2018 Year Review and Plans For 2019
After experimenting with clothing library early this year we realized that web-based 3D technologies are still not ready for general public. Materials are complex and often reliant on geometical forms, and developing a commercial app for showcasing a product can take month and a lot of effort. All this makes using 3D graphics in business environment rather inconvenient.
For a long time our SDK was working greatly with Blender. In the render options panel we had a button which opened our Project Manager. It is not the best way, though: usually you open the files right from the working environment. And in order to develop our own product we need for sure the independent framework of projects, 3d scene setup, program scripts for web-applications.
We also understand that the process of installation and the use of our products required a lot of inevident steps and it pushed off our newcomers. That is the reason why we started to develop our own software called Blend4web Studio. Any user can install it in one-two clicks. At the same time the integration with Blender remains, the required modules are installed automatically. In Blend4web Studio we have completely reconsidered the approach to projects management. Now a container is a key moment. The container allows to connect a special editor designed for different tasks and see the final result in WebGL scene at once, and not some in-between display in Blender.
Blend4Web project containers will feature a large set of unified options to make working with projects more convenient and easy to understand. There will also be other types of containers, such as Fabric for materials and Configurator for ready-made product showcases. We are currently working on a few other types of containers, including ones for clothing design and for creating automation systems. These will be presented in due time.
And finally, we decided to create our own cloud platform. Now, every member of our community will have means to create his or hers own blog or even a fully-fledged online marketplace to sell materials and other types of assets. Using our platform will also grant users access to a huge library of assets that they can use to speed up their work on their own projects. End users, on the other hand, will get simple and convenient tools to create 3D scenes using object from various applications featured in our cloud.
Blend4Web Project Container
Developing new ways of working with projects we tried to take into account every shortcoming of our old SDK. The first issue to fix was the pre-defined project path in the SDK directory: now users are free to select any directory to store their projects. Moreover, we have simplified the selection of available project types. Finally, we have revised and unified project build scripts. But do not worry, as the building itself will be done mostly in the same way as it was in the SDK.
New Material Editor
Our many years of experience of working with online 3D graphics have led us to the realization that many users struggle to create an attractive picture, and their main problem is the sheer complexity of materials and difficulties of working with them. Because of this, we decided to separate material editing in two levels:
- the high-level editing will feature so-called uber materials that can be set up by selecting colors and textures, and by tweaking some numerical values
- the low-level editing would be done using material node trees that experienced Blend4Web users are already familiar with
Blend4Web Studio will also include a brand-new material editor that you can use without opening Blender.
New Logic Editor
Our work to create a Blender-independent pipeline for Bend4Web continued with updating its visual programming subsystem, and it was here where the problem of choosing the tool came up. Our current node-based editor is quite versatile, but its usability has been questioned even in the past, as was its augmentability and general convenience. Our inhouse Automatic project, on the other hand, for the past three or four years has been using Blockly editor by Google, a well-known visual scripting language. This instrument is easy to extend, and it produces a more easy to read scenarios. Using it should greatly simplify the workflow, so we have decided to abandon the old node editor.
And to completely obliterate any boundaries that non-Blender users can run into we have added an option to load glTF files into our engine. Now, glTF is an open file format for storing 3D data and sharing it between different application as easy as sharing a JPEG image between 2D graphics software. Thus, the power of Blend4Web engine will be available not only to Blender enthusiasts but to everyone who’s familiar with any kind of 3D software.
To store and organize materials in Studio projects, we are presenting Fabric Designer: a container designed for storing materials, their properties and texture maps. This material container features two modes – a complex node editor and a more simple Uber interface.
The Uber mode allows for selecting input values from the material node tree and for creating a control panel out of them. This panel can then be used to adjust the looks of the material, so whoever uses this material won’t have to go deep into the nuances of lighting and other effects. Instead, they will be able to get various types of plastics, glass, metal, leather or fabric with just a few clicks.
Configurator is a ready-made application for showcasing products, mechanisms or technologies using a 3D scene that can be supplied with additional options or variants. In such an application, a user can view the presented object from various angles, can set colors, materials or images, turn on and off animations and calculate the cost of a particular configuration.
A configurator application can show several configurator objects on a scene, and what’s important here is that these object can be loaded from other containers. For example, you can take an object from one app, a material from another, and apply the material to the object in your own scene.
Configurator container allows for using material from other containers on a subscription basis. A 3D artist can develop unique materials, objects and backgrounds and distribute them commercially while getting comprehensive information regarding sales and popularity.
You can use powerful Configirator Designer to populate a 3D scene with configurator objects, set their coordinates and apply materials using built-in Fabric Designer editor. Materials can be downloaded from Configurator or Fabric containers or build from scratch.
The Year In Review
Over the year, we have done a great deal of work to build a new project almost from the ground up. We believe that Blend4Web Studio provides every feature necessary to further expand the employment of 3D technology on the Internet and drastically reduce development period of product and technology showcases.
All this wouldn’t have been possible without reconstructing the development team, without retargeting our efforts to business projects and without making web-based 3D much easier to develop. The first version of Blend4Web Studio is set to arrive early 2019, and it will include every feature mentioned in this article.
Plans For 2019
The first release of Blend4Web Studio will include everything that is necessary for creating product configurators, materials and visual logic. In the following year we plan to continue bringing Blend4Web features (including physics and weather effects) to our new project. We also plan to make working with materials by adding vertex color masking.
There will also be a navigation mode similar to the one in our Dairy Plant demo. Including it will shorten development period of this kind of apps from months to weeks.
In the upcoming new year we are adding support of Blender 2.8 and other 3d graphics software. You will need 3d software only for modeling when the main scene set-up, as well as materials editor, physics engine, environment effects and scenarios of object behaviors in a scene will be realized by internal editors of Blend4web Studio.
It is also worth noting that we are working on a module for designing clothing. It will support real textile patterns and cloth simulation based on KES-F algorithm. Moreover, we are preparing a large libarary of ready-made apparel, footwear and accessories that will certainly find its use on fashion-themed web sites.
Our system for creating and managing automated solutions is in development as well, and it will include tools for building 3D room plans and functional diagrams for devices and apparatus..
Our next major task will be building a cloud platform where you can share your creations, contact other authors and place orders. We still have a long way ahead, so stay tuned!
Happy New Year!
We would like to wish Happy New Year to everyone who’s into 3D graphics! And as a part of celebration, please feel free to participate in our little contest. Open our greeting card at the beginning of the article and create your own Snow Maiden using our configurator. Upload your creation to Instagram, Facebook or VK and don’t forget to add #B4WStudio tag! When Blend4Web Studio will be out, you’ll get one of our brand new commercial Fabric materials.