The first confrontation with computer three-dimensional modeling is a bewildering experience for most of those trained as traditional artists. Devoid of the common spatial clues we count on in our familiar real-world environments, it is all too possible to lose one's bearings quickly in that limitless space just behind the monitor screen. At times it has an unnerving likeness to Alice's trip through the looking glass. Fortunately, for those who get past these first disorienting encounters, the world of cyber space loses much of its strangeness once we adjust to the principles that exist there and computer modelmaking soon becomes a more comprehensible business. For some, navigating that inner space can even take on the addictive quality of computer-based games.
For most of us, however, mastery of this new kind of space requires study and practice. Having taught modelmaking, both in real-world studios as well as in the computer laboratory, I find that short-cuts and insights as to how modeling is done is helpful to those new to the work. That is the reason for this short lesson in computer modelmaking.
The lesson consists of some basic steps that are similar to approaches used in real-world model construction. The process described, however, differs somewhat from the usual instruction many three-dimensional software manuals provide in that it utilizes practices and understandings most students of scenographic design develop during their basic drafting studies.
Prerequisite to any sort of model building certain assumptions must be made. Here, I assume a familiarity with object-oriented (or vector graphics) programs as well as an ability to use them to make drawings of scaled floor plans, elevation drawings, platforming and stair drawings, and the like. Using these computer drawings, the method shows how it is possible to create three-dimensional objects that, in combination, make up scaled three-dimensional models. Although the approach demonstrated is but one of several ways a modelmaker might take, it has proved for me a quick and effective method to make computer models.
The modeling program used here is an application issued by Strata Inc. Although Strata's less powerful program, Strata Vision 3d, is perfectly serviceable for all the operations included in this lesson, the leaner less expensive program works perfectly well since for my purposes advanced animation capabilities are unnecessary. The title page of this site shows the basic screen for Strata Vision3d version 5.0.
Scenographic Models from Scaled Black and White Frontal Elevations
The preliminary work for the projects undertaken here can be done in any CAD or object-oriented drawing program that permits the Clipboard to be used as a vehicle for transferring files from that program to Strata Vision 3d or to Strata Studio Pro. The drawing program used for making the black and white templates shown below was Deneba's Canvas 5.
The steps needed to construct a computer three-dimensional model are these:
1. Make a simplified floor plan to determine the size, shape, placement of walls, platforms, steps, and any other features that require special attention on the plan. (This step is omitted for this demonstration.)
2. From this plan, draw simplified frontal elevations of all flat units (including all openings), side elevations of step units, and a top view of the entire floor plane (including all openings). These elevations differ from customary ones in that they have no other markings included ( such as dimensions, notes, etc.). It is important that they be done in solid black and white in an object-oriented program. Object-oriented programs (also known as vector graphics) are mathematical equations stored in the computer's memory, not simply a collection of pixels, as is the case with paint programs. In all computer three-dimensional programs, black is interpreted as object and white is interpreted as space. If, for instance, a white circle is placed on a larger black rectangle, Studio Pro interprets it as a plane object with a hole. Any black graphic that has white lines across it with create a series of individual polygons; arches can be made using curved lines, and so on. All the grill-work patterns shown in figure 1 were created from black elevations with white areas creating the empty space. The walls are basic forms that have texture-map images attached.
Fig. 1 Grill-Work Arches from Extruded Templates
Since the templates are mathematical equations, the scale of the elevations matters little; 1/8 inch = 1 foot is no less accurate than 1 inch = 1 foot.
Figure 2 shows a typical drawing ready to be taken to the three-dimensional program.
Fig. 2 Black and White Template
3. While still in the object-oriented program, select all objects (using the Select All command, group all objects together (using the Group command), and then copy the selection to the Clipboard (using the Copy command).
4. Quit the template program and open the Strata Studio Pro program.
5. Paste in the Clipboard file (using the Command V keystroke). Immediately, the Paste-In and Extraction Window opens as shown in figure 3 and the template appears in the window.
