Way of the Windmill

Last night I set out with the intention of building yet another windmill, but that ended up on ice, for something lazier a little simpler took my fancy. Nothing brand new, but I thought I’d have a crack at a follow-up of the windmill figurines I made last year, drafting in the models I’d made since. Perhaps I missed the opportunity to experiment with redressing them in some fashion, but I rather like them as they are. They look like they belong with one another.

More shelf space required for this next batch – we’ll have to throw out another load of books!

windmill-ornament-clyrck1windmill-ornament-stolaves1windmill-ornament-horning1windmill-ornament-cottage1For bonus fun, I included the adjacent cottage I made last autumn. I’m now wondering if I could take the Chrismassy version and give the concept a bit of snow, perhaps of a globular nature? Now that could be interesting…

It was nice to revisit this format as I had planned. It may take thirteen months, but I am a man of my word!

molen1_0002I’ve always looked with curiosity at the plentiful mills of The Netherlands; they take quaint to another level, to the extent that leaves many of our broadland counterparts feeling positively functional. What’s more, they appear so well preserved; countless sails turn across the skyline, a stark contrast to the Broads, bringing so much to the view and capitalising on the tourist pull. While the aesthetic and sheer familiarity of those nearby will always have my heart, the differences of the European models are to behold, and it’s great to see them standing so defiantly in the shadow of their gigantic, cool successor, the wind turbine.

With the temperatures soaring and thoughts of holiday setting in, it seemed time to move in that direction. Resplendent in sumptuous lemon yellow and beaming of summer against the blue sky, Huizermolen stands today as an exhibit in Arnhem’s Netherlands Open Air Museum, and has done since 1919. Originally working as a grinding mill in the village of Huizen, pieces date as far back as the 1660s – clearly, she’s an old girl. Thankfully, in the good hands of the museum, she undergoes regular maintenance and makeover, so there’s never the risk of looking her age.

molen1_0003I’m not certain, but I think I might have unwittingly solved the issue of trees – a love/hate relationship that has been the narrative of these windmill renders! It came in a fit of frustration after having to turn off the computer, thanks to C4D freezing the machine entirely. It seems so obvious now, though – turning off the Alpha channel renders the ‘leaves’ as nothing but solid polygons. This reduces their overall quality rather a lot, as they’re now just clumps of shapes rather than an intricate cut of leaves, but rarely do I show them so close up for it to much matter; I certainly hope the compromise isn’t obvious! After this, rendering went without a hitch, and so much quicker than with the Alpha channel active. This made me very happy. I’ll have to think of something else to complain about from now on!

molen1_0007And, with our going Dutch for this one – perhaps in subsequent builds, too! – the Photoshop work below seemed obvious. When it’s spring again…

They’re not from Amsterdam, though.


stolaves0059It’s National Mills Weekend, don’t you know? That this passed me by until now is, frankly, shameful. So, if you’ve got nothing to do with you Sunday, why not go see a wind or watermill? Many will be open and, weather permitting, working!

To honour the festivities, here are some half-finished models and scenes of St Olaves Mill, a cute little smock pump standing beside the River Waveney, and not the sea as envisioned here. Essentially this is the same structure as Boardman’s Mill; indeed it may have been exactly the same in infancy, and later encased in weatherboarding.

Built on the site of a former mill, it came relatively late to the party, erected in 1915 and working through to the sixties. Following a brief spell on its own, the mill was restored in 1980 and given a thick coat of paint. It’s still in good shape, and in a perfectly reachable spot, so is ready and waiting should you want to capitalise on the occasion.

The main reason these never came sooner is because of experimentation with using hair dynamics for ‘real’ grass. While it performed better than expected, I’m afraid I found myself becoming frustrated with the configurations after a while, sometimes going backwards rather than forwards. There’s potential there, though.


For extra pertinent fun, here’s a look at all the mills I’ve built so far. Honestly, I was sure I’d made more than this! But it does me good seeing some progress.

clayrack3-20bBack to resplendence for a moment, as this model has been sitting around for about a month now, waiting to say hello. Here is Clayrack Drainage Mill, a small but very impressive hollow-post pump which dates back to the early 19th century, with its career ending in 1903. Though it spends retirement beside the River Ant in How Hill, Ludham – just a short walk north of Boardman’s Mill and Turf Fen Mill – it was situated in the village of Ranworth until 1981, when it was moved and fully restored.

With three different mills so close together, it’ll come of no surprise to anybody reading this that I loved How Hill as a child, and indeed still do. It’s a really lovely place; you not only have these on a nice riverside walk, but also the Edwardian How Hill House and the Toad Hole Cottage, a tiny museum set in what was a marshman’s house.

