Thursday, September 29, 2011

CG storyboards

Long time, no post ... I know! September turned to be the equal of August, in terms of workload, and it's blurred by. Last time I remember looking at the calendar, it was about the 10th, and since then I have no idea what happened...

Well, I do know a couple of things. The Rugby Union World Cup is being played in New Zealand. Dave and I love the sport, so we're watching the games which are telecast (and there's not enough of them; some of the good ones have been bypassed), and in the last week we've organized ourselves an Android tablet, which Dave will enjoy playing with, and which I'll use to test some new "interactive ebook" ideas I've come up with lately.

I might ... mind you, might ... be about to spring something brilliant on you. Stay tuned. If this works out, it will be something new, and something rather special, but I'm the first one to admit that it's a bit early in the project to be sharing too many details. All I need is the time to properly develop this, and the first step is to test out the workability of the format. Hence, the Android tablet. It's a neat little thing, looks like every other tablet you ever saw, including the new color Kindle device (which isn't on sale in Australia, so shopping for one of those isn't even an option). The first thing we need to do is get the aps sorted out -- specifically, the aps to read PDF and epub. It's going to be interesting.

What's the deal with today's renders? Drama. No particular reason. I just felt like working with an athletic young man with a sword. (Let me rephrase that...) Anybody out there remember Duncan McLeod? Note to self: I need to tack down Highlander on dvd. Today's renders are a lot like storyboards, those images used to help a director thrash out the framework of a movie scene, so that he has something to work with when the cast and crew gathers on the set. An artist sweats blood on the concepts, and then the director uses them as inspiration, chucks out the artist's work entirely and obeys his muse, which commands him to do something entirely different.

Here's Michael 4 wearing a face and body morph designed by me, and the Neftis Classic Slick Hair set to red, and Billy T's M4 Real Jeans, and the GA Matthias skinmap. The sword is Merlin's Katana; the set is a great "closed set," the DreamHome Basement, and I have two spotlights and two distant lights on it. No particular messing about with textures and whatnot ... this is just everything "as it comes," to feed the drama...

Here's the scenario: he got a phone call to come to this place, this time, to pick up a package, and when he got there -- well, they're waiting for him, and he kicks himself because he suspected it was a trap all along. Now he'll need to bluff his way out, and it that doesn't work ... it's a very good thing he's a highly-skilled swordsman.

Vignette drama to go. Or is it the prolog to something big? Hmmm...

Jade, 29 September

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Post 600 -- would you believe it?

For Post 600 it had to be something special. Something with the richness of high fantasy, and great beauty, and so forth -- and a piece that took some considerable time, and skill. This one seems to fit the bill. It has an almost classical feel, reminding you of the paintings which were produced in the late nineteenth century, illustrating the collections of Irish mythology which were being compiled at the time, before the stories were lost forever. I'm thinking of the work of Lady Gregory, obviously.

Here's the same piece, recut as a bookcover:

And because we're having a birthday of sorts here ... I have an ebook for you...

MEL KEEGAN: Ballads and Verse, illustrated by Jade. Poet and artist collaborated on a work of beauty, an amalgam of verse and art. Part of the book was released before, for Christmas 2004 ... parts of it have never been seen before. It's a big download! Because of the weight of artwork, the file size is about 12MB -- and we can't compress it any further, guys, because the artwork suffers too mjuch. But it'll be well worth the download. All the verse from the 2004 issue is included, plus the sonnet from The Swordsman and the two long ballads, The Voice of the South Wind, and On the Full Moon of September (always leave 'em chuckling). Here are a couple of screencaptures:

If you can be patient while 12MB comes down to you ... click here to download and -- enjoy!

In the meantime, this guy is well worth a look at full size:

Happy post 600!

Jade, 23 September

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New leathers on a favorite old character

Here's a priceless opportunity to play with one of my favorite characters -- a face and body morph of my own, which I call Leon. If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you surely recognize him! Actually, I was experimenting with a new set of textures ... bought myself a few items on sale at Renderosity this morning, so had some renders processing through in the background while I worked on a paying job in the foreground.

So I persuaded Leon to put on Sickle Yield's Rogue Armory Pants and strut his stuff while I changed the textures over and over. It's the FS Leather 2 pack -- a couple of dozen very different leather textures, high rez and seamless, so they apply very nicely indeed.

