The Pod is a primary object/model at Base Camp, the initial waypoint on Postmoderna. It is originally designed as a container for delivering cargo, supplies and a few personnel to planet surfaces. They are transported by cargo carrier and are attached in rings around the core of the transport vessel.

When the Black Venture Cargo vessel arrived at Postmoderna (purely by chance) and after the disaster of the closed space tear, these pods were the only things small enough to transport through the collapsed space tear.

Now enough background info. πŸ™‚ I have to say that working on Cydknee’s pod model has been quite a 3dsMax learning experience. I really have not used the design app a whole lot but since the model was created in Max, it made sense to me to try to finish it in 3dsMax.

The biggest challenge with this project for me was unwrapping it (UV Textures). This, for you new to the project and new to 3D modeling, is the process of basically stretching and squashing all the textured polygons of a model onto one surface or individual texture that is later applied as the main texture of a model in a game. Now if anyone out there has a better definition, please post it. πŸ™‚

At first I was doing the unwrapping the hard way—the very hard way. I used the “Flatten Image” function in 3dsMax. It flattened out all of the UV sections but as you can see below, there were quite a few. More than I wanted to deal with.

UV Normal Unwrap in 3dsMax

UV Flatten Unwrap in 3dsMax

The problem I was having was that I went the route of trying to merge or “stitch” the individual pieces together to make larger ones. That process was extremely tedious and I was starting to grow impatient. There had to be an easier way. Now I want to add that I could have just purchased a plug-in for 3dsMax called Unwrella. Based on the specs of the plug-in and the demo movie clips, this could have made the process a little easier. I just was not ready to spend the money on it yet (although it is only about $250). πŸ™‚ I also wanted to see if I could actually do the unwrapping from using what is built into 3dsMax.

I went to the Autodesk Forums, The Area. Ivan (from the forums) directed me to this very helpful tutorial. At first, much of what was discussed on the tutorial went over my head but after watching it a few times, one piece of logic finally hit me. I really needed to get back some basics. Of course, at this point, what is basic to 3d modelers is still complexed to me.

I revisited my favorite guide to 3dsMax, the 3dsMax 2009 Bible, by Kelly L Murdock. I poured over the chapters about UV Unwrapping again. This time, what I was reading, was starting to make a little more sense.

I went back into 3dsMax and reopened the Pod model. I re-assigned the UVW Unwrap modifier (a modifier that automatically–in most cases–creates the seams that separate the polygons of the model) to the model within the modifier stack. I started selecting some of the specific polys I wanted to work with. I opened the “edit” panel for my UVW (the UV term for the coordinates of a UV map) and selected the “planar” unwrap button. Presto, I had an unwrapped part of the model to rescale and put in the area I wanted to texture. From that point on and one face and one section at a time, I was effectively unwrapping the model. Ooh, I felt like I found the Holy Grail of unwrapping. I was that excited.

I began organizing the individual pieces in the map area. As I pulled all the sections in an arranged them, I rendered a temporary UV Map image I could further texture.

UV Temp Map

Temporary UV Map

I next transferred the existing textures on the model to the UV base texture using something called “Render to Texture” method. This gave me an initial diffuse (color) texture for me to tweak and add details to. The process did what is called in the industry, “baking.” Now for those of you who know me, you know I love to cook, and this is in no way what I think of when I hear the word “baking.” Nevertheless, in technical terms, the process bakes the textures to another and in layers too (if you so desire) that can include (but is not limited to) shadows, lighting and other special texture effects.

Of course as I started working on the textures, I found it necessary to go back and forth between 3dsMax and Photoshop. I kept wanting to check my work in a more “live” mode so I made sure that the texture I was working on was also the active diffuse texture I had on the model. This actually proved to be a pretty good idea. Although, I am sure 3dsMax professional modelers out there would likely think my methods backwards but it worked for me and I was able to get the final texture the way I wanted it (details and all).

Checking the textures in Max

Checking the texture in Max

Back and forth I went until I finished all the details and shading as I needed it. Occasionally, I had to move another poly or two to get something to look right that wasn’t. Believe it or not, even the final still had areas I needed to fix but, hey I am still learning and will get this down as some point. I don’t need to be a master, I just need to provide direction with a little background behind me.

Pod Finished Diffuse Texture

Pod Finished Diffuse Texture

The next thing I did was export the model as it was currently, into Collada format (used by Multiverse) and test it. One challenge I found right off the bat was a few polygons in one of the upper areas that had their “normals” (the direction that a texture image appears or is facing) reversed.

Wrong Normals

Normals that weren't working

This was very frustrating for me. I tried everything I could read about to fix the problem. I just could not get them to show in the right direction. Within 3dsMax, this area rendered fine but when I rendered it within the Multiverse Model viewer, it looked wrong. I reached out to the Multiverse community and was able to get some really good counsel from members on the Multiverse Forums. I was given a solution that by itself worked great. The tweak was 2 lines added to my Multiverse object material file.

cull_hardware none
cull_software none

Now this may seem another language to some of you (it is to me) but this little fix, renders textures 2-sided in the Multiverse Client Browser. I thought, COOL! No, it still did not work. Hmmmm.

Temp Fix for the Pod

Temporary fix for the normal

The problem I was having was that I was using a master material file that didn’t seem to like that little fix. If I used it in the basic material file the the Mutliverse importer created, it worked fine. In 3dsMax, everything rendered great. I loved the way it looked. I just wanted it to work well in the final world. I was frustrated, but I swallowed my pride and my desire to find perfection and, decided to go with the fix.

Pod Model in Max

Pod Model in Max

With the polygon normal issue behind me, I went on to my next step which was to add in the primary collision volume. This would make it so that in the world, an avatar can’t walk through the model. Collision volumes…get it? I followed the instruction on the Multiverse Wiki for creating collision volumes. I created the box that would be the primary collision volume.

Pod Collision Volume

Pod Collision Volume

After that was all done, I imported my final model into Multiverse and put it into the Planet Postmoderna World file. I also tested the original materials I had worked hard to create (diffuse–color, normals for how light bounces off the model and the specular for the reflective properties). And guess what? Miraculously, no more problems with the polys. Okay, that was odd but, hey it was working. Why should I question the results? πŸ™‚

The Pod inworld

The initial pod render

Here is also an alternate view I tested out. There is a feature of the Multiverse World Editor that allows me to disable certain parts of the mesh. The settings allowed me to make the pod look like it is starting to get stripped down (per the background story). Nice effect.

Pod on its side

Pod on its side

The above version is missing the normal and specular texture maps of the original but funny thing is, it actually has more the appearance I want. I need to figure out how to tweak the other one. I also still need to work on a few areas in which the textures look stretched. Always something to do but boy does working on this project teach a lot? I just have to be careful not to want to do too much.