This donut is made from pure math.

My results making Blender Guru’s donut.

I fashioned this donut in Blender by following along with a famous tutorial series by Blender Guru. So, no credit goes to me for conceiving it. All I did was what I was told to do by the tutorial, and I managed to get through it, along with tens of thousands of other people, 15k of which liked the final video. There’s more to come, including a glass cup of coffee complete with beverage; and textures, reflections, and transparency on the glass.

I’m in the midst of several tutorial series, all geared towards beginners. The overlap between them really helps hammer home the techniques, so that when I go to apply them on my own creations, I’m not having to plod along tripping over every step before I get it right. I was able to make the Enterprise, but it took me two and a half weeks.

This one I did on my own from scratch, but based on pics of the Enterprise, obviously.

I learn both ways, by doing my own thing, and essentially learning by doing; and by following along with tutorials. The latter is learning techniques and the former is practicing them.

The donut wasn’t easy. Anyone with enough patience and a decent familiarity with working computer programs could get through it, but if you were then tasked with making a grilled-cheese sandwich on your own, or even the same donut without the course to follow along with, most of us — including me — wouldn’t remember half the steps.

Above: using “texture paint” to add a whitened area along the edge of the donut, plus some variation of color.

Below: using shaders to create the texture of the donut.

The sprinkles were created using particle maps. It’s really quite sophisticated, and even the shape of the frosting needed to use the extrusion tool, a subdivision surface modifier, organic sculpting, and proportional editing…

At some point in the past I might have looked at a donut done in 3D modeling and thought, “cheating”. Uh, no. It’s just a different way to make it than drawing and painting, or photography, and it’s no picnic. Blender is exponentially more difficult than Photoshop, and it incorporates every aspect of visual phenomenon. It’s cheating in the way piloting a 747 is cheating compared to riding a bicycle. It’s not as physically difficult, but it requires a lot more brain power.

However, you just couldn’t compete for realism trying to make a donut like this through painting. Your best bet to try would most likely be to copy a photograph. But then we could rotate the donut or change the lighting and have another variety that would require you a month to compete against. So, in the sense of competing with traditional mediums at ultra-realism, it’s not a fair competition at all. Each medium has its advantage and disadvantages.

For me, because I’m been increasingly interested in realism over the last year, this is a good avenue. There’s something I mentioned before which I’ll touch on here, and go into greater detail sometime in the future. Much of the project of fine art in the 20th century was to paint ordinary subjects in unusual ways. It started with the post impressionists. Consider how Cezanne painted apples. Eventually representational imagery was completely eliminated. But there’s another avenue which may appeal more to other personalities, which is to create unusual imagery with realism. I received virtually zero training at this in university.

Blender, or 3D software program(s) of choice may be the ideal medium for exploring that imaginative terrain. I mean, if you can make the Starship Enterprise soaring through space at warp speed, and a donut that makes you want to sink your teeth into it, you can do about anything with enough perseverance and ingenuity. I have some great ideas, I think, but right now I’m amassing more skills, kind of like training for the big fight.

Let’s take a closer look at the donut:

Every stinking sprinkle has light and shadow, including reflected light and ambient occlusion shadows. The icing has subsurface scattering, which means it’s catching light within it, not just on the surface, and reflecting the light back out through the surface.

If you look at the zoomed out version, you can see the bready part seems light and fluffy, and it has textures.

There’s a magic to the technology — obviously not real magic, folks — but the fact that this apparent food is created purely through math is astounding. There’s no photo involved at any stage and to any degree whatsoever.

That’s the thing with Blender. You aren’t just sculpting, or just creating an image (which is also frequently a photo), but you create the scene and lighting in which it exists. It’s creating artificial reality in all its visual dimensions.

To do this creatively, for fine art ends, is to go completely against many of the cornerstone developments of art in the 20th century, including the flattening of the picture plane, and ceasing to see it as a window into another world. But once again, the rectangle can be a window into another world, and the visual imagination of the artist.

The technology makes this possible, and it upturns pre-existing concepts about what art is and how it is made. My own ideas about the still image are getting a roughing up, I can assure you. In the same way that the camera forced a revaluation of painting, because painting couldn’t compete with it for realism, now it can, if the artist chooses to paint with a 3D modeling program.

It should go without saying — among us more civilized sorts of individuals as regards art — that any avenue I might personally pursue does not invalidate, sideline, or diminish anyone else’s mode of art making in the slightest. There’s room for all kinds of art-making, and each has valuable contributions. And the further I go into the digital realm, the more I also fantasize about taking a plein air oil painting class. The real art is always the artist’s unique vision manifested in a visual form. Some people like to make bold pronouncements of “all art is X” or “all art must X”, but that’s just a rather pathetic attempt to eliminate the competition. It’s like a boxer going into a mixed martial arts competition and declaring all kicking and all grappling techniques illegal. It would be a tragedy if people clamored aboard the 3D modeling direction and abandoned other avenues of visual art. Some, I’m sure, think it’s a tragedy I’m doing it, to the degree I am, and for however long I am.

Stay tuned to see what sorts of fine art ends I can use Blender for in the coming months.

~ Ends

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8 replies on “Digital Donuts

    1. I hate math, too. I think it’s because I never did my math homework, and just didn’t care about numbers. I think I would have done better if my teachers made it into more of a game or puzzle.

      Anyway, the computer does all the math for me behind the scenes.


  1. “I learn both ways, by doing my own thing, and essentially learning by doing; and by following along with tutorials. The latter is learning techniques and the former is practicing them.”

    That is exactly the same mindset I had as a video editor—although my editing was commercials, news stories, program segments. The places I worked would often spring a completely new and different editing system on us, so the first thing I would do was read through the user manual and try out different things. But mastery never came until I had to execute real stories instead of pre-cooked examples. It was scary (because of deadlines) but fun when all the pieces came together.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I honestly couldn’t tell that wasn’t actually real. The intricate lighting and shading details were great. I learned so much by reading this post- I never knew about this way of creating art. Thank you for the in-depth and informative post!

    Liked by 2 people

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