Paying Attention to Attenuation

Please forgive the obscure title, but what I'm about to talk about
is a trick that is often hidden away in 3D packages and as a consequence
missed by many when it comes to lighting.

So which controls am I talking about? It is the ability to visually control the decay
rate of your lights in the viewport. In the case of 3ds Max this is the Near and Far
attenuation controls. You will find them in under the Intensity/Color/Attenuation roll-out of 
the standard light sources.

This tip is specifically for 3ds Max. Softimage has similar controls, but Maya has the intensity curve which I cannot get to work in the same way. I haven't checked out any other packages, but if your 3D program of choice has similar controls then please feel free to let us all know.

For lighters/anyone interested in getting the best out of their scene in terms of tonal contrast, this is an absolute gift. It frees us from the standard decay rates of none, linear, inverse, cubic, etc. With this control we can completely art direct the light's intensity and decay over distance. Of course when we do this we are breaking any physical accuracy in the light's decay behavior. But the ability to have this fine control is a great option to exercise in certain situations. 

Spot light showing the viewport far attenuation controls.

Spot light showing the viewport far attenuation controls.

If you take a look at the controls, you will see Near Attenuation and Far Attenuation. I mostly recommend using the Far Attenuation controls, I haven't found so much use for the Near Attenuation.

Checking the Use & Show boxes will bring two 'dish' like shapes into the cone of the spot light. The darker blue dish indicates the point at which the light decay/intensity will begin to change, this is the Far Attenuation Start point. From the point of the light source to the dark blur dish there is no light attenuation. The light takes whatever value you have in the Multiplier and emits it at a constant rate over that distance.

The lighter Blue dish indicates the End Attenuation point, this is the point at which light has attenuated to zero intensity.

Using Realistic shading in the viewport it's possible to preview the light's decay. Here there is no attenuation between zones 1-2 and the light decays to zero between zone 2-4.

Using Realistic shading in the viewport it's possible to preview the light's decay. Here there is no attenuation between zones 1-2 and the light decays to zero between zone 2-4.

Turn the viewport display mode to Realistic (as seen in the screen shots) and you will get a real-time update of how far your pushing the light into the scene as you adjust the sliders. 

Check out the below Max 2012 scene and have a play with these controls yourself:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/wipwctz09pzq9ig/TCGI_attenuation_2012.max

 

 

Cool Tools No.3

Microsoft, hang your head in shame. It astonishing how much time is wasted in this operating system jumping around from window to window, navigating to various folders. It is possible to setup shortcuts to folders that you often use, but having a desktop shortcut for example means that you always need to go to the desktop to access it. The strength of this tool is that your shortcuts are almost always just a right-click away.

FolderGit

FolderGit works in harmony with Windows Explorer. It adds a right-click menu that stores paths to directories and folders. It's a simple tool and you'll be suprised at how it speeds your navigation. Take a look at the below screenshot, it shows FolderGit in action, allowing me to access a specific folders from one easy location.

When installed you'll have the option to create a tree list of shortcuts 

When installed you'll have the option to create a tree list of shortcuts 

As you can imagine FolderGit really comes into it's own when you need to regularly access 'deep' network paths. The ability to split the tree up and colour specific folders also makes organising and accessing folders a visual experience.

Mapping these paths is really easy. Using the Path Editor you can visually build directory structures using simple drag/drop techniques.

Map your shortcuts using the Path Editor 

Map your shortcuts using the Path Editor 

I'm not going delve deeply into how to use this great little program, simply because it's already well documented (see links at the end of the post). However I will pass on one tip. As foldergit only works with the native Windows Explorer, some commonly used CG packages block it's usage as they have their own custom dialogues. For example Nuke and Maya use their own dialogues and the wiki for foldergit explains how to bypass this for Nuke. In Maya the method is simpler, you just need to switch off the custom option and force Maya to use the native Windows Explorer. This is done by going into;

Window / Settings/Preferences / Preferences / Files/Projects

Scrolling down to the bottom of the panel will expose the option under File Dialog to switch from the Maya default to the OS native option. Personally this is my preferred way of setting up Maya regardless of FolderGit usage, I just find it more convenient.

Changing Maya's default File Dialog allows you to use the standard Windows explorer. This in turn will allow you access to FolderGit directly through Maya 

Changing Maya's default File Dialog allows you to use the standard Windows explorer. This in turn will allow you access to FolderGit directly through Maya 

I can tell you is that it's really worth investing the short amount of time needed to master this tool. Show support be making the App purchase for it's use as requested by the tool's author Grant Adam.

Checkout the links below and start reducing your daily clicks, FolderGit is going to save you a huge amount of time.

Foldergit Homepage:

http://www.rpmanager.com/FolderGit/foldergit.htm

Foldergit usage from an artists perspective:

http://youtu.be/xQsR6V_lBIs

Cool Tools No.2

Everyone could be more organised when it comes to their digital assets. This is certainly true when it comes to photo and image libraries. If your an amateur photographer or graphics professional it's highly likely that your generating large amounts of this type of data. Viewing this stuff can be a real problem, so this tip is for those of us that often need to find images quickly and as easily as possible.

XnView

In it's own right XnView is simply a great multimedia browser. It's multi-platform, multilingual and for personal use it's authors XnSoft rely on donations to support it's development, so it's relatively inexpensive. The commercial licence is also good value, check their rates for bulk discounts.

The real strength of XnView is it's relevance to a CG workflow and this is what I'm going to concentrate on. When it comes to dealing with lots of still images there are a few functions that make it the image browser of choice for many an artist.  

Always on Top  - Do not underestimate the value of having reference images visible as you work. When teaching I tell my students it's one of the most simple things you can do to massively increase the quality of your work. I often see people gather reference, save it to disk and then forget about it. XnView can be set to always be the top floating window on your monitor. So you can be working in your 3D package, whilst having the reference resized on screen as you work. To do this navigate to the following controls:

 Tools / Options / Interface / Windows / Check Always on Top

Really handy...quickly change the way folders and their contents are displayed

Really handy...quickly change the way folders and their contents are displayed

Cycle click the View as icon    - It's great to be able to see a folder full of images as thumbnails. Sometimes visually searching for an image is the quickest way to find it. However if you know the name of the file your looking for, a text description will do just fine. Xnview provides a to quick way to swap through these viewing modes. By continuous clicking the View as icon, the files in the Image Files window will cycle through the different display modes. When a folder contains lots of images, it's a snap to view them using your preferred method using this handy technique.

Batch Rename   - if you often generate animation frames and need to mass edit their naming or numbering, then let me introduce you to the Batch Rename function. Select all the files you wish to change and then go to:

 Tools / Batch Rename...

This brings up the rename dialogue, here you are able to create a base name change, add number padding and see a live comparison between the old name and the changes you're about to make. 

Batch Process   - similar to the rename function, but with the ability actually change the format of your images etc.

 Tools / Batch Processing...

I should also mention that Xnview can also play many video formats, but I use this package mostly for still images and unconformed image sequences. There are better options for viewing frame sequences I feel, but XnView is no slouch when it comes to video playback.

Once again XnView is just one part of a suite of tools. XnViewMP and XnConvert are also worth checking out. See the links below for the home pages for these handy programs:

 http://www.xnview.com/en/xnview/

 http://www.xnview.com/en/xnviewmp/

 http://www.xnview.com/en/xnconvert/