The pants prop proves to be problematical when the figure moves into anything remotely like an extreme poses. These are some more poses from the Amazing Bodies set (plus one or two from elsewhere, and some fine tuning along the way). The more extreme the pose, the more the .OBJ tends to warp out of any kind of surface which will accept a texture, so you have to be very careful how you use the prop, and whatever textures. (It also has no morph to create a contour in the crotch ... one wishes it did. A somewhat heroic he-man like this ought to have at least a suggestion of the clan jewels! Yeah, yeah, I could achieve the same effect with the deformer tools, but it's too fiddly to do the job quickly, and I never have time to mess about.)

In fact, in the top picture, to get around the .OBJ warping problem I had to hand-paint the render to get the somewhat poor render characteristics ... but, having said that, zapping on a few strokes in Photoshop and calling it post work, is so easy, it's not really worth a grumble! And yes, I know that the warping is a problem of "conforming" costumes, whereas you can work with "dynamic" costumes and escape the issue ... but I haven't yet shelled out a ton of money for either DAZ Studio 4 Pro/Advanced, or Poser, with its Cloth Room, so the dynamic costuming options are out of reach right now. Eventually, I'll shell out the money -- but a MUCH more powerful computer comes first. I've heard that unless you're running DAZ Studio 4 on a 64 Bit System, it's the proverbial rough trot -- and of course to get into the new Genesis figures, Studio 4 is where it starts and ends. I do intend to come back and post about the new Genesis figures. I know alllll about 'em. I just don't have the hardware to run 'em.

By the time I was done experimenting with the leathers I was on a tea break -- so I took the opportunity to paint up a couple of these to nice effect with the candle glow and some smoke. And the signature piece was fully painted with some zaps and swirls and so forth, and the moon in the sky. Nice.

That's DAZ's Michael 4 wearing my Leon face and body morph, plus the M4 High Rez skinmap and the Midnight Prince hair, set to auburn. The costume is, as I said, Sickle Yield's Rogue Armory pants; the coat is the duster from the M4 Cowboy costume set. All the leather textures are drawn from the FS Leather 2 pack. The set is DM's Kerrick's Throne, with only the building and lamps loaded. The sky was a render I did in Bryce a loooong time ago (never throw anything away), and the trees are several iterations of Merlin's Silver Birch, from the Merlin's Trees pack. The brushes are Ron's Smoke, and Ron's Steam and Smoke.

Next post is #600, and it'll be something special!

Jade, September 20

Friday, September 16, 2011

Paint a watercolor landscape ... from scratch.

Challenge: paint a watercolor landscape ... and do it from scratch, without falling back on a photograph. This is quite a good exercise, if you're learning how to make Photoshop play tunes, because it takes you all over the map in terms of tools. And the good news is, it's dead easy.

The easiest part of the lot is where you're ready to tell Photoshop to apply the filter and make the artwork look like a watercolor, right at the end. That's just a mouse click, really. But you have to have something ready to be converted, and unless you're going to grab a photo and run it through the machinery (which might be convenient, but it ain't clever, and you really do have to ask, "Yes, but is it art?"), well, you'll have to slap the art together first. Right.

And that's where it gets interesting. Before you hit the button to apply the watercolor filter, you want to end up with something like this:

So the next intelligent question is, where the [expletive deleted] do you start?

The first thing to get your head around is working bottom-up, not top down. Imagine your landscape, and ask, "What's the most distant thing in the picture?" The answer is always going to be, the sky. So heres where you start. Set the canvas size in Photoshop ... big enough to work in comfortably, with some elbow room. I used 1500x850 at 100dpi, but you could use something much bigger -- or smaller, if you're on a tablet-size screen.

Pick a color to represent the sky. Bucket fill the canvas, and call this Layer One. Change your ink/paint color to white or pale blue, and load up an .abr brush set of clouds. Plunk at least one or two clouds into the frame, right there on the sky, to give yourself some sensation of it being the sky, otherwise it could just as easily be a big blue product label! You should be looking at something like this now:

And that's Layer One ... the bottom layer, the most distant thing from your eyes.

Now, create a new layer, and be sure you're painting in this one, because you're going to change your paint/ink color to something like a light brown, choose a small brush, set the "softness" to about 80, and actual hand-draw the outline of a hillside, and fill in underneath it with block color. You'll need 90% opacity on the brush, and just ... paint the skyline and full under it.

Then you can choose a darker shade of the same color and swoosh in areas which represent the darker shadows of depressions, little gullies, in the hillside. Then pick a dark green, and load of an .abr brush set of trees, and "stamp" the silhouettes of trees into the distant hillside:

Now, keep in mind, this is ART here, you're not trying to be photo-realistic. That's a completely different technique, which takes about fifty times longer! This project is on its way to being a watercolor painting done from scratch, it's not trying to be a photograph.

