In-Depth with Blender Add-on Creator Christian Stolze

In-Depth with Blender Add-on Creator Christian Stolze

Hello Christian! Tell us about yourself.

Hi, I am Christian from Germany and the main developer behind the Looking Glass Blender add-on “Alice/LG”. In my professional life, I am a scientist who is active in the field of energy storage research for a couple of years now.

I mainly work on a rechargeable battery type that is called the redox flow battery. Never heard of it? No worries, I rendered a Blender hologram of the lab-scale battery device that I use during my research to give you an impression on how that type of battery looks like.

A redox flow battery is similar to a fuel cell in its working principal. However, while conventional fuel cells consume gases like hydrogen and oxygen to provide electrical energy, a redox flow battery uses two special liquids which can store and provide electrical energy without being consumed. In the hologram, you see those two liquids in the glasses in the background. Some tubing and two pumps transport these liquids into the device at the foreground, which is the unit where the energy conversion happens. This unit is called the “redox flow cell”. Of course, this hologram only displays a simplified illustration of a redox flow battery, but you get an impression how that looks like.

If I am not at work, chances are high that you can find me in front of my PC. I am fascinated by the virtual things you can create with a computer since my childhood: Images, websites, programs – and now lightfields or “holograms”.

How did you get into 3d art and start using blender?

Actually, my first encounter with 3D art happened in my teenage years, when I stumbled across Terragen. Maybe you know that, but if not: Terragen is a 3D rendering software designed to render (photorealistic) landscapes. I was absolutely fascinated by that time about the mere fact that a talented person with a home PC and this software was able to create beautiful places that didn’t even exist but yet looked so amazingly real.

I also tried Blender at that time (I don’t know which version … 2.3x or 2.4x probably?), but was overwhelmed by the user interface and, therefore, gave up rather quickly. When the COVID pandemic forced most of us to spend most of our free time at home, I decided to give Blender (now version 2.83) another try. The starting point was actually, that I planned some changes in my flat (also a common hobby during the pandemic I guess). I wanted to create some quick 3D models to get a better idea of the proportions and the general arrangement in the room.

I don’t know if it was because I had grown up or because Blender had grown up (probably both), but I experienced it now as one of the best pieces of software I have worked with so far. The interface was well aligned, kind of intuitive once you understood the general idea, and so it was easy to get into it. I loved it immediately and – again – seeing the degree of photorealism that some talented people with a home PC and a (totally free) piece of software were able to achieve, fascinated and inspired me a lot.

You were behind the Alice/LG blender plugin.
How did that come to fruition?

I learned about the Looking Glass shortly after I had started to get familiar with Blender in 2020. I was immediately amazed and watched any video material I was able to find about it. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I would do with it, since I just had started to get back into doing 3D a few months earlier after a decade of doing nothing in that direction. So I decided not to buy it. However, I finished my PhD around the same time and my family decided that the 8.9’’ Looking Glass (first generation) would be the right gift for this special occasion. Of course, I was totally happy about that (thanks again!).

As soon as it arrived, I wanted to apply my newly learned Blender skills to create holograms. However, as a long-term Mac user I stood in front of locked doors, since the original Blender plugin for the Looking Glasses unfortunately did not support macOS. Luckily, I had started to learn Python for my daytime job shortly before and thought that writing my own plugin for Blender would be the perfect project to both push my Python skills and to give something back to the Blender community.

Basically, that is how Alice/LG was born. The rest were long nights, reading a lot of tutorials about Python and Blender, creating bugs and trying to resolve them, and – did I mention the long nights? ;) Although the add-on as a project itself carried me quite a bit away from spending my time on creating holograms, I am really happy about the outcome on several (and even unexpected) levels: I advanced my programming skills (which also improved the workflow in my job), I learned a lot about Blender and open-source (as well as open-source licenses), I learned how to use Git, and finally I had the chance to collaborate with some of the amazing people at the Looking Glass Factory. All that was a really nice experience!

What have you made so far with Looking Glass Portrait?

To be honest, I mainly use it as a test device during coding of Alice/LG 2.0 at the moment. Besides that, I enjoy the creations that come from the Looking Glass community. I plan to get my hands back on Blender to create some more own 3D content for the Portrait as soon as Alice/LG 2.0 is finalized.

I have a few ideas on Dioramas (like my “Hobbit Home”), which is a 3D category that always catches my attention when I browse the web for new 3D content. In my opinion, Dioramas and the Portrait are a perfect fit: The Portrait gives you the opportunity to have a tiny 3D world right on your desk in the perfect size and format – and you can even look at it from different angles! This makes discovering all the small details, which are usually hidden in a Diorama and which often seem to tell a little story about this little world you are looking at, much easier. I am really looking forward to do more in that direction!

I believe the future in 50 years will be bright – also because of holograms

What's your favorite hologram?

That is difficult to answer, because I have seen a bunch of nice works. Something that immediately popped up in my mind when reading this question though, is a hologram I received from community member @Wolf during the testing phase of Alice/LG 1.0 in a December night last year. It was actually a very simple town scene at night with some trees and light chains in a sepia tone. But it was shortly before Christmas, it was snowing outside, I was about to go to bed, and my room was already dark – except for the warm light that seemed to come directly from the light chains on the trees in that hologram. That caused such a nice mood – I liked it a lot!

Apart from that, you might have spotted already in my answers above that I am a big fan of photorealistic 3D. So, I am mostly into any holograms that display real-world or photorealistic scenes. Therefore, I also loved the “Still Life” by @ErindaleWoodford that was in the recent Hologram Drop. But I also like the “Astronaut” from the current demo reel or the “Toucan” and the “Swiss Army Knife” which was on the former “Made for Looking Glass” page.

What other software do you use in your workflow?

Not much, too be honest: For my programming workflow, I use Atom and Spyder as Python editors mainly. For my 3D work I actually rely on Blender and Pixelmator for some basic post-processing at the moment. But I still consider myself to be a beginner when it comes to 3D art, so maybe I will include other Software in my workflow later. Oh, and I definitely want to look into Unity as well at some point, but haven’t had the time to do that yet.

50 years from now, what does the future look like?

Phew, that is half a century! I mean, looking 15 to 20 years back I would not have imagined that the world looks like it does now. The technological advances are huge and it seems like the development still continues to accelerate. If current trends go on, a normal Saturday evening might look like this: You have a 3D-printed Steak for dinner and watch the latest news about the third group of humans on the Mars. Afterwards your self-driving electric car picks you up to bring you to a live concert of Freddie Mercury who is resurrected as a photorealistic hologram in real-time thanks to the power of a quantum computer and performs his newest hit album, which has been composed within 100 milliseconds by a machine learning algorithm called QUEEN. Something like that, but maybe 5 times crazier ...

As someone who has always been fascinated by technology and science fiction, I am really excited about the great opportunities all the upcoming technological developments will provide. But I must admit that I am also a bit concerned, if we can keep pace will all that on a social level. Therefore, my hope is, that all these technological changes will leave a positive footprint in our society, that we won’t overwhelm ourselves with the pace at which we cause all these changes, and that we will quickly find the right responses to the negative side-effects that will inevitably come with it.

If we manage all that, I believe the future in 50 years will be bright
– also because of holograms … ;)

Connect with Christian on his github profile.
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