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While I can’t be at the upcoming development sprint (which, realistically, it’s not like I should be — when it comes to coding, I’m a hack AT BEST), I did want to write something up about a few ideas for working with the interface that have weighed on me for the past year or so. With one exception at the end, this isn’t about how the user interacts with Blender. I’ll leave that up to better minds than my own. But, when it comes to how that interface is created — the actual tools that are used — I’d like to pitch in my 2 cents.
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In between other projects (new non-Blender book, editing a Blender book for APress), I’m working in a code-monkey capacity with the Blender 2.5 project. So far I’ve wrapped a bit of RNA (the Action code was/is weird), and read up on writing Operators. I’ll be helping to migrate the animation tools to the new event system next.

I’ve also been working on some image processing projects in the node compositor, namely the previously-mentioned Soft Light and Linear Light nodes, and something new: Screen Space Global Illumination. It’s not even “real” SSGI (isn’t even real to begin with), but it adds a little bit more believability to rendered images with very little time cost. It functions simply: each pixel of an image evaluates the colors around it and absorbs them to a greater or lesser degree based on their relative normals and Z values.

The code isn’t complete, as I’ve not yet had time to extract Z range from the active camera. Instead, it’s hard coded, which sucks. Ideally, I’ll include a button that lets you either use the current camera Z range or displays controls for setting it manually. The sample image, a Cornell box, shows the effect and limitations. It’s not a true GI scheme — it only works in image space, and can’t project light from faces not shown. The results are subtle, but nice. Since it functions in the node pipeline, it works in HDR. This means that you could really overload a section of the image with light and have that light propagate by “bounce.”

The other thing is that the node works with any RGB input, and generates only the result, an “SSGI Pass”. How you mix it back into the pipeline is up to you. You can enhance color bleeding by cranking the saturation of the result, smooth it with the bilinear blur filter, run the SSGI node on it a second time to produce a second “bounce.” Whatever. You can also use the full rendered image for input, or the color pass, or the shaded pass, each of which will produce different effects.

For the samples, the effect isn’t drastic, but I think it adds some nice subtlety to the shading. Here’s the sample:

Plain:

SSGI node (processing time about 20 seconds):

Animating with Blender: How to Create Short Animations from Start to Finish has been a success so far. Both the publisher and I have been very, very happy with the sales since the September release and the great reviews. In fact, a reprint is already on the way, so we don’t run out.

In case you’ve been wondering about how the book is (i.e. thinking “Should I buy it or not?”), here’s a couple of clips from Amazon.com, which seems to be the best aggregator of such things:

“From your first idea to the final release, there are some great tips on common mistakes and ways to avoid those “natural causes”.”

“The writing style is also a nice change from overly technical books that I’ve read (it’s still technical, but it is far more interesting to read!).”

“Highly recommended for Blender users.”

“This is a beautifully written guide to creating an animation. It is filled with useful tips and tricks that can be used for not only animation projects, but other projects well. It is well written in reader friendly language and uses humor to illustrate and explain difficult concepts.”

“I’m an experienced Blender user (and developer), but have only dabbled with the animating and rendering capabilities of Blender, and this book has greatly increased my confidence of being able to tackle those topics in my own potential animations.”

Thus far, the book is now 6 for 6 with five star reviews on Amazon. While that’s a great result, it could of course change with one person who doesn’t get it. But I’ll take batting 1.000 for now.

Obviously, if you’ve been on the fence about whether or not the book is worth it, it’s probably time to… er… get off the fence.

Meet Shrimpo!

Last night, a new force was brought into the world. Meet Shrimpo the Terrible (click for full size):

He may have been constructed from two shrimp tails and several plastic football-themed hor-dourves skewers, with a piece of green pepper for a head, but much like Frosty the Snowman, when Shrimpo came to life and started kicking butt at 80′s Trivial Pursuit during our New Years party, we knew that he had something special. You should have seen him wearing his beer-cap helmet!

Sure, he’ll rule the world someday, and we’ll probably all be very sorry, but remember this advice for the New Year:

1) Shrimpo the Terrible is always watching you.
2) If something good happens to you, it’s because you made Shrimpo happy.
3) If something bad happens to you, it’s because you have displeased Shrimpo in some way.
4) I’m the only one who he talks to at the moment, so if you need to get back on Shrimpo’s good side, you’ll have to go through me. I’m a very busy man. Food and cash will get you noticed sooner rather than later.

Anyway, have a great 2009, and long live Shrimpo!

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