a whale of a tale...and merry christmas!

Whale shark charm in ZBrush

Whale shark charm in ZBrush

Well, here we are again, and I took a couple days’ break to unwind from the remodel of my parents’ house. Mind you, I’m having a lot of fun working with an awesome group of guys to rebuild the SEVEN decks at this house, but we’ve got the main deck done and we’re working on the railings. A bit more work on the inside, and we’ll be ready to put it on the market. It’s been a long journey—over two years to clear out the house and do a major remodel.

Anyway, tonight I took a moment to record more ZBrush videos, and then my mind started to wander as I looked for more objects to model into jewelry. I absolutely love scuba diving, and swimming with a whale shark is definitely on my bucket list. I’d found my next model.

I started out with a sphere primitive and used the “Snake Hook” brush in ZBrush (shortcut “BSH”) to sculpt the form. I then used “Dam Standard” to create the ridges down the back, and the “IMM Primitive” brush with a sphere to add the spots. I will apply a patina, then the raised spheres should polish out and give the effect of light round dots. Or they might look like tiny polka-dots…sometimes when designing a small charm, you lose sight of what the larger model on the screen may translate into once it’s printed.

So it’s 1:14 a.m. the morning after Christmas, and I just wrapped up. I’m heading to bed. But I just wanted to share this awesome little guy I sculpted this evening. When I finally get back to my studio and start 3D printing and casting again, he’ll definitely be in the next batch.

And then I’ll have to go find a real one to go swimming with.

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the rubber chicken pendant

I haven’t blogged in awhile because I’ve been remodeling my parents’ house. But while preparing a portfolio piece for a jewelry company, I made a series of sheets that show the design process of some of my more recent work.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

So how did I make this little guy? I started with a DynaMesh Sphere from the Lightbox, then turned off Perspective. I used the Gizmo 3D in the Move mode to stretch the sphere into an egg shape.

Switch to the Draw mode. Using a mask where the neck should go (Cmd on Mac, Ctrl on PC), I reversed the mask (Cmd/Mac, Ctrl/PC and click on background) and used the Gizmo 3D “ball” in the Move mode to pull the neck out. Since your primitive is already a DynaMesh, after each major change, re-DynaMesh to refresh the mesh. If you want to see what’s happening, on the right side of the main canvas look for the PolyF button with a grid on it.

Using the same method, turn on Symmetry under the Transform menu, then you can mask off both legs at once in the Draw mode, then switch to the Move mode and use the Gizmo to pull the legs down.

Try using the Snakehook tool to pull out things like the toes on the feet…play around with the size. The shortcut for Snakehook is B-S-H on your keyboard.

Switch to the Clay Buildup tool for sculpting details…a good tip is to turn your intensity down to 5 so it doesn’t apply much material, which is easier to smooth with the shift key. The keyboard shortcut for Clay Building is B-C-B.

The arms were masked off, mask reversed, then pulled out to each side. Try using symmetry to do this, but you will need to move the Gizmo to the general vicinity of one of the arms…when you pull out to the side, it will “raise” both arms at once. To move the Gizmo, hold down Option/Mac or Alt/PC and drag the Gizmo over the masked area for one of the arms, release the key, then use your mouse to pull the horizontal arrow away from the body. Clear the mask and fine-tune with sculpting. To re-center, click on the third icon above the Gizmo to find unmasked center.

Another trick? After masking, you can hold down the Cmd/Mac or Ctrl/PC and click ON the model to soften/blur the edge of the mask. This will provide nice, rounded arms.

And finally, the t-shirt was applied to the chicken using a mask and the Mask Pen. Try switching the stroke to Lasso if you’d like. Sharpen the mask by clicking on the model while holding Cmd-Option/Mac or Ctrl-Alt/PC. Then use the Extract command from bottom of the SubTool palette.

I’ll do a tutorial on this one soon, but hopefully this will get you started!

physical size, resolution, and file size

I've been out of touch for a little bit as I took on a pretty big project that's completely unrelated to jewelry. If you read my bio, you might have seen that I have a background in construction (of all things!). I've been in the middle of a major remodel of my parents' house, getting it ready to go on the market. If you can imagine, popcorn ceiling removal, paint, a new multi-level deck, and a total re-do of four bathrooms, including moving walls. If you've ever watched that show Fixer Upper, it's kinda like that...except for unlike the show, it doesn't happen over the course of an hour.

size matters

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Yup, size can be a big issue when working with ZBrush. While I don't have a formal answer why, I'm guessing that it's because the program was designed to make things that were abstract—things that lived in a virtual world. So for that reason, size is relative in ZBrush, and measured in plain ol' units. Here you can see the Size sub-palette under the Geometry palette on the right-side of the interface.

