Sunday, April 22, 2012

Plans for a cube-filled room

We're back! And this time, we've got a plan.

Given how much my other project has progressed since I began planning it using Agile methods, I would like to apply the same ideas to our 3D project. Iterations! Stories! Minimum viable product! Yes!

The first thing to decide is how long our iterations are going to be. This will give us limits for the scope of our first iteration's deliverable, and guide us in scheduling an appropriate number of stories. We chose 3 weeks. If the evolution of my other project is any indication, this length is bound to change after an iteration or two anyway, so the exact length is not very important.

Next, our Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The long-term plan is to model our entire condo in 3D, but that's far too large a scope. Especially given that Nadya, being a photography enthousiast, is aiming for photorealism. But with a deadline in three weeks, something has got to give! Should we favor quality or quantity?

That's a false dilemma. We aren't experienced enough to expect photorealism in any amount of time, and a 4½ condo contains a surprisingly large number of objects. So we shall cut both quality and quantity!

Did I say "cut"? We shall maim quality, and shred it to pieces. Observe:

A maimed room. Next to the sea of white. Low poly-count, affordable rent.

The objects are actually much more recognizable than I expected. What you see above is extreme minimalism: two boxes per object, no more, no less. Nadya will place my minimalist models at their proper location in her model of the condo, and I will refine them later. That's the reason why a single box is not allowed: that would make it hard for her to orient the models properly, and we might only notice the mistake once the models get refined.

For some models, the restriction was both challenging and insightful. The fridge, for example: its most distinguishing feature is the line which separates the freezer from the fridge proper. But how do I recreate this line with only two boxes? Well, I could make the freezer hover over the rest of the fridge, or I could make the top door slightly thicker or thiner than the bottom door, but neither approach gives satisfying results. Instead, I found another feature to highlight: the space between the door and the floor! I had never noticed that space before, but if it wasn't there, the fridge just wouldn't look right.

No, we don't keep our fridge in the bedroom.
It's for size comparison! Or something.

For the first iteration, we restrict our attention to a fraction of the condo, but there are still dozens of objects to model. In order to create those two-boxes models as efficiently as possible, I created a simple tool to align two boxes on top of each other.

Surprisingly, filling all of this takes less time than a
 round-trip to the bedroom to re-take a measurement.

Even though there are just two boxes, there are many ways in which the boxes could be placed relative to each other, and even more ways to take the wrong measure on the real-world object. The numbers above, for example, describe the chair. The first box is the base of the chair, and the second box is its back. To measure the height of this second part, I could have measured from the top of the chair to the floor, or from the top of the chair to its seat. To measure the depth of this second box, I could have measured the back's thickness, or the distance between the seat's front and the back. All of these combinations of measurements are easy to express using my tool, by using negative numbers and "reinterpret data" checkboxes.

Once the boxes have the proper size, I use the "face" menu and the "fit" checkboxes to position the second box relative to the first. The back of the chair, for example, has the same width as the base, and is aligned at the back. Done! Next object. To minimize the round trips even further, I bring my wireless keyboard with me to the bedroom and I blindly type notes remotely into an invisible text document. Spooky action at a distance!

Using this technique, I can create two-boxes placeholders for a large number of objects in a small amount of time. I still can't keep up with Nadya, though, who says that placing all of those models at their appropriate location is too easy. For this reason, she also scheduled a story for writing a plugin to import data from Houdini to 3DS Max! I can't wait to see how this pans out. More details in her next post...

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