Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year, 2011!

If I want to sign something "2011" ... I better hurry! I have a little over two hours, and then I won't be able to sign anything "2011" ever again (unless I make a typo -- and I've done that, as well!) ... so...

Here's what I was dabbling with in the early evening. Bryce 7.0 Pro actually works on my new computer! I can't believe it. It actually works! The mountainscape was done in Bryce and given a tiny little bit of Photoshop enhancement after the fact. The render took about three minutes. The wolf is another story --

I bought this model about a year ago, and -- like the Allied Fleets Destroyer -- I found I couldn't load it properly. It has the wolf body as one model, and the fur as a second model which overlays the first. Sure, I cold load the body. But, the fur? Hundreds of thousands of polygons. Not a chance. But I loaded it up this evening ... and then added trees and grasses (which take a heck of a lot of rendering on their own). Then, having already done the implausible, I asked for the impossible: I set it to raytrace.

This one took about a half hour. The old computer wouldn't even load the wolf's fur, and it would have taken over two hours, maybe three, to raytrace the trees. Whew!

Have uploaded these are 1000 pixels wide, so you can see the details. Please do take a look.

And now ... Happy new Year to all. It's about 10:00pm here, on the other side of the dateline. The fireworks are already going off, I'm listening to them -- and I'm looking at 2012 as a reality. Ye gods and little fishes, as my Irish granny used to say, what happened to 2011?!

See you next year...

Jade, December 31

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Playing happily in DAZ and Photoshop

Click on the wee little image to see this at full size. Please do!!

Playing happily ... deliriously, in fact. Trying to see what the new computer won't do ... and so far, I haven't found a darned thing it doesn't do, lickety-split. This render, above, was done at over 1100 pixels wide, with about 10 lights set, and textures and refractions and ... the works. The old computer would have taken around two hours to render it. This one? Seven minutes. So I was able to do more than two dozen test renders, to figure out what was right, what was wrong, and fix it all up before getting into Photoshop and doing the overpainting...

Speaking of Photoshop and painting: I reckon I've learned more since Boxing Day than I learned in the last four or five months. Seriously. The old computer was like this: click to load up an .abr brush set, and then pick up a book to kill the time it took the set to load. Uh huh. Now? Hee hee hee!

Check this out -- in fact, check it out at full size, and see the details. This one was deliberately rendered flat in DAZ, and then shipped into Photoshop to go through a ten-layer process, which brings it up like a digital painting -- something like gauche or acrylic, or a mix of both (which is something I used to like doing in the wild, woolly and far off days when I painted with (urk) a paintbrush). Here it is... 

And that's not all. I tried my hand at painting the texture map for a gas giant like Jupiter:

The planet is a sphere generated in Bryce 7.0 Pro and exported, then imported into DAZ to be fixed up with its hand-painted texture, and lit. It took about as long to do as this description is taking to write. So, nothing daunted, I decided to stretch the frame into Cinemascope and add a spacecraft on approach to this giant world...

One of the enormous plus factors of the new machine is that I can now get BIG renders. I used to be rendering in a keyhole, in order to get something under an hour or two, and to get through a complex raytrace without the computer falling on its face (or butt. Whichever). But now ... well, here's an outtake from today's leading shot -- just in case you didn't click on it to see it at large size, and enjoy the details. You have got to see this:

Since the render is BIG, the details don't get compressed into less space than the average carbon atom. Look at the texture in his hands and ... so on! This is one of my faces and body morphs (in other words, I designed the face and body...) but he's wearing the Falcon skinmap and the Akasta hair, and the pale green eyes from the Eyes Have It pack of eye textures. 

Is there a story behind this image? If you like. And you decide which scenario you like the best. Is this the warrior after a long, hard day at the wars, who's inviting the courtesan or the body slave to come play? Or is this the courtesan or the body slave, who's been waiting at home for the warrior to get his butt back from the wars, and come play? That, I leave up to you!

There's a downside to all this, though. Have been sitting in front of the new machine (known as Thor on the home network, until I'm juuuuust starting to forget what my legs are for. I feel my backside going flat and square. And I'm starting to really, really neglect the work that's piling up around me, demanding to be done. Well, it's the holidays -- I'm taking time off, right? But I have to get back to work in a couple of days. Rats. 

