Nurbs Lathe Avatar

This tutorial is aimed at the beginner who wants to make an animated avatar from scratch. Because making an avatar using NurbsLathes is straight forward, much of the detail in this tutorial can be ignored but is there to serve as a reference for anyone who wishes to come back later to refine their technique and understanding.
This tutorial should be ideal for any enthusiast from the age of 10 (perhaps younger with the help of a supervisor) onwards but to learn you must experience doing it, like eating good food, reading about it or even watching a robot do it for you is not the same as doing it your self.

How long does it take?

It takes the robot demo only 7 minutes to create and animate an avatar that has 20 different moving parts. After this it is a matter of refinement. The beauty of making art with a program like seamless is it is not like painting a picture, where one has to finish the process and start from scratch to make a new painting. With seamless it is trivial to make copies for the purpose of making variations of the original model. This makes it possible to not only make improvements on a single model indefinitely but also to evolve many different characters from the original model. It is also important to remember not to make art a chore, it should be done purely for the pleasure of it :)


Start the robot demo by moving the mouse to the top left corner of the 3d window and selecting nurbs lathe avatar demo:

All of the titles for the robot demo operations will be shown here in bold beginning with the operation number followed by the title itself. Any comments  for the operation will be explained under the title.

0. Create a new seamless file

Click on the new smls file button

save the new created file with a name.

Open the scene tree window


1. Add floor and height guide

Before we start it is important to add a floor and height guide by clicking
The zero_height button is clicked so that the floor is set to 0 meters.

2. Create a skeleton of parts

The node that looks like this is called a Part node.

Part nodes are used for containing the triangles for the body parts of the Avatar.

Select the Part node so that more Part nodes can be added to the avatar by clicking on points in the 3D window while holding down the right control key but before any new parts are added this way the xRay and the xRay edit buttons must be clicked.

The red dot in the 3d window is the pivot point of the Part. The pivot point is dragged to an appropriate position for the first part in the skeleton which will be the pelvis. The pivot point can NOT be dragged left or right because the part's control panel's mirror field is ticked and because the part is located at 0 in the X dimension. (exactly mid way between left and right).

The rest of the parts for the backbone are added by clicking up in sequence from the first pivot point while holding down the right control key. So long as the mouse clicks within a range of 5 cm left and 5 cm right, the pivot point for the new part will be snapped to exactly 0 in the X dimension.

To add the collar bone part a pivot point is selected down the backbone for the new part to branch out from. The mouse clicks only 2cm from the backbone but Seamless3d does not snap it to 0 because the selected part already has a descendent part. Note that both left and right collar parts are added simultaneously, this is because the ancestor part of the collar bone has its mirror field ticked. The shoulder and the point that will mark the finger tips are clicked to add 2 more parts. The the wrist and elbow points are then inserted by clicking on the line between the shoulder and finger tips.

After the arms are done the pelvis is selected and the leg pivot points are added much the same way the arm pivot points were.

With all the parts added. A final adjustment is made to the collar bone by selecting it and setting the view to side on and then dragging the collar bone forward a little. Notice how this moves all the descendent parts of the collar with it.

Finally the parts are named in the skeleton by clicking to the right of the parts nodes in the scene tree and typing in the names. Notice how only the left arm and leg parts are manually named and the right corresponding parts are automatically filled in. This again is thanks to the mirror fields for the parts being ticked and because the left parts were all typed in with the prefix "l_". So that the skeleton control points can not be accidently dragged, xRay Edit is toggled off.


3. Add lathes

To add NurbsLathe nodes to build triangles for the parts, right click on the Seamless  node and select create nurbs lathes from pivotPoints:
 create lathes

4. Add a gesture group

So that the animation will play as a gesture, add a GestureGroup

This can be done by dragging it to the scene node which would result in the GestureGroup being added after the NoOutputGroup (which contains the floor and height guide). This is not a problem but if we rather insert it as a sibling between the  and the  this can be done by dragging the as a sibling below the     or as a sibling above the as shown:


5. Setup animation

Plug a new Anim  node into the GestureGroup


Click on the new Anim node to open the anim bar and name the node "hello" the same way the parts were named.

Specify a 2 second period by clicking up.


6. Record the poses

Animating our model is pretty straight forward. We create a sequence of poses and play them. To record a pose, first drag the anim bars's slider along the time line to the point in time we wish the pose to be set. The pose is set by simply dragging the anim control points:


To rotate the selected part for a pose, drag the red anim control point and to position the selected part drag the yellow anim control point.

Most parts only need to be rotated because there is no need to change the position for any body part except the pelvis (which all other parts are connected to).

The 2 anim control points are visible so long as the anim bar is open and a part node is selected.

When posing, view the model from different angles using the view buttons   or by dragging the mouse while holding down the mouse's right button.

To copy and paste a pose from one point in the time line to another, use the anim bar's copy  and paste buttons.

To delete a pose, click

To play the animation click

7. Delete unwanted nodes

When the NurbsLathes were created from the pivot points, not all the lathes were needed. For example there is no need for lathes to branch out from the backbone to the collar or hips, so these lathes can be deleted. Also extra parts were added for the finger tips and feet for no other purpose than to generate the lathes. There is no real harm leaving these empty parts but they do add unnecessary clutter in the scene tree so you may wish to prune them out too.

8. Shape lathes

Because the lathes generate the parts shape, it is the lathes we modify to change the shape of a part. A lathe's shape can be changed by dragging the control points and scaled using the lathe's scale buttons. The lathes translation buttons will modify the lathe's position and the rotation buttuns change the orientation of the lathe.

9. Insert extra control points

To insert a new control point for a lathe between two of its existing control points, click on the straight line that joins the two points while holding down the right control key.

10. Color the parts

Click to open the color platter control panell. While holding down the shift key drag out a rectangle over the parts you want to color.

11. Add eyes

Eyes can be added much the same way the previous parts and lathes were added except add spheres instead of lathes by clicking from the toolbar. First xRay edit must be toggled on again and the head selected. By Zooming in before we right click to add the eye parts we can click closer to 0 in the X dimension than 5 cm without seamless forcing our pivotPoint to 0. Notice how 2 pivot points determine the radius of the spheres:

eyes from pivot points

Where to go from here

There is no end to the number of possibilities one can do without getting technically advanced.
If you make copies and experiment making variations of the shapes and colours, different characters will evolve.
Try using ColorSweeps.
Try using textures.
Experiment with BendyLathes to add hair and/or a mouth.
Add accessories.
Convert any of the lathes to nurbs patches (right click on any lathe node and select "convert to patch"). NurbsPatches will offer much greater freedom over the shapes of the parts.
Consider making an animated 3d movie for YouTube.
The possibilities are endless!

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