access them just like you did before!

Happy Monday everyone!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Importing a Rhino (file into Inventor that is).

Here's a quick announcement for something coming out of Autodesk Labs! There's a new import tool for Rhino (*.3dm) files now!

You can download it from Autodesk labs HERE!

I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but if anyone has any Rhino files they're willing to share, I'd love to test it on some real world files. Let me know if you have something to share with a comment!

Happy Inventing everyone!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Autodesk Assistance Program... Did you know?

"It's a sign of the Times." We've been hearing it everywhere. I've even said it myself.

There are rumblings about what's hopefully a recovery beginning. Whether we're really seeing it or not is a subject of debate, and I certainly have no crystal ball.

So why am I blogging about this? There's no Inventor Tip, Showcase Tip, story of a trial or tribulation about Vault or iLogic in it.

It's to mention that Autodesk expanded the Autodesk Assistance Program.

If you don't know what the Assistance Program is, it's a program where displaced workers can get assistance with training, free educational licenses of Autodesk software, in order to develop and maintain their skill sets so they have more to offer on their resume in their continuing job search. (More on that HERE)

Today Autodesk announced that they've expanded the program (Click HERE for the press release describing all the benefits).

There's new e-learning offerings avaiable now, and even companies can benefit with reduced cost software when they hire someone who's participated in the program.

Hopefully, you don't need this program (and by 'not needing it' means you're working), but if you are one of those who are looking for work, here's one way to stand out to anyone who's looking to hire.

Good luck out there everyone!