Jade, 30 December (yikes, one day left of 2011!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's a lot like having a Tardis of ones's own!

(Click to see these at full size, about 1000 pixels wide)

I guess there were two reasons I neglected this blog for a lot of 2012 -- and they were both interconnected. Anyone who's been glancing at the text of these posts knows how my life went ballistic and spare time flew away like a swarm of bugs. That was the basic reason for me not being able to post -- but it's a lot more complex. Having maybe half an hour going spare, over coffee, in which to do some artwork is one thing ... having a computer that can do something significant in half an hour is something else!

The truth is, in 30 minutes on a struggling computer, you can only get very "ordinary" art. Very average. And as you get more skilled at this stuff, the results you can achieve in such a short time start to get disappointing. So, in the end, you might waffle on with a piece of art and then actually abandon it, because what you were able to do was never going to match what was in your imagination, and then time ran out, and you have to race back to work...

But here's the thing of it: change one parameter there, and the whole picture changes. Umm ... change the computer! The classic fantasy painting in today's post, is a good example. It started life as a complex render filled with textures and reflections and displacement thingies and mapping whatsits. Render time? Just over two minutes. Then, into Photoshop to go through a process involving about eight layers of stuff to come up with this:

... the eye is utterly, completely fooled. You can see how it was painted for cripesakes! You can see how the paint was laid on the illustration board, you can see how a hog bristle brush slapped the texture onto the columns, and which way the brush strokes are going, in the skintones. You can see the last faint trace of the outline sketch, juuuuust showing through the paint, from where the original drawing was transferred to the board. Right?

Wrong. Sorry. The whole thing, from render to Photoshop composit, took about 45 minutes flat. It's all a trick of texture and overlay values. I wish I could tell you it took 40 hours to paint, but that would be a BFF (Big Fat Fib).   

The other render for today is a "frame from the motion picture" type piece of true 3D creation. A few days ago, my computer would have strangled, choked, and hung up, if I asked it to render this. Three trees, vines, grasses, textures on everything, opacity maps, reflections on this, refractions on that, maps everywhere ... half a dozen lights, and then (ulp!) raytacing. If the old machine had somehow managed to render this, it would have taken around three hours to finish up. Render time on this one? Eleven minutes

There is no substitute for processer power! Here's another spin on the movie-frame piece ... this one hasn't been processed to look like a painting, but I've played with the hues and saturation, to get an "illustration" quality rather than something that's actually pretty close to photographic:

Long story short ... what can be done, now, in a rather short space of time, is very significant indeed. Bottom line ... I won't be neglecting this blog quite so much! And the images that have been locked up inside my imagination, trying to batter their way out and not succeeding, will start to see light of day!

Jade, 29 December (rapidly running out of 2011)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Six impossible things ... and it's not even breakfast time yet!

Further adventures in the realm of what was utterly impossible a few days ago! The new computer (known to the local area network as Thor), is just amazing. (Click on the small images to see them at 1000  x 800, in whatever axis.)  

In the first picture, topmost for today ... the big ship is the Allied Fleets Destroyer, which you can get from Renderosity for around $30. I bought it about a year ago, and discovered to my chagrin, I couldn't load it into DAZ. It had too many polygons for my old computer to handle it! I could render it in Bryce, but anyone who knows Bryce's interface knows how [chain of deleted expletives] difficult it is to work with textures and maps in Bryce. It was a good thing that the designer had included a "lite" version of the model for the benefit of folks whose hardware didn't make the cut ... and this is what I've been working with -- the lite version, in which a lot was stripped and a lot more was simplified...

So today I decided to load up the Destroyer ... the full version ... and see what happened.

It loaded in seconds. It was also the second spacecraft I'd loaded into the frame. I tricked it out with a new set of textures I just acquired (they were actually free content included on the disk with ImagineFX a few months ago; actually, a set of metal surfaces ... and they look perfect on this big ship). I set up numerous lights and did a render ... fast! Then I set the shadows ... almost as fast. Then I raytraced the whole thing --

The raytraced render took 10 seconds. And this is a model that the old machine wouldn't even load! Then I shipped the finished render into Photoshop and completed the shot with light effects ... not the window lights, or cabin lights, though. In the proper version of the Destroyer, these load with the model. Wow!

