Neon Signs

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Step 1. The first step in designing a neon sign is to create the tubing.
You can do this by typing in text or by using EPS artwork.



Step 2. You should not use completely closed splines, as neon tubes do not close. At some point neon tubing has to connect back with its electric source.
If you use text in CINEMA 4D, select the splines and turn close splines off. You can use the stucture manager to re-arrange the point sequence of the spline until the break is where you want it. For this tutorial we chose to have each letter break at the bottom left corner, similar to real neon lights.



Step 3. Real neon signs are made by bending molten glass by hand. This means that your text or artwork should not have any hard corners.
To get rid of the hard corners, select the spline, then go to the Structure Manager. Go to the Splines menu and choose "Soft Interpolation."

Now you can edit the Bezier Handles on the points of the spline to soften the corners.

NOTE: This doesn't have to be perfect as neon signs are not perfect either. Actually, imperfection would be a plus.



Step 4. Now copy this group of splines. Rename this group Pipe Splines.
Since objects within a duplicated group will retain the original names, you will need to rename all the spline objects within this group so they are unique. You must have a unique name for each spline letter you are using or Cinema 4D may not recognize the correct one when we work with them later.



Step 5. You will need to extend each of the Pipe Splines to simulate the connection to its electrical source.
Add a point to the end of each, making the spline curve back to where the neon sign will connect to the wall or electrical source.



Step 6. Select the Pipe Splines group and make them pipe objects. Here we used a radius of 1m.



Step 7. Create a new material. Set the color to 50% white. This gives the neon an opaque look. You can tweak this setting for different results, but 50% white is a great place to start.
The actual color of the neon will be created in the Luminance channel. You will use the same color for a group of lights which will be placed along the text splines, creating the lighting effect.


For our neon we used: R: 80% G: 15% B: 40% S: 100%

We gave this texture a 60% transparency and 30% reflection. This to make it look like glass. Again, a great place to start, but you can tweak if you like.

Also, we gave it a plastic highlight with 50% width and 100% height. This gives it a tiny bit of specular, but keeps the slight smoky quality.



Step 8. Now add a shadow property to this pipe object. To do this, select the Pipe Group in the "Object Manager" and go to Function: New Property: Shadow. It should not cast or receive shadows so turn these boxes off.



Step 9. Now add a light to the scene. It doesn't matter what color light you use as long as the RGB values average out to about 50%. Keep the S value at 100%.
We used the same settings as in the Luminance channel of the material: R: 80% G: 15% B: 40% S: 100%

Step 10. Now go to the Visible Light tab of the light dialogue. We set the visible light distance to 20m on each axis. This is roughly 1/10 of the height of the tallest letter of the text.



Step 11. Use the DI Spline Length plug-in included with this tutorial to calculate the length of the original spline text (not the one used for the pipe object).



Step 12. Use the length of the spline to calculate the number of lights you need for that spline. The way to do this is to make sure you have 20m of visible light for every 1m of spline.
For example: If you have a spline of 100m you will need 100 lights set to 20m of visible light. If you have 40m visible light you will only need 50 lights but your neon glow will be much bigger.

For the first letter of our text we needed 177.



Step 13. Now select the group of lights just created and arrange them along the selected spline letter. You will find it under Tools: Arrange.



Step 14. Repeate this process for each text spline. Calculate the length of each spline and remember the distance to visible light ratio is 1:20.



Step 15. To create the black electrical leads on the neon, you will need another material. We used a material that has a somewhat shiny, black rubber look to it. We used 100% black.
Give the material about 30% reflection to make it look shiny.

We used the turbulence shader on the bump channel with about 20% strength. You can also use MIP filtering to blur this bump a bit.

This will make the leads look "less than perfect."



Step 16. Apply this to the pipe object. Under the apply texture dialogue, select flat mapping, and turn tiling off. With the texture tool position this texture so that it only covers the stems of your pipe objects where they will go into the wall or electrical source.

Step 17. If you want the neon to cast light you will have to add other lights separately. Add some lights to the scene that cast light but are not visible lights. These should have the same color settings as the rest of the lights in the scene only the strength should be set to 50%.

Place the lights along the text to make the neon sign appear to cast light.



Step 18. This is the best way we have found to create a realistic looking neon sign. If you have problems like the lights add up to white too fast, try increasing the size of your splines (some fonts print smaller than others) or decreasing the visible light distance on your non-casting light before you duplicate it.
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