Thing-A-Week 2020 – Week Three: D&D Tents for 3D Printing

This week I’ve left the simulations behind and modelled some scenery for D&D in Zbrush 2020, for printing on my Elegoo Mars 3D Printer.

The tent was modelled in two pieces, as it would be quite difficult to paint the inside when printed if it was all one piece. It took about four and a half hours to print one tent and base together.

The first model (shown below) had much thinner ropes and posts, which didn’t reproduce well when it was printed, so I went back into the model and increased the thickness of those elements. Also I initially modelled it to have a groove in the base that the tent fit into, but that didn’t work out either, so I removed it and instead used a boolean operation to subtract the base model from the tent so the two should press together fairly well. Fortunately this worked so both pieces sit quite well together.

The first iteration of the model.

The latest low-price resin printers are great but there are still some levels of detail that are just too small to capture.

The below are 3D renders of the final models, and below that are photos of the final prints. Some details were lost, but overall they came out very well.

I am very happy with how the prints came out, and will post pictures of them painted once that is done.

More next week!

Thing-A-Week 2020 – Week Two: Smoke Canister

Apologies for the delay – post Christmas lurgy got to me. Here is week two’s thing – a smoke canister simulation, using Tyflow and Phoenix FD.

The Tyflow setup is again, quite straightforward – here is the graph:

The first event (CanisterSpawn) generates a particle, gives it a rough canister shape and launches it into the air, with a bit of spin. This is then passed to the next event which make sure it is affected by gravity, then does an age test to work out when it explodes. At the moment it only generates one canister because I wanted to work on a single PhoenixFD simulation to start with – increasing the birth amount / rate would create multiple canisters, as required.

Once the explosion threshold is reached it spawns two sets of particles – one very short lived burst to create some birth points for Phoenix at the centre of the explosion, which only live for a couple of frames; and about 30 particles to act as tendrils. These have a higher velocity and longer life, and I’ve given them a Shape instance set to 3D Chunks just to add some visual interest.

Finally both spawned systems have age tests and are passed to the delete event when they are finished.

PhoenixFD Setup

Once the particle system had been generated and I knew where the burst position was going to be, I created a PhoenixFD Smoke/Fire Simulator, using the following settings for the simulation:

The main one that makes a difference here is the Smoke Buoyancy which is set to a negative number to make the smoke slowly fall towards the ground rather than rise up, as this is supposed to be more dust than smoke.

In addition to those shown above, I set the GPU preview option and changed the Smoke Color swatch in the Volumetric Options dialog to the tan colour seen in the video.

I created a PHXSource object and used these settings:

The Inject Power and Particles amount were animated over time to give the smoke tendrils a falloff shape.

I added a plane object with a lattice modifier to act as a ground plane so some sense of the camera movement could be had and used the Viewport Capture option to create the output – this, coupled with the GPU preview option is a great way to quickly get an idea of how the rendered simulation will look in a fraction of the time it would take to render the entire sequence.

This week is a bit of an odd one as I’m posting this late, so there will be a Week Three later on in the week. I hope this write up was informative, and I’ll be back later in the week with another one!

Thing-A-Week 2020 – Week One: Fireworks

For the first project this year, I decided to start with a bang – a fireworks simulation created using 3DS Max and the TyFlow plugin. Here is the final animation:

It’s a relatively simple TyFlow setup – here is the graph:

Click the image to open a larger version in a new tab

The ‘Rocket Launcher’ event births the rocket particles, gives them a speed, a starting location, applies gravity and a material ID to keep the colour constant. The particles are then passed to the ‘Trail Spawn + Boom’ event where the rocket trail is spawned, and a time test is carried out to set when each particle will burst. The trail particles are sent to a separate event which scales them to about half the size and does a 2 frame time test before deleting the particle. This is so the trail stays relatively close behind the rocket.

When the particles are passed to the ‘Boom’ event, they are scaled to 1500% of their size for one frame, creating a quick burst effect. They then spawn the starburst using the ‘Starburst Spawn’ event, which creates a random number of between 10 and 20 new particles emitting from the location of the parent. They are also assigned a random material ID from a selection of 4 different colours. These are then passed to the ‘Starburst Trails Spawn’ event, which creates the trails behind the starburst particles. A time test controls when the initial burst particles and their trails are passed to the delete process.

