Monday, November 29, 2010

Animation. Or thinking about aniamating, at least!


Animation is on my mind right now. Renderosity was having a sale (seems like everyone is having them) and I took a whole bunch of things out of the wishlist and dumped them in the cart ... not quite on a whim. The models were carefully chosen to either add to the NARC video I'm almost ready to work on, or the graphic novel which I'm working on daily --

Speaking of which, Abraxas is updated -- actually it was updated this morning. Here's the link to the beginning of the installment. Four pages today. Enjoy!

But as I began, animation is really on my mind, and I spent a little while at YouTube, looking for two things. One is the theatrical trailer for the movie which was done about 12 years ago now, Final Fantasy II - The Spirits Within. The state of the art in 1998 was already amazing. Check this out:



You notice what's kept to an absolute minimum? Human faces. The digitals were already perfect for machines, skies, landscapes, flame and explosion effects, But you might notice in the few shots of human faces, those faces are, with the exception of the girl at the heary of the story, not as expressive as real human faces.

I read somewhere, a loooong time ago, that a vast amount of the budget of the movie was spent on her hair! They also spent huge amounts of time, budget and processor power on the one character -- so much, in fact, that if they'd tried to give all the characters the same justice, the movie would probably have been in production till 2003!

So, wisely, they put their efforts into doing one character superbly and the lashing up the SPFX around her. Now, fast-forward ten years, and watch this:



...this is not the same as the Final Fantasy video I embedded a few weeks ago. This is a very different mix, with a different music track. The the whole thing pivots on the expressiveness of of the characters -- of whom the boy (is the name Tidus? I don't actually know the game) is by far the more expressive. Allow for the video compression, of course -- and then remind yourself ... this wasn't done for any major motion picture. These were the video clips done to accompany a game.

Phew. CG animation has come a long, long way in the last decade, and you have to wonder where it can, and will, go in the next decade. My personal hope is that there is a continual trickle-down of technology. Right now, the animation I hope to do is a mix of the "cunningly devious," the simple and the damn' hard work. It's all going to have to be keyframed, because that's what I have to work with. It'll also have to be within the rendering capacity of the two machines we have on the desktop. Ten years from now, what will we be able to do on the desktop? One lives in hopes...

And -- with somewhat baited breath! -- I'm just about to give it a shot and see what's doable.

Jade, 30 November

The classic male form, nude and wreathed in light



Just a grab bag of images today -- some pretty spectacular stuff, but nothing that follows a single theme. I was "painting with light" again. I wanted the absolutely classical male form, and this is close to it. Beautiful. The body morphology reminds you of the young Ron Ely. Now, don't you dare tell me you don't know who Ron Ely is! Even if you weren't born in 1968, that's no excuse ... well, maybe a little one. But only a little one.

Today I was working on the next round of sets for the graphic novel. I got two out of four designed. One is more of a backdrop -- you're only going to see it in a couple of shots...

I'd love to tell you that was done in Bryce or Vue, but in fact it's a GIMP composit. That's a Bryce sky sure enough, but the background is taken from one photo and the hillside is taken from another photo, and then there was a whale of a lot of painting done over the top. The first thing I had to do was take out the power lines and the highway! In the end, almost all of it was painted -- it's far more painting than photo composit. I longed to do this in Bryce, but it was one of those days when the splitting headache was never going to quit, and Bryce takes a lot of concentration. Too much when you just plain can't think properly.

Second set: the city gates...

...and the beginnings of a crowd scene. DAZ was having a terrific sale a while ago, and I got the Castle Creator kit. It's a huge set of standing props with which you could build anything from a lonely keep standing on a high moor (now, there's a thought...) to Camelot with turrets and spires everywhere. I'm very impressed with this set.