6. Click the OK button and the template is back in Strata's three-dimensional space still as a single grouped object.
Fig. 3 Paste-In and Extraction Window
7. Separate the single object into individual parts (using the Ungroup command), click the OK button. This takes the object elevations back to the main three-dimensional space.
8. Now each of the model parts is a single two-dimensional entity with 0 thickness. Each two-dimensional plane can now be extruded to a desired thickness by (1) selecting the object as shown in figure 4-A, and then (2) clicking on the Extrude button as shown in figure 4-B. 4-C is the Rotate tool and is used to rotate the extruded planes into their proper spatial relationships as shown in figure 5.
9. Another window now opens: The Extrude Window (fig. 4).
Fig. 4 The Extrude Window
Once extruded, the object is ready to be converted into a three-dimensional object. At top of the window is an option box that has a suggestion extrusion already in place. This is not a useful suggestion so a new value will need to be set. Use any low value since after looking at the thickness from a top view, a new thickness can be set manually. If the extrusion is not what is wished, the thickness can be changed manually.
10. When done, click the OK button to return to the main three-dimensional space. Every two-dimensional object extruded is now a three-dimensional object and can be manipulated in any way other three-dimensional objects are.
11. Before orienting and arranging the individual objects into the model configuration, they must be extruded to their proper dimensions. Although thickness can be set in the Extrusion window, manually adjusting the thickness of the planes is almost always needed. The rulers in both Vision 3d and Studio Pro are difficult to read correctly. Since the model has its most important dimensions coming into the program, a certain amount of pushing and pulling on the thickness to make them fit correctly is recommended. Remember, three-dimensional models are much like their physical counterparts; when making them, many alterations are necessary before the model is considered finished. The most important part of three-dimensional modeling is, in fact, this ability to alter shapes and forms before ideas are set.
12. Since all objects of the model came into the three-dimensional space in a frontal position, now each element must be placed in a position relative to the floor plan. Rotate and position the floor plane first using the Rotate tool shown in figure 5.
Fig. 5 Isometric View of Objects Being Moved in Three-Dimensional Space
Once it is in place, all other elements, such as walls, stairs, platforms, etc., must be treated in a similar manner (fig. 5 -A, B, & C).
13. When all the parts are in place, furniture, figures, and set dressing can be added. Most of these objects in the model come from the Shapes library folder of Studio Pro's main folder. In both Strata Vision 3d and Studio Pro, Shapes in the library folder are special files that (1) come with the basic program, (2) are purchased separately, or (3) are made by the individual user and stored in the Strata Shapes folder. Although Strata will gladly sell you any number of premade objects, and all are well done, I strongly recommend that any computer modeler learn this relatively simple procedure in order to build up a personal store of individually-crafted objects. In the model shown below, the chairs, table, and figures are Shapes I constructed earlier models. The grill-work arches shown in figure one were also saved as Strata Shapes and are available for any other models that need similar pieces. In other words, the Shapes library becomes the props and furniture storage area analogous to that of any working theater.
[Important Note: Using stored Shapes in new models is advised for a very special reason: a Shape taken from a the library is simply a reference to the original object, not the object itself. As such, it can be used in a more memory-efficient manner; that is, when the model is rendered or stored on internal or external storage, the file using Shapes requires less disk space than models with all original objects. If, however, one of these reference Shapes, which can be composed of more than one object, is ungrouped, it loses its reference status and requires more memory of the saved model.]
14. Figure 6 shows several important aspects of modelmaking once all the construction phase is finished. These are:
A. Attaching surfaces and textures to model parts. In both Vision 3d and Studio Pro, to attach textures or images (like those shown in figures 1, 6, 7 & 8), they are dragged from the textures pallet onto an object surface.
B. Lighting of the model. In figure 6 there are 3 main lights in addition to the Global (ambient) Light not shown: A is a back Spot Light focused on the front of the stage. B is a Point Light placed beneath the balcony in the upstage left corner. C is a Spot Light focused through the stage left upper windows.
[For a more complete discussion of lighting within the Studio Pro environment, go to the Lighting Studio.]
C. Rendering of the model: More detailed discussions of the rendering options in Studio will be addressed in a later lesson.
