Blog

A collection of articles and design explorations I’ve created since 2013. Visit the archive for the most popular articles.

In addition to my portfolio and gallery, I sometimes feel inspired to share the process of learning new software or techniques. Here you'll find a combination of tutorials, news and image/scene breakdowns. 

Leica M9

I'm excited to share a project I've been working on here and there for the past few weeks. I wanted to try my hand at producing some stylized 'photo-real' product images using KeyShot. I tried to keep as much of the rendering 'in-camera'. The phrase in-camera is often used by photographers or camera crews and it refers to capturing as much of the final elements of the desired image or video during the image capture phase. When working in-camera, you're trying to minimize the amount of post-production work, which is a great way to speed up a project and thus save money.

When working in CGI, KeyShot acts as your camera. It's what captures the subject, which is your 3D data. As a photographer, I enjoy using KeyShot like a camera since it's got the added features of being able to assign materials, textures and more.

I must give credit where it's due. The Leica Camera 3D model used in all of these renderings was not created by me. Maciek Ptaszynski is the artist behind this model. He made it available to the website Dimensiva, where I downloaded it for free. This is a very simple model and wouldn't have been too hard for me to model. However, when I'm focusing on rendering alone, it's a big time-saver to download a model. Just keep in mind that if you do this, you must credit the original creator and that you understand the licencing terms behind whatever you download and use. It's best to share your work and ask the original artist if he or she is okay with you posting it. 

The post applied to the above rendering is a lens flare, color adjustment, atmospheric dust, dirt smudges on the camera body and scratches on the lens body.

As someone who loves the art of creating striking visuals, especially in film/video format, I tried to incorporate a few cinematic elements into the above rendering such as more aggressive color grading, atmospheric dust and lens flare. Some may not like the effect, but my goal was to land at a more stylized image.

I also went out of the way to make the camera look a bit more worn than usual. There are hairline scratches all over the camera body, M9 logo and some patina from dust, grime and skin oil in various parts of the camera. To me this gives the product more life and a story. It makes this scene more believable. 

 Detail 1

Detail 1

Above is my favorite part of this rendering. The lens is the most interesting area. I've chosen to reflect an office window with a setting sun in the camera lens. Also, since the camera is a bit back-lit on the right-hand side of the image, you can see some dust floating around. With the black plastic of the camera, the dust is that much more noticeable. 

Detail 2

In the above detail shot you can see some more dust, some nicks and scratches near the edges of the lens body and the iconic Leica logo. In the flash window, I've added some smudges and artifacts on the plastic cover. 

Detail 3

Above you can see the glow from the light hitting the camera strap mount on the left-hand side of the image. Since the exposure is high in this area, you see more dust particles. Moving up, on the shoulder of the camera you can see a faint finger print the photographer left behind. The scratches on the M9 logo show some everyday wear. Also, the smudges of grime tend to be in the areas that aren't being polished by the photographer's fingers or clothing. Many Leica users carry their cameras on them all the time for street photography and every-day use, so I thought that adding some 'wear' would add another level of realism. 

Animation

After feeling pretty pleased with the results of my still renderings, I decided to try my hand at assembling a short animation in the style of a product commercial. We're all familiar with Apple and its beautiful product animations and commercials. I wanted to incorporate that Apple aesthetic along with a more techy feeling. I thought of one of my favorite Sci-Fi films, Tron Legacy along with another premium lifestyle brand, Nike. I thought that these three areas would inspire an aesthetic that was appropriate for the product. 

Though I'm not a Leica owner, here are the connections I see between the aforementioned brands/styles and the legendary German camera company: 

  • Apple - Simple, Utilitarian, Premium
  • Tron - Exciting, Advanced, Engineered
  • Nike - Lifestyle, Fashionable, Reliable

One of hundreds of stills with transparent background rendered as frames. The stacks of frames are compiled in Adobe After Effects to produce a product rendering. Rendering frames instead of video files allows for more control when compositing the files for motion graphics. 

Since I wanted to have the flexibility to add or edit the background of the animation, I knew I needed transparency to be preserved in my final rendering output. I chose to output PNG files for each frame resulting in a PNG sequence. At 30 frames per second, you end up with a very smooth animation. You can import a PNG sequence into an editing program like Adobe After Effects (which is what I did).

Once you've added the PNG sequence to your timeline, you can then edit frames or the animation as a whole to your hear's content. And while this seems more labor-intensive, it just depends on what you want to do with the final output. I needed the flexibility to edit the animations, so I chose to do image sequence instead of working with video files. 

Here's another frame rendered in KeyShot for the animation. 

Above is a wireframe material added to the camera. I chose to use this to give my animation that techy, Tron mood I mentioned earlier. This material allows you to change how transparent the material of the object is, and then allows for adjustment of the front and rear of the primary and secondary wireframe lines as well as adjust line thickness. Such a fun material to play around with. It's a quick way to add a bunch of thin-line complexity if that's what you're after.  

Below is the final result of my work. I'm pretty pleased with the outcome. As I become more acquainted with Adobe After Effects and sound design, the quality of the overall animation should improve. I didn't get a chance to add any cool motion graphics, but we'll save that for next time.