Everything you see in this shot was done with the standing props -- and in fact you can only see half of them. I built a good bit of the town, enough to drive the camera in and shoot it from the middle looking out. Then -- three figures too, to give it the look of a place that's a real human settlement. The good news is that when the figures are small with distance, they render like greased lightning, so it turns out I can do a crowd scene. This is great news, because several of the upcoming chapters will involve places where you'd expect to see people.

The last thing was a line of smoke from the chimney there, and some birds in the sky. GIMP again. I really do like GIMP for the fact it's free and versatile, but at least when it's running on Vista it is sooooo unstable. It loves to crash. Does anyone know if it runs better on Windows 7? I can run it on my laptop, in a pinch -- the screen is only 15" though, which will be a bit like stuffing a camel through the eye of a needle. With eyesight like mine I need the big screens.

And yes, I would be using Photoshop Elements, if it didn't cost $149! I was looking at Corel Painter today ... whoa. And that one is $700. So I think I'll stick with GIMP and try it on Windows 7, on the laptop!

Oh -- Abraxas was updated as always, three new pages. Here's your link to the beginning of the episode. Getting close to the end of Chapter Four now, so it's a goods thing I'm working on Chapters Eight and Nine.

Am also experimenting with different ways of actually writing the graphic novel, and it's starting to look more and more like a movie script. Which is kind of cool when you think about it.

And that's about it for today. I want to thank the folks who are reading Abraxas regularly ... I have never seen a blog's traffic rocket up so fast! I hope -- fervently -- that I'm doing something extremely right, and that readers are enjoying it. Because I'm getting a huge kick out of doing it! Thanks, all.

Jade, 29 November

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Posting everywhere but here ... except for this...

This is the "posting to the other blogs today" post -- and I'm actually posted twice, once to the Exotic blog, and the other time to the Abraxas graphic novel. In fact ...

The next installment to Abraxas went up early(ish) this morning, though it's taken me the rest of the day to catch up with the art to bring this up to date! I spent a lot of time wrasslin' with the 3DLight render engine, which is the default DAZ engine, and which is giving me a lot of strife. I guess I've reached the point where I'm trying to do things with it that, frankly, it won't do because it probably wasn't designed to to that stuff. Low light conditions give you horrific mottled gray grain in the skintones. So you crank up the lights to get rid of the grain, and you lose the beautiful low-light conditions you were trying for. Anyway --

Here is the link to the beginning of the new Abraxas installment...

And I'm about to post the "proper" renders of these male nudes:


And obviously they have to be on the other blog, because DAZ's Michael 4 appears to have taken a vacation in Pompeii, sometime before 70AD (!), and someone has made off with his jeans. So give me a few minutes to get the other blog updated, and like the man said in the movie, "I'll be back," and will update this with the link! UPDATE: here's your link, and --!!!! -- beware, dangly bits. Nude art. Male nude art. Full monty. Real deal. Consider yourself warned and all that.

Jade, November 28

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Screamin' Science Fiction ... Jane Russell on Steroids (or, fourteen year olds making laundry)


Sorry guys, I just couldn't resist. Classic erotic science fiction of yesteryear is the (fairy) godfather of the works of Boris and Julie which are titillating today's fourteen year olds (and making a bunch of laundry), but if you think we invented the genre -- nope. Sorry. Anyway -- I felt like being a bit silly today, and why not? Here's the art without the overlays:

And this was the sensible, conservative one! After this I thought, hey, let's get really silly. You want Jane Russell on steroids? (And for those of you who don't know who Jane Russell is ... for godsakes find out before you get any older!)


There you go, Jane Russell on steroids, as depicted by some ancestor of Boris's, for the 1949 edition of Screamin' Science Fiction.

Just kidding, folks. It's the warrior maiden I rendered seriously yesterday, with a new backdrop painted in GIMP with Ron's Bokeh brushes. I just ... attenuated a couple of the, uh, extremities. Didn't even have to reset the lights. And you know me when it comes to laying out magazines and paperbacks. I love doing it. I do the whole job in Serif, which makes it huge fun.

