Mike Pan • Portfolio

The Cube Experiment

This personal project started one evening when I had nothing else better to do. So I opened up the 3D application Blender and started tinkering with the particle system aimlessly. A short while later this emerged:

It's nothing to write home about. But the image consists of only a particle system on the default cube. Which lead me to wonder, how far one can I push Blender using only a single cube object? I decided to try making something out of only a cube everyday for a month. And so the Default Cube Experiment was born.

Some say constraints leads to creative solutions. So I set out to create the rules for my own challenge.

Not Allowed:


At the time, I haven't actually produced any artwork in a while (I had been mostly on coding duty). The idea is to crank out one these each day continuously for a month to get the creative juice flowing again. I was very glad I did.

Because I can't model the cube, I relied heavily on the modifier stack to alter the geometry. Luckily, Blender has a very powerful and flexible mesh modifier system that allows for some pretty spectacular effects. The above image from Day 5 shows I was still being mentally constrained to the particle system.

The spinning top image below was a joy to model and render. I really liked the ease of setting up a photorealistic scene in Cycles - Blender's photorealistic pathtracer. Because of the one cube rule, modelling the scene required some clever hacks. The floor that the top spins on is actually the tip of an instanced copy of the top, enlarged by 100x.

Day 12 below. I was getting more creative with the modifiers. Being able to iterate ideas quickly on a workstation with a fast GPU allowed me to setup the material and lighting extremely fast. Without the incredibly efficient Cycles renderer and the GTX770, this image probably wouldn't have turned out the way it did. Hmm, maybe constraints don't lead to creativity after all.

For most of these images, I would start off without much idea of what I want, I would just mess with things until something likeable emerges, then spend time refining it.

The image below is one of the few times that I started the session knowing exactly what I wanted to do - a photorealistic macro shot of grass. Getting the shape and geometry of the grass right required a lot of fiddling with the particle system. An HDR image was used to light the scene.

Wanted to try out Non-Photorealistic Rendering by recreating The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai. Ended up being something out of Frozen. This image took 8 hours to render on the CPU because of the complex geometry and subsurface shaders.

Speaking of ice-cold, here 'Open Happiness'.

This is only a small selection of the work I produced during the Default Cube Challenge. More can be found on my blog.

Mike dabbles in 3D art, programming, game-making, book-writing and photography.

With 12 years of Blender experience and a keen interest in scientific visualization, he has worked for the University of British Columbia in Canada, Institute of Clinical Physiology in Italy, and Harvard Medical School.

You can contact him for quotes and projects at mike.c.pan@gmail.com