This is going to be a long post, so settle in. There have been a few times that I’ve wanted to get a picture of a fictitious software box or ebook. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, including Photoshop action files, custom software, online services and paying someone to do it. Well, early this week was one of those times and so I started searching. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the project have a look at how it turned out (and I’ll show you how to do it later):
I always look for free stuff first, because I’m cheap and sometimes I get lucky. There are some surprisingly fantastic software programs around that people have published for one reason or another. The first one I came across was this freeware software. After a few minutes working with it I decided that it’s just too hard to use for the low quality output.
I did fiddle around for a while, but I should mention that the point of software is to make something easier and/or quicker. If I could actually turn my Wheaties box into a believable software box in the amount of time it takes me to use the software then it’s not saving me time (same goes for crashing software too). I’m pretty ruthless about this rule since once my time goes it’s never coming back.
OK, so next I found a couple of paid versions, and they both look mediocre. As I was looking at them it seemed that all they saved me was the actual mapping of images onto the correct “face” of the box as a rendered image. Regardless, there was one that appeared to give a little more value for the money since it incorporated in video. Many of us have heard the Stomper brothers boys band (as Frank Kern would call Brad Fallon and Andy Jenkins) extol the virtues of the judicious use of video to highlight inanimate objects. If you haven’t seen it go check out My Wedding Favors and look at some of the videos they have.
So I purchased a program to help me create my software boxes and downloaded the full version and started to toy around. The first disappointment was that it crashed on startup. This was a bit surprising since the demo I had downloaded didn’t crash. After a while (maybe 15 minutes) I figured out that I could open it up and let it choose a random template to open and it wouldn’t crash (except for the templates that didn’t install correctly.
Since I couldn’t avoid opening up Photoshop, I got started, and as always, I started away from the computer. That’s really about the best thing I can do (and it works for plenty of other folks too). I have to write down what I’m going to do, and then I’m much less likely to get distracted, so here’s my diagram of what I wanted my Photoshop file to look like.
Pretty simple (except I forgot to draw in one side of the box). So with that I created a Photoshop template and tried using my new software to create some box shots and some videos. I couldn’t make the software work after an hour. Either it would crash and I’d lose my work, or it wouldn’t work right, or I couldn’t edit what happened at a particular keyframe, and on and on. So after crash #5 I gave up on it.
It’s important to mention that even though the software didn’t work for me, the customer service responded quickly to my e-mail and tried to help, but by that point I wasn’t interested in debugging their application or upgrading all of my graphics drivers, open GL, etc. So I went on to plan #2
My second plan was to attempt to use blender to render it, and even animate it. After all, I had already done the hard work in Photoshop (which wasn’t all that hard), and I had a decent looking box laid out. If you haven’t heard of blender, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s a bit daunting at first, but once you get some of the basics down, it’s pretty easy to do basic stuff.
OK, I hear you saying “stop rambling on and on and just tell me how you did it”. Fine. Here’s a list:
- Create photoshop file based on drawing (see above)
- Visit a free stock photography site (my favorite is www.sxc.hu)
- Search for a background and choose one that matches your idea
- Choose some fonts
- Grab some cheesy UPC image
- Get a logo (this was a great find today when I searched for leftover logos)
- Get some screen shots (in the case of software) and some descriptive text.
- Get some operating system logos (I should probably ask a lawyer about that…)
- Download some other stock images that decorate the box
- Assemble it all within the guides setup in photoshop
That’s how I ended up with this:
Remember that I started with the hand drawing and built on to it. All the images are free and most of the copy was written. The UPC is canned, since this is a digital download it doesn’t matter. The fon’t came from a $5 image and I copied a font style and color that I had seen and I liked.
Now, what about that blender part. After all, that’s really hard to use blender, right? Well, it actually is a bit tricky and I spent a little more time re-learning the ins and outs of basic blender editing, but it wasn’t too bad. Here’s a breakdown of what I had to do in blender to make it happen.
- Read a bunch of tutorials about basic editing in blender (turns out that many tutorials assume you already know what you came to learn, sigh)…
- Scale a cube in each of the three axis to create a box the size (proportionally) that I wanted based on my drawing (see above)
- Change modes so you can select faces on that object
- use UV Image editor to import your image into blender and map regions of the image to faces on your “box”
- Apply that new texture to the “box”
So, that got me to a box that had my Photoshop image properly wrapped around it, but it didn’t have the animation. To get the animation I did this:
- Add a few lights to the scene and remove the default spotlight. The spotlight give hard shadows and very bright regions. I chose regular lamps for this one.
- Use the position and rotation tools to move the camera and box at specific times and in certain ways. I even zoom the lens on the camera from 35mm to 45mm when I’m looking at the back of the box.
- Render and watch.
- Go back and tweak everything using the IPO curve editor.
So, that’s what got me to the video that you saw above. I also changed the background from the default blue to white, since I thought it looked better. Overall I’m pretty pleased.
There are a few things I would keep working on if I had endless time. I would probably extend the length of the clip to reduce a few points that appear jumpy. I would figure out how to bevel the box ever so slightly so that it looked a little more realistic. I might fiddle with the reflectivity of the box and render with a ray tracer to make it look glossy. Here’s the video again:
So how did I fair for the whole lot of them? Well first it’s worth pointing out that once the model is done, it’s easy to render hero shots and fiddle with the lighting and environment, and at any resolution that I like. Here’s an example hero shot for the same box in HD proportions (click on it to show the full size image):
The first blender model took me about three hours, which might seem like a long time (it was longer than I wanted to spend). But, I created five boxes altogether, and plan to make many more. Aside from the Photoshop time for each, which I would have spent even with a purchased package, it only took me about 5 minutes to apply the new skin, render the animation, convert to flv and be done. It was super easy and much more stable and flexible than the first program I purchased.
Now, does it do ebooks? Sure, if I fiddle for a couple more hours creating the model and figuring it out. Then, each time I come back to it I have complete blender control (which is saying a lot), and it only takes a few minutes to get a pristine, nearly photo realistic render of exactly what I need.
I’m not sure how many folks are interested in seeing the step by step as I put one together, but if there are enough comments on this post or I get enough responses from my list, then I may actually recored myself making one and send it out. If you’re not on my list, now’s a great time to get on. I don’t have anything regular that I send out, but there are occasions. The sign up is somewhere on this page.
Please comment, tweet, facebook, bookmark and so on for this post if you liked it. Best of luck.