Before I go, a service message: Abaxas is updated with three new pages. Here's the link to go to the beginning of the update. Incidentally, we're off to a great start with the serial, with over 400 pageloads today ... which is not too shabby for a site that has been open for five days!

In case you're wondering, I made myself useful the other day. Sat down and drafted out the first 25 chapters (or about 150pp), which is about half the story as I understand it at this time.

Also, one of my favorite 3D model haunts, Content Paradise (which is the model emporium belonging to Smith-Micro, the company behind Poser) was having a Black Friday Sale -- 600% off everything for 24 hours. So I shot straight over there and got loads of the things I've been needing to stage the coming episodes. There's tons of stuff you never saw before. Tomorrow, I'll be doing the next chapter, but I'll be doing it directly from the script to the graphic novel format, no narrative format in between. These pages are not due to be up on the Abraxas site for another three weeks, because I'm posting 2-3 pages per day, but yes, I'll give a sneak preview on the blog here, for the folks who have been following the story for a month or more. You shouldn't have to wait...

Jade, 28 November

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Warrior Maiden


Happy Thanksgiving to all my American visitors! Just touching base with you here, actually ... am pretty sick at the moment, and haven't had the time to do much of anything for a couple of days. This here is Beryl. One of three twin sisters, Beryl, Bertha and Beulah. Warrior maidens ... at least in the mind of some fourteen year old male who has the idea that 1) voluptuous women bounce off to battle mostly naked, and 2) voluptuous women remain maidens for long enough to bounce off to battle done up any way at all.

Just one piece today, because it took several centuries to get this render. It's raytraced, and each render takes forever, even with a fast machine. Then you discover that the lights are too bright, or not bright enough, or in the wrong places, etc., and 25 mins. through yet another render you cancel out of it and start again.

This one is a real Boris girl. I'll do some more renders featuring Beryl -- probably tomorrow, now I've got the whole thing set up.

Oh -- and just so's you know, Abraxas is updated with three new pages:


Click here to go to the beginning of today's episode. And I've also made a decision: as the story unfolds, it'll be unfolding in graphic novel form -- in other words, you won't see the narrative versions on this blog anymore, though I will give a sneak preview when each new bit is posted. Some of the artwork is very, very spectacular...

More tomorrow. Must go and take a pill now. Or something.

Jade, 26 November

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New episode online...

Just a a service message for folks who are following Abraxas (and I'm astonished by how many, already ... thank you, thank you, people). The next episode is online ... coming up to the end of Chapter Three, starting Chapter Four tomorrow. Click here to go to the beginning of today's episode, and thanks so much for viewing!

For those of you who have asked, "What does Leon look like with his hair down, and how are you going to do that in the CG art?" I was wondering about that myself, and then I hit on this:

That has absolutely no post work at all ... and for Leon, I don't mind doing some port work. The only "problem" is that my old mouse pen doesn't function properly -- something to do with drivers. I need to get a new pen before I can do this kind of work well, and have you seen the price of them?! It's not going to happen for a while, so the post-work I can do on things like hair (or horses' manes and tails) will be a bit limited. Suffice to say, will do my best while waiting and saving for a mouse pen.

But yes, I've worked out the way to have Leon untie his hair and shake it out. Have done some renders along these lines, to test it out ... by candlelight. [sound of sighing] All this belongs in Chapter Nine. Umm ... stay tuned, right? More -- hopefully later today, but I gotta see the doctor in an hour, so it depends how rough I feel when I get home.

Jade, 24 November

Monday, November 22, 2010

Creating character body morphs in DAZ Studio 3

As promised, here's the companion feature -- or continuation of the feature -- where we created a new, unique Michael 4 character, starting with the "doll" right out of the box. In the last segment we created the face from scratch. In this one, we're going to work on the body, and we'll wind up with the stunning creature you see striking a pose above! In fact, this one is such a stunner I went on and did a male nude glamour shoot with him, which will be posted to the Exotic blog in about an hour. Stay tuned.