The pendant on the stage (only the pendant, not the chain), is a minuscule amount smaller than 25.4 units. Well, if you count this as 25.4 millimeters, this equals one inch across. You can also see the Z Size is 1.61 units, so approximately 1.61 mm thick, which is a nice thickness for a pendant. And likewise, the height is 16.7 mm.

When I first started working with ZBrush, I saw a tutorial that suggested calibrating something called the Transpose Line tool. I struggled with this, and every time I thought I had the size correct, something would change and everything would be off. I couldn't reliably gauge bezel cups or stone settings...or even thicknesses. This also became an issue with the amount that a design or text was raised off or inset into the surface. So finding a way to make this work was really important.

Someone also asked me on YouTube if I used a plugin called "ScaleMaster." The answer is no. I have also tried RingMaster, another plugin, which is nice, but I also had some problems with that. However, I DO use RingMaster to insert gemstones because the models contain minimal polygons, meaning they don't slow ZBrush down.

getting started with a correctly sized model

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So here's the process I use:

  1. From the right-hand side of the stage, click on the yellow "S" that represents the SimpleBrush tool.

  2. Choose the Cylinder3D from the list.

  3. Click and drag a cylinder on the stage. It doesn't matter how large you make it...it comes into ZBrush at an XYZSize of "2" units.

  4. Immediately press the "T" key to switch to the Edit mode.

  5. Press the Make PolyMesh3D button toward the top under the Tool palette.

  6. Look under the Geometry palette on the right-hand side of the window for the Size sub-palette.

  7. Enter "10" in the XYZSize box and hit return to accept the new size.

  8. The primitive is probably taking up the whole window, so click somewhere on the stage to deselect the number in the XYZSize.

  9. Now press the "F" key to fill the stage with the current object.

And there you have an object on the stage.  It's pretty faceted, and not smooth, but we'll deal with that next.

smoothing the primitive

I have a special technique that I've developed to get a smooth object as soon as possible in the workflow. In the beginning, I thought simply performing a DynaMesh operation would smooth it, and I went back and forth between DynaMesh and Polish Features, but with results that weren't efficient or acceptable. So here's how I smooth things out.

  1. Look for a button labeled Divide from the Geometry palette.

  2. Make sure that the Smt button is turned on (this will smooth your primitive).

  3. Click the Divide button twice.

  4. Look above the Divide button for another button labeled Del Lower. This will delete the two lower-resolution subdivisions that you just created.

That should give you a nice, smooth primitive. 

So what happened? Each time that you use the Divide command, ZBrush takes each rectangular polygon and divides it into four polygons. Then when you divide again, it divides each one of those resulting polygons into four more polygons. If you have the Smt button activated, it takes the opportunity to smooth out your model.

You can see the underlying geometry of your model by using the Draw PolyFrame (Shift - F) button to the right of the stage, toward the bottom of the vertical row of buttons.

Subdivisions are wonderful if you're roughing out a shape, then switching back and forth between lower resolution subdivisions and higher resolution subdivisions. Adding material with a brush like the ClayBuildup brush works faster when working with a low resolution. But finer details are better applied with the higher resolution. I'll address this in a tutorial later.

Take a look at the example below...look at the pixillation of the cylinder and the number of ActivePoints. Each time that the cylinder is divided, it QUADRUPLES the number of ActivePoints. This has implications with regard to file size...our strategy is to get a smooth resolution while still keeping the file size down. 

So keep this in mind, and I'll write a little more later...then we'll talk about how working in actual size relates to your DynaMesh resolution. and how you can work more efficiently and on lower-end hardware.

Heck, I can even run ZBrush on my 2012 MacBook Pro! And you know what that means? I can sit in a café in the Caribbean and design jewelry. SWEET!

an experimental earring from a kaleidoscope program

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I'm just putting this experimental earring up here because I think it turned out pretty cool! Created in the new ZBrush Core.

I used a kaleidoscope drawing program that I found on the internet to make the basic design, used the Gaussian Blur tool in Photoshop to blur the jagged edges, then Unsharp Mask to bring it back into focus. The design was then brought into ZBrush as an alpha mask, turned into a polygroup, isolated, then extracted. The resulting mesh was then Dynameshed so it could be sculpted, then divided (using Subdivisions and the Divide function) to give a finer mesh for sculpting.

UPDATE: I’m now using iOrnament on the iPad with the Apple Pencil as a design tool for repeating patterns and mandalas. It eliminates the problem of having to blur the image and sharpen…just use AirDrop and send it over to your computer!

BIG DISCLAIMER: I wouldn't say that this is my best design work, but it was more of an experiment...so carry on.

