If you’re interested in becoming a 3D video game or character designer, the first thing you want to do is learn how to use the tools of the trade. One of those tools is ZBrush.
What is ZBrush?
ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that lets artist paint, texture and model 3D computer objects.
ZBrush uses a proprietary “pixol” technology that captures all the information an artist needs to create character or object including color and lighting information.
How is ZBrush different from other 3D modeling tools? With ZBrush, users actually sculpt their objects like traditional artists might use clay or stone. Introduced in 1999 at SIGGRAPH by Pixologic Inc., today ZBrush is used by everyone from Electronic Arts to Disney to produce characters and objects for video games, movies and television.
Next-Gen Production Tools and Techniques
“I rely heavily on ZBrush to render anything organic in an environment,” Kevin Johnstone is a Senior Artist for Epic Games, the company behind the video game mega-hit Gears of War. “(ZBrush) give(s) most of my mechanical hard surface models a degree of weathering and damage so I can avoid making things look too manufactured or unused.” Learn how Epic Games used ZBrush to create Gears of War.
This advanced production tool is capable of producing anything from rocks to people and it does it with ease.
Learning how to use 3D modeling software like ZBrush starts by getting the right training – and those best practices are taught by DMA. It’s important to get the right start, why? Artist who pick up bad habits or workflow spend more time re-learning correct and industry standard methods.
Using Pixologic’s ZBrush and learning advanced digital painting and texture mapping with Photoshop® can help make you a professional digital artist. Knowing techniques for creating architecture, characters, creatures, vehicles and other objects are essential. Techniques for normal mapping, grunge-color maps and specularity maps are also important.
To create the incredible detail you see in the games, DMA teaches both fine art principals such as color theory, layout compositional design, form and structure, as well as other techniques to expand your understanding of the art of game design.
Regarded as the ultimate graphic art-editing program, Adobe’s Photoshop is the “go-to” program for photographers, web designers, and graphic designers looking to edit and create digital art. Don’t know how to use Photoshop? Our quick tips can help you produce amazing results in no time.
The cropping tool was included in the very first version of the software. Adobe updated the tool with the CS6 version.
1. Select the area you want to crop using the cropping tool. Make sure your subject is centered and that you’re not cropping off important areas (like your subjects head)!
2. Photoshop CS6 users can crop an image without losing what they are cropping out. To do this, reselect the crop tool on the left menu and drag outwards. The rest of the image will appear.
Adding Blur Effects
In addition to PS’s original blur features like Gaussian and Motion Blur, Adobe Photoshop CS6 has three new blur options: Field Blur, Iris Blur, and Tilt-Shift Blur. Here’s how to use them:
1. Field Blur gives you the ability to create focus points on any given image. Select Filter from the menu. Now select Blur. Now select Field Blur within the Blur menu. Adjust the blur (or pixelation) using the the outer circle of the bull’s eye. Apply more blur by simply adding more pins with a click of your mouse.
2. Iris Blur is a more advanced version of the Field blur. You’ll find this option under the Blur filter options as well. Drag the outer edges of the oval to increase the area of focus. Use the bull’s dial to minimize or maximum the blur. Practice different variations for the best results.
3. Tilt-Shift Blur operates in a similar fashion to the Iris blur but you can use this feature to create horizontal or vertical focus points.
Adaptive Wide Angle
Photographs taken with fisheye lenses are extremely wide and have a circular . Correct the roundness of the image by using the Adaptive Wide Angle tool.
1. Under the Filters menu, select Adaptive Wide Angle. The image that was opened in Photoshop will then appear in a new window.
2. Now use the default tool to create straight lines along curved lines. Repeat this process until your desired look is achieved.
Content Aware Move Tool
Moving an object within an image sounds impossible but with Photoshop CS6’s new Content Aware Move tool it really isn’t.
1. To move an object from one location to another, outline the object using the Lasso tool. Now locate and select the Content-Aware tool in the left tool menu.
2. While in Move mode, drag the object to relocate it. If an object needs to be extended in size, switch the mode to extend and drag the image until the desired outcome is reached.
