Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Lighting effects in DAZ Studio 3 ... what more can you say?! Here, I took the Cloisters set and the Garden of Galahad set -- loaded 'em both up ... took the wall out of the garden and set the cloister there, opening into it, so you have, um, a monastery garden. Then, add a Bryce sunset skyscape -- and the fun begins. Now the trick is to light the foreground to match the sky.
The lights are pink and gold, and set quite low, to mimic the sun angle. It's all a question of patience ... moving the camera around and resetting the lights to get exactly what you want. There's no especial trick to it; but you do have to know how to navigate in the x,y,z coordinate universe. You don't move the models around ... they stay right where they are. You drive the camera ... look up, look down, go in any direction, spin around on the spot. It's actually a lot of fun.
No news on the computer front today: Avast have not responded with so much as a squeaking noise, so I've alerted PayPal and started a dispute. (If you're tuning in late: the computer I use to do the artwork has a virus ... it needs a powerful anti-virus program ... we bought and downloaded Avast ... it won't install ... and they're not replying to emails. That's The Story So Far in a thimble.)
So there's no guy-candy, eye-candy today ... just images from my archives. I've been intending to use this set as the background for some renders that should be amazing, but since things are not working out so well computer-wise ... here are the backgrounds!
Jade, March 31
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Still no joy on the computer front: I'm still waiting for any response from Avast regarding why their anit-virus software won't install. The word "refund" is on the tip of my tongue ... the words "PayPal dispute" come first. Let's see how we go.
A couple more images from my stash of standby renders (not many left now). This was the design originally mooted to be Mick Vidal from Hellgate, but both Mel and I feel there's still something not quite right. Mick has a more "steely" quality ... this guy looks too "unburdened" to play the part of Major Vidal. But Mel liked the characterisation, and in fact it fits another team member from the NARC 'verse. It's pretty much spot-on for Curt Gable, the standby pilot who just got promoted to ops room wrangler, when Mischa Petrov (see yesterday's post) got his captaincy and was partnered with Gene Cantrell.
So there you have him -- Curt Gable, who's been hiding on the hard drive for a couple of weeks now. (No idea what's going on here? Check out the source materials, find out what you're missing!)
And now I'm just about out of standby renders, so I'm really, really hoping for a resolution to my computer problems in the next day or two. Everything you can think of has been tried. A lot of things you can't think of have been tried! The last thing is "brain surgery" ... format the whole thing and start again.
Jade, 30 March
Sunday, March 28, 2010
If you know your NARC books, you'll know that along with the gay science fiction icons who have propelled these novels to the status of cult classics, there's also "the man you love to hate." He's in charge of the ops room aboard the NARC-Athena ... Mischa Petrov. And this is him, exactly as described in the books, down to the buzz cut and the big muscles, and the permanent scowl. He's been hunting for a command of his own since the first novel, Death's Head ... and at the end of Aphelion, he just got it. He's partnered with Gene Cantrell, and NARC just launched the new carrier, the Huntress.
I did these designs last week, never got the chance to upload them, so they're in my cache of "spares." It's a good thing I have a few, so I can keep blogging, because my computer is still in limbo, pending brain surgery. We're still waiting for a response from Avast (the anti virus software company), and if they can't get their product to install ... and if AVG continues to refuse to install ... this machine has to be brought back to factory specs. That's a whisker short of a reformat.
Anyway, Mel Keegan is very pleased indeed with the design work for Mischa Petrov -- Raven 8.6. Call him Captain Petrov now. (How'd you like Petrov as your commanding officer?! Good thing he has Cantrell as a partner...)
If you have no idea what all of this is about, and if you enjoy a great gay science fiction romp, you can catch up right here: http://bookworld.editme.com/MelKeegan-NARC. I wish I could tell you there was a major motion picture in the works, but alas, there's not! Maybe one day!
Jade, 29 March
There's good news and there's bad news. The good news first: the computer should be salvageable, and I haven't lost any data (yet). The bad news: the system that's gone down with a rotten, lousy, insidious virus that's been lurking in the background is the quad core which handles the big, powerful programs ... like DAZ, Bryce, Serif and so on.