Rendered image from ZBrush

I used the Helix tool in ZBrush to create the coil on the drop, added some jump rings, then brought in a Cube primitive and Dynameshed it so I could draw a mask and create the darker supports that would recess into the background after a patina was applied. The original supports were straight. The curls add a nice touch that mirrors the swirls on the main design.

By the way...using the MRGB function in ZBrush, you can "paint" different areas to mimic the patination applied during finishing. Just choose a material, and change the color to a darker gray. This behaves a little differently than using the "dirty" silver MatCap material, and results in a more dramatic presentation of the finished piece.

UPDATE: When this earring was printed and cast, it was too thick and too heavy. Thanks to the technology, I was able to shrink the thickness, enhance the scrolls, and reprint. The great thing about having a printer on your workbench is being able to make adjustments and test techniques. 

The models with supports added, ready to print. This version was too thick and too heavy.

MoI — moment of inspiration CAD software

types of CAD modeling

After taking an online course on jewelry in ZBrush, I was a little frustrated that the instructor was going back and forth between ZBrush ($795) and another piece of "parametric CAD" software that was more expensive. I had a few early attempts to stretch SketchUp's capabilities to make basic forms for ZBrush that worked okay, but since then I've learned more about ZBrush's ZModeler functionality for hard surface modeling.

Simple flower made in virtual "clay" in ZBrush

So you say, "Kat, you're using that crazy terminology again, and I have no idea what you're talking about." Let me explain.

ZBrush gives you the ability for more freeform modeling. Imagine sculpting with a ball of clay in real life...you can push and pull the material into organic shapes, creating a model in a very realistic way but in a new medium. The flower shown here is a very basic example of this type of freeform modeling in ZBrush. However, the flower was originally created in ZModeler as a hard-surface model, then sculptural details added with other more freeform brushes.

The ZModeler mode in ZBrush is great for creating hard-surface models...this would be like modeling a starfighter...you might start with basic shape and push and pull surfaces to make something more mechanical looking. Here's a fascinating time-lapse video of "Alex O" modeling a war helmet in ZBrush with ZModeler. In jewelry design, I might use the ZModeler functionality to create a square frame for a pendant, then an inner medallion, then switch over to soft sculpting to create the design. When creating a base for 3D printing, I also use the ZModeler functionality. Here's another great video from Alex O that shows him using ZModeler to make a geometric ring.

However, something like SketchUp (SketchUp Make, FREE download) is a little more rigid. I can create a box, then push and pull geometric shapes. But if I were making a box that I wanted to be exactly 20 cm, I have a precision built in to the program that can make that happen. That is a characteristic of a "parametric" 3D modeling program. That makes SketchUp...like AutoCAD, Fusion360 (cloud-based, FREE for hobbyists), Solidworks, and similar software...perfect for creating technical drawings and product designs. For example, I used SketchUp to design my jewelry workbench.

moment of inspiration (MoI)

I had some issues with creating printable models in SketchUp, so I started looking around for another "technical" drawing solution that wouldn't break the bank. Enter Moment of Inspiration, also known as MoI. MoI is $295, works on both Mac and PC, and has a 30-day trial.

At first I was a little skeptical. The interface was pretty basic, and definitely wasn't written to take advantage of the Mac interface I'm using. But then again, neither is ZBrush. After a couple of YouTube videos I was up and running, and I was able to figure out the rest on my own. 

So what is MoI good for? Probably almost any kind of technical modeling you might want to do except freeform "clay" type modeling. You could take a freeform "extruded" shape and "subtract" a sphere from it. Combining different "primitive" shapes, such as cubes, cylinders, and spheres, you can make pretty complex models that export well. Turning on a "grid snap" or "object snap" helps line things up. Then you can export these items easily, bringing them into the PreForm or other "slicing" software that prepares the file for 3D printing.

Some rubber mold frames made in MoI

I jokingly say that the second phase of having access to a 3D printer is when you start making your own tools. I purchased some frames for making rubber molds from Rio Grande, but they were too wide to fit in a nifty little spring clamp that holds the split mold together while filling with hot wax. Additionally, trying to estimate the amount of two-part "RTV" (room temperature vulcanizing) mold material usually resulted in wasted material...and at $56 a container, it's too expensive to do that! So my "improved" version has markings on the side to indicate centimeters, and a handy spreadsheet calculates the exact volume and weight of RTV needed. Remember the ability to measure in a parametric modeling program? Because MoI works that way, my one centimeter marks are accurate when printed. In ZBrush, that would be more difficult.

And because I'm a dork, I added www.katkramer.com and my logo to the side...and it was backwards, so when the rubber mold is made, my website address doesn't read correctly. Oh well, there's always version 2.

So in a nutshell, MoI is a nice little program, and the models created are accurate in size. It is a nice alternative to more expensive programs for making basic models to bring into ZBrush.