Allow Tool Recording
With CS6 you can record illustrations in Photoshop using the Allow Tool Recording option. This tool is perfect for artists that need to duplicate drawings.
1. Open a new, blank document. Click on the play arrow button on the right-side menu. This will open a menu with two tabs entitled “history” and “actions.” Select “actions.” Now select the button next to the trashcan called “create new action.”
2. Now draw an image using Photoshop’s pencil or brush tool within the new document. The action is automatically recorded. To stop recording, press the stop button at the bottom of the menu. To playback the recording, clear the canvas and then press the play button on the menu.
Oil Paint Effect
Do you like the look of an oil paintings? You can turn any photo into an oil painting by using the Oil Paint option.
1. Select the Oil Paint option from the Filter menu.
2. Increase or decrease the settings to minimize or maximize effects.
3. The Photoshop preview window gives you a chance to see how the settings will affect your image before you save it. Adjust the different settings to get your desired look. Increasing the Bristle Detail for example will make the image look more grainy, while settings like Stylization and Shine can make the image look more “artsy.”
Learning More About Photoshop
Want to learn more? Get hands on experience with Adobe Photoshop in Digital Media Academy’s Photography, Art & Design and App & Web Development courses.
You can purchase Adobe Photoshop CS6 from Adobe’s website or a local retailer. Boxed versions of Adobe Photoshop CS6 are available at some retailers but Adobe intends to move all its creative software to the cloud.
Every Thursday Digital Media Academy publishes a new HOW-TO.
Kids love technology and Digital Media Academy gives them an opportunity to get hands-on experience with it every summer. Kids aged 6-12 or teens aged 12-18 can make a movie using professional grade HD videocameras or make video games using the same tools as award-winning game creators currently working in the games industry.
At DMA’s technology camp (which is held on the campus of prestigious universities like Harvard, UCLA or the University of Toronto), students learn what it takes to make professional grade digital media.
In the Digital Audio, Music & Beat Production program, teens explore the process of making music. Everything from making bass lines to modifying sounds and using those sounds to create catchy melodies is covered. Starting with the basics of recording and editing, students learn the concepts of songwriting and arrangement.
Tyler Winick is an instructor for DMA, in the off season, he’s also a producer for the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and has worked with music artists like Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas. “I love working with major artists, but I love working with kids at DMA too.
Kids imaginations and their outlook on this world is so refreshing in comparison to the box most adults put their brains in.”
This summer Tyler is teaching Digital Audio, Music & Beat Production at DMA’s Stanford University location. “I enjoy the fact that this course shakes your brain to think of everything from producing music to writing lyrics. I think the campers are going to have a ball and come up with some really creative projects.”
What can you expect from a Digital Media Academy Instructor?
What are the summer camps like?
As a regular instructor for several companies around the San Francisco Bay Area, I believe it is important to ensure that every class I teach is different from the last. Even if I teach 5 consecutive classes on CSS, each class has a completely different set of students, each with different skill levels and interests. In many training centers, often classes really do end up exactly the same. Many instructors I have worked with simply plod along, following the curriculum word by word, line by line. No deviations, and no excitement. Of course, as a student you can ask questions and take advantage of their expertise in the field. But that experience doesn’t make for an interesting class. You may learn the topic, but it’s not fun. Read more
We are now in our third week of summer 2009! As of this week, we have four locations up and running across the country, including Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, UCLA and The University of Texas at Austin. The University of California at Irvine ran for two weeks, June 22 – July 3, focusing on filmmaking courses for both teens and adults. Next week, four more locations will be launched, including Brown University, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego (UCSD) and our first ever international location, The University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
DMA students include adults, teens and kids as young as seven years old. At each age group, a variety of courses are offered, including movie making, video game creation, robotics, animation and web design. Summer 2009 also features several new courses, including Adventures in Cartoon and Comic Creation for kids ages 9-13 and Junior Adventures in Digital Art and Movie Making for kids ages 7-9. Among our new teen courses is the very popular Music and Video Production course, taught in conjunction with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Students in this class use the latest audio, video and music gear to create their own songs and music videos! Stay tuned for more features on each of these new courses!