These are the fruits of my playing around with Vue. It’s been something of a mixed bag. While the skies and vegetation look incredible, integration of my Cinema 4D models has proven harder than expected, with a couple of crashes here and there, though I’m quite sure that’s down to my machine not getting any younger. What’s more, the free program stamps even more watermarks over you once you’ve used it for thirty days, as you can see in the above renders. That’s totally to be expected, but they are bothering me, and I have a viable alternative in C4D, so I’m probably going to revert to that. Vue is a great looking programme, though, and comes much recommended.

clayrack3-3The sun sets on Vue, for now at least. It’s been fun!


mill-test9cAs we bid Father Christmas farewell for another year, I do hope all of you had fun seeing in the new year. With new year comes a perceived push to refresh and explore new things – exciting new software being among those things… well, for me at least!

Beneath virtually every C4D piece last year came a tiresome complaint from yours truly that my machine was struggling with such intense pressure. This was particularly the case with my windmill scenes, and those beautifully pesky trees. Completely by accident, I stumbled across a program whose forté is atmospheric and environmental scene-setting: Vue. The Personal Learning Edition which I’m using is completely free, requiring only a sign up and apparently comes with all capabilities of the paid software ( though there are some restrictions with regards rendering resolution, and you do get that logo in the corner). Some of the results people have come up with are incredible.

It’s most fun to eschew tutorial and just wade into a whole new package flicking switches, pressing buttons to seeing what goes wrong. I went in like this today, and produced what you see – well, the windmill itself is a C4D model, actually one which I’ve not previously shown in all its glory, but hopefully will one day. It does seem to be dealing with large scenes much better than C4D – look! Proper vegetation! The scene above has almost a thousand trees and grasses in it, which I wouldn’t fancy trying in Cinema – and renders briskly, in that it doesn’t cripple my computer for half an hour.

My pining for a dark sunset is most convenient, as I’ve not actually worked out how to apply textures yet!

But yes, it looks to me as if Vue knows its realm, sticks to it and does it very well. Hopefully, this is just the beginning; I can see me transferring mills or other architecture into scenes here once I get to grips with it a little better. If my dalliances with C4D are anything to go by, that’ll be some time around 2021… hmm! Maybe I should look up some tutorials after all!

cottage0020It’s only a week until Father Christmas comes! Is there any better time to experiment?

In perhaps the height of my festivity so far this year, I got hold of a free snow plugin for Cinema 4D, MagicSnow. On being pleasantly surprised at its ease of configuration, I got bullish and went about subjecting dear Mill Cottage to a generous helping of white stuff.

It soon became clear that it was not designed for use on such impossibly complex/poorly-constructed models, and indeed so much snow had fallen that my computer froze for about fifteen minutes. Undeterred, I repeated the process of snowfall but with the various elements – floor, trees, house etc. – in separate files and then brought them together in the ensemble you see. Some parts are questionable, but in general it seems the plugin works really well and definitely warrants further experimentation. Hopefully, before next year!

In a fit of unforgivable laziness, I decided not to cast my own snowman but ship one in. The snowman model you see is available here.

How I love the snow – it’s been so long since we’ve had any. Could we have just a little bit this year, do you think? It’s not too much to ask, shirley?

cottage0040Wandering around these vast expanses of broadland, there’s always the chance that you’ll come through the reeds and trees only to uncover the hidden retreat of someone despicably fortunate. Amidst the awe and reward is a spot of panic, hoping that said fortunate person isn’t in, and hasn’t spotted you foraying into their quarters before you can make yourself scarce. This has been me a couple of times – apparently, I’m blind to ‘PRIVATE’ signs. What can I say? Ever curious!

Naturally, you’ll often find these just beside the mills I’ve been focusing on. They were the shelter for the millers now long gone, and so they surely hold as much historical value as the twirling towers beside them. With that in mind, and in yearning for something a little different, I set about focusing on this. This isn’t any particular cottage or mill, more a collation of various inspirations and references, with some personal touches to make for a (hopefully!) grand design.

It looks in pretty good nick, but I don’t see a ‘PRIVATE’ sign anywhere, do you…? Why, then, let’s try the door! I wonder what it’s like inside? What can you see from the upper windows?

cottage0043I only have a pair of fully-rendered, hi-res shots for you, for this was a truly arduous render session. It’s the tree’s what done it, coupled with, probably, a great deal of inefficiency on my part. The close-up took ninety minutes, the wider one three-and-a-quarter hours, with much of the first freezing the computer completely. I was seconds away from shutting it down and abandoning the idea when it kicked back into life and showed me what it’d been doing!

Slightly wary of these extended drags, I thought better of running any more out. I’ve removed the greedy trees for a simple render below, just to give an idea of what the garden looks like (without its trees, of course!). You aren’t really missing that much:

cottage0094aWhat of the gated pathway in the foreground? That was going to wind through some trees, crossing a stream to get to the mill. I didn’t bother rendering even a simple shot of this area, as it really isn’t anything without the realistic vegetation. But I was going for a similar look to this shot from my Old Mill scene:

waterway58_0061Appropriately enough, when activating the renderer – and before its mammoth freeze – I headed to my music library to pass some time. What should the shuffle function plump for to kick off? It’s Going To Take Some Time, of course! How prescient. Naturally, it was the cover by The Carpenters, but there’s the original by Carole King if you’d prefer. Both are marvellous. But I digress! For all its torment, it was great fun building my own little cottage on the Broads.