Building JAY PLAYS – a Title Sequence Animation in Blender

In this series I’m building an animated title sequence using a set made for DAZ Studio in Blender. This requires lighting and material tweaks, and messing with textures. It’s not a tutorial, just some dude trying his best at Blender (without knowing much about it, but learning a lot in the process).

The end result is an intro for my my game streams, as well as these new seasons of 3D Shenanigans. Once the set is built, I’ll replace a couple of key textures so that the cinema and screen show something different. It’s a lot of work!

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How to setup Dead Zones for Game Pads in Unreal Engine

My old Xbox 360 controller has been in use for nearly 10 years, but it’s still going strong while suffering from very sensitive Dead Zones. Those are the areas around the untouched centre position of a game pad that can sometimes deliver erratic results, especially after years of use (although I’ve seen brand new ones suffering from the same phenomenon).

Unreal Engine lets you define the dead zones for a project, and I just found out how to do it. It’s a project wide setting that can be found under Edit – Project Settings – Input. There’s a big section called Bindings at the very top of this huge list, at the bottom of which is a small “advanced” triangle. It’ll open even more options. Scary indeed! However, this is where we find Axis Config, as well as sections for each Game Pad Axis. Open each axis to reveal a Dead Zone property.

The default is set to 0.25, which is very generous and works perfectly in most cases, yet at the same time can feel a little rough and abrupt at times. Don’t set it to 0 (that’ll be terrible and lead to drifting), but anything from 0.05 upwards might give good results. Try it out and see if it helps game pad improvements.

How to make clothing for DAZ Studio (in principle)

I get this question regularly, in which new users ask me something along the lines of, “can I make my own clothes for Genesis, and if so, how do I do this?” Little do most people know what a huge undertaking this is, so I thought I’d outline the principle in basic strokes, to give y’all an overview what’s involved in the process.

Note that I’m not a clothing creator myself, so I’m not the right person to ask about details. If I knew the ins and outs as well as some of the PA’s do, I’d sure share it with you as articles or videos, trust me.

Hence this is not a tutorial, but rather a very in-depth answer to a comment I frequently get, in the hopes that it will give readers an overview of the whole process, without getting lost in too many details.

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Why do DAZ Characters take so long to load?

I’ve had this question twice recently, and it’s another interesting nugget of information I thought I’d share with you: why do DAZ figures take so long to load? Especially the no-frills base figures? And why does this only happen for some users, and not for others?

The two guys who contacted me about this (Richard and Hans-Werner) both had large amounts of content installed on their systems, and the first logical question is, could a different organisation of the content speed up the figure loading process (i.e. move content to another drive, or split content into multiple folders). The answer is: sadly no.

Likewise, a faster drive won’t make much of a difference either, be that an SSD or an even faster M2 drive. Those are great of course, and they will speed up content load times in general, but the root issue of excessive load times with DAZ figures are morph files.

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How to completely reset DAZ Studio and Install Manager

I was talking to a viewer recently about how he had made some changes in his DAZ Studio installation by manually moving folders, and as a result, nothing appeared to be working anymore: Install Manager didn’t show any content, DAZ Studio didn’t either, and a complete reset was in order. I mentioned briefly how this could all be reset during a Stardew Valley stream, and the information was so helpful that I thought I’d share it as a stand-alone clip.

When I was done editing, I thought perhaps some written instructions on this process might be a good idea, so here they are. This is all I know about how to completely reset your DAZ Studio Installation. Use it as a last resort if nothing seems to be working anymore and you’d like to start with a clean slate.

Note that these steps will remove ALL traces of ALL versions of DAZ Studio and Install Manager from your system!

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My Animation Workflow in DAZ Studio – The Basics

I often get questions in regards to Animations in DAZ Studio. It’s a complex topic, because it combines “animating in general”, and “using the animation tools in DAZ Studio”. I recently described my animation workflow to a reader/viewer (Nkem) and thought this information might be useful to others too, so here’s what I said.

Most new users have an issue with the time it takes to both build the animation itself, but also the enormous time it takes to render an animation out. Something relatively short and simple like this is a good example:

Aside from the setup, rendering an animation frame should be treated differently to a still image. We need to live with compromises, because we’re rendering quite a few images (30 frames per second, on a 10 second animation, that’s 300 images). If each of them would take 6 hours to render, the whole thing would take about 75 days, or nearly 3 months. And that’s a very short animation.

Let’ see how we can trim that down to a few hours or less instead.

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Using non-native 3D content in DAZ Studio

I get a question every now and then that goes something like this:

I bought content from (non-DAZ store), but I don’t know how to use it in DAZ Studio. Can you help?

It’s a complex situation, so perhaps I can shed some light on it. Let me explain the basics of what’s happening here, then we’ll move on to the process of making a compromise work.

First of all, transferring content between multiple 3D applications is a pain. You’d think for an advanced society like us there would be a “universal format” of all things 3D, but sadly that’s not the case. Every 3D professional is struggling with this fact. If you’ve ever tried formats like FBX, Collada, OBJ or Alembic, and have been disappointed with how they transfer content, then you’re not alone. They all work to a certain extent, but usually not perfectly.

