‘Picard’ finally shows us how Star Trek’s technology evolves

This article contains spoilers for the first season of 'Star Trek: Picard' up to episode nine. Star Trek: Picard is the show I've been looking forward to for 17 years. Not because I was particularly interested in finding out what happened to Picard,...

How to make an old, ancient, rusty metal in Keyshot using the Material Graph

Keyshot’s Material Graph offers the ability to go beyond simply tweaking a material’s color, roughness, or refractive index. If Keyshot’s material library is a restaurant menu-card, the material graph is literally the most versatile salad bar you’ve ever seen. You can pick and choose various aspects of different materials, creating a visually gorgeous mishmash of nodes and blocks to ‘build’ a material that looks stunningly real. I’m probably making it sound complicated, but here’s the truth – it really isn’t. All you need is a little patience and the ability to spot how your material reacts when you make changes to it in the material graph. Combine them and in no time, you’ll have a material that behaves exactly the way you want it to… because it was designed to!

Read further to see how to build this aged, oxidized, grungy material in Keyshot’s Material Graph. You can use this technique to make all sorts of material variants, like rusted iron, oxidized silver, or even aged bronze that’s turning green around the crevasses.

UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS

Imperfections form a major part of what makes a render photorealistic. Scratches, dust, fingerprints, dirt accumulated in tiny corners, signs of aging, all this plays a heavy role in making the eyes believe what they see. You seldom see a phone without some smudges on its screen, or a table without a bit of dust or scratches, or a leather bag without patina. Imperfections are what make life real and embracing them is a great way to make your 3D renders feel “life-like”.

The best way to look at this complex material is by splitting it into its subsequent parts. If you look at the image above, or the material graph below, you see two broad materials. Material 1 is an old, aged, dirty brownish metal, Material 2 is a shiny, golden/bronze metal. Once you create these two materials, it’s just a question of adding them together in a way that allows the right metal to show up in the right place. I’ll explain how we do that, but first, let’s create the two materials.

Before we begin, I’ve set up my scene using a model of the Bearded Man, downloaded for free from Three D Scans. Fun fact, the model is a scanned historic artifact titled ‘Portrait of a Bearded Man’ made in Marble back in the Hellenistic Period in 150 B.C. Greece. It’s perfect for our aged material because it has a stony texture with a stunning amount of detail that causes the material to look incredibly realistic. Remember that your material will only be as good as your model. A model with real-world imperfections will result in a material that’s believable and realistic.

Once you’ve set the scene up with the model, start by opening the material graph and making the old metal first. The key is always factoring imperfections into the model, so rather than just using the same color and roughness throughout, we’ll use texture maps to make sure the color and roughness of the old metal are inconsistent. Similarly, drop a texture into the Bump section too (with a low bump height) to create that undulating imperfect surface. The material interprets these texture images as data to control its properties. Depending on the whites and blacks and greys in the texture maps, the material has high or low roughness, or a higher or lower bump. Play around with the values to get a dark, rough-ish metal with barely any reflectivity… and then make Material 2, which is just the opposite.

Since Material 1 is the base material, Material 2 will sit on top of it as a layer… or in Keyshot parlance, a Label. Right-click in the empty space and create a new metal material, with image maps controlling its color, roughness, and bump. Apart from the bump, which essentially stays the same in both materials, the color and roughness are fundamentally the opposite. Where Material 1 is rough and dark, Material 2 is shiny and golden. Once you’ve made Material 2, link it to the Final Material Node using the Label option. What you now have is a shiny metal ‘coating’ sitting on top of a dirty, rusty metal. Now we control which parts of the model appear dark and rusty, and which parts appear shiny and metallic!

EXPLORING THE MATERIAL GRAPH’S CURVATURE NODE

If you’ve ever taken a walk in the mud with sneakers on, you’ll notice something interesting. The mud gets right into the gaps of your sneaker’s tread pattern. The surface of the sole may stay clean, because it’s constantly rubbing against the ground, but the mud that gets into the negative spaces of your sneaker sole stays there until you clean it out properly. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what we’re doing with this old, aged material too. We’re sort of keeping the ‘outer surface’ clean and shiny, while allowing the dents, cracks, gaps, and holes to be dirty… and we’re doing this using the Curvature Node.

