This is the first in a short series of posts I will do about creating Verachantesse. She is one who loves honesty and music above all else in the world. She’s a young lady1, but old enough and wise enough to startle you with some insight.
She’s a Blender 2.80 built-and-rigged character. I may do nothing more with her than produce nude stills, but not sure yet. Depends on how much time I have to devote to the project in the coming months.
Pre-Dawn - Let’s have Someone Else Do It…
I wanted to start with someone else’s base mesh that had a good topology and rig, but I was unable to convince myself anything I could buy would have the features I needed. What do I need? I need good joint deformations on the fingers, toes, elbows, hips, and shoulders. A lot of them look okay, but none really showed off how they could do at extreme deformations at many angles.
Menglow, for example, has some pretty great and simple topologies, but looking at the demo videos etc, it doesn’t really look like the rigs and topologies are doing more than I will be able to do myself, and I’d rather start with a known base than try to learn someone else’s setup.
I looked at other projects. For example, I shelled out $4 for Ethan Snell’s Iris project. I hoped that would be a good base for Verachantesse2.
Iris had a lot of great features. I spent a couple of days trying to reshape her, but in the end just abandoned her for the next course of action, as it felt like my modifications were so drastic I’d have to re-rig her. Also, Ethan is pretty good, but I didn’t like the way her eyes were rigged, for example. The eyeballs were being deformed out of shape, and the eye rig was at some wonky angle.
Pay Some Artists
They could! But the cheapest artists wanted to work dozens to hundreds of hours to achieve the look I wanted, and their portfolios didn’t convince me they could achieve better results than I could. Although some were pretty cheap, this is a personal project, and they wanted $500-$1500 to give me a good base mesh and rig. For a personal project felt a bit rich. I’m sure if I was producing a full film, $1500 would be a sneeze in a hurricane, but alas… I’m trying to do my own fanart.
Buying something, alas, seemed out of reach. So finally… I just started doing it myself.
The Beginning - Let’s do it myself
So I began in earnest building a brand new mesh, cube modeling, from scratch.
I tried to rig her with Blenrig. There aren’t any screenshots of that era, so sorry.
I spent a few days on Blenrig, and then it didn’t work. Like… none of the controls moved her body around. Unsure why. Couldn’t figure it out. So I tried Rigify, and that seemed to work.
To the left, a screenshot of the Rigify setup. For a preview of what will come next, look at the controls in her feet.
Only a Few Hours after Rigifying
Here she is without hair, and doing some poses.
Already in the first few hours after using Rigify, I had her doing some pretty cute things. I like the simple but effective face controls. I will have to do some shape keys and weight painting, but a really good first approximation.
But what do you notice in all these renders? Her toes. Her toes are really boring. Because Rigify gives you precisely ONE BONE to control all 10-12 joints (how many?) on her toes. Yeah, I don’t know how many joints are in the toes of a human foot. Sue me.
There’s more than one toe joint, though, this much I can assure you.
So I spent another several hours trying to figure out how to add toes to the rig. I finally figured out you gotta press this “super copy tentacle” button or some shit, and it makes a giant armature you gotta scale, rotate, copy, rename, place on the foot, parent to the right bone, etc.
That said, her foot roll control no longer works right. I don’t know how to fix that. I’m sure the extensive documentation and all the tutorials on YouTube talking about how to rig toes will clear that up. dripping sarcasm goes here3
One day, if I figure this out, I’ll make a tutorial about adding toes to the rig properly.
Eevee is way faster, but it slows my interface down to a crawl, one frame every 3-5 seconds, which makes zooming, panning, posing, etc super-painful. And it does some really dumb things.
For example, I followed Ethan’s hair tutorial, and somehow all the hair is see-through in Eevee. Take a look at the following image. No. The hair isn’t modeled badly, the hair is just rendering see-through.
Cycles doesn’t have the same problem, but it has a whole new lot of its own problems, not the least of which is that super-ugly grainy for any render that I spend less than 30 hours generating.