D. Saving the model in file formats: More detailed discussions of exporting and manipulating Studio Pro files in other programs will be discussed in a later lesson.
Fig. 6 Attaching Textures to Model and Setting Lighting
Figures 7 and 8 show PICT images of the models after they have undergone their rendering routine. Differences between times of day are easily accomplished with minor adjustment to the angles of lights and by changing the color and intensity of their light.
Fig. 7 The House of Bernalda Alba - Morning
Fig. 8 The House of Bernalda - Late Evening
In Part 2 below, a discussion of the procedures for attaching textures and images to model surfaces is discussed.
In the actual theater, object surfaces are treated in a number of ways. They can be painted, textured, and have other materials adhered to them. In computer three-dimensional modeling, these processes have direct counterparts. Surfaces of computer-generated model objects can be treated in similar ways as those in real-world scenery.
This ability to paint, texture, and place images on computer-generated objects allows scenographers to experiment with visual ideas in computer space that would take considerably longer and would require a greater material investment than when working on comparable real-world models. Visually, many design questions concerning an object's tonality, painted texture, or lighting on the stage, can be fully explored and tested in the world of computer three-dimensional modeling.
Creating Objects from Images
Figure 9 shows a computer-generated model composed of three basic parts: a round platform on the stage floor, a centrally-located scenic structure, a disk unit at the rear of the stage, and scenic forms at the rear sides of the main playing area. Two of these model parts were created from black and white images brought into the program from an draw program and the other model parts were created from tools resident in the program itself. All of the model objects have either image patterns or textures attached to their surfaces that were created in other image creating programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
Fig. 9 Setting with Disk Object and Statue Object
On computer models, the materials attached to their surfaces are most usually images taken from other programs and applied using dialog options found within the creating program. It is also possible, however, to use black and white images from draw and bit-map applications to create objects. In the case of the model seen in figure one, two of the forms, the platform disk and the statue sculpture, were extruded from the flat black and white images shown in figure 10-A and 10-B.
Fig. 10 Black and White Extrusion Templates
While still in Photoshop, these images were individually selected, copied using the Command-O option, and then directly pasted into an open Strata Studio Pro window. When this action is performed, a new dialog window shown in figure 11 opens and the black figure becomes white. The reason for this change is that the program reads the black parts of an image as solid and white portions as space. When in the program, just the reverse is true: white becomes object and black becomes space. When the OK button is hit, the image is sent back to the main window as a two-dimensional object. [This same process was undertaken in Part 1-Scenographic Models from Black and White Templates: Step 3]
These black and white images were derived from the JPEG or PICT images shown in figure 13-A & B.
Fig. 11 Figure Image in Strata Paste and Extraction Window
Images may be used as objects in this state, but to give them image depth, they must be extruded in another window like that shown in figure 12. The depth of an extruded object is set in the dialog box at the top of the window (12-A).
Fig. 12 Figure Image in Strata Extrusion Window
It is possible to make multiple use both the objects and the texture maps attached to them in one model. For instance, the disk at the rear of the setting is a copy of the one placed on the floor.
Creating Model-Object Texture Maps
The texture maps used on the model parts of figure 9 had to be matched to the black and white templates shown in figure 10. For the circle, there is little problem; the circle of the template is identical in shape to that of the Celtic shield shown in figure 13 A. The figure template, however, was created in Adobe Photoshop using the tools resident there in order to match the outlines of the image of the statue shown in figure 13 B.