And now that you have a hillside and some trees in place, you can go back to the bottom layer and work up the sky with some more clouds, to give it a really nice texture and feel:

And you think to yourself, that's not too bad.

Notice that in the real world, things faaaaar from the camera tend to get pale with distance, because of the sheer volume of air between you and them. This is the simplest example of "atmospherics." It's why massive mountains look blue or purple. Things tend to start to fade into the sky when they're very, very far away. Our hillsides are not so far away -- they're big in the shot, and you can still make out the details (individual trees), so you know these hills are not the size of the Himalayas! But the principle still holds good, and you can get a lot of mileage out of a simple little trick: make background objects in a landscape paler than mid- and foreground objects, and you automatically get the illusion of distance.

Which means it's time to add some mid-ground objects. So make a new layer, choose a darker green and draw in the line of a closer hillside. Fill the body of the hill in, in the dark green, then choose a lighter green and swoosh in the areas of this hillside which would represent the little knolls and crests on the hillside. They're paler because they stand up and catch the sun.

Then you can choose whichever kind of trees suit your landscape, and start to "stamp in" the trees. Use two or three shades of green for these trees -- darker and lighter; and experiment with what looks most striking -- light over dark, dark over light, or dark over light over dark, and so on. Remember, this is ART, you're not trying to be photo-realistic...

Keep going with this stage till you have something which looks "done" ... and this is where your own artist's eye will have to guide you. It's easy to overdo this part of the process and wind up with a murky mess. If this happens, delete the layer, create a new one and go again. You can also use .abr brushes to add a hint of grasses into the nearer hill.

One of the important things to get your head around in artwork is that you shouldn't try to paint every blade of grass, or every leaf on the tree, or every strand of hair on someone's head. To begin with, it's physically impossible to do this; then, it gives a poor result if you try. The same goes for this kind of digital work ... hint at the grasses, don't try to paint the whole thing in.

When you're happy with your mid-ground, it's time to look at the foreground. Close up, you can add overhanging trees, grasses, little plants that pop into frame. The closer things are, the more clearly we can see them. If you notice, trees in the background are not much more than blobs suggesting trees, but right up close you can actually see leaves and individual grass stems. This is what you need to try to achieve in a painting.

Paint your foreground into a new layer...

This is what the single layer will actually look like. Objects floating in space, not making much sense till you view all layers together. (Actually, I've whacked a couple of extra trees into the background on this same layer. They should have been on a lower layer, in fact, but I was hurrying to finish the piece off, because South Africa vs. Fiji, in the Rugby Union World Cup, was coming on TV in about five minutes' time, so ... ahem! I simply forgot to change layers when I added the extra trees to the background. However, you can get away with the occasional small booboo like this, because when you view the whole project all of a piece, it doesn't make any difference at all.)

The last thing I did was to add some birds in the middle of the shot ... why the middle? Because they help to draw the viewer's eye into the picture, and with the lines of the overhanging trees, you're "guiding the eye" into the painting an keeping it there...

And the only thing you need to do now is to go into your Filters menu, and apply the "Watecolor" effect. You need to apply it as little as the settings will allow, with the maximum brush detail you can get, and the effect is...

...nice. Done! Sign that one and call the project complete.

This one is different from the painting I uploaded the other day...

...because the previous one, above, started life as an incredibly simple Bryce render which was used as the bottom layer for a painting. The effect is a lot more realistic than the watercolor, but realism ain't always the result you're looking for. And it's neat to start completely from scratch and work from a blank screen, like a blank sheet of art paper. Ye gods, does anybody remember art paper...?

This painting used Mystikel's Cloud Pack, Designfera's Trees and Forests, Ron's Birds -- and I wish I could tell you what the grass brushes were, but I've gone blank. Am having a senior moment.

Jade, 17 September

Big story in a small space ... without words.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this lot must be worth a whole novella. I don't think I need to add a syllable about the plot unfolding here, so ... add flesh to these bones yourself, right? It's the old, old story, told about a thousand times before, but never quite like this!

I think the last time I saw this story, it was a damsel on a pirate ship, and she ended up First Mate of the vessel, and then shoved the Skipper overboard when no one was looking and remarked on how rough the sea was that day.

What you have here is the "camera one" sequence. You're seeing one character, from one POV, while the scene plays out. There would also be a "camera two" on the characters with whom this young spacer is negotiating, while at gunpoint, and a wide camera on the whole group. These are virtually storyboards for a steamy little science fiction drama played out on a highly detailed, closed set.

