Nicolas Priniotakis examines four Chocofur furniture packs, together with his virtual sidekick.
This morning, when I entered in the new BlenderNation's office (which is still virtual, obviously. Please donate !), I bumped against several unknown pieces of furniture, fell down and spilled my coffee over the shiny waxed wood floor. During the night, Chocofur's samples have been shipped and delivered, reminding me that today was "Review Day"! I was still on the floor, looking at all these beauties wondering whether or not we had to give them back, afterward. Todd, let's be nice with the guys and hope for the best, alright ?
Oh yeah, today, I will be assisted by virtual officer Todd Wilson, of the Consistency Police Dpt. Any complaint regarding his fair and inflexible judgment will be vain.
I like to see Blender's community as driven by individuals that repay the foundation with donation and the community with time and knowledge in the form of tutorials, articles, scenes, scripts and materials sharing. It is nice and that makes us a family, the kind of family where money talking is not always welcome around the table. The economical model of Chocofur, even if commercial, isn’t a 100% buy-me-or-die operation. Their website contains high quality tutorials as well as a bunch of tips, free models and scenes. Their interior design oriented contribution is very valuable and I would encourage everybody not to miss a chance to visit the site. I am obviously not here to review the company but the packages they sell. It feels right however to put the offer in perspective with what they do, so as to get a bigger picture.
Who is behind Chocofur ?
The founder of Chocofur, Lech Sokolowski, known for his participation to 3D Magazine is also the owner of CG studio "Notriangle". I haven't had the privilege to know him personally but his helping hand to the community is huge. The quality of his portfolio is - in itself - an appeal in favour of our beloved 3d platform.
Michal Milewski, who has been delivering commercial objects for TurboSquid, is responsible for model preparation. Stunning, beautiful and insanely photo-realistic renders can be seen in his portfolio.
Together, they run the chocofur website which is, as I said, a warm and welcoming blog featuring free and commercial models. To make sure that everybody ends up with good renders, they put a lot of time and effort in the writing of crystal clear tutorials covering modeling techniques, material making, lighting and rendering. I like the humble tone of the writing as well as the simplicity and elegance of their solutions. They also provide some nice ready-to-use studio scenes. The site is bound to grow as a forum and several articles are already announced.
The review is based on the following packs :
- Contemporary lamp models vol.01
- Contemporary drawer models
- Contemporary chair models
- Contemporary sideboard models
At the time of writing, 10 packs are proposed in Blender Market, including sofas, lounge chairs, tables and, well, everything you need to furnish your interior scene in a sober and classy fashion. Maybe more are available directly from the Chocofur website.
Each pack contains 10 or so models, based on existing furniture, borrowed from various stylish catalogs. This gives interior designers the full value of the packs. What you put into your images are real-life available items. I know for experience that producing an existing piece of furniture requires a high level of precision not only in the modeling but also and especially in the material making. Accuracy is an objective part of the contract.
Well let’s take them at their word and compare the digital version to its original. I picked a tricky one from the website : the Dulce de Leche Divan. It’s a luxurious and contemporary sofa designed by Trevor O'Neil, made of recycled cork and birch. Fortunately, I happen to have one in my salon (it’s a lie but I do have a lot of cork caps littering the ground. For what it worth.). Here's the real thing followed by the virtual one :
Wait, isn’t this one made of concrete ?! Todd, say something !
Todd : It is actually written on the website : the model is “inspired by”. This means that accuracy is not, in fact, guaranteed.
A twist that just ruins my paragraph! Not the end of the world though, but this is to be taken into account. It explains also why the names of the items are not directly related to the original models. "Something less generic than “Chocofur plastic #3” however would have been nice."(Todd). But it’s no big deal (me).
When you unzip the file, you get a "models" folder with three subfolders:
Models: All the models you bought are here, in their respective directory and served in two flavors (cycles and internal). A "Maps" folder contains the textures files. Todd, a word ?
Todd: Being paid to be a stickler for consistency, I regret that the layout of the scenes hasn't been standardised.
Obj: The furniture items individually exported in wavefront OBJ format (and its mtl file companion that describes surface shading). Most blender users won’t need it but it is nice to be able to use the product in projects using other 3D packages.
Renders: Here, you’ll find your furniture already rendered, typically on a white neutral background. The lights serie is also rendered in a dark environment and the result is just sublime! An other folder includes some cool close-ups. All these are quite handy for who needs to propose a selection to a client, for instance - or to get him in the mood for what he is about to pay for.
The meshes, as you would guess, are very clean and professional. Nicely tailored and close-up friendly. They also feature a particularity: “Our models are prepared for adding subdivision geometry modifiers and keeping their actual shape. This means you can use them both for very detailed close-up pictures, as well as reduce their face amount for better performance.”. Disable the subdivision of the distant objects and enable it for the closest ones. It's an important feature, not only in terms of render time but also if you run on GPU, as your graphic card may not have as much memory available as your CPU. In that case, this will help you to overcome an otherwise very-likely memory issue.
A side note: As you may know, I have grown a real addiction to the Animation Nodes addon and in a matter of minutes, I could enable-disable the subdivision modifiers regarding the distance from the camera. My GPU was emotionally confused by such a treatment and I thank Chocofur for this nice move !
