Monday, July 9, 2007

Edge Loops

This installment of my prodlog will dwell obsessively with edges. Edge loops and edge rings. That beautiful symphony in wireframe that covers all CG surfaces like a topological roadmap. When you’ve been modeling for 48 hours you begin to see this mesh overlay on everything in the house. I begin squinting at the cat, figuring out his ley lines, swooping between his haunches and up and around his ears. I speak of the polygon edges that create everything in the CG world, arranged elegantly in concentric rings around power centers on the model: latitudes around the eye sockets, longitudes radiating out along the laugh lines. In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams toys with the hypothesis that the universe is made of math; and after peering into this Cartesian abyss for so long, I’m beginning to see it as such, be it truth or madness. I think these concentric rings are corrupting our science. Astrophysicists have gone so far as to extend this vision of lines into models of spacetime: the refuted & recently disputed String Theory being the latest misconception based on our starting to see the world as the computer sees it: as a convoluted, twisted and perturbed yet meticulously organized grid.

I especially enjoy modeling with polygons, the first and still the best “surface type” in computer science. I had NURBS shoved down my throat back when they were the Holy Grail. Thank God that fad has passed. Modeling with NURBS is like wrestling with a ball of chicken wire – remember that grade school crap, doing the chicken wire sculpture as a primitive armature for your paper mache Halloween head? I usually ended up with tetanus from the wire-ends and blood blisters from the tinsnips. No, I prefer the chunky precision of Polygons: like a stained-glass mosaic with all of these edge rings as the lead solder. But unlike anything that stained glass can do, at any point you can smooth it to create a curvilinear surface from the poly cage. I love all real-world processes as much as the next guy. In art school I did my time wandering around smelling like turpentine (among other ... substances). But I’m convinced nothing beats the simulacrum that is Computer Art for depth and variation. Do you realize this is the first time in human history that we can create an image of anything the mind’s eye can envision? And then some. How can everyone not be excited about this? I sometimes wonder why, in the wake of this revolution, people continue to be doctors and lawyers and salesman and such. I mean, thank God, ‘cause who would fix the roads, but why isn’t everyone dropping what they’re doing and becoming a Computer Artist? Seemed like a no-brainer to me, sometime around Myst. Toy Story cinched it.

Back to the edge loops: it’s no wonder we came up with lines as a representation for basic form when we began building 3D universes: ever since Albert Hoffman’s experiments (hell, ever since the first monkey found the first mushroom) these sort of ring patterns have been observed in the fabric of all matter. Particularly when creating the human body, the activity I’m currently engaged in, the essential surface landmarks are all linear: wrinkles, the striations of underlying muscle, the vein networks in the skin. Check the paintings of visionary new-age painter Alex Grey:

So I’m building the main model for my lead character for the third time. But I’m taking it slower this time, observing the “harmony of the lines”. Particularly when your goal is to animate the model, careful attention needs to be paid to these concentric ring-patterns, so that every wrinkle falls in the right place in the torque of body contortion.

On the workstation iTunes this week: Peanut Butter Wolf, early Peter Gabriel (the “untitled” years) and Prince’s “Graffiti Bridge” (1990), which is, by the way, the most perfect album ever created if you shave off the awful first two & last two songs. I just listen to the middle section. I don’t think I need to tell you not to see the movie. Don’t see any of Prince’s movies. Just buy the soundtracks. That last tip was free of charge.

Till next time I want to kill an hour,
Northifus Rex