And the tale turns out well for the spacer. Get held up and ripped off by space pirates, and, uh, "negotiate" your way out of it, and wind up as a pirate spacer yourself ... with an earring, no less, and the freedom of the ship. Neat. Now, there's a story for you.

One wonders if the skipper of this pirate crew will get shoved out of an airlock when no one's looking, and our young spacer remarks on how unreliable the airlocks on this ship can be at this time of year...

This is DAZ Michael 4 wearing the SAV-Eros skinmap, face morph and Sav-Eros short hair. The costume is Utilitize, lashed up with the SH Hadcore addon textures. The set is Sector 15 by Stonemason. The poses are all adapted from the Amazing Bodies set. The earring is from the Gypsy Hair prop, actually designed for V4, but as with most props, you can make anything fit anyone.

And I just noticed, it's the Equinox of Spring in a few days ... what happened to 2011? It's winding up to summer already, and I've been so busy this year, I've hardly noticed it passing by! Waaaah! I want it back! Not much chance of that, though, so we'll just look forward to 2012, firm in the faith that the Mayan calendar cycles to zero and (duh) resets itself, and starts over. Let's face it -- calendars usually do.

Jade, 16 September

Thursday, September 15, 2011

CG hybrid art in Bryce and Photoshop

Touching base again with something pretty -- to let everyone know I'm still alive, basically. At least, I think I'm still alive. I was, the last time I looked in a mirror and an weird-looking, stressed-out face looked back at me. Life is being obnoxious, with a capital ob. Stuff is happening, and it just won't let up for long enough to let me get my life back together so --

Here is a real, genuine digital painting. The "canvas" was rendered in Bryce, and is simple to the point of looking like it as knocked up in plasticine. This "bottom layer" was shipped into Photoshop and ... painted. Then painted some more. Then finished off with some more painting. Looks like an island on Olympic Peninsula -- it's also uploaded at a good size, if you'd like to see it large.

I've been asked if I'll talk a little bit about how to do this work, and -- sure. It's not terribly difficult, but it's also not "intuitive" as such. It's a lot less clever than a whole lot of artists would like you to think it is, but on the other hand, your own artist's eye is very important, and you do need a few basic techniques that are basic to any kind of art, even crayons and pencils! The good news is, the techniques are also simple.

The other thing I've been asked is, would I render some of my best stuff as wallpapers ... and again, you bet. In fact, I've been asked this several times, so what I'll do, once a week, is go back through some of the old posts, take some of the best, render them up into wallpapers in the most popular or common sizes, and do a post in which a number of links are embedded. You can then download the wallpapers direct from a folder at DreamCraft, which is our own domain, so you know where they came from, and that they're "clean" of any nasty passengers, like viruses.

This is post #596, and ... what in the world am I going to put together, to mark #600?! You might recall, I went through this same searching when I was rolling up to #500. I've glimpsed a couple of ideas in my mind's eye, and I need to get my finger out and work them up, before we get there!

More soon.

Jade, September 15

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Touching base with a barbarian. Let me rephrase that --

Touching base here, and "on the run" as usual ... but this one is well worth a look. CG art -- half 3D and half digital painting. What's painted? The whole backdrop was painted for this piece specifically, and shipped into DAZ. The character and props were posed, lit and rendered, then the finished render was shipped into Photoshop and a lot of painting was done on many parts of it.

Still trying to come up with something awesome for Post #600, which comes up in just five posts' time! I think I glimpse something in the mind's eye that might be up to the challenge ... fantasy art, gorgeous hunk, that kind of thing.

So what's involved in today's piece? That's DAZ's Michael 4 wearing the Yannis Rasta dreadlocks and the Jerome skinmap by Tosca, and a bit of the costume called The Hunter. He's wielding Merlin's Katana, and those are some pieces from a set called The Lost Path by H3D in the background. Lots of painting on everything, after the render ... plus Ron's Birds, and Ron's smoke. Result: very nice indeed! (You can get all these items from Renderosity, including the skinmap, incidentally.)

Sorry to be a bit brief today -- work is piled up on me as usual. But I have some more new 3D toys to play with, and I'll be back very soon with some goodies which will include a couple of male nudes I've been thinking about for at least a week now. Not that one obsesses about these things, you understand, but when a great idea for a digital painting gets into the back of your mind, it's hard to shake. Uh huh.

