Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Building a dinosaur - the software

Part 2 of my occasional series, Building a Dinosaur focuses on the software I’ll be using to model our 3D dinosaur. Of course, the most basic tool is has remained unchanged for quite a few years: pencil and paper are still the best way to rough out ideas and compositions and are unparalleled in their usefulness, but more on that in a subsequent post.

As a long-term paleo-art fanboy, I've diddled with creating art in 3D packages before, most notably the venerable KPT Bryce (still available in a different form from Daz 3D), a landscape creation tool which for a time I was completely addicted to. Here's an attempt from 1997 showing a plesiosaur cruising at the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of Laurasia. It was modelled in a very early version of Cinema 4D and this model was imported into Bryce for placement and rendering. I would like to revisit this image at some point and perhaps create a new version using the tools available today.

These days there are several 3D packages capable of creating the sort of images and animation were are used to seeing in films and on the telly. Invariably these are targeted at professional artists and animators and the complexity, flexibility and toolsets they offer is reflected in the price. However, whilst packages  that only do modelling and rendering can be purchased relatively cheaply when it comes to animation then it’s time to get the big boys in (there is one notable exception, a free cross platform, open-source package called Blender which is capable of producing excellent results in the right hands).

For this project I will be using the 3D programme I use in my everyday work modelling tiny things, Maxon’s excellent Cinema 4D R12 Studio (C4D). This comes in a number of different configurations, from the core application which allows modelling and animation up to the Studio version which includes all manner of goodies such as character rigging, advanced rendering options and soft body dynamics to name a few. It’s becoming increasingly popular in motion picture production and it’s crossing over from broadcast graphics where it’s already established as an industry leader.

Many in the industry will be using Softimage, Maya (both popular in film) or 3D Studio Max (although this is mainly popular for games), all very powerful applications with incredible capabilities and a learning curve to match. C4D still has a learning curve but fits into my workflow as much of the 3D data (lights, object positions, cameras etc) can be imported into Adobe After Effects, the motion graphics and compositing package I use to bring my animations together. It’s best described as 'Photoshop on wheels', although it outgrew it’s elder sibling in terms of useful features long ago. I will be using Photoshop of course (textures, retouching stills etc) and Adobe Illustrator for drawings .

The other 3D package I will be using is zBrush, an organic modelling and texturing application which uses clay sculpting as a modelling analogy and capable of producing incredible, detailed results. I’ll be using zBrush to refine the sculpt from C4D and add detail to the model. Maxon’s Bodypaint 3D will also feature when it comes to texturing the sculpt.

Finally, other software utilised will be iTunes, which I use for pumping out the grooves and rockin’ out whilst working.

So next on the agenda . . . research. Let’s do it!

Our subject spotted by the artist in the Hell Creek of Montana last year. Not enough to base a reconstruction on.


  1. There are very capable modelers out there for very low prices...

    UVlayout (for layouts)
    3dcoat (for sculpting)
    blender (full software solution with somewhat confusing layout)

    These are not uncommon in the industry... alongside other solutions such as Lightwave, Modo and Cinema4D - as you mention.
    Autodesk products are also very capable but, yeah... they're Autodesk, and so you get those licensing bollocks.

  2. Can't understate the value of iTunes to keep you going!

    Looking forward to seeing how your project goes!