It's a virus, nothing else it can be to produce this weirdness. AVG missed it utterly, so we uninstalled that and bought Avast. Here's the problem: Avast won't install. The virus again??? So I tried to reinstall AVG ... and it won't reinstall. Now I have no virus protection whatsoever on the quad core, so it's quarantined from that swamp of infection and infestation otherwise known as the WWW.
Next, we did a lot of work on my laptop to bring it up to date, and I was going to switch over to that for emails etc. And now, darned if I can get it to go online. So I'm on borrowing Dave's computer (we're starting to run low on available systems here: only two left after this one, and one of them is unavailable, and the other is ooooold and slow).
It's been a wonderful day (sound of sarcasm there), with about 6-7 hours blown off trying to install things that didn't want to be installed, and get computers online when they have no intention of complying. I guess I'll surrender for today and try again tomorrow.
Jade, 28 March
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Changing body geometry in DAZ 3D is a lot of fun, and you van do almost anything, from make a character's head shrink to the size of a peanut (don't you wish you could do that with some people in real life?!) to taking the feet and making them ... hobbit size. And adding the pointed ears of the halfling, and so on. You might have to see these renders at larger size (click on them) to see those pointed ears. They really are lovely!
The moon in the background is also a model: Moon Glow ... the effect is quite good but it's not perfect. It gives you a place to start rather than a final destination. The renders show a distinct "crop line" around the outside of the transparency planes, which had to be airbrushed out in post production. But that's okay, because the model itself is very cool.
Today's adventures in Bryce 5.5 are -- different, to say the least! I call this one "Salvador Dali Strikes Back" ...
The picture is deliberately off-balance, with a weird structure halfway out of the shot, and a hypnotic waterscape under an astonishing sky that disappears into the mist. These pictures were designed to throw you off balance, stop you, make you think. I hate to confess this, but in Bryce this was so easy I feel, um, guilty! The skies are the easy part. Then you make a ground plane and apply a picture-texture ... pebbles. Then you make a water plane and tell it to be very reflective and highly transparent. Then crank up a bit of mist. Make some simple objects and half-submerge them. Hit render and go for a cup of tea...!
The second Bryce render for today is intended to simulate an actual painting ... and it works! This looks like a watercolor! You'd lay the sky on as four or five washes, then do the trees as three or four layers of greens and blues ... the greens continue into the foreground, and you finish off with a partial yellow wash. Then, last of all, you hook up the airbrush and lay down a fine mist of Gauche white...
Either that, or you play with Bryce for half an hour! The sky ... easy. The trees are Foleypro Trees plus a couple of genuine 3D trees. The foreground is a small ground plane with a single diffuse-channel material added, so there's no detail and an "arty" feel, and then I cranked up the fog level. Yep ... I found the fog controls!
And now, back to work. I have two jobs to get through before I can call it a day, and for some reason I'm yawning my head off here! So, here goes nothing...
Jade, 27 March
Thursday, March 25, 2010
The Bryce landscape inspires the scene ... it started as a render of a morning on a hillside in an alpine region where you have blue rolling hills and pine trees, and mossy grass, and big skies ... and it's the perfect camping trip. Hence, our hunk of the moment is out there enjoying the fresh air ... looking a bit reflective; contemplating life in the big smoke, and maybe not going back!
The landscape at the beginning of all this was done entirely in Bryce 5.5:
Here, you have one of the amazing Bryce skies ... and they are the easy part. Then the rest of it was built up in layers: 1) the blue rolling hills in the background; the dark ridge line in the middle distance; the wide, deep middle ground, with the mossy grass overlying a kind of sandstone that's breaking through the surface with rain-erosion ... and then the boulders and pool in the foreground. It's made of five BIG terrain objects, a water plane, the sky, about 1o little grassy plants, and then the magic: TREES!!
How long have I been saying, "What this needs is trees!"