Also, I've been asked to talk a little bit about the new Genesis figure -- explain that the heck is going on with this ... lots of people are quite confused, and so was I at first. So this is what I'll be talking about tomorrow, and with a bit of luck it'll make sense, or more sense!

Jade, 12 September

Friday, September 9, 2011

New skinmap on an old morph ... what a difference!

In the last week I've been prepping the NARC books to go to Kindle, iBooks, B&N and so forth, and the urge to render Jarrat and Stone again was too much to resist. Here's a few of the most striking renders ... from which episode? None in particular; these are "generic," I guess -- they could be from any of the books. Right now I'm working on Aphelion, which is going through a kid of baptism of fire, being rescued from obsolete software, a process which involves fixing pagination across the entire document, due to a great deal of weirdness which gets in when you take a file that was written in one program, published in another, then opened in a third, and copy/pasted into a fourth! I guess this is one of the alligators you wrestle when you're breathing new life into books that haven't really been available in years, and technology has marched on.

So, yes, the NARC series is on its way to Kindle, iBooks, Barnes & Noble and so forth. You'll be able to curl up with Jarrat and Stone on your iPad, or iPhone, or whatever's your fancy. And part of the process is that I need to rejacket the whole series. Meaning, I need to redesign the "look" for five books. I have a few ideas, and am oscillating between two of them. Stay tuned.


I was doing a job for a client a few weeks ago, and was asked to change the skinmap on a Victoria 4.2 character whose face morphs had been created to specifications, and I warned ahead of time, "Changing the skinmap is going to change the face more than you think." It was difficult to describe how, or why, but the results speak for themselves...

How does changing the skinmap affect the underlying face morph? Well, see for yourself how the face changes...

Here's Neil Travers, from Hellgate, in two versions. On the left, he's wearing the Lee skinmap, which is an "elite" skinmap from DAZ. On the right, he's wearing the SAV-Eros skinmap, and the difference is amazing. The SAV-Eros version of Travers gives a much more realistic appearance, all in all. I bounced these test renders off Mel Keegan, wondering which he'd prefer --

It's not often I go blank when confronted by an observation or suggestion. Mel looked and looked and said, "I like them both a bit ... can you blend them?"

Ummm ... that's a very good question, to which I think the answer is actually no. If anyone out there knows some trick to get a blend of skinmaps, please tell me. I think what I'll do is play around with the lights a little to perhaps drop out some of the gold tones ... you're accustomed to seeing the character looking paler, which is just as Travers is described.

By the by, this is post #594 ... post #600 is coming up soon, and I'd love to do something gorgeous to mark it. Now -- what?!

Jade, 9 September

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Anyone for a stroll in downtown Mos Eisley --?

Just letting you know that if you're looking for the gloriously exotic male nudes, you need to be on the other blog today. In fact, I posted them last evening, but didn't have the opportunity to post here too and let everyone know they were online. So, uh, better late than never, and with all due arm-waving and MALE NUDITY WARNINGS, here's the link ... enjoy!

In all seriousness, that's a gorgeous skinmap (SAV-Eros), and it fits a few of my chatacters beautifully. I'm thinking, I might switch Neil Travers over to this skinmap and see what happens. He's currently wearing the Elite Lee skinmap, which is very good, but I've always had a couple of reservations about it, and I have a real feelng SAV-Eros might be just what I was wanting. This skinmap comes with a very, very good bump map, which you can dial up or down at whim, or as per need. One wishes other skinmaps came with better bump maps -- it's the one map which, in skins, is often overlooked, and and undercooked bump map can make poor ol' Michael 4 look like plastic.

I believe the SAV-Eros bump maps are either mostly or entirely hand painted, and what can I say? Fantastic work, guys! Call this a "model review," if you like -- see here for the post where you see the skinmap at work, or (!) if you don't mind the occasional artistic male nude, click over to the exotic blog and get the whole picture!

Here are some nice renders of that new set I've been talking about in the last couple of days ... they were supposed to be posted yesterday, but (surprise!) I ran right out of time. The set is D'Square, which is from Renderosity, and it's a very, very nice set -- absolutely excellent value at the price, too. It has an almost exotic flavor about it ... it makes me think of "downtown Mos Eisley," the better part of town where the scum and villainy don't hang out! In fact, you can imagine the Millennium Falcon in the sky, departing the Tattooine system with its tail feathers on fire and the local contingent of the Imperial Fleet wondering where it went!

You know, I think I'll try the SAV-Eros skinmap on Neil Travers, and see what happens. This afternoon. See you tomorrow, with the results!

Jade, 7 September
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