All DMA courses are project based, so students are going home every Friday with their very own portfolio of project work. In the coming weeks, we will feature many of these projects, as well as profile some of the students whose creativity is filling college campuses nationwide!
All courses are taught by professionals with classroom teaching experience and/or experience in the industry, so students are learning from the “masters” themselves! Please check out our instructor biographies to learn more about our teaching staff.
Spots are still available at several locations. Please call 866-656-3342 for course availability!
At Digital Media Academy’s Academy for Music & Video Production, students compose and record an original song, mix and master it, and create a music video and DVD to accompany the music. At DMA tech camps, students use the best software tools for the job. First, let’s talk a bit about mixing music in Logic Pro, the audio software DMA uses.
Logic Pro is one of the industry-standard audio software packages used in recording studios. Logic is easier to learn than many of the other programs, but it is just as versatile and powerful.
Mixing & Mastering
There are several steps to recording a song. First, you write the song, and decide what instruments will play which parts. Then, you record the parts, and input those parts for the software instruments. After that, you mix and master the song.
Mixing is mainly just setting the volume levels of different instruments so they sound good together. When you go to a concert, the engineer standing in front of that huge board somewhere in the back-center of the audience is the sound mixer. In that case, the mixer only gets one shot at mixing it right, since they are mixing a live show. Recording studios are great because we have plenty of time to get the song to sound exactly the way we want it to sound. (And if something sounds entirely wrong, we can just re-record it!)
We can also use automation to simulate live mixing. If we have a guitar solo, we can push the guitar’s volume slider up to make it louder, and then pull it back down after the solo is over. Automation lets us do this automatically exactly the same, every time we play our song.
Tricks of the Trade
There are other tricks we can use. When we record an artist playing or singing a part, we call that a “take.” We usually record several takes so we can get the best one. If none of them are perfect, we can actually stitch multiple takes together and use the best parts from each take. For example, if the guitarist botched one chord, but the rest of the take was perfect, we can substitute in a chord from another take to fix it. Logic makes splicing clips together very easy. In the project pictured below, we had two substandard takes, so I used different parts of each take to create a better one. (You can hear the song at the bottom of this post).
We can also add Equalization to a track. “EQ” lets us change the volume of specific ranges of frequencies. In other words, if the vocalist’s track sounds “muddy,” we can boost the higher frequencies and take down the lower ones to increase the clarity of the voice. If we have a high-pitched whine in the background, we can take out just the offending frequency.
Here are some examples of problems we can fix by mixing the song. I recorded this song with musician Misha Byrne. For all three examples, we’ll play the unmixed version before the mixed version, so you can compare them.
In the first clip, listen to the volume levels. The vocals get a bit quiet on “Maybe I’ll never see…” Then in the second clip, you may notice a high-pitched noise in the background. Also, the “t” in the word “heart” gets lost in the unmixed clip. In the third clip, notice the error in the guitar playing on the last chord. In the mixed version, I spliced in another recording of Misha playing that chord correctly to make it sound better.
Where Music and Video Come Together
I’ve only mentioned a few of the tools recording engineers and mixers use to arrange and mix songs. They are all covered in DMA’s Academy for Music & Video Production: Come Together, which is co-sponsored by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. There is so much to learn, and this class gives every student the knowledge they need to get started in both audio and video production.
Misha Byrne is a singer, guitarist and songwriter in Queensland, Australia.
News from HQ by Philip Harding
Written by Brian Rothschild of the John Lennon Bus
Experience the ultimate music video summer camp. Bring your imagination, and leave with the skills you need to create professional music and video projects with ease, from start to finish. The Lennon Bus has teamed up with the Digital Media Academy to provide a new course based on the techniques taught daily on The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Using the latest audio, video and music gear, you’ll work with a diverse group of talented students and professionals to edit and create original music and videos. Make beats, write a song, record audio, shoot video, edit like the pros and author your own DVD. No experience needed; this course is for anyone interested in learning the basics of music and video creation.
