I haven’t been able to work with Blender as quickly as I had first wished. Some elements I was able to work with far quicker than I feared. Instead of only tackling smaller features first, I wanted to do a more crucial one first – and one that is more representative of what I need to be able to do on a consistent basis.
So I worked on re-laying the track surface on the final part of the Hunaudières straight, just before Mulsanne. There is a rather large hump on the current version of the track that was made safer in the late 90s, probably in response to the blowovers the Mercedes suffered back then.
The process essentially includes removing the old road surface (that followed the much larger hump) and laying down a new one, with a reduced hump. Usually, I do this through a process called lofting. You define a path along which you “drag” a cross-section that “lays down” the 3d mesh. It’s a bit like the path defining the way the paving machine takes and the cross-section defining the shape (width, ondulation, but also height and all sorts of angles if you use a more complex one) of the paving machine’s output. For roads the output is rather simple, as it’s just a straight line with a given width.
When I tried this, I could get some quick results. But I also ran into lots of deal-breakers with what I tried. In an early try, I ended up with points where the resulting road would rotate around the path’s axis, which is rather unrealistic and not very good for high performance driving. After a switch to a NURBS path, I got rid of that issue. However, now the ends of the path aren’t lining up correctly and are slightly distorted. This isn’t very good, to say the least. There is also far less control over the gradient in the path itself using NURBS paths. Too little control has generally been my biggest issue with the work I’ve done so far on this.
Now I don’t want to just drop everything I tried with Blender and go back to what I know well and have been using for years. There are good reasons for Blender, chief among them that the scene of Le Mans has gotten so complicated and large that I need a more lightweight (and 64-bit) modelling program to keep growing the track. Collaboration and allowing newcomers to track modding to learn and grow should also be tremendously more accessible when using free software like Blender rather than modelling software that costs several thousand dollars.
The point to admit failure and move back to what worked in the past (and trying to deal with performance in some other way) has not quite come yet though. I think I may have moved too fast in trying to re-learn basic techniques in a full and complex scene. Instead, I’ll spend a few days building a track up from scratch. The first step in that? Lofting the road surface.