The materials setup is also straightforward – a Multi-SubObject material is created with 5 slots, each with a slighty different coloured VRay Light material in it. Material 5 is reserved for the rockets, and numbers 1-4 are for the individual bursts.

I added a simple ocean setup and a background environment to give the image a bit more visual interest. It was rendered with VRay NEXT, and put together in After Effects, where a bit of motion blur was added along with a bit of colour correction to saturate the colours a bit more.

I hope you find this write up helpful, and I’ll be back next week with another project.

Thing-A-Week 2020

I am going to attempt to create a ‘thing-a-week’ this year. It might be an animation, a simulation, a model, an image – just something created from nothing, for no reason other than to keep myself moving forward over the year. If all goes well by the end of the year I should have 52 mini projects that I have completed, showing a range of different things.

I will use a variety of software – Zbrush, 3ds Max, Fusion 360, Substance Designer & Painter etc. I’m not setting any other restrictions other than it having to be done in one week per project.

I’ll write a blog post about each project at the end of each week, detailing where necessary what was used, how it was done, the idea behind it etc.

Wish me luck!

Star Wars – The Saga is Complete

I saw a Star War the other night, and I’m conflicted. Not because I didn’t like the film – I really, really did, and will be seeing it again as soon as I can, but because, perhaps more than any one other thing, the Star Wars universe has had a considerable influence on me over the years, and this, while it will by no means be the last Star Wars film ever made, was the last of a saga that started when I was too young to see it.

I have distinct memories of watching and re-watching a VHS recording of A New Hope that was taped off of ITV (it had a really distinctive British Airways advert, so it can’t have been BBC), and it and its sequels started a fascination with visual effects that has stuck with me to this day.

I decided to make computer graphics my career because of the Star Wars special editions; some of the earliest things I built in 3D were Star Wars ships (happily lost to the mists of time now – they were terrible). The prequels aren’t good films, but if you stuck the good bits of each one together, you’d get a film that made no sense but was an awesome spectacle from start to finish.

The newer films are cinematic popcorn. They are fun, for the most part harmless, and they fulfil the need for wonder that my inner seven year old desires. On top of that The Last Jedi has one of the most beautiful shots ever seen in a Star Wars film, and one I would gladly have printed huge on a wall at home.

I won’t spoil the Rise of Skywalker here. I enjoyed it. Others might not. But that’s ok. I’m not one of those Star Wars fans that thinks that if your opinion differs from mine it is in some way invalid. I am happy to have all Star Wars all the time – it’s a wonderful universe to let your imagination play in.

So thank you to all the filmmakers, authors, artists, game developers, musicians, actors and all the rest who have dipped their toes into that universe and created so much wonder.

May The Force Be With You, Always.

3D Printing – Borderlands Sniper Rifle – Part 3

Quite a big update this week – the scope and rail are, bar more sanding and finishing, essentially complete.

The scope itself is made up of 6 individual parts – for ease of painting, I’m not attaching the front to the body yet as it has quite a significant overhang which will be impossible to get under if I glued all this together.  The above photo is everything just resting together.

I made a few adjustments to the model before I chopped it up for printing – I hollowed it out, so you can see through it from one end to the other.  My reasoning for this was that it would a) give me the ability to see through it, you know, like a scope, and b) it would be lighter and use less filament than if I printed it as a set of solid parts.  That said, I had to add some hidden features to help me with sticking it all together once it was printed.

Between the rear fluted part and the first part of the central tube, I indented the flutes into the body by about 2mm, so that I could press one into the other, which makes sure everything is lined up properly.  In the ends of all the other pieces, I cut 2mm diameter holes to a depth of about 15mm, which I figured I would be able to insert a clipped down cocktail stick to give the joint extra support, and also keep things nicely aligned.

While this seemed like a good idea at the time, due to me not taking into account the small tolerance of the final prints, the holes ended up being slightly smaller than the diameter of a cocktail stick, which led to me having to not only clip the sticks down to fit, but also file them down to get the diameter small enough to fit in the holes.  *note to self: remember the tolerance*.  Once I’d done that though, the parts stuck together perfectly, with very little gap.  I used a little filler to hide the joint completely and sanded everything down while the front section of the scope was printing.

