One of the foundations of 80s art was based in computer graphics. Computers of the time were not very beefy; it was not possible to make a fully-textured object with antialiasing and field of depth. Solid surfaces were computationally expensive, and very slow to animate, barring access to extremely expensive SGI workstations. Since the main computers people could realistically expect to have were among the popular 8-bit machines of the time, those machines (and their limitations) had an influence on the imaginations of people of that day (including me).
Note the black background, and the apparent “glow” of the lines. These are commonly associated to not only due to the nature of the displays that showed them (where glowing elements caused such effects), but also to the similar association to lasers (which could only be seen if they passed through something that diffused the light, causing the same effect).
More complex shapes could be made of meshes, and because of the nature of human vision, they would produce the illusion of depth to an astonishing (at that time) degree.
When you combine these together to make landscapes, you had the foundational basis for 80s wireframe landscapes that became popular as a starting point. Because of that, we’ll also start with the basic landscape.
Basic Scene Setup
Obviously, before we begin working, we need to get Blender started up for the project. And, of course, the cube needs to go, so go ahead and remove it.
We will be using Cycles for this project, so if you have “Blender Render” in the drop-down at the top, change it to “Cycles Render.” Additionally, I’m using the latest version of Blender as of this writing (2.78), so your interface might be a little different if you’re using an older version.
Now, we need to blacken the world. Having so few colors onscreen at the time, black was the default color on which artwork was added; so you had glowing lines on a black background. Because we want to simulate classic graphics, as a way to demonstrate 80s art, we want this.
And that’s easily done, simply by going to the “World” properties, and changing the “Surface” color. This will turn the world black.
These are the only steps we’ll need to perform, so from here, we should be good to begin.
Now, we can begin with the project, the plane. This is essential, as it provides the base landscape on which everything else will be standing/hovering. All the steps here, however, can be duplicated to apply a wireframe to any mesh, whether it be plane, sphere, cube, or a rhombic triacontahedron.
Now, a small slip is not really what we want; remember, this is supposed to be a landscape. Therefore, we should expand the plane until it can become one.
Setting the Camera
Next, before we do anything else, let’s reposition the camera for the best angle to make the “landscape” stretch to the horizon.
This is the easiest way I’ve found so far to accomplish the following.
If the 3D View Properties is closed, open it. Just for clarification, the 3D properties is the right-hand side-box in the 3D view; its purpose is to allow you to set things such as the location, rotation and scale of whatever’s selected, the position of the 3D cursor (that red and white circle with crosshairs), and the grease pencil, among many other things related to the selected object.
Now, making sure the camera is selected, change all values in the “Location” and “Rotation” boxes to zero (“0”), except for the X Rotation value (this should be set to 90), and the Z Location value (1 is a good starting value). This sets the camera to be facing perfectly north, and hovering above the plane, so that it isn’t clipping through the camera view.
What I did as well, although you don’t need to, was to move my camera to the far edge of the plane, to make better use of it. However, you can instead grow the plane to keep it distant, while at the same time keeping the camera centered in it if you intend to do any animation where the camera rotates. It is your choice.
Change the view to camera view to verify that the plane looks like a landscape.
Making the Plane into a Wireframe
Dividing the Plane
At the moment, the plane has exactly four vertices, so any attempt to make a grid will simply outline the plane. We don’t want that, since the point is to have lines all through the plane, so we need to divide the plane into enough vertices to create the desired grid.
To do this, we need to select the plane, and in “edit” mode, subdivide the plane until you see the grid you want. Once done, your plane should look like this (in edit mode):
Converting to a Wireframe
Now that we have the plane, and divided it into the desired grid size, we need to turn it into a wireframe. Thankfully, Blender has a modifier that makes this trivial.
Well, here’s the thing about modifiers: they don’t actually affect the mesh at all. They are tricks in the renderer that can produce effects, while keeping the geometry relatively simple, so that editing the mesh will remain easy; all the extra stuff won’t need to be edited, it will be applied automatically around the edits. You will see no effect until you render the image.
That being said, there is an easy way to track what you do from here. Simply select the “Render” viewport shading to continue.And now, you should be able to see… something pretty blurry. There are still a few more steps to get a nice, crisp wireframe from what we have now.
Before we continue, I should stress the importance of not pressing the “Apply” button. Once that button is pressed, the modifier will be baked into the project, meaning it can’t be changed later. We don’t want that, especially since it will need to be changed later, so just leave the modifier un-applied.
Lighting the Wireframe
The material properties is a simplified interface for making materials for objects. This is useful if you don’t want to mess with the compositor for something relatively simple. Of couse, if you have something more complex in mind, you might have to use the compositor. However, for the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll just use the simplified interface.
To begin the procedure, we need to create a new material, so go ahead and click the “+ New” button.
Now, you should see several options to select from.
