3D Modelling and Animation

This site displays some of my 3D modelling and animations. Although I do some work in this field as part of my job, what you see here is largely the result of my leisuretime activities, and I really don't consider myself as either any kind of artist or as anything more than an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to 3D work.

The software I like to use is NewTek's LightWave 3D (and I'm currently using v 7.5 for the PC. V 9.0 is now available, but I can't afford the upgrade yet !). I've been using LightWave since the first standalone Amiga version appeared, independent of the Video Toaster, and I've never looked back. For me, LightWave is the easiest 3D application to learn and the easiest to get good results with. I have never seen the point of spending loads of time learning new software or new interfaces just for their own sake; as far as I'm concerned that's just down time, and I'd rather be staying productive. That's also why, where others may criticise LightWave's interface for having labelled buttons instead of icons for each tool, I think it's great that I don't need to learn what every one of dozens of cryptic icons means !

What's on this site ?

Many of the images you'll find here are fantasy car designs. At school in the late 60s, I used to doodle fictional sports cars in side-view only, as I wasn't gifted with particularly artistic abilities, and it was always a dream of mine to be able to show my efforts in a more tangible form. So when affordable computer 3D modelling came along, it handed me the tools I needed to make my designs into solid form.

I've also reflected my interests in aviation and science fiction in some of the creations shown here, and there are one or two items I produced for work, as well as various animations I made both for fun and for work.

How do I model objects ?

I don't propose to do any in-depth tutorial here, merely to indicate how I tackle a task at the moment. I think it's good for people to develop their own way of doing things, and I don't mind if that way is the same as mine or not. More experienced modellers would no doubt make use of weight maps and so on, but I've not yet delved into that very useful area. Many people also tell me that they prefer to model vehicles using spline patching, and that's perfectly valid, but it isn't what I like doing myself.

Those with experience in 3D modelling will probably agree that you soon discover there's no set method of building things. Each object has different characteristics that suit particular ways of modelling, and even then, it's likely that each object can be modelled in a number of different ways. If you build a particular type of object regularly, as I do with fantasy cars, you tend to find a method which suits that type of object best, because some methods of construction form that sort of shape more readily, and because some methods leave more scope for changing your mind somewhere along the line, and other methods don't. Of course, you can always work "by the book" and save your model at every single stage, giving you the chance to revert to any level of the construction. I would probably work that way except for the fact I get so engrossed in modelling that I forget to save the model sufficiently often. So I tend to save the model at the stages where I make any major changes. It's not ideal, because I can still find that reverting to the previous saved version can involve the loss of numerous small improvements that - as I haven't recorded the exact numeric data for each change - can add up to a fair bit of work that's not necessarily accurately repeatable. And those little changes so often include one I'm really pleased with.

Since this site displays a number of fantasy car designs, I can be more specific about the method of construction for those. First, let me warn you, these are NOT low poly models. I have never modelled with polygon counts in mind, so they are normally hugely subdivided models.

Initially, I began trying to construct a side view profile of the car and then I would extrude the profile in multiple segments, which I'd then laboriously try to modify across the width of the car. That's a rubbish way of doing it !

So far, the most satisfactory way I've modelled cars is to begin with a subdivided box in the shape of a shallow brick. I usually try to make an even number of segments across the block, say six or eight, because that gives a useful line of points right down the centre of the car (with the block orientated so that the Z axis runs through the length of the vehicle). I usually give the Y axis three or four segments and the Z axis around ten or twelve segments, or maybe more if I think I'll need to add more shape. Sometimes, I input some radius on the Box numeric requester, to give the block some softer edges, with maybe five or six segments in the radius.

Next, I tend to move or stretch the X axis subdivision points along the Z axis, so that more of the subdivisions fall where the front and rear of the car and the wheel arches will eventually be, as those parts need more detail. So there are then fewer subdivisions in the centre of the side view, and more at the ends.

At this stage, I usually press the Tab key to switch on NURBS modelling, and I remain in that mode at least until all the basic shaping is done.

Then I in turn select groups of points, or sometimes polys, where the roof and wings of the car will be, and using either Stretch or Taper, modify the geometry so that, for example, the front and perhaps the rear windscreens have some curvature across the X axis. Next, using broadly the same selections, I use the Taper tools, usually with Ease In or Ease Out selected, to taper the car's roof line and wings up or down out of the basic block to form the required shapes, with occasional Stretch applications to adjust things as I go.

Once I'm happy with the overall shape of the model, I'll set about forming any details like air intakes, using Smooth Shift or sometimes Bevel, or mark out (using different coloured surfaces) where the headlamps, windows, etc will be. In NURBS, of course, the polys behave a bit curiously and may have rounded outlines when selected, so you need to decide whether changing their surface to mark out, say, a windscreen will give you the right outline or not - just try it and Undo it if it doesn't work out. But marking out boundaries in NURBS is much easier, if it gives a decent result, so do as much as you can that way.

Eventually, I will get to a point where to make further changes, I have to Freeze the model, but I do always save the NURBS version first. After I Freeze it, I usually form wheel arches using Boolean Subtract, select bits like headlamp covers and Extrude them into the model to form the underlying enclosures etc. Wheel arches can be improved by some careful use of Smooth Shifts and Stretches to add to and round off the edge geometry rather than just have a sharp cut edge. I've done that with reasonable success by pulling out the underside of the wheel arches and rolling them back over the Boolean Subtracted edges.

I often have to resort to Stencilling some details like side windows, but it's better if at all possible to keep window and other major areas defined by existing polygon edges so that you don't have loads of difficult tidying and stitching of uneven geometry to do after a Stencil operation.

After defining a window, I usually make its surface black, then apply a small degree of negative Smooth Shift before applying a glass surface to the remaining highlighted polygons. That kills three birds with one stone - you have the glass recessed for a more realistic appearance, you have it set in what looks like a rubber seal, and you don't get smoothing errors where the bodywork meets the glass.

That's about it - probably not the most effective, efficient or satisfactory way of building a car model, but it is certainly possible to get quite decent results from relatively simple techniques when you go this way.