I may share two little disappointments respecting the construction:
The first one concerns the lamps' wires. Even if they all look nice, they are not always usable unaltered. Being a mesh and not a curve, if it makes a loop at the feet of the lamp (Chocofurlight17 or 35) there's no easy way to make it run toward an electric outlet. The quest of simplicity for the user reaches a limit. A simple curve would have been so much easier.
The second: Lots of factors can breath life in an interior render, among others, human disorderliness is my favourite. I like to see messy piles of books, papers strewn about a desk, breadcrumbs on a table. If I had to reproduce the very singular life of my bedroom, you’d be surprised by the number of weird things that come out of closets and drawers. But the thing is: not every Chocofur models are made to be opened. The Vladimir Tomilov’s Commode Grani (Chocofurplastic16A) is fully functional, but it seems to be one of the few exceptions. For example, the Malibu Beach (by Kare Design - Chocofurwood34) isn’t, nor is the Reflect for Muuto (by Soren Rose - Chocofurwood_07). This lack of functionalism bugs me little. I really wish that the whole blueprint of the actual furnitures were followed. After all, drawers are made to be opened. It may be a deliberate choice to keep the importation simple for the user. But, I think breaking the chest into several mobile pieces wouldn’t have caused too much trouble. In any case, some vertex groups and a conciliant mesh construction would have brought about a useful and discreet solution.
As I said, some of the furnitures are however "openable". For instance, the chocofurscandinavian18 features a set of shapekeys to open each drawer, it's a very good solution. The chocofurplastic16 is made of several meshes ; the main objects and the drawers. It looks very nice and I'd be glad to fill it with my...
Todd: Sorry to interrupt, I have an infraction to hold against it though. Objects have no hierarchy (no parenting) and no special attention has been given to their naming. drawer#1 is called “drawer”, drawer#2 is “drawer.001”…
Some objects [chocofurscandinavian11_cycles, for instance] have their origin smartly situated at the ground level so that you can scale the furniture without seeing it sink into the floor. It's very workflow-friendly.
Todd: I really wish to find this little touch in every single items of the collection but it's unfortunately not the case. I also have to report that objects are not all facing the same axis [i.e. Chocofurwood07]. These details have no real consequences, it’s just a little disappointment for the customer who may appreciate to be cocooned down to the finest detail.
You already know what I am about to say because you saw how convincing are the renders of the collection. When you purchase one of the packs, you definitely get more than objects: you increase your material library with some fine new textures.
As a 3d image will always be fake, it's nice, sometimes to give reality a break and to exercise your artistic right by tweaking your materials. Frequently however, even if your hands are very willing to get dirty, they are quickly discouraged by an insanely complicated node tree. It won't be the case, here. Chocofur materials are simple and well thought out, thus super easy to adjust. I like that, especially since no compromission to realism has been made.
While plastics and metals are procedural, wood, fabric and concrete materials use high definition (2K) seamless maps, usually coming in 3 files (diff, norm, spec)
Todd: I noticed that some of the image data-blocks' path are wrongly stored in absolute form (instead of relative) [Chocofurconcrete11_cycles]. Unless pink suits your taste, you'll have to re-point the images by hand.
I have nothing to hold against the collection in terms of quality of rendering. All the models are gorgeous, meshes are impeccable and material very convincing. The images provided by Chocofur to advertise their products are not lying.
I would have appreciated Chocofur played the game and stick accurately to the real models the furnitures are inspired from. The approach would be coherent and the added value real. I assume it's a deliberate choice, underpinned by legal or practical constraints.
The price of each pack purchased from Blender Market is set at $50 and embeds 10 items grouped by type (ex: tables, chairs, lights). From the authors' webstore, these furnitures are sold either as packs of 7 (grouped by type or material) for $21.5 or by piece ($5 each).
The cost, from a professional point of view and regarding the market in my country (France), seems right. Five dollars or so by item pay for itself very quickly. I am wondering though if it really makes sense to purchase a fixed pack of objects from Blender Market when one can choose and buy them by piece and for the same individual price from Chocofur. Not to mention the fact that if you get a pack from the Chocofur store, the price by item is brought down to $3. Am I missing a point here ?
Todd and I recently had to create corporate furniture libraries, made to be used by non experimented employees. The deal was to provide a plug and play solution for them to produce images with ease and rapidity. Hence, our main concern was not only to match the brand's blueprints and materials system but also to follow for every object of the library a set of standardization rules. So when Todd read:
"Each Chocofur model has been prepared to be used quickly after download. Just place it in your scene, hit "render" button and that's it. No configuration, no tweaking needed, we did everything for you."
… the consistency-bell immediately rung down his digital spine: If a major part of the collection is completely fine, I regret that some objects haven't been given the final packaging polish they are advertised for. Most of the time, few extra-minutes spent on the preparation of the items could have prevent the customer from experiencing a thin feeling of disappointment.
Aside from that, armed with Chocofur's tips and tutorials even the less experimented of us have no excuse not to produce ultra convincing interior renders ! Also, at the risk of repeating myself, a bunch of free objects can be downloaded to provide a small foretaste of the Chocofur's talent for realistic modern furniture. Todd, a final word ?
"There's drool and coffee all over the place, Nikos..."
- Arthur Shaihulin ( classy Paladio door)
- Wig42 (cool old-time radiator)
- Emillie Rolandin (pretty books pile)
- Ethan J. Biller
Awesomely realistic and affordable furniture collection only shadowed by minor formal inconsistencies.
- Mesh quality
- Material quality
- Overall realism
- Product presentation
- Ease of use
- Value for money