Santa in Space

Experimenting with Nomad Sculpt for Christmas 2023

It’s been a while since I’ve devoted some time to playing around with Nomad Sculpt for iPad, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is.

More than any other 3D tool I’ve used, it’s very intuitive, forgiving of mistakes, and seems designed for translating your intention into 3D instead of making you force what’s in your head into “proper” topology and such. Plus it’s got a ton of post-processing effects built in that feel like cheating; it almost seems like I know what I’m doing.

Here’s a model for Christmas 2023: Santa in Space. He’s so excited to deliver gifts to the ISS that he didn’t check whether his sack could survive the explosive decompression.1So to speak. The original intent was to give him a big glass space hemet (with his hat on top, of course), but I found out halfway through that Nomad doesn’t support transparent materials, as far as I’m aware.

Edit: Nomad does support transparent materials; they’re just not where I expected them to be (since it’s not where you set all other material properties). You can change them in the top-level material menu when you have an object selected, choose “blending” or “additive,” and set a transparency value. It does everything except auto-fit a globe around a long beard, which is why I haven’t updated the image.

I’d still rank myself as very much an amateur — I have trouble with getting sharp details without its turning into a big, lumpy mess — but I can already tell I’ve improved since the last time I played with the software. I think modeling cartoonish, chubby, white-bearded guys is playing to my strengths, since I always have a model at the ready.

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates!

Edit 2: Because it was bugging me, I went back in and gave Space Santa a helmet. (And tweaked a couple of other things like his teeth). Merry Christmas, Space Santa!

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    So to speak.

Project Diary: Tanuki Clock Part 2

Redesigning my tanuki taiko drummer

Quick update on my project to make a Raspberry Pi-powered taiko-playing tanuki clock: I redesigned the character into a seated position, both to give more emphasis to the clock, and to make it a little bit more ambiguous where he got the taiko drum from.

I’m happier with this version, but while it makes some things theoretically simpler, it introduces a bunch of new problems. The most obvious is that it’s just so much bigger. It no longer fits on my printer, and it’s not immediately obvious how to cleanly break it into smaller components. Plus the test prints will take forever — a quick test of just the taiko drum was predicting a 15-hour print time.

Also, having the taiko oriented horizontally means the arms have to rotate at an angle, and I haven’t yet figured out exactly how I can make that work. In addition to wishing I’d had some electronics classes in school, I wish I’d taken some mechanical engineering.

(I did a quick test having the taiko vertically oriented, and the tanuki standing behind it, but that would’ve made the thing even bigger).

One thing I’ve realized trying to redesign the model is that I follow some depressingly talented artists on Instagram. I’ve been hearing for years the complaint that Instagram is bad for people’s mental health, but I’ve never understood that. I can’t remember ever seeing an “influencer” and feeling inferior or wishing that I had any single aspect of their life. (Unless they’re making me sad that I’m not at Disneyland, which is something that it usually pretty straightforward for me to correct). But seeing some artist post a photo of their “sketch” that’s still infinitely better than I’ve been able to make after hours of work, just makes me feel extremely amateurish. And I am an amateur, so fair enough, but it’s still kind of dispiriting.

Project Diary: Tanuki Clock Part 1

Start of a hopefully ongoing series about my process making an expensive and over-complicated version of a cheesy novelty item

I’ve always been ambivalent about developer diaries, for a few reasons. First is that it always seems cooler to preserve the mystery and wait until I can say, “look at this thing I made.” Second is that I’ve got a lousy track record in terms of actually finishing projects, and it’s a lot more demoralizing to have to abandon something once you’ve talked about it, rather than letting it drift off unmourned by anyone other than me. And finally, there’s a question of expertise. I hate the idea of presenting anything I do as the “right” way to do it.

But that’s kind of selfish. Any time I’ve tried to take on a new hobby or skill, I’ve used tons of online tutorials, blog posts, YouTube videos, and GitHub repos, all from people who’ve taken the time to share what they’ve learned. Plus, I’ve often run into a frustrating disconnect when looking for information online: tutorials often skip over the details I need, presumably because they’re assumed to be so basic as to be common knowledge.

