As I’ve been messing around with Metasequoia more and more, I realize that DeviantArt tutorials, while useful, will only get me so far. There are some really great tutorials out there, but it takes time to find the ones that apply to what I need to know, or the things I don’t know I need to know.
Things like how important it is to have a good set of references before I even start 3D modeling. It’s the sort of thing I knew, but didn’t really grab it until I had a few consecutive failures.
So I decided to double-skill-up (or maybe even triple/quadruple), by getting some books on 3D character creation in Metasequoia and Blender in Japanese.
I wound up buying all three books in the 3DCGæ—¥å’Œ (3DCG biyori) series, as well as a book called 3D Character Animation Manual (it’s also in Japanese.)
Volume 1 of 3DCGæ—¥å’Œ covers the basics. And I mean it. It goes through everything you need to know to get up and running with Metasequoia, and explains why you need to drop the $45 on licensing it. (Plugins like Keynote don’t work without it, and you can’t save in other formats!) The tutorials are pretty easy to follow if you speak N2 level Japanese, or can handle N3 if you don’t mind looking up some stuff.
If you stick it out, you’ll make 5 or so models of varying types, from the dead-simple-easy dice-head guy to a big bad demon-type character. The exercises ramp up in levels of difficulty. It also covers UVs as well. The book covers low-polygon to mid-level polygon count figures.
There’s also some info on designing characters in Paint Tool SAI, a program I don’t have much experience with.
All of the illustrations are in color, so it’s easy to follow. One downside, it’s a 2009 book, so it covers an older version of Metasequoia, but I haven’t really run into any problems with it.
Volume 2 … I haven’t worked with yet. All color illustrations, though, and it takes you through building a model, adding clothes and bones, and animating it. It came out in 2010, so it should have some updated info on the first book. Also, make sure to check the publisher’s website for errata in volume 2.
Volume 3: To be honest I haven’t worked with it yet either, but after spending an hour reading it, it looks promising. It’s devoted to building 3D characters in Blender, which is a powerful (and at times frustrating for me) program. I’m looking forward to improving my Blender skills.
You learn by creating two characters: one low-poly, and one high-poly. It covers skinning and boning and animating as well. It came out in 2012, and covers Blender 2.6. (The current version of Blender is 2.66, so it’s pretty close.)
None of the 3DCGæ—¥å’Œ books comes with a CD/DVD, for which I am grateful, to be honest. I’m tired of keeping track of all the coasters I get with books these days. You can download everything you need from the websites in the books. All three books are in full color, and for computer books, aren’t all that expensive: around 2500 yen a piece. That’s about $27-28 per book, plus there’s shipping, but you’d probably pay $50-$60 for similar books in English.
The 3D Character Animation Manual
The 3D Character Animation Manual is a good all-around book for learning the process. It starts from the design phase, where the author introduced me to Inkscape, which is an awesome freeware vector graphics program. (Think open-source Illustrator, but just as powerful.)
One thing he pointed out was the importance of having a good design and locking it down before you start modeling. That’s actually really good advice. ISAO gives similar advice in volume 1 of 3DCGæ—¥å’Œ. I’ve been polishing my drafting skills, because I’m out of practice. Ugh.
The 3D Character Animation Manual also covers the process of building a model, designing clothes, creating the graphic skins for it, and adding bones. It also goes into how to use Keynote, which is a plugin a lot of Metasequoia users are interested in using, but sometimes folks have some frustrating results.
Like volume 1 of 3DCGæ—¥å’Œ, it’s a 2009 book, so some info may be a bit dated, but I haven’t seen anything better than these two books on Metasequoia that’s any more current. If you’ve seen anything newer, let me know.
The 3D Character Animation Manual goes for 2800 yen new. About $30-31 these days.
The tutorials are pretty straightforward, and are in N2 level Japanese. N3 if you have a dictionary handy. It comes with color illustrations and a CD-Rom with the model data on it, an old version of Metasequoia, a plugin for handling UVs, and some extras. It’s about 100 MB of data. Most importantly, it has the X and Z guide image files for creating the face/hair/accessories for the tutorial character. You might have to dig a little to find them, but they’re all there.
Sketchbook Pro 6
So as part of learning how to make my own 3D stuff, I have been working on my 2D graphic arts, and wow, are they rusty. Fortunately, with some work, they have come back pretty quickly. Having a good sketchbook, a good eraser stick, and some good, sharp pencils helps, but so does having a good graphics and illustration program and a tablet that doesn’t suck.
I’ve been using Photoshop since version 4.0 in the mid-90s. Yes, I’ve been using it that long. And there are parts of it I still don’t entirely get. In fact, Photoshop is probably one of my least favorite programs for about 85-90% of what I do. But for that last 10-15% it’s vital.
I was getting frustrated with Photoshop and was looking for a good sketching program, and started looking.
A lot of people recommended Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, version 6. It’s not a bad program. It has some useful features, like an ability to mirror across the center line. That’s handy for drawing things like eyes, eyebrows, ears, and other things that need to be symmetrical, but it only works if you draw head-on all the time.
It also has some useful tools, like a circle that you can plop down, and no matter how you draw, it comes out as a circle, or as a segment of one. It also has a set of French Curves, which were fine until I wanted to flip them over and use the reverse side… that irritated the hell out of me, because there was no way to do that without using mirroring, which I couldn’t use.
The brushes also irritated me. I’m a fan of Photoshop’s pencil. It’s a mighty layer of hard pixels. I want a black pixel there, I get it. No anti-aliasing, just pixels. I love that. But in Sketchbook, it requires setting up a custom brush, then futzing with it ad nauseam, and I still didn’t like the results. I suppose if you want that watercolor or marker look, it’s great. Heck, it even comes with a set of virtual Copic markers, so that can’t be too bad.
But it’s probably not going to see much use from me.
It’s about $35 for the CD version on Amazon, and $60 if you buy the download version from Autodesk. Yes, that’s correct. The disk is cheaper than the download. I don’t recommend dropping your money on it, unless you have to have a raster graphics drawing program. There are better programs out there.
Inkscape is Inkredible
I discovered Inkscape when reading The 3D Character Animation Manual. The author was discussing how important it is to create a front and side view of the character you want to create that is in perfect proportion. And he was showing how he did it in Inkscape, and it looked really good.
The best part about Inkscape is that it is open-source. Free. As in beer and in speech. I had some bad experiences with the GIMP a while back, so I was a little hesitant, but Inkscape is a better Illustrator than Illustrator. It’s dead simple to use, has easy-to-understand context menus, and it’s easy to wrangle the panels. (It is always a chore in Adobe products to get those things out of my sight. I hate little context menus covering my artwork all the time.)
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. You do need to read some tutorials on Inkscape before you start using it. It’s not 100% intuitive. But it only took me 3-4 DeviantArt tutorials before I was up and running. Look for microUgly’s guide and White_Heron’s tutorials. Both are very useful.
I never really liked using vector graphics, probably because I didn’t like Illustrator. I like them now. Inkscape has given me all kinds of ideas for things I want to try.