Thursday, January 20, 2011

Taking Samson for a test-drive ... and choosing the right skinmap for your characters

First, my apologies to all: I've been sick this last week. Again. My health went down the tubes about eight months ago, and I'm just making the best of the situation. You knew this blog hadn't been abandoned or something dramatic ... you knew I was just a lump on the couch under the tartan rug. I'm feeling better today, and here's what I've had on the back turner!

A few months ago DAZ was having a fantastic sale -- one of those crazy sales where it's up to 80% off everything in your cart, so you go through your wishlist and dump in everything you've been dying to get, and generally go broke saving money!

This skinmap was one of the goodies I picked up for about $7, and I'm just now getting the opportunity to take it for a test drive. This is the Samson skinmap, and I like it a lot. Highly recommended.

In the top three images I also loaded up the Samson face morphs, which are pretty good; but in the fourth one, the closeup, I changed to one of my own characters to see what the Samson map would do for him.

Now, this is one of my favorites from among my own characters. I use him a lot, in all kinds of roles -- the first place you saw him was as Achilles, in the "Achilles and Patroclus" humor pieces, where Patroclus was being your typical teenage twerp...

...then the same character showed up in a vast variety of places. I mostly use the Lee skinmap on him, and you can easily identify Lee by the mole on the chin, right under the lower lip. But occasionally I change out the skinmap on Achilles, and every time this is done, the face changes a bit. The Achilles face is very, very distinctive ... also very, very delicate, meaning, it changes a great deal if the brows, eyelids and lips change.

All of which got me to thinking about writing a little bit about how to choose a skinmap for your characters, and how the skinmaps change the face you just worked so hard to create.

Here's the poop, in living color -- and this was uploaded at 100% size, so if you click on this bitty little Blogger thumbnail, you'll see the whole thing...'ll also see that it's not just the face that changes, nor even the skin tones. Skin texture, veins, body hair, nipple color and texture ... the whole thing changes, and this is how changing the skinmap changes the face you just designed. It’s not just the skintones that change.

A skinmap is a faithful reproduction of real, live human body, so you get eyebrows, lip and eyelids that are unique to the gentleman who was imaged. Some models (victims?) have pronounced veins in the arms and chest; others have heavy brows or close to no brows at all. Once you’re finished designing your face and physique, the next critical thing is choosing the right skinmap so that it all comes together properly. Skin tones can always be changed (for instance, Remendado has a golden cast, chase has a pinkish cast, both of which can be enhanced right out of the maps, if you need to do this), but getting in there and painting eyebrows, or painting out veins is probably not something the average 3D artist wants to get into. You can do it ... But since skinmaps are so cheap, why would you want to? So, once you have your character designed, run through your skinmaps and get the right one — hairy or not? Veins or none? Eyebrows? Lip tones? Some skinmaps come with hairy or smooth options, and quite a lot have good sets of tattoos, too, which you can toggle on or off at whim.

NOTE: don’t be concerned at the white specks in some of these skinmaps. This just tells you that in your final render you need to go into the surfaces tab and turn the lighting model to MATTE. The white spots, or flecks, go away — but for the purpose of this test I wanted to change just one thing in each render — the skinmap itself. Nothing else would change.

So where do you get these skinmaps, how much do they cost, and exactly what are they?

You can get them from DAZ, Renderosity or Content Paradise. Almost all work with both DAZ and Poser, but read the Read Me documentation and make sure before you shell out your hard-earned cash. They can cost as must as $29.95, if you buy an Elite map at full price, or as little as $5 if you buy a non-elite map in a sale. $10 - $17 is a great "normal" price range to look for.

What are they? They're sets of JPEG images at ultra-high resolution, which reduce the human body to (and I know it has a high yuck factor) a flayed skin albeit in images. Then this skin is then wrapped around the Michael 4 (etc.) model you're using, and it assumes all the body and head morphs that you set up with your Morphs++.

There are literally hundreds of skinmaps out there, and more are being done all the time, so you might need some recommendations about where to start! All I can do is run down the list of the ones I have, so here goes:

Albane -- albino with red eyes. Great for Halloween shots.
Alexandre - great skinmap, Italian or Spanish ... no genital map is provided, so you'll have to mix and match with another map to get around the dangly bits. Problem with the "fit" of one JPEG with another ... you might have to paint out some seams.
Chase -- a very good northern european skinmap with hairy or shaved options, and a moustache if you prefer the lip caterpillar! The only downside to this one is the extreme thinness of the eyebrows, which might not suit your character -- but if you have the need for this, it's perfect.
Falcon -- Native American; very nice tones, bit heavy on the veins, and you can't turn them off. Several sets of warpaint are provided, which can be turned on and off at whim, and they really are spectacular.
Ferendir -- lovely skinmap, described as "elven" -- body is 100% shaved or waxed etc., and alas no option for body hair is provided. However, there's quite a set of tattoos to play with so you can get some interesting results.
Jagger -- very good skinmap with an olive tone, like a solid suntan. Problem with the "fit" of one JPEG with another ... you might have to paint out some seams in post.
Lee -- the only Elite map I have. Marvellous resolution -- does need to have its lighting model set to MATTE to get rid of the white flecks. The mole on the chin is so unique, it waves a flag saying, "Hi, I'm the Lee skinmap!" So you'll find yourself painting this out in post -- a lot. Otherwise, a beautiful fair skin type, actually Chinese, but looks great on anything from Scandinavian to Celtic!
Marco -- Nice northern European map -- reminds me of a Russian skin type. No need for post work. Some veins, but nothing over the top.
Mario -- Great European-style map with a light tan, good eyebrows which are not too heavy or too light. Chest hair or shaven -- your call. Not fit problems or white fleck problems that I'm aware of.
Matthias -- Beautiful olive skintones, perhaps Mexican in appearance, and great fit. No need for post work.
Samson -- Lovely skinmap -- western European with a dark tan, rather than olive, with great resolution and very nice eyebrows.
Remendado -- Lovely European skin type, with golden tones. Looks a treat on many faces -- the only problem being, the eyebrows are so light, they might not suit your character. You might also need to change the eyeballs for something like The Eyes Have It, because Remendado's eyeballs have a lot of capillaries showing. Bearded and clean shaven options, and some tattoos provided.
Victor -- fantastic Italian or Greek or Mexican type skinmap -- olive, rich tan, no fit problems, no white flecks, and lovely resolution even in extreme closeup. Tattoos to turn on and off at whim. Great eyebrows -- in fact you might find them a little bit too heavy, and if this is the case, switch back to Matthias, which is very similar in many respects and has lighter eyebrows.
Zareb -- lovely African skinmap; several sets of warpaint provided. Beautiful, rich brown tones.

I haven't done a tremendous amount with the Victoria 4 skinmaps yet. I think I have four, and they seem to do the job!

Hope this helped. Remember, guys, I *do* answer questions, and I've thrashed out all but a very few of the answers at this level of DAZ Studio 3. I don't have the processor power to run the Advanced version, much less the Reality render engine, so for the moment -- probably like most of you! -- I'm kind of "stuck" at this level of software complexity and driving it as hard as I know how to get the most out of it. If you have questions -- shoot. If you ask something I can't answer, I'll be like a dog with a bone till I find out! Can't bear unsolved mysteries.

Jade, 21 January

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