Okay, so let's get started! First, return to the file where you were working on the face and back the camera off so you can see the whole body...

This is the doll, just as it loads. The only thing it's had done to it is, the JM Alexander skinmap (hairy ... default) is loaded, and I put a pair of Speedoes on him for the sake of modesty. Also, on this blog I won't be talking about how to load up and configure the dangly bits. That would be inappropriate for a blog where the faint of heart are known to tread, albeit infrequentlly

The first thing to notice is that when you select the M4 model, the Morphs++ menu opens up on the right side of your screen. These morphs are the familiar slider bar controls that give you absolute control over virtually everything.

Let's be silly before we get clever. Lets' grab the "whole body" slider controls and drag them as far as they'll go, see what happens:

Instant Incredible Hulk. How did a shaved gorilla get in here? Thank gods for the UNDO icon! So when you've seen how far you can push everything, undo the whole thing and get back to the M4 doll. Now, start with the full-body morphs and adjust them delicately to get a nice balance of body morphology...

NOTE: all the screencaps in this tutorial are uploaded at 1:1 size, so you can click to open them and see exactly where I dragged the controls. You can read the percentages off the images, if you wanted to absolutely duplicate this bod!

Now, this is a bit more like it. He looks like an athlete, really toned. Now you can get into the minor adjustments. This is the point where the visual changes can be rather subtle. You might have to look twice to see the difference, but in the one below I've been working on the arms and shoulders...

This is closer to what I had in mind when I started, so it's time to turn him around and organize the kind of bubble butt that makes it into the magazines:


So far, so good. I "turned off" the Speedoes so you can see the effect. You have the morphs to change the size and shape of the glutes, the flex and tension on them. I also changed the width of the hips and the amount of "love handles" he's carrying. This is starting to look really good, so -- "turn on" the Speedoes and turn him back around:

Starting to look very nice indeed. Starting to get that "bombshell model" look about him ... so, on a whim I decided to change the skinmap. It's still JM Alexander, but I switched to the "shaved" option. Models are always depilated:

At this point, it's also worth rendering one and seeing what the overall effect is. I don't have any lights set in this render. I have gone into the Surfaces tab and turned the "lighting model" to MATTE on both the M4 and the Speedoes. If you don't turn the skinmap's lighting model to MATTE, almost all of them get white blotches. And when the skinmap's lighting model has been changed this way, you also have to change the lighting model on the costume, or it'll shine like patent leather, which looks unrealistic.

Now, when you set the lighting models to MATTE, and you don't have any lights set up on the character, your first render will probably look dull, even lifeless. Don't worry about it -- this will come back to life when you set up your lights.

And now it's time to get "up close and personal." I won't be working below the belt in this feature, for obvious reasons, but unless you're happy with the generic chest, it's time to work on that, and you will find that you have control of everything. And I mean, everything.

The results are good enough now to set up some photo lights and render a proper one. Pose the model, put a slightly provocative expression on that angular, unique face we created last time, and here you are...
Set the background to black, render this properly, and save the render. Now you're cooking, and this model is absolutely unique:


So lets' see what we can do with him, in the photographic sense. Add a prop and a couple extra lights, turn him around so we wind up with a render we can display here ... lose the Speedoes (again) and render this:

Want more?! There's more, but not on this blog, folks. The rest of the images are MALE NUDE GLAMOUR SHOTS!!! There, was that loud and obnoxious enough? On that understanding, here's the link, and ... enjoy!

Jade, 23 November

Updates

ABRAXAS is updated with three pages for today ... click here to go to the beginning of the installment.

Join me later: I'm going to continue the character creation feature -- we'll go ahead and give this guy a unique body to go with his unique face:
He reminds me of a surfer dude, so let's follow that idea and make him something like one of those Coolangatta Gold athletes. This'll be interesting!