Simply put, the Curvature Node splits your model into three types of surfaces – Convex surfaces, Concave surfaces, and Flat surfaces. When you connect this node to Material 2’s opacity, what you’re basically doing is making Material 2 visible in certain parts of the model, and invisible in other parts. The Curvature Node comes with three primary controls. One for Negative Curvature or concaves, one for Zero Curvature or flats, and one for Positive Curvature or convexes. What we want is for the shiny material to be visible on all convex surfaces, and the dirt to sort of be lodged into the tough-to-clean concave surfaces. By assigning the color white to the Positive control and the color black to the Negative (and even the Flat) control, you effectively control Material 2’s opacity, making it visible only in convex parts like the tip of the nose, the eyeball, etc. Everything else immediately appears dark and dirty, thanks to the underlying Material 1. You can periodically click on the Curvature Node and press the C key to toggle the preview of the black and white colors instead of the old and new materials.

The Curvature Node also has other controls that let you tweak the output. The Cutoff control basically determines how Keyshot treats the flat surfaces. If there’s a surface that’s almost flat, a high Cutoff value tells Keyshot to treat it as flat. Similarly, if your cutoff is at 0, Keyshot looks at every polygon accurately with no tolerance. Similarly, Radius controls clusters of polygons. A larger Radius value blurs the gap between the blacks and whites, while a smaller radius allows the difference to be sharper. Meanwhile, make sure you un-check the Radius In Pixels box. (That allows the radius to change depending on how much you zoom in or out, and we don’t want that)

Add some dramatic lights and Voila, you’ve got yourself an aged, old metal! If you followed along and built your own version yourself, that’s amazing! If not, just tinker around with the file we made by downloading it here. You could also watch this video by Esben Oxholm who uses this technique to make rusted iron. Similarly, you can use this process to make aged variations of materials yourself, like oxidized silver, greenish oxidized bronze, or your very own rusted metal. Scroll down to check out some results below, and hit us up on Instagram if you’ve got any suggestions for other materials you want us to make tutorials for!

Click Here to Download the Material!

‘Half-Life: Alyx’ is proof Valve answers to no one

Valve is like an eccentric billionaire uncle who isn't allowed to babysit any kids in the family. He lives alone in a mountaintop mansion stocked with exotic animals, vintage pinball machines, water slides and homemade potato guns, and strange sounds...

A Designer’s Three Opportunities for Impact

Hi, I am Kelly from Knack, where we help mobility brands make their products irresistible.

I want you to think back to the last time a new pair of shoes caught your eye. Something tells me they weren’t the same pair that were already on your feet. Instead, they might have had a fresh new look. They could’ve had self-tying laces that promised you a tailor-fit. Or, they could’ve been a whole different type of shoe altogether. Maybe they were a waterproof work boot that deemed your old sneakers obsolete.

In today’s noisy markets, products have to first get noticed in order to be desired. They do so by doing something different from their competitors. There are three factors that differentiate and then drive desire for products: purpose, experience, and aesthetic.

Since our job as designers is to create desire to ultimately drive demand for a product, these three factors are our opportunities for impact.

Pain-Relieving Purpose

By solving a meaningful problem that no other product does or solving an existing problem better, a product will naturally attract people who are experiencing that problem. Conversely, if a product doesn’t solve a new problem or offer a better solution, it gets buried in a sea of similar offerings.

At the start of your next design project, ask yourself, “Will this product provide relief to a meaningful problem that no other product does?” If your answer is no, dive deeper into understanding your customer to get to the heart of what they really need.

Delightful Experience

When a product works better and delivers a more seamless experience than any other product, it rises to the top. The ideal scenario would be to have a product deliver a delightful user experience.

Thoroughly walk through the user’s journey and observe real users interacting with the product you’re designing. What hurdles do they face? What issues become apparent as they use your product? Work to resolve every point of friction and then go one step further to incorporate interactions that will delight them.

Enticing Aesthetic

This one is a little more obvious since designers are usually pegged for their contribution to aesthetics. However, how a product looks and feels can play two significant roles. One, it can grab attention. Two, it can resonate with the user.