The second render shows the results of me playing around with bump and displacement maps on the skin of the model. Sure, there's lots of displacement mapping on the shirt too, but on this one, there's also displacement mapping on his skin. You'd have to see it full size to get the details ... you can literally see the prints in the palms of his hands.  It's true that I could have gotten this performance out of the old computer -- but. The truth is that a render took so long that by the time I had the lights set up properly and everything juuuust right, there was never going to be time to start over, messing about with bump maps on the skin! It took about 30 test renders to get this one right; however, at about 10 seconds per render, or less, it was no problem. So it's dawning on me that from here on, I can pay attention to all those little details that used to get overlooked when I was simply out of time.

Am I happy? I'm thanking my husband again here ... massively, vastly, hugely. 

Jade, December 28 (Proclamation Day in SA)

It was under the Christmas tree, and I'm still astonished!

Can't remember the last time I was so completely gobsmacked. It was under the Christmas tree. And I didn't even suspect it till I was halfway through ripping the wrapping paper off the box, and then it was the weight that tipped me off  ... it has FOUR massively powerful processors that are threaded to produce a virtual eight-core, or octocore, or whatever they're calling it. It has TWO terabytes, of internal storage, additional to the boot drive. It has 8Gb of ram, which I can blow out to 33Gb, if I need to. It has a 22-spin dual layer DVD burner...

Omigod. It's screamingly fast, when doing the work that used to make my previous computer have a hernia (supposing it would even try to do these jobs -- which sometimes it wouldn't). It's rendering in less than one tenth of the time -- which gives me the opportunity to finish pieces that would have been abandoned before.

Take the first of today's uploads: lighting it was a nightmare. I could. not. light. it. I don't know what was going on, but nothing I did was getting results I liked ... I went through better than 60 test renders to figure a way through the labyrinth. Now, on the old computer, each test render would have taken maybe 8-10 minutes. In other words, the piece would have been abandoned, because there wasn't enough time to find the answer! On this computer? Oomph. Each render took less than a minute. The lights still drove me nuts -- I still set up, and dumped, four different suites of custom lighting, before I got it working. But it was doable!

Incidentally, click to see these at full size ... check out that floor. I made the texture, and the displacement map, myself, on the fly. Look at those floorboards! The orb was handpainted in Photoshop...

Then, look at the detailing on the Palenque Ruins render. That one is raytraced at biiiig size, with the bump mapping turned up sky high, and trees and grass and and shadows, the works. Very little was done to this in Photoshop after the fact. Just a few extra grasses and some birds in the sky. The rest is all right there in the 3D work. Render time on the old machine would have been about 3 hours. On this machine? 11.5 minutes.

I want to thank my husband huuuugely, massively, copiously, for this. I honestly, seriously, didn't have any clue what was going on till the wrapping paper was halfway off the box, and I felt the weight. There's something about the weight of a CPU that tells you what it is, even before the box is open. (This one was a custom build, by the techs at IT Warehouse, who were told the work I'm doing. I call it Thor. The previous one was Ajax. The one before was Achilles. The laptop is Pandora. The previous laptop was Hera ... whimsical, I know).

Thank you, thank you!!!!

So now I'm getting excited about all the things I've never been able to even attempt in 3D. Stuff like smog and smoke and fire, done right there in the render engine, rather than being painted in later ... things like huge renders, 2000 pixels wide, which allow for massive amounts of detail, and atmospherics. Things like scenes that are stuffed full of objects and characters...

In the immortal words of the dude who gave Batman the biggest run for his money he ever had, "Here ... we ... go!"

Jade, 27 December

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas -- or Happy Yuletide -- to all. I hope the 2011 holiday season is one of the best ever for everyone, and that 2012 will be a wonderful year ... or at the very least, a peaceful one.

Jade ... on Christmas Eve 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shadow and Flame ... at last!

A source of huge pleasure just dropped into my lap: at last (at last!!) the chance to paint the cover for Mel Keegan's new one, Shadow and Flame. I've been waiting to get the final draft of this one for about four months (or six...) and it dropped into my email box this morning. I "saw" the cover instantly, and the art just fell together. This took about two hours flat, including the underpainting, overpainting, creating the textures for the costumes, organizing the lights, raytracing, the whole lot. When it works, it works. Inspiration, and all that.