Written by Doug Larsen of the John Lennon Bus
Okay, so I know I’ve joked about this before, but one of my real concerns with life on the road actually is physical fitness and health. Trying to find a hotel with a fitness center or a pool big enough to swim laps in can sometimes be tough, and I have troubles motivating myself to run miles outside.
That’s where Apple came in. They’ve teamed up with Nike Plus to create a really cool combination of music, technology, and running. So how it works is you get some Nike running shoes, an Apple iPod nano, and a chip that goes inside your shoes. It tracks how far you run, and gives you option for your iPod to play music while telling you mile markers you reach, calories you’ve burned, and time left in your run. All your info is posted on the Nike Plus website, and you can challenge friends there. Right now, Seamus and I have a “first to run 50 miles challenge”. I also have a challenge with a teammate from soccer back the University of Miami! So I just thought I’d share that one with everybody, and if you get motivated to start up Nike Plus, let’s get a challenge started!
In the Cartoon Creation class, we’re using Toon Boom Studio to teach animation techniques, this software is very flexible and fun to use.
At the core of all animation are “keyframes”. We find them in other animation applications, video apps, compositing apps, and even audio editing applications. Keyframes are what allow us to move our characters, animate them, change the lighting, move the camera, and make their lips move. Without keyframes, there would be no movement or change. In other words, we’d just be working with still images without keyframes, and that’s not nearly as much fun!
Keyframes simplify animation by allowing us to modify our drawing over time, instead of manually drawing every single frame individually. Animating with keyframes is kind of like cutting out your character from paper and pushing him around the table. He moves smoothly, and you can reuse objects you have already drawn. The alternative is frame-by-frame animation; this is like making a flip-book, and redrawing the character on every page.
We also cover frame-by-frame animation. This is how they made the classic Disney cartoons. Toon Boom Studio has an onion-skinning feature built in to help with this kind of animation. It outlines the drawing from the previous frame, which gives you a good reference for the position of the next frame’s drawing. Unfortunately, animators didn’t have it this easy back in the ’70s!
Toon Boom Studio has many powerful drawing tools built in. Even things like shading are easy to manage. In the picture below, the darker shading on the left side of her face was created with the shading tool. Adding shadows for characters is as easy as dragging and dropping a shadow in. The shadows even automatically update. Once we put the shadows in, we don’t have to worry about them anymore. We can even draw with gradients, instead of plain colors. Check out the star in her hair. It’s a smooth ramp from orange to yellow, and gives the character a subtle touch of realism.
Toon Boom Studio has a lip-syncing engine built in. This lets us record an audio track and sync the lips of our characters to fit our recorded dialog. Toon Boom Studio takes the monotony out of lip-syncing. We get to make the character speak with our voice, and the software does the tedious part of the process for us! That’s pretty exciting!
One of the most exciting things about Toon Boom Studio is its compatibility with file formats that animators already use. We can import Adobe Illustrator vector files, Flash .swf’s, all kinds of raster image formats, video formats, and sound formats. This means that we can use almost any source material that we can find to animate. Do you know any artists who use Adobe Illustrator? You can bring their work right into Toon Boom Studio, with no loss in quality, and no conversions!
And even more exciting is the export formats. Believe it or not, the projects you create in our course can be exported to Adobe Flash files! Flash is the industry standard for animations on the internet, so this is extremely exciting. This means that everyone with the Flash player installed can view your animation. (98% of computers with internet have Flash installed, so that’s a big deal!) You can put your animations online for the world to see, or to share with friends and family! You can also export your animations to video, for use in a DVD, or a video project.
I’m very excited to see this Cartoon Creation class offered this summer. We get to create dynamic and rich animations that we can share with anyone and everyone, and our animations will play on almost any computer. It’s a blast!
News from HQ by Philip Harding
While MTV isn’t showing music videos anymore, music videos still play a key role in promoting a song. Instead of dialing in MTV, Youtube, Vimeo and Vevo are the way to bring music to life. In fact, PSY’s “Gangham Style” became a YouTube sensation long before it became a chart hit.
Digital Media Academy is partnered with The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to offer the Academy of Music Video & Production! You’ll learn the skills used by music video directors and artists to make the perfect music video. The only limit is your creativity!