When establishing the aesthetic of your next product design, make sure that you choose the aesthetic that is both attention-getting AND compelling to the user. Your product’s aesthetic should connect with the user on an emotional level and to do so, you need to understand your user on an emotional level.

Which of these three factors are you focusing your design efforts on? Are you able to contribute to more than just one? An irresistible product requires all three.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Custer is the Founder + Design Director of Knack

Pairing her transportation design education from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan with over 8 years of design consulting experience in consumer products, Kelly has built a strong passion for mobility. She founded Knack in 2014 and leads the studio to deliver irresistible simple mobility products.

When she’s not in the studio, she can be found on a mountain bike trail, trying to keep up with her husband on her dirt bike, or exploring the Tennessee river on their vintage stand-up jet skis.

Follow Knack on Instagram

YD Talks – How to stay productive while working or studying from home

Believe it or not, I have a decent amount of experience in this field. Ever since I began working full time at YD, I’ve done it from all parts of the world… but 99% of the time, I’ve done it from my home.

Working from home is boring, un-productive, and is filled with distractions. I won’t lie. Being alone at home every day can sometimes affect your mood, and that tends to undermine one’s productivity. You’re less likely to report to work exactly on time, and under the lack of supervision, chances are you’ll have Netflix or YouTube open in a browser window right beside your work. To be honest, remote work isn’t for everyone, and just like it takes time to get into the rhythm of a new job, it takes time to adjust to the new experience of working from home. The good news is that this shift, for the most part, isn’t permanent. It’s a phase that’ll soon pass, and recognizing that really helps you work/study better.

This Is Covidiculous

Given the threat posed by COVID-19, a majority of companies and schools around the world are shutting their doors and instituting temporary ‘stay-at-home’ policies to prevent the risk of spreading the virus. Several colleges on the east coast are telling their students to stay at home, while larger institutions like NYU are shifting to online-based courses as a stopgap solution. Companies like Google and Washington Post have shut their offices too, and I can only imagine what living in parts of China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Iran feels like, where the situation on the ground is even more serious.

If you’re a designer or student who’s being told to work/study from home, here are a few ways to avoid the stay-at-home blues and actually be productive and get stuff done.

Separate your Work Life and Home Life

The biggest problem, or complaint rather, with working from home is that it undermines the sanctity of your home being your place of zen, to escape work. People prefer keeping their work in the workplace, and not bringing that stress back home with them… so when you have to reply to emails, make powerpoints, or attend conference calls from the comfort of your bed, that boundary gets blurred.

If you want to effectively work or study from home, un-blur that boundary by separating your workspace from your home space. Fix a designated spot like a desk or the dining table for your working or studying rather than opening your book or laptop in bed. Being productive is a state of mind and needless to say, being in bed won’t help you reach it.

Take breaks / Stay Social

Nobody ever works or studies non-stop for 5-6 hours. Every couple of moments, you feel inclined to stretch, talk to the person beside you, or convene near the water-cooler for some chit-chat. When you bring work home, it’s important to bring that work culture home too. Keep in touch with friends or colleagues via chatting apps. If you’re more of a lone-wolf at work or school, try surrounding yourself with chatter by listening to music or a podcast. If you like reading articles, I recommend checking out Read2Me, a website that does a pretty amazing job of reading out articles to you.

Reward yourself by setting goals

Sometimes (if you’re a little like me) those breaks become a little longer than usual. A 10-minute coffee run perhaps stretches to half an hour long. You promise to watch one YouTube video suddenly you realize you’ve wasted half a day. The best way to hack yourself into being productive is to use the carrot and stick tactic. Start looking at that break as a goal you need to achieve by completing a task. Rather than just getting up to grab a coffee at a certain hour, allow yourself the coffee only after having completed a task or a chapter. That way, the break feels more deserved, so taking a few minutes extra won’t matter either… because you got work done in the process!