I stuck the three parts of the front of the scope together in the same fashion, and then went to join the two parts together.  This is when another fundamental error on my part became apparent:  All the centre parts had six holes cut into them in the same locations all the way along, which meant that they could fit together at only six possible orientations.  With the cylindrical centre sections this was fine as it didn’t matter which way around the parts went together as the profile was the same all the way along.  The issue arose because the rear most part with the flutes could be fitted into its socket in ten different orientations, and because it had the side parts with the screws and the sight on top, it has a ‘correct’ way up, as does the front section as it has the scope cover and the front sight, which has got to line up with the rear one.  It turns out that in my haste to stick this all together (because I’m impatient…) I’d mounted the rear part a couple of orientations off from the rest of the piece, so that the holes in the front section didn’t match the holes in the end of the rest of the scope.  I could have just glued the parts together, but there was no easy way of ensuring that it was lined up completely right, and there really wasn’t much surface for the glue to get a good purchase on.  The solution I came up with was to print a small cylindrical tube part that I could slide into the end of one half of the scope and glue into place, and then attach the front part of the scope to that.  I named this part the ‘idiot joint’ in my honour.

The idiot joint in all its glory.

Around this time I also printed the attachment mounts in a couple of parts so the scope could sit in them and the top then placed over and glued in place when I am finally happy with the finish.

The next part to print was the rail.  For some reason, and I must have been tired, I decided that the best way to print this was to cut it up into sections no longer than 150mm (the tallest thing I can print in the printer, give or take) and print all the pieces standing up.  I decided to use the same method as with the rest of the scope to join them, e.g. cocktail stick supports, and this time made the holes a tiny bit larger so I wouldn’t have to file the damn things down again.

The massive disadvantage to printing them this way, other than the fact that if the head hits them too hard they could fall over, is that the grain of the print is essentially going across the part rather than along it, which means they are rather easy to snap in half, or in thirds, or quarters, especially if it doesn’t print properly in a couple of places…  In addition to this, because I’d forgotten to switch off support generation, it printed support material inside the holes at the ends closest to the print bed, to support the end of the hole.  Which proved almost impossible to remove.  After much swearing and snapping two pieces, I had to print a couple of bits again, which I this time printed laying flat on the bed, with no supports, which gave a much nicer finish and a stronger part overall.  I’m not going to reprint the rest of the rail as the remaining parts seem to be holding together pretty well.

I’ve learned quite a lot about what not to do and what to keep an eye on when modelling for 3D printing this week, and it also marks the point at which this project is going to be going on (certainly fabrication-wise) hold for the moment. – – Filament is at an all time low and I’ve got some other projects I’ve got to use it for, so I’m just going to concentrate on working out how I’m going to get the electronic functionality that I want and how I’m going to print the remainder of the rifle without using all the filament in the northern hemisphere.

More soon!

Part 1Part 2

3D Printing – Borderlands Sniper Rifle – Part 2

When last we met, I’d just started printing a test print of the rifle handle to see whether it was the right size for my hand.  As the rest of the rifle can be scaled universally, getting this piece the right size would impact the size of the rest of the model.  Below are the results of that test print:

Even though the handle was pretty close, I feel it could be a tiny bit larger, so I’ve increased the size of the model by 3%.  Doing a little measuring within Fusion 360, it turns out that when this entire thing is built it will be over 1.5 metres long!  One thing I was impressed by was how smoothly the model printed – this was my first time using the Simplify3D slicer and it is very good indeed.  I’ve also decided to print the trigger as a separate part for a few different reasons, the main one being that I want to be able to move it, and a secondary one being that the support tower wobbled while it was printing which led to a wobbly print.

After a couple of other tweaks to the model, I decided to start cutting things apart ready for printing.  When something is 3D printed, the software adds support structures so the hot end doesn’t have to end up printing in thin air.  While these supports are generally very good, they can leave little blips or marks on the model where they attach.  With that in mind, I wanted to ensure that I could print as much of the rifle as possible without having to rely on supports.   The part I started with was the calibration dials on the scope – this was a relatively straightforward object, but due to the orientation of some parts of it, I needed to break it apart to print it in a total of 8 separate pieces.

My aim was to have the dial parts the caps slide over the rod I’d added to their bases.  The main body was split in two as it would have to encompass the body of the scope, which would be printed separately.  Technically this worked, although I didn’t allow enough clearance around the rod on the side dial, so I had to snap that off to get the parts to fit.  I didn’t bother to sand or finish this part as I was just testing whether I could get it to fit together properly.  Here’s a couple of pictures of it all stuck together:

I’m going to adjust the model slightly to allow for more clearance on the side parts, as I’d like to be able to have the dials be able to be rotated if possible.  I’ll also do all the sanding, filling and other finishing before I glued it together!

