Greebles make me happy.

Before CGI, filming a science-fiction story typically involved constructing a physical model of a spaceship or planetscape. In order to trick the eye in to thinking you were looking at something huge, model-makers added tiny random bits of detail, often re-purposing off-the-shelf commercial model kits or using any kind of junk they could get their hands on. The Star Wars modelers nicknamed these non-functioning technological bits of eye candy “greebles.”

This week I’ve decided simply to play with Blender 2.8. I’m not trying to do anything practical, or related to my job — I’m just trying to level up in a powerful tool that I’ve been using for many years but that I still barely comprehend.

I started with a very simple scene.

I used the free tool JSplacement, which procedurally generates overlapping geometrical shapes, and generates a color map.

When I apply the above texture to the surface of my simulated objects, the results are much better.But if this was a video clip, and the camera were moving, you’d easily see that these surfaces are flat.

JSplacement also generates the supporting textures that CGI programs can use to simulate the way light interacts with complex surfaces. For instance, this greyscale height map uses shades of gray to represent how high each part of the image is.

A normal map uses the red, blue, and green channels to represent angled surfaces. Here the blue is something we’re looking at from directly above, while the red and green dots indicate sloped surfaces. (I’ve zoomed in considerably in the image below.)

My scene is still geometrically very simple, but I’ve set up Blender to use the height and angle information encoded in these supporting textures. t took about 15 minutes for my MacBook Air to render this still image. 

I dialed down the quality quite a bit so that the following short clip would render faster. Even though this is a quick and dirty run, it’s still pretty amazing that an amateur like me can create something of this quality on a random Thursday in summer.