Learn a new skill / Work on a passion project

Here’s where working/studying from home is truly a blessing in disguise. It gives you the independence and freedom to actually focus on stuff you wouldn’t be able to at work or in college! Try learning new software, reading a book, building or updating your portfolio, or working on self-initiated projects! You could finally carve out a few hours in the week to take part in one of Instagram’s many designing and rendering challenges, or better still, work on an idea for a product you’ve had in your head for a while now. And when it’s ready, send it over to a design competition, or submit it to us and maybe it could get featured on a design blog!

The absence of a boss’s supervision or a college’s rigorous schedule can be exploited to achieve amazing things!

Give yourself something to look forward to

Some people love working from home, some people don’t. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. If you’re the latter, just remember that setting goals helps you get to them. A footballer without a goalpost is just a person kicking a sphere (I made that up myself!) The best way to get through the day is to look forward to something at the end of it, like a movie or a game. Looking forward to a plan at the end of the day is a great way to get through work/studying without the blues getting to you… and while you’re at it, remember three things. Remember not to slip into bad habits like randomly opening Instagram every few minutes to check for messages, remember that this is just a temporary phase and you’ll be back at work or college before too long, and most importantly, remember to wash your hands! Stay safe, YD fam!

YD Talks: Coronavirus will spur the growth of freelance designing and in-house prototyping

“Dear Sarang,
Let the mood take a vacation, park, to feel the fresh breath of nature, to listen to the news of flowers bloom and fall, wish you a wonderful weekend, relax and happy.

Kind Regards,
Jack Huang | Rapid Prototype Manager”

I often receive heartfelt emails like these from Jack who runs outreach for a China-based rapid-prototyping company… ask any industrial designer and they’ll surely tell you about how they too have rapid-prototypers reaching out to them… but it’s been months since Jack has contacted me, wishing me a wonderful weekend, or that the winter sun’s gentle warmth brings me good fortune, or that he would like to connect with me on LinkedIn. Ever since the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan around the Chinese New Year, there’s been a significant drop in email pitches I’ve been getting from Chinese rapid prototyping companies. I’m making a segue into the next paragraph, but I’ll get back to Jack in a bit.

Coronavirus, more accurately referred to as COVID-19, has caused a pretty noticeable slowdown both globally and locally, be it economic, communications-based, or even in travel. Apple is warning its customers of a severe shortage of global inventory in upcoming months because of halted production. Meanwhile, Foxconn, one of the iPhone’s leading manufacturers in China, is busy making protective masks instead. The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which was scheduled for the end of February, was called off amidst fears that an international event would lead to the spread of the disease, causing other events like the Geneva Motor Show, Salone del Mobile, the Game Developers Conference, SXSW, and even the Summer Olympics to consider cancellation or postponement.

It wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that the epidemic, which has caused over 3000 deaths globally, is definitely disrupting industries, jobs, and lives. Visas are being canceled, travel is seeing a massive slowdown, people are becoming more wary of large gatherings, and companies are reviewing work-from-home policies. What does this really mean for the design industry? And how is our profession, which literally deals with ‘problem-solving’, solving or working around this issue?

A quick recap on what the Coronavirus really is…

Now I’m no medical expert and this isn’t a scientific journal, so I’ll just link you to articles that may better explain the virus and its origins (at the bottom of this editorial), but the Novel Coronavirus is likely to have originated out of Wuhan from a wild animal trade market. The virus shares similarities with the SARS and MERS viruses as well as the common influenza virus – the difference being primarily that the virus hasn’t been studied in detail by scientists, leaving quite a few unknowns.

What we DO know, however, is that the most prevalent symptoms include fever, pneumonia, coughing, and shortness of breath, and that the virus primarily spreads through contact or an exchange of fluids.

If you’re reading this with Amazon open in a tab nearby with the search results for a face mask, here’s something worth knowing. That face mask isn’t going to prevent people from getting the virus, but it’s surely going to prevent people from spreading it. Doctors claim that the virus can enter your body, even through the eyes, so while a mask definitely offers a certain degree of protection, staying away from people (especially those who are coughing) is far more effective. Health experts also recommend you keep your hands away from your face and be wary of touching objects that are likely to be infected like door handles or escalator armrests, constantly wash your hands thoroughly with soap, and avoid social gatherings and large crowds as much as possible. In short, it’s a good time to be an introverted germophobe.