She’s glowing in the dark. That is not reflections or SSS. It’s “ambient occlusion” according to Cycles.
So first I did the hair so it looked good in the viewport and on Cycles, but it looked horrible on Eevee. But Cycles makes ugly renders in general. I really want the Eevee look. So I’ve tuned my workflow to Eevee for the moment.
I have had to redo the hair at least 3 times. I think I’ve lost count actually. Now I have something that looks okay in Eevee, doesn’t slow my computer to a one-frame-per-minute rate, and I can work with. Although the hair is still pretty ugly. I’m not sure what to do next there, actually.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at the various iterations.
First Try! Ethan’s Method
This one isn’t bad in Cycles, but looks horrible in Eevee. And in Cycles, there’s no strands. I need strands.
Second Try! Let’s Do Lots of Polys for Cycles
Tried to do strands with modeling instead of textures. This one looks like a bunch of playdough rolls stuck to her head in Cycles and slowed down Eevee so much I wanted to kill myself. So all disadvantages and no advantages. What’s the point?
Third Try! Just Something Low-Poly and Silly-Textured
Moving on! This one looks just generally silly, but at least it gives the idea, and looks fine in Eevee and doesn’t slow it to a crawl, since it’s only maybe 500 or so polys.
I think I’ll just leave the hair like this for a week or two while I work on other things, then when the time comes, I’ll just do proper actual hair using real hair strands. I can’t figure out a quick/simple way to produce reasonable-looking hair that’s performance-minded.
Rig Pose Woes
Every time I realise the “rig topology” is wrong, and I have to create new bones, or otherwise change the metarig, then I have to delete and re-create the rigify rig, and I lose all my Pose Library poses. This makes me sad, since I’ve now re-created every pose she’s in about 8 times, which is time-consuming and laborious. I can’t wait until I settle on a metarig that for sure works, so I can start keeping my Pose Library for more than a day.
Which Brings us to Today
Now what? Well. A lot left to do. Fix the joints. Fix the hair. I think the rig and mesh are both done4, and ready to move to the next stage. So with that, I’ll leave you with a few random “renders” (just screenshots of my workspace in render mode) to look at.
Right, she is trying to imagine herself a fierce fighter, but let’s be honest, she’s not hurting anyone.
In both renders, I forgot to turn on Subdiv Surface modifier before taking the screenshot. As a hint to the future posts, subdivision surfaces in Blender 2.80 are incredibly slow. Apparently they’re supposed to be faster than before.
Not for me, no.
Hopefully the next post has her joints and hair looking better, and I’ll have something interesting to say. Thanks, Blender community! And all the tutorial-making people on the internets. Thanks Rigify people! This stuff is pretty legit.
If you want to contact me, I am Philo Vivero, and I have a gmail email account. Just try emailing the obvious @gmail.com and I will get it.
In this post, we will explore all my personal rantings about Rigify and its lack of bones for scapula and toes. But mostly, we’ll just look at beautiful pictures of Verachantesse acting miffed.
Re-Doing Rigify Rig… Again
I was not at all satisfied with how her scapula/back deformed when her forearms and shoulders would rotate forward. So I added a scapula bone. Right now it doesn’t stretch, rotate, or otherwise do anything, so I have to manually place it, but I’m just trying to be sure it even works at all before I start going crazy with it.
Looking up at that, I think her back/shoulders are deforming quite nicely.
Here she’s a bit angry/sad about whatever just happened.
To the right, her angry/sad profile. The down-side of the renders with my own lighting rig is I still haven’t figured out how to get ambient occlusion working, so she looks a bit like she’s hovering above the ground. Is it really the case that you need to apply ambient occlusion to each and every material in the entire scene?
But I do like the reflections in her eyes, the contrasting shadows, etc a bit more when I use my own lighting setup.
Here’s the screenshot of my workspace from the hero image. You can get the idea of the super-simple lighting setup, and you can see the Rigify rig, which is, as I say, pretty basic outside of having toes and a scapula bone.