Here's the cover complete with the text objects:

Click on either of these to see them at full size -- I've uploaded them at 600x900, so you can see the details, because it's actually well worth a look. The whole thing was painted "bottom up." I started with a firm idea of the colors I wanted to see in the finished thing: I wanted an indigo night sky that was still light on the horizon, but with the stars out. So you set up your Photoshop canvas at the right size ... select the two colors, and do the graduated fill. Then paint the stars in a new layer. Then paint the tents in another layer,   complete with flags. Then add the fire, with flames and smoke. Flatten the image, save it, import it into DAZ Studio as a backdrop to the characters. Here it is:

The caravanserai doesn't have to be very detailed, because you're only going to see a hint of it in the background -- but it does add to the overall texture of the work. The sky is the important bit, because it's going to be seen clearly...

The final posing, lighting and texture work was raytraced (took about a half hour), and then the result was shipped back into Photoshop to have the dents and buckles in the 3D models painted out. (My kingdom for the ability to work with the Genesis model...) Then a new layer was added, and the overpainting was done to add highlights and features to the sky and the foot of the frame. Then this was exported into Serif Page Plus to have the text objects added.

Oh -- answering a question I fielded a little while ago. Someone said, "I've looked everywhere, and I can't find the tools in Photoshop Elements to get those text effects." Well (sorry), this is because the work you see here wasn't done in Photoshop Elements 9. I have no doubt that if one paid $700 or some over the top price for the full-on version of Photoshop, the tools would be there! However, who can afford that? The text objects I do are always done in Serif Page Plus ... and I'm still on version X3, which does everything I need plus about 300% more than I need! X5 is the current version, and if/when I ever need to upgrade, I'll upgrade. Can't say I'm in any hurry, as I have far more tools than I could ever use in X3.

The title of the book you see here was done by setting up the font, adding boldface, adding an outline, setting a color fill for the font, then another color for the outline; then setting an outer bevel on the whole thing, before configuring 3x 3D lights with ambient, specular and diffuse values, and jiggling the position of the lights to get just the right effect. Took about ten minutes to get it juuuuust right.

Incidentally, the book will be out in January, when we have a small raft of new titles going into distribution (One of them is The Road of Birds, which you might have seen in yesterday's post). We don't want to release anything at this time of the year, because the way new books go cascading through the vendors' pages (places like Kindle and All Romance eBooks), blink and you'll miss them ... and at this point in the year, most people are not even looking, much less not blinking! January 10 is our target date to have a number of new titles out.

This one was a lot of fun ... and I'll be back, with a Christmas card -- as soon as I figure out what in the world to paint this year!

Jade, 22 December

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eureka! This was the CG horseman I wanted...

The other day I sat down at the computer, needing a horseman and a mountain range, for a new book cover, and although I got a rather nice piece of artwork (see it here), I didn't get even close to what I'd wanted. So I gave it another shot yesterday, and ... eureka. This is what I wanted at the time. Not that I minded getting the other piece of art along the way, mind you! Please do click on this and see it at full size, 600x900. It's a very nice piece.

In fact, I was playing with the other piece in Photoshop, looking at ways to turn a render into a digital sketch...

I wish I could give you a quick and easy cookbook method for doing this, but in fact this effect was created using stacked layers -- about seven of them, all set to different values. Two of them use the "find edge" filter; one of them is a texture effect; one is a color cast; one is a "nose" layer; and so on, and on. The top layer has some zaps with various Photoshop brushes and a couple more filter effects added. You really need to see it at full size to be able to appreciate what the Photoshop "sketch" looks like. The end result looks like a pen and ink-wash drawing that someone labored about four hours to produce! Well ... it took about a half hour in Photoshop, working backwards from the DAZ studio render you saw the other day.  

Cheating? Yup. Will that stop me doing more of this work? Nope. Because I don't have the time to do this stuff physically, and yet -- and this is interesting -- often the client will want a drawing or painting, not a 3D render. It's critically important to be able to deliver what the client wants, yet said client might only be able to pay $25. Who's able to work four hours to create a sketch, to earn $25? You'd starve to death! However, it's Photoshop to the rescue...

