Thursday, April 27, 2023

Finally! A 3D Rendering Application I can Afford and Use.

This began as embedded, non-transparent, solid objects in a CAD application.

Multi-color Glass Marble Created in Moment of Inspiration & Meshrender

 For years, I have drooled over images in the Moment of Inspiration Gallery that users have rendered.  But, as I explored the options to do the same, I was hit with (1) the cost or (2) the complexities of the 3D rendering options I could find.

But, this week, I got a huge break.

The creator of Meshmolder, a sculpting application that I have used for some time, released a brand new product called Meshrender.  I stumbled across a video announcing the release several days ago.

The Cost

Karlay Souza, the creator of Meshmolder and Meshrender has a unique approach to pricing.  In both cases, there is a free 'shareware' version and a full version for which he asks a small donation.  In the case of Meshrender, that is $20.00.  In both cases, the products are a true bargain.

The Ease of Use

I have no idea how easy the Blender rendering engine might be to learn and use.  The reason for my ignorance about the rendering engine is that the whole Blender interface sends me running in the opposite direction.  The same is true for the other rendering engines I have considered in the past.

Meshrender stands alone.  Every single button, widget or dialog applies to one thing and one thing only... rendering a 3D object in the simplest steps possible.,  Yet, it also offers advanced features that we can grow into as we use it.

I instantly found it comfortable to use.  

As could be expected by an early release, I had some startup glitches that were quickly address by Karley with a single email.  Now, it is working very smoothly.

An Excellent Companion to Use with Moment of Inspiration

One of the first things I teach new Moment of Inspiration (MOI3D) users is to name objects.  When MOI3d exports to a .OBJ file, a multi-part design is exported as a single file containing multiple components using the names we give to them.

When brought into Meshrender, each component is listed and we can assign materials and colors independently.

Here is a video of the process beginning with creating in Moment of Inspiration and ending in the rendered image.

Impact on Education

As most of you already know, I have a passion for teaching at-risk young people 3D design.  While I love 3D printing, the time it takes to print and the reliability of most 3D printers in school situations is a huge impediment to making 3D design available to the broadest spectrum of students.  A low cost rendering engine that is easy to use, it seems to me, has a lot of potential for greatly increasing the viability of teaching 3D design for ALL students.  Not just a select few.

And, this really has me excited!

Here are some variations....

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 1

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 2

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 3

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 4

As you can see, this could become addicting!

Monday, April 24, 2023

AI Voices & the Current AI Controversy

Little did I know, when I started to create the new Moment of Inspiration training series that the decision to use AI voices would change my release plans so dramatically.

From the beginning, I had planned to upload the Moment of Inspiration Course onto Udemy.  But, little did I know that including AI voices to supplement my own narration would be cause for rejection by the Udemy team.

The reasons for Turning to AI Voices

Ten years earlier, when I created my first Moment of Inspiration Curriclum, my voice was strong enough to complete hours of video.  By the time I started on the new curriculum I was ten years older and, as it turned out, was having age related heart issues.  My voice simply no longer had the stamina to smoothly narrate all the videos required to teach Moment of Inspiration effectively.  

I did not want to give up on the project because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that at-risk young students' lives have been radically altered through the 3D design and printing classes we taught at YouthQuest.  So, I wanted to continue that work if at all possible.

The first attempts at finding suitable voices to use didn't go all that well.  While Descript allowed me to use my own voice, I never really seemed to evoke the right tone behind the words.  Speechelo was OK.   But, again, I was not able to control the voices to my liking.

Fortunately, I found WellSaid Labs.

The voices I ended up using not only conveyed the pronunciation; but, the way WellSaid Labs Studio worked, allowed me to tailor both the pronunciation and the inflection to a point where the narration is 95% or above exactly as I would have spoken it.

I am not trying to fool anyone by using voice other than my own.  I simply needed a script to be narrated at the lowest cost possible while still being effective.

The Controversy

 The rejection of a course simply because it includes AI voices, has to be seen in the broadest context.  We have jumped into AI so quickly that the full ramifications of the technology are totally a mystery and the potential for harm, in the broadest sense, are certainly there.  I assume that Udemy is simply trying to get ahead of the Intellectual Property curve and it's easiest to simply develop a blanket ban while the technology is being sorted out.

But, from this one small corner, I would like to address my own experience with using WellSaid Studio as part of the workflow of my course development.

Using AI Voices Improved the Content

I have been creating video content since 1969, when I begin with a used Sony TVC-2010.

One of the realities that has remained the same in all of those years was how difficult it has been to match sound levels between takes.  It was a VERY pleasant surprise to discover just how seamlessly it sounds when new AI material is inserted into previously recorded segments.  This allows for improvements and additions to scripts in a way unmatched by live recording.  I found my narrations getting better in the editing process because I could reflect on what had been there and make it better and more clear so easily.