Most 3D applications (DAZ Studio included) can import 3D objects from other applications and display them somewhat. The trouble lies not in the 3D shape of an object, but mostly in the material descriptions. These are very much dependent on the render engine for which the source object was intended. Hence, while the diffuse texture map is usually imported correctly, none of the other parameters are (such as bump, transparency, normal, etc). Furthermore, the material properties (like shiny, rough, translucent, emissive etc) are not working, because each render engine has different ways of describing such properties.

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Removing x-translation wobble when converting keyframes to aniBlocks

When you convert keyframes to an aniBlock, there’s a phenomenon that can happen in that the figure seems to sway left/right. It’s not something that is present in the keyframe animation, and I’m not entirely sure why this happens on conversion. The above shows how Darius 7 does his keyframe funny walk, while the bottom shows what happens after conversion to an aniBlock. In a word: terrible!

aniMate is a powerful tool, and in this article I’ll take a look on how to fix such shenanigans.

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How to apply Mixamo Animations to Genesis 3 and Genesis 8

If you’ve ever tried to upload a G3 or G8 character to Mixamo, you’ll have noticed that it’s a complete and utter nightmare. Seemingly nothing will work in the plethora of export options, and a ton of time has been wasted globally, leading to anger, depression, frustration and many other feelings we as creatives cannot afford to indulge in (for our wellbeing’s sake).

I’m here to tell you that there is in fact a workaround, but it requires us to “think differently” about how to accomplish our goal of applying Mixamo animations to Genesis 3 and 8 characters. I’ll show you what works for me at this moment in time – technology is fickle, so by the time you read this, the process might very well have stopped working. Let’s think positive and hope it hasn’t 😉

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Using Non-Linear Animation (NLA Features) in Blender 2.8

Many animation apps have an exciting feature that lets us re-use a group of keyframes in a more convenient way to build larger and more complex animations. They’re commonly referred to as non-linear editing. A popular example includes setting up an action as keyframes once, and then looping it using an NLA bock of sorts (like a walk cycle). Better yet, animations can be combined and transitioned without interruptions or ugly pops. We can even overlay several actions, such as a walk cycle, an eye blink and a waving hand gesture.

Blender has these features, and while difficult to grasp at first, they’re surprisingly simple to use once you grasp the concept:

  • setup an animation using regular keyframes, or import it from a service like Mixamo
  • turn this group into an Action Strip (that’s what Blender calls an NLA block)
  • add this Action Strip onto an NLA track, repeat it or combine it with other strips
  • add transitions in between blocks to seamless motion
  • add tracks to combine animations

Here’s how it works for me. This might not be 100% accurate, but it’s good enough to build seriously cool animations with ease. I’m using Blender 2.82 for this example, and I’m expanding on principles I’ve briefly touched on in my previous article about looping walk animations.

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Switching between Cameras in Animations with Blender 2.8

If you have multiple cameras in your scene, chances are that you may want to cut to another one during the course of an animation. I’ve often wondered how to do that, but only finding outdated material on the internet, I decided to poke around myself. Half an hour later I had it sussed out – here’s how it works.

I have three cameras in my scene, named Cam 1, Cam 2 and Cam 3. Shorter names are preferred, as Blender will show these names at the bottom of the timeline. All we have to do now is to

  • select the camera we want to switch to
  • position our playhead in the timeline
  • and the hit CTRL + B at the bottom of our timeline.

This will create markers like these:

The trick is to find the spot at which to click. It’s not very intuitive as of Blender 2.82, but essentially the space marked dark grey in the screenshot above is where you need to hover your mouse while pressing CTRL + B. This will create a marker. When you now scrub through the timeline, you’ll see the cameras switch to your choice at the marks you’ve set.

To delete a Camera Marker, select it then press X as usual.

More about Markers

What we’ve setup here are special Camera Markers. Notice the little camera icon next to them. We can create regular markers too, just by hovering anywhere in the timeline and pressing M. Those do not have a camera icon, and we can rename them as we see fit (by selecting them, then hitting CTRL + M). The latter command also works on Camera Markers, but they cannot be renamed.

Regular Markers come in handy for notes and other special places we need to remember.

There’s a special Marker menu in the timeline, from which we can do all kinds of other things to those little gadgets, including jumping and duplicating. This works with both regular and Camera Markers. Sadly there’s no default shortcuts for marker navigation as far as I know.

Final Thoughts

I had always assumed that switching cameras in Blender was a bit of a nightmare, especially if you do a lot of cuts. While that may have been the truth in 2.79 and below, the current implementation couldn’t be easier to use. It’ll open up the door to easy multi-camera animations, as well as static scenes that need to be rendered from various angles.

If you think that setting a Camera Marker should be possible by hovering anywhere in the timeline, rather than only at the un-intuitive bottom 10%, you’re not the only one: it’s a known issue, and the folks are working on it. As of 2.82 this feature is not implemented.