So I’m going to try to detail my progress making my current project, which is a Raspberry Pi-enabled clock, with a taiko-playing tanuki.

Continue reading “Project Diary: Tanuki Clock Part 1”

Blender Sculpting Experiments

Revisiting some earlier attempts at sculpting and modeling in Blender

Back in 2020 I started in earnest trying to learn Blender’s sculpting and modeling tools. Last night I was reminded that I only posted the results to Facebook-owned platforms, and I should get them up on my own site.

The one I had the most success with was a simple version of one of the dogs from P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go!, which was my favorite book as a little kid. Another one I like, although I didn’t get very far at all, was a sculpt of Cousin Eerie from Eerie magazine, designed I believe by Jack Davis. (Even if he didn’t design the character, his version is my favorite).

I’ve been playing around with Nomad Sculpt for the iPad quite a bit lately, and having a ton of fun with it. The other night was the first time I tried importing a model from Nomad Sculpt into Blender, and it was eye-opening for just how forgiving Nomad is to people new to sculpting. Probably just because of the material and default lighting it uses, it hides all the blobby imperfections and rough patches and mistakes that Blender puts into full relief. (As it should, as it’s all stuff you need to catch in a more professional environment).

It’s less accurate, and possibly even reinforces bad habits, but it’s a lot more fun and a lot more encouraging to keep practicing, since it seems to do everything it possibly can to give you a good-looking model. At least in screenshots. I could stand to keep practicing with Blender’s sculpting and modeling tools, obviously, but I’ve got a feeling my first drafts are going to be coming from the iPad from now on.

Yukon Cornelius

My experiments with Nomad Sculpt for iPad continue. Here’s Yukon Cornelius, lickin’ his old pickaxe (so to speak).

I’m not going to lie, I’d originally thought this would be my first attempt at animating one of these models, and I’d do a constant loop of him just licking the pickaxe for infinity. But of course, when I went onto YouTube to look for reference — and I still haven’t found any good reference for his back, even if I hadn’t omitted the backpack — one of the very first videos was exactly that. Never change, The Internet.

Cute Felt

Might delete later, idk. (Heads-up: the “present” is just a bunch of seeds and a dead cricket, but it’s the thought that counts).

Made with Nomad Sculpt on iPad and textured in Blender, using a tutorial by Southern Shotty. I also cheated and added some tint to the final render in Procreate, because it was a lot easier than getting decent UVs on the model. Retopology is definitely a subject I’m going to have to tackle later, but for now I’m just having fun.

Monday Cat

Here’s another experiment learning Nomad Sculpt for iPad. The cliche that cats are grumpy and mean-tempered is lazy and inaccurate. This cat, for instance, loves Mondays. That’s the day he gets to go to his job at the bank, foreclosing on people’s homes.


And here’s the Dreidelbot 8000. I made it out of Nomad Sculpt. Partly to make up for posting Santa renders while Hanukkah was still going on, but mostly because I wanted to see if I could make a Nick Park-style robot. Don’t be alarmed by his low battery meter; his fuel tends to last longer than you might expect!

That reminds me: have there ever been any Black Christmas-type horror movies set during Hanukkah? It seems like a natural, what with a murder each day and so on. I can even think of the tag-line for the poster: “With his dreidel he will SLAY.”

Santa, Baby

I’ve been having a ton of fun with Nomad Sculpt on the iPad. I admit I didn’t think much of it until I found videos by Eric Lee on his eric3dee channel. (Start with his video doing Popeye). Not only is it possible to make neat-looking models with it, using the Apple Pencil directly on the model makes it feel a lot more natural than my previous attempts with Blender.

(It also makes it a lot easier to make simple lighting setups and renders than Blender does. I still can’t for the life of me figure out how to make even a basic 3-point light setup in Blender that doesn’t look lousy).

Anyway, here are a few shots of my first project with Nomad. It’s Santa Claus arriving at the home of Zhiyang Z Zyzzenberg, the 4.3 billionth person on his list. (Hope you wanted an Instant Pot, because that’s all that’s left!) I’d thought about doing an actual Santa Baby, but it got weird and unsettling real fast.