But on the other hand I'm not at all happy with the 3D trees which are added by Bryce. They just don't look even vaguely realistic ... whereas the Foleypro 2D trees do actually look realistic enough to use them quite close to the camera position, especially if you're going to use lighting effects. (Speaking of which, the Bryce landscape you see here is lit by two BIG radial lights ... and it took about three hours to render, even on a quad core!)
The other Big Thing that happened today art-wise, was an experiment. Dave has been playing around with a program called Terragen, which also creates landscapes -- it does it VASTLY differently. It does it much faster than Bryce. You can make terrains in a twinkling by comparison with the work that goes into doing a Bryce terrain...
And we discovered that Terragen will export a Lightwave Object model (.LWO file), and meanwhile (!!) Bryce will import an .LWO file. So:
This mountain lake was done in about 5 minutes flat! The terrain was done in Terragen ... it was exported to the .LWO file format, which was imported into Bryce. Then I applied the materials in Bryce, and made a water plane and told it to be crystal clear, calm and reflective ... and I did a nice Bryce sky (which is the easy part), and did a default-rez render.
Umm ... interesting, isn't it?!
But the thing I promised to talk about (save the best till last) is the TREES. I admit, I did give myself a bit of a panic when I unpacked the Bryce Materials Collection, because they unzipped into .OBP files, and being one step short of a newbie at Bryce, I was scratching my head ... what the heck do you do with an OBP?! Turns out, this is an "object preset," and you don't open them with the program, you install them into the program. You go into your "Create" flyout menu, and click on "user." Basically, a large empty list appears ... you fill it by importing OBP files. Then, when you want to add one of your OBPs to a scene, go Create > User, select your file and click OK. Simple as that! Woof. Got that one figured out. Next?!!
Jade, 26 March
She asked me to guest blog about a new program I just got called Terragen. Terragen Basic is FREE --gotta like that!
I really like Terragen. Why? Well I've been doing 3d work for 8 years now and this is by far the most easy to use, intuitive, simple program out there. It does one certain thing, and it does it VERY well.
What does it do? It makes landscapes. Really nice ones, I must say. I can even export the terrains as a .lwo and import them into Bryce for use there. Handy.
It generates the terrains very quickly, sculpting and modifying tools are easy to use also. You also have control over the cloudscapes, sun, atmospheric conditions, and water.
The very first landscape I made I used default values for the water, sun, clouds, and atmosphere. I just concentrated on the surface mapping, camera placement, and terrain mapping.
This first one took about 2 minutes to make. It then took about 30 minutes to render at high quality on an old P4 with only 1/2 gig of ram. I like to render my 3d images with a fairly high gamma so all the detail comes through and then use Irfanview for the post-production clean-up. Quick, easy, and... FREE!
Just click on the picture to embiggin it to 1200 by 900 and feel free to use it as wallpaper, no worries. It also holds its integrity if you have a widescreen monitor so go ahead and stretch it to whatever dimensions you need.
If anyone is interested in Terragen Basic version 0.9.43 you can download the free version right here and they have both PC and MAC versions. Then have fun and impress your friends with your new, cool landscapes!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Here's a fantasy com to life! It's not so much a scene from The Lord of the Rings as from something like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (and I confess, I can't remember how to spell that). Weirdstone takes place on and around and under moorland, which is how some of today's Bryce work came out. The landscape got me to thinking...
...and I got into a fantasy mood, which sent me right back to amazing realms when I did a bit more in Bryce later on. This is the first time I've "flooded a landscape" in Bryce:
I call this "Morning on the Great River Anduin." I guess it's where the Brandywine meets the sea, as all rivers do, sooner or later.
There's two ways to work in Bryce: you can start out with the ocean, then make a mountain-scape and submerge part of it, till you wind up with an island about the size and shape you wanted. Or you can start out with a "model" terrain and then add a water plane ... in other words, design the landscape -- including the river bed! -- and then flood it. I think I like flooding a landscape, rather than submerging a mountain in an existing ocean. This, I must pursue!