Composition is Not a Thing Yet
The lighting setup is pretty basic right now, obviously.
More Deformation Tests
Deformations in the shoulders and elbows still suboptimal. No worries, I’ve got a plan for this.
Ambient Occlusion Woes
Am I just missing the option? I notice on the global properties tabs, there’s a “Context: View Layer” tab that has some AO checkbox that doesn’t seem to do anything when I’m in Look Dev mode. Will play with that to see if it does anything.
- Rigify will probably keep being my rig. I doubt I’ll move to Blenrig now that I’ve
figured out 95% of the problems using Rigify. Remaining Problems…:
- her hips when she deforms wildly, like splits or squatting
- her knees in the same situations
- the foot roll, her toes move, how to make them stationary (use limb instead of tentacle?)
- I need to figure out this bone driving shape keys stuff situations.
- I will probably add clothing to her using textures. There’s an amazing video of a catwoman using (only?) textures here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuOfVBSVRTA
- I will likely keep using Eevee. Maybe I’ll buy a Linux workstation with some beefy nVidia card so I can get reasonable performance.
- Contra Linux: My Linux versions of Blender seem to have more UI (and other?) bugs than my MacOS version, so this might be a poor course of action. I wonder if Windows is the only real platform for Blendering?
- I will have to keep trying various extreme poses. I suspect my rig is still pretty crap for “arms high above head” pose like some of the earlier ones in the last post. Crossing my fingers the new scapula bone takes care of malformed mesh deforms.
- I wonder if anyone will want to collaborate? (If so, I’m Philo Vivero on gmail).
In my first post, I said the mesh and rig were about done. Well. Let’s chalk that one up to naiveté, shall we? I’ve completely re-done her arms from shoulders to fingertips, her knees, rejiggered her shoulders and back, and even re-did a fair bit of her face.
This way I can look at a beautiful version of her while I’m staring at a massive confusing rig.
Yes, it is getting about time to put Verachantesse into some environments and put some clothes on her. Although probably I will never dress her completely properly, I will at least put on shoes, leggings, gloves, hats and give her fun things like umbrellas etc.
Remember, part of my goal is to make fanart of my own stuff.
Now that I’m about a month into this journey, what do I think?
Rigify is Amazing
The rigging setup is really, really good. I went back and watched a video from the Big Buck Bunny guy about Humane Rigging, and started to remember all the painful things I did to rig my characters 15 years ago. There was nothing fun about that.
I have no idea how Euler and Quaternion transformations work, and I just watched the DVD. I have no idea why 90% of these MCH- bones exist or what they do. I think I got lost watching the 3D ball rigging portion.
So let’s just accept I’ll never make a reasonable character rig.
Rigify builds a really good human rig with some really good widgets and some really good things to eliminate counter-animation, etc.
I’m really impressed with it, although it was a huge pain to rig her toes. The short tutorial on that? Use the Rigify Button to add a finger, do that 5 times, parent them to the foot bone. Give up on the foot roll control working. Or, if you figure that out, write me and tell me how. I’m all ears.
Eevee Definitely Needs Some Help…
The main problem with Eevee is just that it kills Blender while it’s doing its thing. While Cycles renders, I can still use the UI, re-pose her, change materials, etc, and Cycles will just keep chewing up my CPU.
Eevee, on the other hand, will totally freeze Blender until it gets done doing some setup or another. Only once it starts doing later passes (smoothing out shadows, it appears), does it free up the CPU for Blender.
This means that on a “slow” computer like mine, doing Eevee rendering requires a great deal of care.
One problem seems to be that I’m on a Mac that has no hardware acceleration, but also is a 5k screen, so Eevee is generating a HUGE image. When I use tiny little Eevee windows, it is much more usable.
All that said, Eevee is amazing. I love the look I get from it, and the speed is pretty well improved over what I was using 15 years ago. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing, Blenderheads!
Blender Community is Pretty Cool
Still pretty humbled by some of the work out there people are doing. I know my art will always be pretty bare-bones compared to what these amazing artists are doing.
