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Monday, July 06, 2009

Autodesk Showcase - Recalling Your Past (Materials)

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand"

In my last few posts, I've talked about creating new materials, primarily by using bump maps. But there's so much more you can start doing. I've already started toying with things like highlights, reflection blurs, and highlight colors among other things. Already I find myself thinking of all the things I can start blogging.

But before I start talking about that, I decided that I wanted to talk about how we can take the material we created, and make it available to other Showcase renderings I'm going to create in the future. For example, here's the 'Rippled Metal' I used in my previous post HERE

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The downside of what I've talked about so far, is that this material is only available to the file I created it in. material I've created in. In other words, I can't easily access it from another file. Some of these materials can take a while to create, and for reasons such as consistency, and a desire not to have to do the same thing over again, it's very desirable to make this material available elsewhere.

The answer: A Materials Library.

This is a way to create an external library where I can access this material I created.

So, with all that done, what are the steps

First, I bring up my materials list by going to the Materials>Materials pulldown, or just hitting 'M'.

I've already created the material, but I should give it a proper name that will help me pick it out of the library in the future.

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First, I right cilck on the material, and choose 'Rename'. I enter the proper name, in this case, I'm calling it 'Rippled Metal'. One word of warning. Showcase keeps the materials in alphabetical order. So if the material was named 'Steel xxx', and you rename it to 'Black Steel' (for example), it will reorder. It might make you gasp a second.

This can surprise you if it moves out of sight. Don't worry, just scroll back to where it reordered. Don't forget to start breathing again. :-)

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Now with the material renamed (and relocated), right click on it, and choose 'Save to Library'. Since we've not created a library yet. Our only option is to create a new library. Which we'll do.

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Showcase will ask us where we want to create the library. I'm using a laptop, so I put it in the 'My Documents' folder, where I've created a folder called 'My Showcase Materials'. If you're in a collaborative environment, you might want to consider a shared folder on the network. This way you can keep all the materials in a separate location where it's backed up.

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Now, Showcase asks me for the category to create for the file. this is another way to organize your materials (plastics, metals, fabrics, for example). Here I've just called it 'Textured Metals'

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That's it! You've not got a library that can be easily accessed in new files!

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There is one last thing. Showcase by default, names your library after the path it's located in. You might or might not want that. If you right click on the path in Showcase, you can rename the library to anything you'd like. Note, this is also where you can add, remove, and edit the library, categories, etc.

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Now you're ready to go!

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I've got some more materials blogs planned soon, check back for those a little later!

In closing, you might ask why I don't put it in the install directory, with the rest of my Showcase materials?

For me, there's a very specific reason I don't. I done that with other programs in the past, and when I've upgraded from one version to another. I sometimes forget to back up those files before I delete the directories. I've lost quite a bit of data that way (for some reason I never learn my lesson on that one). So this is how I project myself, from... well, myself.

Have a good week everyone!

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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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:

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To this:

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Now giving the back light a blue hue.

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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.

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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.

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

The first example, is changing the Perspective.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Next, with the Height changed to 52 cm.

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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!