Thesis Project: Alex Shaders & Hair

This week it was my duty to refine the textures, shaders, and hair of the Alex model for my thesis.  There were a lot of technical challenges associated with this week's work.  One of the biggest challenges was associated with the lighting of the hair.  Typically, there are two ways to do shadows for lights: raytraced shadows and depth map shadows.  With raytracing, your image is calculated by casting "rays" from the camera into the scene to figure out how the lighting and shadows will interact.  This can create very realistic shadows, but is very heavy on the processor.  Depth map shadows work by casing rays from your lights, then generating shadows based on where the light is blocked.  It is much easier to produce these, but they can be memory intensive if you want it looking good.

So thus was my dilemma with the Alex model.  As you can imagine, trying to trace the light source back between half a million polygons and an additional fifty thousand hair primitives was causing some serious crashes if I wasn't careful.  Because I'm still using Maya 2010 for the Mac, I am stuck with a 32-bit program that can't make use of all the extra RAM my machine packs.  It's a shame.  However, I have heard terrible compatability stories with the newer versions of the Mac OS and Maya's programs.  It's sort of a Catch 22 at the moment.

The shaders still feel a bit artificial to me, but that's probably because I'm using regular Maya lights instead of physically accurate lights or an environment sphere.  With image-based lighting, the models would look a lot more accurate than what I currently have.  I plan on doing image-based lighting with the Robot, because I know he will look a whole lot better than with just plain shaders.

Truth be told, I'm ready to be done with this model.  This is the last push!

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