Dandelion in the wind header image

Art Spotlight: Dandelion in the Wind

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About Me

Hi, my name is Zack Ciminera. I’m currently a freelance data visualization developer from Annecy, France.

I started learning 3D two years ago (2019) because I always found it looked cool and it was very unknown to me, so I felt the need to learn about it. I quickly wanted to explore every facet of 3D. I started learning on my own, watching videos here and there, and constantly experimenting with new things. This is why you can find different kinds of stuff on my Sketchfab profile.

You can also see some of my work on my Instagram or Twitter!

Inspiration

I often take my inspiration from things going on around me. Most of the time I simply see something that I find cool and I start thinking about how to transpose it in 3D. It can be a character, an animal, a technique, a specific light, or even a movement. When I started thinking about doing this model, we were in the middle of spring in France. There were dandelions everywhere!

Process and tools

Due to the experimentation approach, the processing of this model was a little messy. I began with the main movement flow of the seeds and built the rest around it.

For this particular model, I used Blender 2.92 for the particle system, modeling, animation, and code. I used Substance Painter 2021 (Steam license) for texturing. And I used Materialize to convert a diffuse map into a normal and a roughness map.

Particle system

The first thing I did was the seeds’ flying movement affected by the wind. It would take too long to do it by hand but fortunately, Blender offers a particle system simulation with a lot of possibilities—you can easily simulate moving liquids, smoke, clouds, and other effects (more info here).

I spent some time trying different settings to create the flow I wanted, the final setup is the following:

  • I start by creating a particle emitter mesh. I choose an icosphere (3 subdivisions) to get a regular density of seeds.
  • I set 95 particles, frame start and end to 1, and lifetime to 1000 (the duration of my animation) because I don’t want my particles to appear or disappear (1).
  • I make them emit from vertices with no random order (2)
  • Rotation along normal, and check dynamic to ensure that our particles rotate with the influence of the wind (3).
  • I create a simple particle mesh and choose “render as object” for the setting (4).
  • I also put a low gravity value in the field weights (5).

blender particle system settings image

You can also add “Force Fields” that influence the particle systems. In this scene, I simply added wind and 2 turbulence fields. You can see the settings in the following image:

blender force fields image

I animated the wind strength and the seed mass over time to get a better movement by adding keyframes at the right timing!

At this stage, I have a bunch of seeds flying together in a nice flow movement.

blender dandelion animation gif

Despite trying to add turbulence or playing with the particle system setting, I couldn’t find a nice way to break this “pack”, so I decided to bake the particle system and work with the keyframes of each seed.

For doing this, I use Python scripts inside Blender. I essentially used 2 scripts, one for baking the particles (see this post for more information) and one to add a random delay on the animation of each seed.

This is not optimized since I didn’t want to spend too much time on it and it did what I wanted.

blender python animation code

And here I have my final seeds movement.

dandelion animation image

Special thanks to my 3D brother (Stev_3D) for his explanation of the math around quaternion and Euler rotations.

Modeling

Once I get my seeds’ core movement, I can finally shape my flower. I start by creating a low poly mesh for the seed because I’m gonna have 95 duplicates of them.

Next I create a basic shape for the peduncle, sepal, and seed head.

For the leaves, I have previously scanned (in 2D) a real one. I add the image in Blender (using the “image as plane” addon), cut the silhouette with the knife tool, and retopo it to get a foldable mesh.

After that, I add an ephemeral armature on the leaf to be able to easily manipulate it.

dandelion mesh image

I duplicate the leaf 5 times and place them around the flower. I edit their orientation, scale, and shape with the armature. Once all the leaves are in place, I apply the armature modifier and remove the bones.

Here you can see the wireframe of the dandelion.

dandelion wireframe image

Texturing

Once I have unwrapped all parts of my dandelion, I can texture my flower. I start by drawing the seeds’ opacity in Substance Painter. I tried multiple shapes but I quickly found one that works well.

dandelion texture image

After that, I create a material for the peduncle, sepal, and the seed’s head. Nothing special to say here, it’s mostly green.

For the leaves, I use my 2D scan image to generate a normal and a smoothness map with Materialize, which is a standalone tool for creating materials from images. You can create an entire material from a single image. It’s relatively quick and simple.

I open my scan in the software and play with the settings for generating my desired images. (For the details, you can check Materialize’s website.)

materialize texture maps image

Animation

Now I have all my elements, the next step consists of animating the flower (the peduncle and the leaves) by synchronizing it with the seeds’ wind movement made earlier.

I start by adding a very simple armature to the leaves and the peduncle using the automatic weight option.

I add a bone at the top of the peduncle (let’s call it the leader bone), which will be used to create the main movement.

After that, I group all the seeds together by parenting them to an empty object.

I add a “copy location” constraint to the seed parent to ensure that the seeds follow the peduncle.

I add an “inverse kinematic” constraint to the highest bones of the peduncle and the leaves armatures (I set a low influence (0.1) on the leaves for a more subtle movement).

leader bone inverse kinematic

Next, I manually animate a simple and smooth wind movement on the leader bone.

Due to the inverse kinematic constraints, the peduncle and the leaves follow the leader bone movement.

dandelion in the wind animation

To get a more realistic wind animation, I add a noise rotation to the leaves and finish by delaying the seeds’ keyframes to release them at the right moment.

Sketchfab

The final step is to set up the scene in Sketchfab. For me it’s the best place to share 3D stuff. I like turning around models and zooming into the details. If you have a VR headset, I encourage you to explore models through Sketchfab. I often do it, it’s really cool!

Ok, back to the dandelion. I first export my model in the .fbx format.

Note: FBX doesn’t support the Blender particle system—be sure to bake your particles before exporting your model.

Then I upload it to Sketchfab, I add the textures for each object and set up the scene.

To me, flowers mean sun and light, so I wanted a bright scene.

For the seed hair, I put the opacity on “additive”, because this gives the best visual result.

I like adding translucency and subsurface scattering on vegetation to give a more realistic render.

To accentuate the realism, I add bloom, SSAO, and depth of field in the post-processing filters.

sketchfab 3d editor settings image

And here’s the final scene:

I used a lot of different tools and Blender features to create this model, I tried to explain them all briefly, so if you still have any questions do not hesitate to directly ask me!

Thank you for reading!

About the author

Zack Ciminera

3D modeler/animator



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