I’ve decided to start in on the props stage of my journey, even though the rigging isn’t anywhere close to done. I will come back to this road and travel it again, because there are a lot of poses I cannot do with her.
Let’s recall the point of this journey. After I gave up on Blender back in 2005 or so, I moved on to 2D art. Inkscape. Made a few pictures I enjoy, and now it’s time to do a 3D version of the same. To the right, you see the umbrella girl twins, and this is what I will start with.
I need to do some texture work, some extra object-parented-to-bone work, etc. So… what first?
I started modeling an umbrella in its own .blend to link into my Verachantesse .blend, which already is starting to corrupt itself in weird ways5.
For some reason, when linking an object from another .blend, I cannot move it or rotate it or anything. I have to duplicate it, then delete the linked object. And now… whatever modifications I make in the original object file don’t appear in my scene.
What’s the point?
I’m sure I’m doing something wrong, but reading a Stack Overflow article about it, seems like others have the same problem, and all the people answering are being intentionally obtuse pretending not to understand what the issue is.
It was somewhat surreal watching some poor dude explain in painful detail about how this feature should obviously work, and watching some other dude be all: “but that would change things. Changing things is bad. Don’t change things.”
Sometimes I wonder how much of this is legit trolling.
Rigging I’ve Left Undone For Now…
While you take a look at Verachantesse posing with an umbrella, I will muse about what I still need to deal with on my rigging journey:
- Feet. Especially heels. When she points her toes quite far, her heel deforms badly and starts disappearing into her leg.
- Face. Whenever I generate a rig and then parent it to her base mesh, it messes up her mouth and areas around her nose. Reading the instruction manual doesn’t seem to clear up what I should do differently.
- Upper Legs. Anything more than a 30-40 degree bend, and her legs start tearing and distorting terribly. I suspect I haven’t placed the bones properly, because it looks like the tops of her legs go through a blender and come out not pretty.
I will want to do a pose similar to this, except where she’s leaning further forward, resting her elbow on her knee. At that point, her legs will be bent perhaps almost 160 degrees. At that point, the distortion is so bad, I get injured falling into the uncanny valley.
Someone call Uncanny 911.
I decided actually I wouldn’t go making more props. I really want to fix her legs when they bend. Too many poses I can’t do. Before I started down that path, I really wanted to figure out why subdivision surfaces are so insanely slow on my workstation.
I decided to reduce her polycount by a few thousand (she’s at about 11k, and I figured I could do about 7-8k). After a few hours of ripping out edge loops and combining difficult parts of the mesh, to the left is what we’ve got.
3,627 faces, mirrored that would be 7,254 total. Most of those are quads. And yet, subdivision surface was only marginally faster, and still not fast enough for me to be able to pose with subdiv on.
When I go to read about it, I find out the reason is OpenSubdiv, which is supposed to be faster (but instead is 10-20x slower), is now the only option for subdivision surfaces in Blender 2.80. Hoooray for less choice!
So I went and downloaded 2.79 in hopes that the old Subdiv method would work, but when I open the .blend file in 2.79, I just get an empty workspace, with none of my 2.80 goodness. Not that I expected much, but I did hold out the slightest hope it would work.
Maybe I’ll try exporting the mesh, armature, texture paint (is that part of the mesh?), and other bits and see if 2.79 can import it. Honestly, the slowness of subdivision surface is so bad I’m about ready to make the jump back to 2.79 if it will work. Or maybe I can somehow edit the source code and hack in original Subdiv in place of OpenSubdiv? Unlikely to be doable in the amount of time I have to do such things.
Putting all that aside, maybe I can still get to rigging her upper legs. My current idea is a bone on the front side of her hip that has a stretch-to constraint toward her thigh, so when her leg comes up, it pulls that geometry up along for the ride.
A party wherein I figure out how to rig Verachantesse’ legs and shoulders (better than before) and re-do her breast and face topology because Blender 2.80 can’t do subdivision surfaces in any reasonable timeframe.