Again, these landscapes have no trees, but that has been fixed!! Thanks to the incredible generosity of a genuine patron of the arts, I was able to go to DAZ 3D this morning, and I got two things. One, the Bryce Content Pack, which is 250MB of textures and maps and stuff, and two, the Foleypro Trees pack, which is going to be fantastic --
I just had to learn how to use them! I gave myself a minor panic when I unpacked the materials and everything arrived as OBP files. What in the (deleted expletive) is an OBP file, and what do you open it with?! Took me a leeetle bit of research and head scratching to get that worked out, and if you're just starting Bryce, and are in a similar fix, join me tomorrow and I'll share the answer!
Make a note to come back tomorrow: "How do I apply an OBP file in Bryce?" All shall be revealed. Turned out to be easy in principle. Just, um complex to set up! By the time I learned how to use the trees, there wasn't enough time to do a proper render ... the River Anduin render took well over an hour to finish up. So -- tomorrow!
Jade, 25 March
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
3D art hits its absolute peak in science fiction and fantasy. Using 3D to simulate everyday reality is a bit of a puzzler ... why would you simulate something you can walk outside and see, and photograph? (Unless you're specifically a 3D artist, and you don't paint or drawn, and 3D is your art form, in which case -- go for it, because 3D is the way you depict all things.) But for most digital artists, 3D is basically one more string to your bow, and it's often (almost always!) easier to work with existing images of real things rather than start juggling 3D models. For instance: you need a picture of a garden, a bench in the garden, and a couple sitting on it? Then, dragoon a couple of your friends into posing on a bench, and do composite work to put the cutout of the figures on the bench into the spot you need in a high-rez image of just the right garden ... and then start painting. The actual appearance of the figures will be very different by the time you're done; your friends won't recognize themselves...
But if you need a series of images of a couple of guys in futuristic costumes, having an argument as they walk out of an airlock ...! It's not as easy to dragoon your pals to go and pose in anything remotely similar to this environment! So 3D comes to the rescue.
This is actually a scene from the next of the HELLGATE books (by Mel Keegan). #5, The Silence of Knives, is well along now. And in it -- without dropping any plot spoilers!! -- Richard Vaurien and Sergei van Donne find themselves weirdly on the same side for a time. Richard doesn't want a bar of it and reads Sergei the riot act as he comes aboard ... "Hey, man, chill," van Donne says, "would I shaft you?" "Yeah, at your first damn' opportunity," Richard says. And he's probably right!
The background for today's renders is another tiny snippet from the Station 3000 model. You're looking at about 5% of the model here -- maybe less. It's a fantastic resource if you need to generate loads and loads of backgrounds:
But I confess that I did chicken out ... I rendered the background I wanted, stripped it in as backdrop image, and added a floor for the characters to stand/walk on. I did this because I'm short of time ... aren't I always? ... and lighting a huge model like Station 3000 (or even a tiny bit of it) is a challenge. I already had 3 lights set up on Richard and Sergei, and being able to generate exactly the right background and just bring it in as a backdrop image, got me through the work of creating these renders in no time.
Richard Vaurien was created by me from the ground up ... Sergei is actually the Remendado character with a few tweaks. They're both wearing Mon Chevalier hair, one set to dark red, the other set to blond. The costuming is a mighty mish-mash from many different clothing sets. The effect is great ... I couldn't be happier, and will be sending these renders to Mel Keegan this afternoon. What's really amazing is that both these models (in fact, everybody you see on the blog) started out as Michael 4.
(And in answer to the person who recently chewed on me for "ripping off Mel Keegan characters," let me just say that Mel is my good friend, these images are done with permission and approval ... I'm MK's long-time cover artist, and nothing on this blog is a ripoff of anything!" If you have any doubts, you know where to find Mel ... go "report me" and ask if this blog is kosher!)
Jade, 24 March
The elven archer is a staple of fantasy -- I'm not even sure it was Tolkien who created the archetype. I think it might have go back to Lord Dunsany ... but don't quote me on that! I'm not sure, but wherever the tradition began, it goes back a loooong way.
