Sunday, March 4, 2012

Learning 3D stuffs, part one: The setup

As I said in my last post, I'm always looking jealously over at the Bethesda community which seems to put out hundreds of new models every week with ease, a lot of them armors or body replacers of high quality. The NWN2 community started off with quite some enthusiasm years ago too, but seems to have died out when it comes to nice clothes etc. Unacceptable! So the only solution is, trying it myself. As long as it's just retexturing of existing models, no problem, I have figured that out myself, being familiar with Photoshop and having learned the basics of file conventions in NWN2. But where I'm completely lost is the 3D side of things, actually doing stuff in a 3D app.

As some sort of reply to, say, Jester's helpful mails last year, the few tutorials I've found and Frank's comment to my last post, let me start with where I'm coming from and where I really get stuck.

As for NWN2 works, what I did so far can be seen in that little hak linked on the right (I still don't get why I have that age restricted thingy there). That is based on Jester's New Nudes (with clothes), basically a collection of textures attempting to suit every race as good as possible.
Furthermore, not uploaded, there's my attempt to use Jester's belt-slot clothes to create some dresses and undies. Example:

What you see up there is actually not a painted body model, but the lingerie is a 2nd model worn as an extra piece of clothing above the main body, enabling you to use any body texture with it (a blue one for Genasi, a dark one for drow etc.). The lingerie model is a piece of clothing worn as a second layer in the belt slot (NPCs) or gloves slot (PCs), based on Jester's catsuit model with most parts transparent. All this can be done in Photoshop alone, along with the regular NWN2 tools like mdb cloner, nVidia plugins for Photoshop etc. etc. And of course existing models, which is the tough part.
The problem is that I'm stuck with the basic shapes of those models, so a, say, dress with puffy arms, certain skirts etc. are not possible. Also, to get a bit more into detail, my undies like that up there look incredibly 2D, like paper cutouts. You can fake some structures with normal maps, but usually the seams never look convincing. To add actual volume, you need a model and edit it in a 3D app.

Anyway, this just to sum up the following: I'm familiar with NWN2 content and naming conventions, know how to use mdb cloner, know the basics about texturing in 2D, can edit 2das etc. etc.

Now let's get into 3D, because this is where I feel like a 3 year old....

Starting with my setup. I've collected most tools needed to import, export and edit both .nif (Bethesda) and .mdb (NWN) files, plus some tutorials:

Missing in that pic are of course the NWN2 toolset, standard tools like mdb cloner, NWN2 Packer and stuff I use for other things too like Photoshop (Elements and CS5 on the Mac side). I also have Gimp in there for some specific functions - mostly to follow a Blender tutorial, but there's also neat things like a "make seamless" filter to quickly create texture tiles, which requires a bit more work in Photoshop.

Where things already get messy is the basic setup of Blender and it's plugins: Certain plugins ask for certain versions. That's why you see both Blender 2.49 and Blender 2.62 in the folder. Finding out the right combination was already one of the most frustrating parts:

- 2.49 is required for importing/exporting Bethesda's .nif files, because the niftools haven't been updated yet.

- 2.62 is for the rest, including the .mdb plugins which have been updated. I also prefer using this version, and the two look so different that it's almost like learning two different 3D programs at once. I prefer to go with the newer version and only use 2.49 to import a .nif and save it for using in 2.62 later. After all I don't plan to export a .nif again.

Having both versions introduces a new problem: You have to change the install paths to get them both running at the same time, otherwise 2.62 overwrites the 2.49 content.
Also, what barely anyone tells you, stick with the 32bit versions!!! It took me a long and frustrating time to find out the 64bit version will only result in much more headache when installing the plugins.

Now for the required plugins:

- Niftools: Install only exactly following this post - No experiments. A 64bit version or a different python download than linked there will screw everything up. Don't try the alphas for newer Blender versions, screws things up too. Stick with the regular downloads and Blender 2.49.
The only exception - you can (additionally) use the latest release candidate of Nifscope, only this will enable you to get Skyrim models into Blender (a different topic for later, haven't tried it yet).

- mdb plugin: Not half as much headache installing it than the niftools. Works with the latest Blender release, as long as you stick again to the 32bit version all is fine. Remember you have to enable plugins in the User Preferences -> Add Ons of Blender before you can use them.

Additionally, as I've read in many places, Bone Weight Copy should make things much easier. It was included in past versions of Blender, now you have to find it again on the interwebz. Funny, the name of the original author sounds somewhat familiar.... <_<

With all the Blender stuff covered, maybe a few words on the additional stuff in my folder.

First we have the DAZStudio, which was a free download during February. This is almost exclusively for making human bodies (or clothes) and posing it. I was quite excited to get it for free first, but I'm a bit less excited now. I don't really like it. I wanted to use it for making a new base model that looks a bit more natural than what's available currently, but hell, they even want you to BUY the nipples... hahaha... I used Poser a long time ago, which would be more useful for that task. The big pro argument for DAZ is that you can actually pose the figure, a topic I'll get to in my 2nd part.

As an alternative to the above, we have an Open Source app called Make Human. I'm using the latest Nightly Build because it comes with quite a few new features not available in the stable one yet, and it works fine.
For making a base body I'd actually prefer this program by far over DAZ. Because the body looks much more natural (based on full body scans), you can make very believable fat/anorexic/etc persons and, well, it's not a biggy, but you don't have to pay extra for nipples (etc) too.

One of the big Pros of this program is that it has a very smooth Blender export, Blender actually comes with a Makehuman plugin by default and you get a posable, rigged, neatly setup model from Make Human into Blender with just a few clicks. Theoretically, because there are issues I'll mention later. One of the real big issues in this program is that you CAN'T pose yet. This issue is so big it almost ruins things completely. You can pose in Blender, but.... later.

Well, so much for the basic setup. You can also see some documentations in my folder, some from tips from Jester, some Blender tutorials, release notes. Hexagon, Bryce etc. are of no importance for NWN2 now.

Finally, there's also gmax in there. I don't know much more about gmax other than it's free basic version of 3D Max, fairly old, but should have enough functionality for NWN2 modelling... I haven't looked much into it yet.

To be continued.

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