The other aspect of using AI voices that I believed helped the content is that it put me into the role of director, rather than simply writer/narrator.  Hearing the words I had written in a voice other than my own allowed me to refine what I written and work harder on getting the inflection to convey my thoughts.  It was a remarkable experience.

Using AI Improved the Flow

Designing in 3D is a multi-step process.  Being able to change narrators to indicate a new series of steps or a new focus of the course content was another benefit of using  AI voices to augment my own narrative.  

The two voices I most used were identified as Ava M. and Wade C.  But, even within those voices I was able to select different styles based on the subject matter being delivered.  The only issues I had as I switched from voice to voice is that Wade C., using the "Conversational" style was considerable louder that the other voices.  But, this was easily dealt with using the Limiter and Loudness Normalization effects in Audacity.  


Quite frankly, it was a big bummer for me when Udemy would not allow my course simply based on the fact that I had used AI voices.  But, in the grand scheme of things, that loss pales in comparison to the benefits that AI voices brought to the project as a whole.  I don't know how negatively AI might impact society in the long run; but, I can attest to the terrific value of AI voices in helping me overcome a disability to allow me to complete something very important to me.

The new 3D Design for Fun and Life Course.

Published a New Series of Moment of Inspiration Lessons

I completed the first phase of a new Moment of Inspiration, Version 4, course for public release. 

It can be found at:

   3D Design for Fun & Life

Most of my readers know that ten years ago, while with YouthQuest Foundation, I created an original 3D design curriculum, around Moment of Inspiration (MOi3D), specifically intended to change the trajectory of young at-risk lives in National Guard Youth ChalleNGe programs we served.  We started with MOI3D Version 2.

 3D Systems made a huge contribution toward that initiative with the donation of 32 Cube2 printers.

The combination of creating a 3D design, seeing their design printed and then refining that design to make it better, brought a powerful and much needed message to the population we served.  "Your failures are not final." 

Along the way, we ended up using the curriculum to a much wider base of at-risk students, across four states and the District of Columbia, including those on the autism spectrum.

I am very thankful for having worked at YouthQuest and having seen so many young lives impacted.


But, YouthQuest was a very small not-for-profit that lacked the resources to expand  its reach.  A little over two years ago, it ultimately lost its primary funding and made the decision to shut down, transferring its property, including the 3D curriculum, to another not-for-profit.

At the time, we had hoped our relationship with the many groups we served would continue.  But, the successor organization had more localized interests and a very restrictive view of "intellectual property rights".

Based on the above video.  I am sure you can understand the sadness I feel about that loss.

I absolutely loved what I was doing through all of those years.  

But, in the back of my mind, I always thought that more should be possible.  I know the impact of Youth ChalleNGe programs and I know the impact  that learning 3D design has on at-risk students.  But, I always felt many more could be helped if the curriculum were released to a wider population.  That feeling became even stronger as 3D printers dropped in price from above $1200 to under $200.

The additional capabilities introduced with the release of Moment of Inspiration Version 4 makes it an even better fit for the classroom. And, which makes it a great time to bring the experience of learning Moment of Inspiration to, hopefully, many more at-risk young people.

I have been committed to creating an even BETTER 3D curriculum around the wonderful Moment of Inspiration V4 to be released on online learning sites at a very low cost.  It has been being designed from the ground up, taking into consideration all of my experiences learning and teaching 3D design and printing since 2012.

The course design is intended to allow ANY learner to become very proficient well within the free 90 day trial period for Moment of Inspiration.  The unique session organization takes into account those that need sparse information as well as those needing very specific step-by-step directions.

But, I immediately ran into a hurdle! 

At 78, I'm ten years older than the first video series.  And, that means my voice has a lot less stamina than the first time around.

Well Said Labs to the Rescue

The handwriting has been on the wall for a fairly long time.  So, I began to look into using AI Text-to-Voice to take some of the load off of my own voice about two years ago.

Of course, I immediately ran into the reality that most computer voices are just plain boring and annoying.

I first subscribed to Descript.  In fact, I even recorded my own voice using their "Overdub" technology, hoping that it would capture my emotion and inflections.  

It got the tonality right.  But, I never was able to get it to deliver the inflections so critical to holding onto interest in the content.

I then tried Speechelo.  Same result.

If push came to shove, there are some voices in both Descript and Speechelo that could be used in a pinch.  While it might be better than my tired old voice droning on and on, I don't think I would ever really be happy with the result.

Fortunately, my sister remembered an online site she had used during the Covid lockdowns.

It was

I have finally found some text-to-voice voices that come very close to expressing my thoughts very closely to how I would express them. 

While I wish every minute of my training could come from my own mouth, that is just not feasible at this point in my life.  I feel very blessed that I can still deliver the content that I feel could be so crucial in changing the trajectory of the lives of at-risk young people despite the limitations of my voice.

I am very grateful to WellSaid Labs for giving me the ability to complete this project and continue to add more content in the future.