How to use Blender with Shapelab to unlock the potential of VR in 3D modeling
Blender is one of the most popular programs among 3D artists. Its open-source nature enables it to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing demands of the digital creative community. Among the exciting developments, many users are eagerly anticipating the integration of VR tools, but recent developments are still far from allowing professional 3D sculpting in VR within Blender. However, VR enthusiasts already have great VR 3D modeling software to choose from. Shapelab is a strong contender and can seamlessly integrate virtual reality in the 3D modeling workflow.
What is Blender?
Blender is a powerful and versatile software that has gained widespread acclaim in the world of 3D modeling for several compelling reasons. One of its standout advantages is its open-source nature, which not only makes it accessible to a global community of artists and developers but also encourages constant innovation and improvement.
This software offers an extensive array of tools and features for 3D modeling, rendering, animation, and more, allowing artists to bring their creative visions to life with remarkable precision. The node-based shader editor, for instance, provides unmatched control over materials and textures, enabling the creation of stunningly realistic visuals. Whether you’re a hobbyist, a professional, or an educator, Blender’s diverse set of features and its cost-effective nature make it a compelling choice for 3D modeling endeavors of all scales.
What can you do in Blender?
- Create 3D Models
- UV Unwrapping and Texturing
- Rigging and Animation
- Lighting and Rendering
- Visual Effects and Compositing
- …and more!
What is Shapelab?
Shapelab is a highly efficient 3D sculpting software optimized for virtual reality devices. Shapelab takes advantage of VR technology to provide an immersive and intuitive interface that allows you to sculpt in 3D space, giving you a new level of control and creative freedom over your designs. With Shapelab, you can easily create organic shapes, from simple forms to complex designs. Visualize your creative ideas and print them in 3D or sculpt high-quality props, characters, and concepts for applications, games, and virtual worlds, as well as digital concept art and storyboards.
What can you do in Shapelab?
Shapelab offers tools that can cover a wide range of the 3D asset creation workflow including:
- Ideation: quickly sketch objects and instantly test concepts in virtual reality
- Blockout: speed up the block out process and create complex shapes with a few brush strokes
- Detailing: create intricate details to your designs in VR
- Retopology: more and more tools are present in Shapelab that allow for modifying topology both globally and locally
- UV mapping and creating textures: you can vertex paint your models and generate and export texture maps (normal maps, PBR properties, and colors
How to use these 2 powerful tools together to make the best of your 3D designs
Shapelab complements Blender in two main fields: 3D sculpting and texturing. While both operations can be done in Blender, the additional control achieved from working in an actual 3D space grants the user a lot more precision and speed.
An example workflow for concept/asset creation
Talented artist and colleague Guillaume Bonvin used Shapelab and Blender to create Hummingbird under the rain (see below, and check out the animation on Artstation).
- He started sculpting directly in VR with Shapelab and imported many reference images for direction.
- He proceeded to sculpt the whole bird with the most possible details, without caring about the mesh density.
- Then he created a first export to Blender using decimated geometry at export to check it under the cycles render engine.
- He imported back to Shapelab, and painted the bird while only caring about the diffuse color value.
- The bird had to be animated, so the vertex count needed to remain low. This is where he exported two models from Shapelab, one with full resolution, and one that was heavily decimated. To keep the details, he created the final Blender node material on the high-resolution model, and then baked everything onto the low-resolution one. Tip: A good way to quickly add detail and contrast to a sculpt through its material is to make use of the Geometry Node’s Pointiness parameter to multiply the diffuse color or create a bump map (see image below). This works especially well on high detail sculpts exported from Shapelab.
- The rest was done in Blender; essentially adding particle systems for feathers, adding wings, rigging, animating, setting up the lighting, and rendering.
Key benefits of integrating Shapelab in your Blender workflow
- The intuitive interface of Shapelab makes it easy to previsualize your ideas, then use Blender for rendering. Previsualization is one of the most important steps of pre-production, as even the smallest mistakes could get extremely costly. However in this process the artist needs to react to the customer’s request very swiftly. Shapelab is a great tool for speedy asset creation and for quick changes on existing models.
- In Shapelab you can position the reference images in virtual reality to have more fluid feedback on the general shapes your model is supposed to be.
- You can easily iterate by going back and forth between the applications
Tip: Make sure you don’t use autoalign when importing to keep the same transforms.
- As Shapelab is polygon-based, and not voxel-based like many competitors, the geometry you see is what you get. No artifacts arise from switching applications,
- If you want to produce objects with very low polygon count for game assets/animation/physics simulation, the workflow remains the same, whether you start from a clean topology or do the retopo step afterward. In some cases, there is not even the need to manually go through retopology, as Shapelab’s decimate feature directly produced a good enough result.
- During the iteration process, exporting allows you to automatically decimate and generate the maps. This is a great way to check how your sculpt will look under Blender’s render settings, and can even be used as is.
- Shapelab supports standard file formats on import and export, and even a base node material will be generated, making the import to Blender a single easy step.
- You can use vertex paint to create more than just the regular PBR maps, such as bumps, IQR, transmission, particle system distribution, etc.
Example with a simple black/white paint job controlling a particle system and emission value. Tip: To do this, make sure the dynamic resolution is off to keep the UVs the same during the paint process, and use export with separate texture files
Blender, a popular open-source 3D modeling software, is known for its’ versatility and broad range of features, making it a go-to choice for artists and developers. While it has been eagerly awaited for VR integration, it’s not yet ready for professional 3D sculpting in VR. In contrast, Shapelab is a VR-focused 3D sculpting software that seamlessly incorporates virtual reality into the modeling process.
Blender offers a diverse set of features for creating 3D models, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging, animation, and more. Shapelab, on the other hand, is optimized for virtual reality, allowing for intuitive and immersive 3D sculpting. Users can create organic shapes, visualize ideas, and produce 3D models for applications, games, and concept art.
Shapelab complements Blender by enhancing 3D sculpting and texturing in an actual 3D space, offering more precision and speed. An example workflow involves starting in Shapelab for sculpting, importing to Blender for rendering, and iterating between the two applications. Shapelab’s polygon-based nature ensures that the geometry remains consistent throughout the process. It supports various file formats and allows for easy vertex painting to create a range of maps.
Shapelab has many features compared to other VR creative tools that makes it easy to integrate in your Blender workflow. Take advantage of virtual reality and watch your 3D models come alive in Shapelab!