Meet Eskil Steenberg, the innovator behind C4D’s new Automatic UV Unwrapping tool.
Eskil Steenberg quit his job three years ago because he was tired of it and wanted to do something else. At first, he wasn’t sure what that would be. But then he decided to see if he could get a UV unwrapper that he’d made years earlier, running again. Weeks of work turned into months as he improved it one way and then another. Everyone he showed it to liked it, including members of his Intel Innovators group, who invited him to do a Siggraph presentation on his automated UV unwrapping tool in 2018, even though it wasn’t officially a product yet. His email inbox has been full ever since.
Maxon recently licensed Steenberg’s UV unwrapping technology, Ministry of Flat to create the new Automatic UV Unwrapping tool that was released as part of the Cinema 4D Subscription Release 22 (S22) on April 20, 2020. Using the tool, C4D users can now cut, wrap and pack UVs with just one click. “The algorithm has 25 different algorithms that look at each part of the geometry to figure out what special tricks would be best based on properties and special cases,” Steenberg says, explaining that Ministry of Flat is different because it produces results that are very similar to what a human artist would do.
That’s because, in addition to being a programmer and software innovator, Steenberg, who lives in Sweden, has also worked as a 3D artist. “People have been trying to solve UV unwrapping for 30 years, and a lot of it is very clever but a really good UV unwrapper understands what artists want,” he says. “Ministry of Flat considers things like: Are you making the model mathematically worse but getting better results artistically? Have you used all of the texture space? How would an artist want to paint something?”
At the Nexus of Art and Technology
Now an independent researcher and developer, Steenberg frequently consults and gives talks and presentations about Ministry of Flat at events, conferences, corporate headquarters and studios, including the Game Developers Conference, Siggraph, FITC, EA, Sony, ILM, Google, Pixar, Autodesk and many more.
He got his start doing computer graphics on an Amiga when he was 13 years old. Soon, Steenberg was skipping school to spend time on the computer and by the time he was 17, he dropped out of high school to take a job as an artist at Electronic Arts (EA) making 3D graphics for a video game. While there, he morphed into more of a technical artist and, with some encouragement from colleagues, he began learning programming and eventually left EA to become a C programmer. He also worked as a researcher at two centers, the Interactive Institute and the Royal Institute of Technology.
Using his artistic, research and programming skills, Steenberg spent a few years doing a number of different things: inventing a network protocol for 3D graphics, creating a game called “Love” and developing his first UV unwrapper. Though he always enjoys “being at the nexus of art and technology,” the UV unwrapping tool was at times frustrating. “It was a horrible looking piece of software, but it allowed me to do all of this stuff by hand,” he recalls. The one feature he particularly liked allowed him to drag one polygon to the next and they would unfold automatically. “It was fun to play with and I realized that I needed to automate the process, so I didn’t have to do it by hand.”
Ministry of Flat
By 2010, Steenberg had a fully automated UV unwrapper working, but it wasn’t quite production-ready, so he thought of it mostly as a “great party trick” until he picked it back up in 2017 to create what is now Ministry of Flat. “I wanted a name that was silly, so I thought of this because of Monte Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks,” he says,” admitting that things have gone much better than he expected after launching Minstry of Flat’s website last year. “I didn’t really know if anybody was going to care, or if this would even be a business, but people are caring and now Maxon’s licensed it, which is great.”
Though the technology is now part of Cinema 4D, Ministry of Flat is still available for licensing by others and Steenberg is hoping more people will get in touch. At the same time, as part of his agreement with Maxon, he’ll be supporting C4D’s Automatic UV Unwrapping tool as new algorithms are added and/or improved. “I’m really looking forward to getting as much feedback as possible from Maxon’s users to help improve the technology,” he says. “As far as I know, there are no other solutions out there that can do what mine can do, and I plan to keep making it better.”
Learn more about Cinema 4D's UV Unwrap tool at Maxon.net