Fig. 13 Scanned JPEG or PICT Images
In order to make these images into texture maps, certain procedures must be followed. This process involves proprietary dialog boxes in the either of the Strata programs. Let us use the Celtic shield as an example. The steps are these:
1. Click the New button at the left of the Textures pallet.
2. This opens a window like that shown in figure 14.
Fig. 14 Strata Texture Map Dialog Box
3. Click the box named Color Map
4. This opens another window like that shown in figure 15
Fig. 15 Image Pasted into Strata Texture Map Creation Window
5. Click the Get Picture button. At this point, a find file opens up. You can now go to any PICT image, double-click on it, and it will open up to its original size in the window. (An alternate way to get a PICT image into this window is simply cut and paste it from the originating program.) Not all of the image image may fit in the window. Click OK anyway and you will be given the option to reduce the image to fit. In most cases, this should be done. When you click OK, you are taken back to the window shown in figure 14. If you wish to color the image in any way, it can be done in the Color box above the Color Map box. Also, the image can be given a glossy surface by use of the slider to the left of the Color Map box. The image can also be made transparent by using the Clear box above the Gloss slider. If a Bump Map is required in order for the image to respond to direction of light, the Expert button should be hit. Another window similar to the Picture window shown in figure 15 will appear and you can import the same image as before. When the OK button is clicked, the image is converted into grayscale and a replica appears on the Bump-Map box.
6. Now return to the window shown in figure 14, name the file if you have not already done so, and then click on the Preview box.
7. When you return to the main modeling space, the texture map will appear in the pallet bar and is ready for attachment to a model object surface.
A word of caution: In order to save this file for use in other models, it must be saved to the Textures folder within the main Strata folder. To do this, some additional steps are required. These are:
1. Go to the Browse Textures folder in the Textures Menu and open it. The name of the new file just created will appear.
2. Click on this name and then click on the Save button at the bottom of the window.
3. A Find File opens and you must search until you find the main Strata folder.
4. Open this folder, find the Texture folder, and open it.
5. Click save in the find file.
6. The new texture map is now part of the permanent Textures collection.
Applying Texture Maps to Objects
Now comes the task of applying the texture maps to objects. It is at this stage of work that both care and experimentation play equal parts in the process. Although the program attempts to guess the correct mapping for the image, often the scenographer must override these suggestions and manually assume charge for the appearance of the image on the object.
Figure 16-A shows a model of the setting in wire-frame mode, the quickest mode in which to work, but also the most difficult visually to keep track of where objects actually are in three-dimensional space. When working in other modes, speed of work slows down considerably.
Textures that can be applied to model parts are kept in a scrollable bar below the main window of the model. These can be attached to a model piece, or to a number of separate objects grouped together, simply by holding down the mouse on the texture icon 16-A and dragging it until it connects to the single object or grouped object as shown below in figure 16-B.
Fig. 16 Dragging Texture Map to Extruded Object
These images, however, can appear differently according to the way they are mapped onto the objects or objects. These differences must be set in another dialog box like the one shown in figure 17.
Figure 17 Strata Texture-Mapping Dialog Box
The purpose of this box is to determine whether the image will appear as a single entity or as a pattern of small images called tiles. It is also in this window that the way the image is placed onto the object or objects is set (fig. 17-A): i.e., whether it lies flat on a plane surface, or wraps around the surface as with cylinders or curves around the surface as on a sphere. A preview window (fig. 17-B) shows how the texture map appears on the selected object
Projecting Images on Scenographic Model Objects
Light projection has become has become one of the scenographer's most useful ways to place imagery temporarily onto scenic forms. It is also a means by which a locale is changed quickly (literally, with the speed of light).
In the computer three-dimensional model environment, image projection can be simulated by attaching texture maps like the image shown in figure 18 to three-dimensional model objects.
Fig. 18 Greek Portrait Bust
In figure 19, we see the image of the Greek Portrait Bust as it would appear as a projection on four kinds of objects .
Fig. 19 Image Texture Maps Applied to Model Objects
This technique directly emulates the way projection devices work in the actual theater. Scenographers and lighting designers can, using the programs and procedures sited above obtain an exact reading as to how the same images would react to actual forms on the stage.
Fig. 19 shows the projection image as it would appear on (A) the floor plane, (B) a free-form three-dimensional object, (C) on a plank-like structure suspended above the stage plane, and (D) on a grouped number of objects. (E) shows the texture map image being dragged from the Textures pallet bar.
For further information on texture mapping, Part 2 of Modelmaking 101 is available here:
Part 2 Modelmaking 101
Go to Lighting Studio
Go to Front Room