Is it as bad as it sounds?

The minute you have a crisis that halts production, productivity, and travel, it doesn’t take long for the effects of the halt to show. Factories routinely shut shop in China for the Lunar New Year, but the sudden insurgence of the virus prevented them from opening immediately after the holiday season. In just a matter of weeks. China’s priorities shifted rapidly to containing the virus. Government-mandated factory shutdowns, quarantines, and the focus on building medical facilities have effectively put a halt on production in the world’s biggest manufacturing hub.

Up until a few weeks ago, the situation seemed pretty stable until South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran began reporting a major spike in Coronavirus cases too, prompting a lockdown on international travel. This slowdown has forced organizations to call off mass events like the Salone Del Mobile, Mobile World Congress, Geneva Motor Show, which see a majority of international attendees. Facebook and Google have put the kibosh on their developer conferences (and are probably moving to an online-only event), and Apple is reportedly considering doing the same for its March event. On the other side of the world, the Japanese government is seriously considering postponing the Summer Olympics… and arguably the most popular museum in the world (and home to the Mona Lisa), the Louvre, pulled its shutters down at the beginning of this week.

The toll on public health aside, yeah… it’s pretty bad.

Coronavirus – What it means for the design industry, productivity, and prototyping…

The two most obvious retaliations to the Coronavirus on the global industry have been by far A. Spreading out the workforce, and B. Being infrastructurally self-reliant. While it isn’t really ‘business as usual’ for most companies, we’re slowly adapting by redefining how we see the ‘workplace’ as not a physical building filled with employees, but rather a state of mind. It shouldn’t be long before work-from-home policies become more of the norm, and before having a ‘home office’ or ‘home studio’ becomes standard practice… especially in a gig/freelance economy that’s increasingly moving towards one.

It’s probably what freelancers are exactly looking for – having more freedom and control over their work environment, work hours, and clients. Meanwhile, it surely bodes well for companies to hire freelancers given that they’re cheaper since freelancers don’t get bonuses or medical coverage. Freelancers also are relatively high-productivity, low-commitment, since they can’t unionize or take paid leaves… plus it’s easier for both parties to get out of contracts without worrying about notice periods or severance packages.

Meanwhile, this brute-force shift towards a digital workspace (rather than a physical one) will probably change productivity forever. A lot of the industry’s focus is shifting towards seamless cloud collaboration (video conferencing platform Zoom has seen a significant spike in its stock) and we may just enter a future where working from home will be as productive as working in an office among colleagues (even though the current consensus is quite the opposite). You can read more about remote working on Magda Sowierszenko’s Remote-how Blog or sign up for her upcoming free webinar on Emergency Remote-work Setup Preparedness scheduled for Tuesday, 10th March.

It also probably means depending less on Jack (remember Jack from before?) for tasks like basic prototyping. While it’s cheaper to rely on a singular hub like China for manufacturing, that low-cost comes at the price of high risk. Apple’s inventory for fast-moving electronics like the iPhone is running low, which is even worse considering they’re rumored to launch a new iPhone and iPad in March, and on a smaller scale, hundreds of Kickstarter projects are being affected by the disadvantage of having all their infrastructural eggs in the China basket. Now would probably be a great time to consider building more than one manufacturing hub, but more importantly, being self-reliant when it comes to minor manufacturing and prototyping tasks. It’s a shame that the guys at Makerbot missed this moment by four years when they pretty much shut shop in 2016, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict that 3D printing (on both domestic and international levels) will see a much-needed growth spurt. In the meantime, all we can do is hope that the scientific community and governments of their respective countries are doing everything they can to keep the virus at bay… plus, a personal reminder to be extra particular about your health and hygiene, and if anyone hears from Jack, do let me know if he’s okay.

Further Reading
Coronavirus Updates
World Health Organization – Information and Guidance regarding Coronavirus
What Scientists say about the Coronavirus

The PlayStation 2 turns 20 and our readers have feelings

The PlayStation 2 came out in Japan 20 years ago today, with Sony selling 155 million units over a lifespan of almost 13 years. It's actually the best-selling console of all time, which means it's likely quite a few of you owned one and have strong f...