What we want to do is change the surface settings. The current surface setting is “Diffuse BSDF.” BSDF stands for “Bidirectional Scattering Distribution Function” which simply means that a beam of light will scatter in multiple directions when it hits a surface. This is the standard shader used on solid, opaque, non-reflective physical objects; certain colors get absorbed, and the rest are scattered randomly, producing the appearance of the object in a specific color.
Our wireframe, however, is intended to be self-lit, so what we want to do is change the “surface” setting (the compositor calls it the “shader”) to “Emission.” Emission simply means that the object will emit light, rather than reflect, absorb, conduct, or scatter it.
Thinning the Wireframe
Now, we seem to be right back where we started, only instead of a solid with a wireframe inside, it’s just solid white.
Under the “Apply” button, you can see “Thickness,” followed by a number (my default seems to be 0.0200). We want to reduce that thickness even further, preferably somewhere between 0.0001 and 0.0010, depending on how thick you want your wireframe to be.
This is what it looks like with 0.0001:
Now, it would seem like we’re done here. However, remember that such wireframes are best in color, and always seem to be accompanied by an outer glow. So, we will take a bit of time and cover both these effects.
Coloring the Wireframe
Coloring the wireframe is as simple as returning to the shader and changing the color. For this example, we’ll choose green, a classic callback to monochrome monitors of the 80s.
To change the color, we simply need to return to the materials properties tab, and select our color.
An outer glow can be done in the compositing stage, so we will jump into the compositor to get the work done. To access the compositor, you simply need to open the screen preset for the compositor. You will find the drop-down for the screen presets at the top of the window, just next to the “Help” menu. The default setting is, appropriately, “Default.”Simply select “Compositing” from the screen presets, and watch the window reconfigure itself to show a node editor, an image window, and a much smaller copy of the 3D View.The 3D view is back to the solid settings, so go ahead and change it to the rendered view. This is very important when working on the compositor.
Now, by default, the node editor is set to “compositing,” which is where we want it. The other two settings are for shaders (such as the green emission shader) and textures (in case you want to separately composite a texture image using the node editor).
In order to use the node editor on the final composition, you need to enable it, so select the “Use Nodes” option at the bottom of the node editor grid.
Now, we want to make changes, but we want to add something between the two nodes. With the mouse over the background grid, press “A” (Shift-A for “A”dd), and select Filter -> Blur.
Once the new node appears, move it so that its left side near the mouse covers the connection line. Once it’s where it needs to be, the line will change color, indicating that the node will be inserted.
Once you click, it will insert itself between the two nodes; there will be a line connecting the image links of the “Render Layers” and “Blur” nodes, and another line linking the “image” link of the Blur node with the Composite node.
You will note that the render below has not changed; it is not blurry at all. There are two reasons for this. First, the blur node is, by default, set to not blur at all. By changing the “X” and “Y” values, we can blur the image along the “X” and “Y” axes, as desired. The second reason is that the trial render won’t be affected by the compositor, only the final render.
First, in order to track the work done in the renderer, let’s set the auto-render feature, and make the initial render. The auto-render feature is the checkbox two away from the “Use Nodes” checkbox we enabled earlier.Once that’s enabled, we simply need to make our first render. This can be accomplished by either clicking “Render” in the “Render Properties” page of the properties box, or pressing the render key (F12 by default).
Once done, you should see the bottom-left box now show the green wireframe.
Now, as mentioned, the blur has not been added yet, so it’s still as sharp as the rendered 3D view beside it. We need to change that. For the sake of argument, we’ll use a value of 20 for both X and Y (the final image will be standard 1920×1080), while keeping everything else as is.This will make a significantly blurry wireframe.
Now, please be patient before you decide to lynch me. I am rather fond of breathing. And I’m not done yet. What we just made was the glow for the wireframe. Now, we just need to add the glow to the existing wireframe to complete the effect.
To do this, we need to add the “Color” -> “Mix” node, and insert it between the blue and composite nodes.
This is because the node is mixing the wireframe and a completely white color in place of a second image. To fix this, we need to connect the “Render Layers” and “Mix” nodes between the “Render Layers” image connection (output connectors can be sent to multiple places) and the second “Mix” input.
So, just to clarify, you are seeing two copies of the wireframe model being worked on. One is being passed directly to the mix node, and the other is being put into the blur node first, which then passes it to the mix node.
Wait! What’s this? The wireframe is back to being sharp?! Where’s the glow!?
Now we reach the last step in the process. The mix node is actually capable of more than just mixing (using the “Fac” value, specifically). You can also change the effect of the node from “Mix” to “Add,” which is what we want to do.
At this point, we now have a basic wireframe landscape we can add new things to. You can make the black parts of the grid opaque by simply placing a black plane just beneath it. You can make the field reflective by placing a clear, slightly-reflective plane above it. Other effects can be made using the compositor or just playing around. Or we can make the plane a heightfield (mountain range) and see what that looks like!
Heck, you’re not just limited to planes; the sky’s the limit! Actually, no, no it’s not. Your imagination is.