The next part I have printed is the sight.  I wanted to be able to add a piece of clear acrylic with a design printed on it to the middle of the sight, so I had to cut the model up accordingly.  Below are the final parts, which have been filled, sanded and filler primer-ed.  They need to be sanded again and I may have to add some more filler in certain areas too.  I cut the piece of acrylic from a small 3mm sheet that I picked up from Hobbycraft.  The arrow indicates the top as it’s not quite square.  I’ve press-fitted it together in these photos as I’ve still got quite a lot of finishing to do…

More soon!

Part 1 – Part 3

3D Printing – Borderlands Sniper Rifle – Part 1

As some of you may know, I am rather a big fan of the Borderlands games, and I’ve long coveted the idea of making my own version of one of the sniper rifles from the game and now that I have a 3D printer, it seemed like as good a time as any.

Rather than go with something small and simply shaped, which would, you know, be sensible, I’ve gone for this: the Barking Volcano.

I chose this one for three reasons:

  1. It looks cool.
  2. It will give me a serious modelling challenge.
  3. My character already had it so I didn’t need to go looking for another rifle.

I took a bunch of screenshots to use as reference material and jumped into another complete unknown – Autodesk Fusion 360.  Fusion 360 is a CAD/CAM package which operates somewhat differently from the 3D software that I’m used to.  After watching a few tutorials online, I felt I was ready to jump in and start modelling.  Using the side view of the rifle as a canvas, I started with the scope, and the stock and once those were done, moved on to the more complicated shape of the body and handle.

Overall the modelling took about 6-8 hours over a number of days, with quite a few false starts and no small amount of swearing.  I’m pretty happy with the final result.

To make sure that I’d got everything scaled properly, I decided to do a test print of just the handle, as the size of the rifle depends on the size of the handle.

I exported just the handle to Simplify3D and set it up to print.  Results to follow… (part 2 – Part 3)


Lone Echo: This is the VR game you’ve been waiting for.

Ok, so this weekend Lone Echo was released on Oculus.  And oh man it is amazing.  There has been a lack of games in VR that have both the production values and writing of an AAA title, because for the most part developers have been testing the waters and releasing more experimental works, rather than fully fledged games.

Lone Echo changes that.  The writing, the voice acting, the graphics, the interface – everything has the polish that you’d expect from an AAA title.

In it, you play the part of a robot – the ‘Echo’ unit of the title – named (by your human colleague) Jack.  You assist the only other human resident of a mining facility in the rings of Saturn.  The entire game is in zero gravity, which lends itself to the VR medium very well, and the means of getting around – grabbing on to anything and pushing or pulling yourself along, using little hand jets, or later an EVA backpack, use all the benefits that having a head mounted display and hand controllers give you.  In fact, they’ve got the locomotion down so well that there was never a feeling of nausea that can sometimes occur when having free movement in VR.  The immersion is so good, that there were two or three occasions where I had to stop myself from falling over (even though I was standing completely still!) as my brain was totally convinced that I was in free-fall.

Gameplay-wise, the game is a comfortable play.  Probably best to be played standing, but I can see no reason (other than your available space) why it couldn’t be played sitting down.  I did find that while standing I had to adjust my position occasionally because you forget that your feet are actually touching the ground and start to hurt accordingly, as you habitually rock slightly on them in response to things happening in game.

The story is good, the writing and voice acting are all done to a high standard.  The graphics, usually a let down due to the high graphics requirements of the medium itself, are in this case beautiful, there is no stuttering, the textures are for the most part high resolution and unpixellated.

The only minor niggles I have, and they are minor, is that it is sometimes difficult to identify what your next objective is, as (not sure whether this a bug or intentional) the objective marker sometimes doesn’t appear, meaning a lot of floating around looking for something that flashes.  I found this most towards the closing sections of the game, but that could be because the developers assumed that I’d know what I was looking for by then!  Oh, and there’s a couple of bits towards the end which can make you want to throw your controllers with frustration, but even then you want to dive immediately back in and try again.

I have never played a VR game that made me feel so immersed in a fully realised and functioning world.

It also comes bundled with Echo Arena.

Well worth a purchase and I thoroughly recommend.