Some gears… in Blender (1h-challenge)

Here’s a little animation I made in 1h to play around with Blender object constraints!

This article is also available on Medium.

A couple of weeks ago, I showed a little “kitschy” dancing man that I’d made in Blender as a 1h-challenge to discover how to use various modifiers and the vertex colouring feature. Today, here’s another time-constrained standalone render: this time, I made a set of gears and mechanical worm in 1h.

The final result are two 5-seconds animation that loop, a “dark” and a “light” version 😉

About this render…

Creating the gears

Modelling a gear can get pretty tiresome – unless you take advantage of some Blender addons, and in particular the “Extra Objects” module!

This addon gives you lots of new primitives that you can instantiate and configure easily, for example the gear or the worm:

This is great for quickly setting up a steampunk or even realistic mechanical-based system. The options are easy enough to understand, you have access to everything you need and it makes well-built objects that are nice to work with.

I simply spent a bit of extra time to add particularities to some gears, like the creases or the bumps (on the left, a basic gear primitive from “Extra Objects”; on the right, the same gear after some customisation):

Animating the gears

My goal with this project was mainly to work with Blender’s object constraint feature. This tool allows you to have object’s transforms depend on others, for example copy the rotation from one mesh to another… or even apply some intermediary process like reversing the rotation – which is perfect for gears! 🙂

For my render, I actually only animated the central big wheel and all the others use object constraints to derive their own rotation from the rotation of this reference.

The idea was to add a “Transformation” object constraint to my other gears, take the Y rotation of the central wheel as source value and then re-map it either to the same range or a reversed range to get a similar or counter movement. For example, the other large gear on the top right has a reversed rotation calculated with this object constraint:

This makes the second object rotate automatically whenever I move the first one, and so it really reduces the amount of animation I had to do for this scene!

Materials and shaders: the “dark”/”light” alternatives

As you might have guessed, the only difference between the “dark” and the “light” version is the colour/material of the objects. Otherwise, the scene and animation is identical.

I initially did the “light” version and I was quite happy with this very simple, almost paper-like render. The EEVEE engine gives a really sweet set of lights and shadows when you use a Point Light, and I think it’s really interesting to balance out the inherent “harshness” of a mechanical set of gears.

The “dark” version, on the other end, has a bit more effects. Most importantly, I’m using a metallic material for most of the objects, with two variants: a dark gray for the gears and a light gray for the axes and the worm on the left. This duo of grays helps keep the image visually interesting because, with only dark gray everywhere, it was pretty hard to distinguish anything 😉

Anyway – these two “metal” materials or still quite soft, so the gears feel sort of like carbon fibre pieces. It makes it softer and I really like this “smooth” rendition 🙂

I also added those emissive white bands here and there. By turning on the “Bloom” effect of the EEVEE rendering engine, it gives a somewhat surreal aspect to the scene and, once again, makes a constrast with the very down-to-earth objects that are shown:

Adding the depth of field “defocus” effect

At this point, I had an okay clip but it wasn’t that interesting. It would just loop indefinitely, again and again, with no remarkable moments.

To avoid this bland feeling, I played around with some camera properties to add a little depth of field effect and had it completely defocus from time to time. This gives a bit of rhythm to animation and keeps the viewer’s attention 😉

Conclusion

This new 1-hour challenge was a really great way of exploring Blender’s features and getting more familiar with the object constraints. It was also a nice opportunity to do some quick scenery because I had to find interesting pieces to put in this machinery, and a visually balances way of positioning everything.

Doing a grayscale image was quite new to me, too: I usually play a lot with colour schemes to convey emotions… but here, I only had shapes, depths and visual effects!

Just like the last standalone render, it was nice to be able to try things out and playing around with the tool just for a couple of hours…

I hope you like this render! If you do, don’t hesitate to check out my CG-dedicated Instagram, and as always, feel free to suggest other ideas of renders in the comments! 😉

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