It's the way fantasy and 3D art blend together that constantly surprises and delights me. Today I had very little time to do anything except wrestle with work, so art was shoehorned into a few minutes. I've wanted to play "mix and match" for a while. The eleven archer character you see here is the exact same Michael 4 re-design I did for a post back in December, with two differences...
I swapped out the skin map. This elven arches is wearing the Jagger skin map, and the Mon Chevalier hair is set to platinum, which picks up the lights beautifully. Also, I added the jacket, necklace and arm bands from the Hunter costume I got just the other day. The result is really great. I like this a lot.
The other thing I added in is the quiver, with arrows, from the Horizon Redux prop set ... which is actually intended to go along with Victoria 4, but with a lot of pushing and shoving you can just about make it fit Michael 4! And it looks very good.
In fact, I like this version of the elven archer better than the earlier one. I might just come back to this character and do more with him. If you think you recognize the background, you're not going mad -- you're right. I used this in the shots of the Native American too, a few weeks ago. But the lighting is completely different in these images ... believe it or not, I only have two lights set ... both distant lights, one green, one gold, with the deep shadow maps turned on for both. The results were so nice, I stopped right there!
Jade, 23 March
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Bryce 5.5 delivers the classic fantasy landscape ... and I have to say I'm as happy as the proverbial clam. I've just about got the hang of this now -- or enough of the hang to be able to create what I want, how I want it, without too much of a hassle. Don't get me wrong: there's a lot left to learn, but I reckon I know about 35% of what there is to be learned in Bryce 5.5 (Okay, Bryce 6.x is a big step forward, I know ... lemme catch up, first!) and I know for sure, I can create the terrain I want:
The landscape is short of one element: a treeline. Now, Bryce does "do" trees, but the fact is (and you can't get away from it), they're not all that realistic. They're supposed to be used more or less in the distance, and even then they don't look realistic enough to fool you, if you're actually looking at them instead of goggling at the overall landscape and saying, "Cheese, Louise, this is 3D?" Everything in this landscape was designed by myself ... sky, jaggedy mountains, range of hills, foreground plane -- there are actually two ground planes, one with a muddy-rocky material, and the second sitting right on top, with a transparent vegetation layer. With the addition of REALISTIC trees and shrubs, this would look terrific, but I just don't like the vegetation models generated inside Bryce 5.5 (6.x might be different).
There's a solution to this, and one of the items I have in my wish list at DAZ 3D is this:
These will look far superior to any 3D tree created in Bryce, and they can be dotted into the landscape on an ever-stretching Z-coordinate (the distance).
In the meantime, in the DAZ renders which use the Bryce landscape as a background, I used a couple of 3D props to provide foliage in the foreground ... and an incarnation of Michael 4, wearing some of The Hunter costume (not all of it).
Like yesterday, the scene was "led out" by the background ... inspired by it. And I'm pretty darned happy now, because I can create the exact lie of the land I want, and control it to a high enough degree to be able to use my Bryce work as backgrounds. Next: figure out the deeper, more mysterious details, and figure out how to either get the Bryce terrain into DAZ (imported as an OBJ) with high-rez results, or else how to work with DAZ characters inside Bryce. You can do this too, and I suspect I'm about to find out how.
So now our characters can go places and do things ... which is very cool indeed!
Jade, 22 March
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Male fantasy ... what do those words mean to you? A drop-dead gorgeous hunk lying nekkid on a rug? The same hunk in a fantasy setting, exotic as all get-out --? Both?! Join the club: I think, both. And this character is one of my favorites...
Actually, I hadn't intended working with this character again today ... to be perfectly honest, I didn't know what I'd be rendering till I got halfway there! I started in Bryce (I always spend a half hour learning Bryce before returning to the familiar ground of DAZ Studio 3), and I ran an experiment I've been thinking about for a few days...
What sort of results do you get if you marry one of the amazing Bryce skies with a real landscape? The product is always going to be a hybrid, but working with 3D stuff it's almost always the other way around: you tinker with 3D models and then strip in an image as the backdrop ... say, woodland, a hillside, the beach, whatever.