Jade, 23 November

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My 2010 Christmas Card to Bookshelf folk ... and dancing with the iPad

Am so pleased with this, I decided to post it "on the fly" ... I know it's a bit early for Christmas cards, but you always get your designs done weeks early. This one is my card to GLBT Bookshelf members, and it's cut into two forms to suit both places it'll be used. Here's the other:Christmas this year, I just couldn't resist using the characters from the new graphic novel ... I guess I'm a bit newfangled with them because they're mine, all mine, as is the story which is unfolding in the pages. Like this:The new blog is looking so pretty. I was asked why I set it up using a Blogger template, not one of the comic publishing templates. The reason is because the comic art templates don't give me enough control over the size and shape of the panels and pages being uploaded. Blogger lets you do virtually anything you want -- if (and it's a big if) you don't just try to upload the pages direct to Blogger itself, which means they go into your Picasa album, and the system auto-resizes them, which is a nuisance, because it makes the text unreadable.

The pages I'm using for the graphic novel are very carefully and deliberately designed to fit the new tablet screens ... such as the iPad. You can see where I'm going with this. Graphic novels packaged and marketed for the iPad and its clones, some of which are due out in 2011 and will be less than half the price, could be the way of fiction in the future.

So I did some research. Not being able to afford an iPad, I read reviews of it, and visited Apple's page. They sent me to the Marvel Comics application page, where they did a little demo of what the Iron Man comic looks like on the iPad. (Not bad, actually.) That page sent me to Marvel Comics's own site, where they were showing off their best digital stuff, and I was invited to read the new digital Iron Man comic, issue 1 online for free .. so I did. I was also smart enough to measure their pages as displayed, because (duh) these are the pages which have been hand-crafted by professionals to fit the iPad like a glove. So all I had to do was measure their display images an image being a page), and I was home and dried.

Hence, the size and shape of the Abraxas pages, which can be zipped into an epub and displayed on the iPad or similar, at whim. Smarter than the average, right?!

That's where I am right now ... and alas I have to rush off back to work now. I do have some guy candy you're going to like, but I won't have time to upload it today. Join me tomorrow for something which will give you a smile.

Jade, 21 November

New episode is up...

ABRAXAS is updated ... just so you know. Click here for the latest episode online, and thanks for viewing! (Behind the scenes, I'm working on Chapter Eight, while we're in Chapter Three online, and if you're starting the story, you need the beginning of it, and this will take you there.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Creating character faces in DAZ Studio 3 (tutorial)

As always, start and the end ...! This is the finished face, all done, looking sun-kissed, seductive, like a surfer-dude who just walked off a beach, still tasting of the sea. Very, very nice! It'd be even nicer if you could just click on a button and buy the whole thing, but as I often say in these posts, "Sorry guys, you can't buy him anywhere, he's one of mine.

The other day I promised to do a post talking you through the HOW of this, so you can make your own ... and here we are. Now, you can't do this without the Morphs++ for Michael 4, and if you don't have this, you'll have to get it. There's no other way. If you do go ahead and get the Morphs++, I would be inordinately grateful if you'd start from the DAZ banner on the left of this screen. That is an affiliate link, and they do pay me a small percentage when someone makes a purchase starting from a link on my page, and like everyone else these days, heck, I could use the bucks! So do keep this in mind as you read on down.

So let's get started!

This is Michael 4, fresh out of the box. All I've done to start with is add the high rez skinmap, so that you have a clear face to start working with. Notice the bounding box around the head. I've selected his head ... and when you do this, you notice the Morphs++ menu opens up on the right of your screen. Now you're all set to change, well, everything.
You can start the easy way. They give you about a dozen presets to play with, with names like Allan and Daryl and George and Randy. Each one of these is a distinct genetic type, so by choosing a slider bar and pulling it left and right, you can change the ethnicity of your character. I've jiggled almost all of them to achieve this current face! They "nest" or "stack" the characteristics of any of the slider bars, so you can go a long way on this alone. You might easily get something you like enough to save it and call it good. But...