Well, let me tell you. I started to try to re-rig her legs, but the subdivision surface modifier was so slow that I decided I need to add strategic polys to her mesh to make her more smooth while working with her. Her calves and thighs were relatively straight-forward, but her breasts were a 3x3 grid of quads extruded, which just wasn’t enough around the edges when far from her aereolas.
So I completely deleted that entire part of her chest and re-did it as a flat formless chest, then marked off a 5x5 grid of quads, formed them into the basic shape of a breast, and extruded. Then again and again, making it smaller each time.
Then I did some mumble mumble magic and sculpted them into the proper form.
Okay… now what? Next I had to re-rig her from scratch, because too many mods to the base mesh. While I was at it, I fixed her toes and experimented a bit with her shoulder/hip placement.
After re-creating the rig from the metarig, I was amazed to see that her leg deformation was nearly perfect.
It turns out that between corrective smooth and armature that does not preserve volume, you get some really great deformations right out of the box. Let’s take a look at a few poses, shall we?
The Leg Deformation
And then… just wow.
She’s doing ballet. She’s touching her ankles.
I even decided to put her into some silly spidergirl pose which is anatomically-incorrect, but looks pretty legit anyway.
Try not to look at spider girl’s ankles.
I told you not to look at her ankles, but you looked anyway, didn’t you?
While we’re here looking at things we’re not supposed to look at, let’s take a peek behind the curtains again, and see how I’m achieving all this. To the right is the shot of my workspace from the hero image.
What do I do? I go edit her mesh, highlight the quads that are most problematic in the deform, create a vertex group, then create a corrective smooth that only affects that vertex group. I also have a general full-mesh corrective smooth at the bottom of the modifier stack to catch any other mild/minor problems that my four main ones don’t cover.
I’m having so much fun with these extreme poses. This is literally the first time in 15 years of poking at Blender where I actually have my model so far outside the A pose you wouldn’t know that was the basis.
Here are the four corrective smooths I use to achieve the look:
- Her butt.
- Her arms (shoulders, elbows, wrists)
- Her thighs/upper legs. The front side and a fair bit of her genitals
- Her knees, to catch when her legs are bent a long ways
The Stomach and Shoulders Deformations
I’m really impressed with how well her stomach deforms at the extreme forward bend pose. It folds up, bunches up, and acts pretty much like a stomach really does when a girl bends over like that. At left, an angle that really catches it and makes it obvious. This was merely a happy accident. There are no shape keys involved, it’s just how her mid-section deformed when I put her in that pose.
Just to be clear, there are no shape keys anywhere in any of these poses. Everything I’m doing here I’m achieving with Rigify and corrective smoothing (though I guess I should mention again that I’ve added toes and scapula to the Rigify metarig).
At right, another prettier angle of the pose from above that shows how well the butt corrective smooth does. I don’t have many “from behind” shots of her, because I like to see her face, and seeing her face and her butt from directly behind seem to be incompatible. Perhaps because her neck still deforms a bit oddly, and it is quite time-consuming to get her neck and shoulders lined up for a full 100-130 degree twist.
- There’s always one out there who’s salivating for it. Sorry to disappoint you. Her mesh/topology is 100% based on girls who are 18+, averaging 21. So Verachantesse is 21 years old. [return]
- I don’t know why I rated it two stars. I just now went and fixed my rating to 4 stars. For $4, Iris is a pretty good value. [return]
- If you know of any documentation or tutorials about rigging toes with Rigify… or even Blenrig, I wanna know about it. [return]
- Actually I’m re-doing the rig to fix mesh deform in her fingers, elbows, scapula. So I’ve already lost the rig and all these poses… again. [return]
- Actually… no… it wasn’t corrupted. It had some annotations from when some part of the mesh was elsewhere, and remained as little blue floating dots that I couldn’t select or remove etc. Once I figured this out, I just selected my mesh, showed annotations, deleted them, and now the mysterious floating blue dots are gone. Phew! [return]