So here, I had a Bryce SKY ... fully designed by me. Now, what? It needed a landscape. Okay ... what kind? I lucked out with a scan of a 4x6 print of one of Mel's photos -- taken in 1997. (The old prints are being digitized to save them. They're literally fading away). So I got this scan into Micrographx and stripped out the boring, boring sky. A gray overcast is pretty typical of the sky in Alaska ... you do get glorious blue-sky days -- I've seen the pictures! -- but not that often. So, I took out the sky and combined the rest of the image ... tundra highlands running away to the Alaska Ranges. (Taking out the overcast sky and replacing it with a bright sky also meant I had to re-saturate the colors and turn up the contrast -- otherwise the land would have looked dull and lifeless.)
This is what I got:
And the color of the foreground reminded me strongly of a series of renders I did back in February. Those pictures were staged against another shot of Mel's, featuring Stampede Trail. So it didn't take any battle of logic to go back to the same idea. But this time around it's the sky that makes the renders extraordinary ... and that's a Bryce sky.
And here's where I am in Bryce today:
More questions answered, more problems solved. I'm getting good at the skies and the oceans. I juuuuust starting to really understand what I'm doing with the terrain models. I figured out how to get veryveryveryvery fine detail on the terrains: make them 20x larger! You make a mountainside and it usually measures about 100x100x100 pixels. Well, get into the parameters editor and change those numbers to 2000x2000x2000 and see what happens. Kazoom! The terrain is suddenly the size of the Himalayas.
In the picture above -- which I call "Last Snows of Spring" -- you're looking at an area about 1%, of half a percent, of the whole terrain. And the fine detail is now pretty acceptable. What I need to figure out now is how to build up layers and layers of materials on a terrain and have them stick, and stay, instead of replacing each other. That's my next assignment...
Jade, 21 March (the Equinox of Autumn)
Friday, March 19, 2010
Bryce 5.5 meets DAZ Studio 3 ... and I like the results! Picking up today where I left off yesterday: it's 10,000 BCE, it's the short arctic summer of the ice age, and a young hunter has gone out to find something to skewer for dinner. The big difference today is that the background in these renders was generated in Bryce...
I worked out how to design skies ... kind of clouds, how many clouds, direction of them, color of them. And how to change the whole color tone of the image. Then I designed two geographical objects -- a range of hills in the distance and a mossy, rocky tundra type surface -- and plunked them right where I wanted them, under that gorgeous sky.
You might be interested to see the actual Bryce landscape, before 3D props and characters were set into/onto it...
Not too shabby for a few days' learning -- but I have a hell of a lot to learn yet before these landscapes are seriously up to snuff. They're better as looooong distance shots. If you have a look at this one, above, at full size (click the pic to get the big version) you'll see that as the terrain gets into closeup (what would be right in front of your feet in real life) you kind of "run out of detail." It gets blocky and geometric. And I knoooow there is a way to set the level of detail, or whatever it's called in Bryce. I just haven't found it yet. Gimme time!
At the moment, though, I'm getting pretty good with configuring skies and oceans:
So that's where I am in Bryce today ... and I was actually about to imagine a landscape and then go into Bryce and make it, for today's render... however. It was NOT imported into DAZ 3D as an OBJ and used as an object. There's more to learn about that, apparently, before I get there. I can export the terrain object as an OBJ file -- no problem. I can also import it into DAZ, no problem. Better yet, it arrives with its materials already applied. But the scale is off, and I need to work out ratios and values and parameters and all that good stuff. Then, I ought to be able to bring the terrain object right into DAZ.
In the meantime, this one is an artistic fake. The backdrop is the Bryce render. The foreground is the "floor" from the Fairy Tale Story cyclorama set. You turn OFF the sky dome and the cyclorama, and the cloud plane, and all the pre-set plants. Then you import your logs, boulders, pebbles, grasses, and get everything arranged to artfully hide the fact the scene's been "staged" rather than "shot on location." Actually, it works out fine, and it is so much easier than fiddling around with the full-on terrain OBJ. Whew!
I love that overcast sky with the low cloudbase and the sun glow...
Jade, 20 March