I wanted more, so I kept on going. Underneath the ethnic slider bars in the Morphs++ menu are the ones that control things like the fullness of the face, the flatness of it, the roundness of it. Once again, it's all about adjusting slider bars will you start to see something you like...
When you've gotten yourself into the ballpark with these simple controls, it's time to start the fine-tuning process. Under the "Full Head and Face" menu, which you've been using so far, you'll find very special sub-menus: Upper Face, Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Lower Face, Upper Face ... which means exactly what you think it means!

Now you go to work making his eyes slant, making them larger or smaller, closer together or wider apart, deeper, not so deep ... change the skinfold, the arch of the brows. Anything. Everything. When you start you see a face you like, make sure you save it! One crash, and you lose a lot of work, and it kills you when you can never, never get back to exactly the face you had. It's practically impossible to duplicate the work.


When you get to this level of adjustments, they're often so subtle you have to look twice to see them. In the image above, I've been working on his mouth. This is the only part of the model which has changed, and you can only really see it in the upper lip. But it took about 20 minor adjustments of the slider bars to get just this effect...


Now it's his nose and cheeks ... I sank his cheeks to an extent that looked right with this skinmap, and prior to lighting and rendering ... at the end, you'll notice I un-sunk his cheeks a lot to fill out his face. Be prepared to keep adjusting every time you do things like --
Add a toupee and a set of custom eyeballs. The effect putting hair on him makes is enormous. (This hair is Neftis's Rock Star Hair -- from DAZ, and available via the same affiliate link as above, hint, hint.) A hairdo can make the eyes seem too deep, the nose too small, the skintone wrong. And the easiest way to tell if the dynamic of the face us working -- or not -- is to render one here:
That's not too bad. Notice in the left side, I have my custom eyeball set open! That's The Eyes Have It (also from DAZ ... ditto the affiliate link; thanks, guys)
Now, we're cooking. But I'm looking at that skinmap (which is the M4 High Rez skinmap), and thinking, "Hmmm. What would he look like with another skinmap?" This is just an experiment, you don't have to do this. Be aware that when you change the skinmap you really, really change the way the character looks! It can be a shock. It's not just draping a new texture on the same face ... well, it is, but it makes a much bigger difference than you expect:
And the third one is just about perfect. See how the set of the eyes changed? The brow became heavier, which suits this rawboned face. This is the JM Alexander skinmap, and of course when you fit the map it also automatically sets its own set of eyeballs...
The JM Alexander eyeballs are nice, but The Eyes Have It are specifically, and only, eyeballs, so they designer's heart and soul went into the creation of nothing but eyes. It therefore stands to reason that they're superior. So...
At the same time, I decided that this surfer-dude needs longer hair, and it ought to look a bit windblown. You do this by using the morphs provided with the hairdo which you purchased, installed, and slapped onto your character. Hmmm ... very nice. Almost there. The only thing is, now it's all come together with the right skinmap, hair and all -- and not what the photographic lights are set as if this were a studio shoot, those cheeks are too sunken. So...
I go back into my Lower Face morphs and unsink them. The last thing I do is give the character a name, and save it. You can save him in a master file, and just import him into any new scene where you want him to appear; or you can also save him as a Character Preset. This saves to a .dsb file, and you don't open this, or load it, you merge it onto an existing Michael 4. During the merge, all the facial characteristics load onto the M4 "doll," and if you've given him a special physique, this also loads -- the .dsb character preset will also load the skinmap and eyes. The only thing you need to do after merging it is add a hairstyle, and you're done.

And there you are ... go ahead and make your own character faces. It's a load of fun, and you get unique characters with your own personal mark of creativity on them. Enjoy!

UPDATE: it seemed like a great idea to continue with this character and create the whole body. If you'd like to see the genesis of a whole new guy, click here ... and he turned out so well, I also did a Male Nude Glamour shoot with him. Find the link to that post in the second half of this tutorial!

Jade, 21 November

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