If you're wondering what the book is, for which the "eureka" shot was produced:

Not a gay book (makes a change, doesn't it?) but the start of a mainstream list that we'll be developing in 2012 and onwards, working with a couple of new-ish writers. This one is a fantasy story (duh), and it was begging for a gorgeous cover. So here it is.

That's Michael 4 riding the Millennium Horse, which is wearing the Western tack (though I changed out every single texture). Michael is wearing the SAV Atlas skinmap and face morph. The costume is made up of the Lockwood shirt, the Journeyer Scout pants, the Leon boots and the M4 cloak; the only original texture used is the shirt, which I really like. The rest of the textures were switched out for a great Leather Textures pack I got from Renderosity. In the background: Merlin's pine, Rhodi's spruce, a couple of boulders and ferns from DM's various fantasy sets (all available at Renderosity; incidentally, Michael 4, the horse and the costumes are avalable from the DAZ store), and a couple of bricks and some grasses from the H3D Lost set. The background is a digital painting over a snapshot of the Remarkables, in New Zealand. The birds in the sky are done with Ron's Birds, an .abr brush set you can get from DAZ. The ground and the low hill in the middle distance were done with little bits of terrain made in Bryce 7 Pro and exported as OBJ models, and then imported into DAZ. These had displacement and diffuse maps added to make them look like, uh, ground.  Result: nice!

I must start blogging again! I've neglected this blog of necessity for about the last six months. In that time, we've had a death in the family, my health has been ridiculously poor, we've published several books, I've done better than a dozen private art commissions, kept our business operating ... and there hasn't been time to sit down and think, let alone do art for myself, for fun, for it's own sake, for the blog's sake!! I'd started to forget how very much I used to enjoy just DOING IT for the sake of doing it. Ars gratia artis. Pardon the Latin.

I do believe that 2012 is going to be a very different kind of year, and I'm looking forward to having more time for my stuff ... so you can expect to see a lot more from me. Soon. The images I have whirling around my head ...! They need to find an exit route, and they can only come out through my fingertips at the keyboard. 

Oh -- you remember the Abraxas project?? I've promised myself, I will WRITE the story, just as a narrative. I might not have the time to do hundreds and hundreds of panels plus text work, but I'm sure I can find more than enough time to just write the story. It was about to go in some amazing directions, and I'm actually looking forward to this. Again, in belongs to 2012, and it's going to be fun!

Will be back before Christmas. With a card. 

Jade, 21 December (The Solstice of Summer)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Serendipitous (CG) Horseman

I was trying to come up with the inspiration for the cover of a fantasy story we're about to publish, and though the cover art I'd been hoping for didn't magically appear before my mind's eye, this one did. We'll just call it "Horseman," and leave it at that.

The character is SAV's Atlas; the costume is the Euros kirtle, plus the strapping from the shirt, over the Journeyer Scout pants and boots, and that's the Spartacos hair, also by SAV. I used Merlin's pine tree in the background, and a couple of Greek columns for depth. The Millennium Horse is wearing one of the CWRW textures, and the Western horse tack ... but I changed out all the leather textures, the saddle pad and so on. The background is hand painted in Photoshop using a variety of brushes: Mystikel's clouds, Ron's birds, Hawksmont's moon, Designfera's trees ... and the mist in the foreground was painted in with Ron's Smoke and Steam. I have about six lights set up on this, with the object of creating moonlight. I really like the effect.

You can tell this one was intended as a book cover, but since it's a long way from the art I was originally looking for, it's not going to wind up on one, unless someone is struck by the inspiration to write a piece to accompany this! It's nice, though, so what the hey ... here it is.

Jade, December 18, 2011 (Golly, is it Christmas next weekend?!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yes ... book cover art. Umm ... gay book cover art, in fact. I've been busy prepping a new work which is launching this coming weekend (meaning, tomorrow, downunder -- the dateline thing). One of the things I really like about working with writers is that they can whisper to me who was the inspiration for their characters, and this gives me half a chance of coming up with something that's at least in the ballpark when I design the cover.

I remember, about fourteen years ago, a new edition of Mel Keegan's Fortunes of War came out, and the reprint publisher put on a cover in which one of the two rather punkish looking young men had an eyepatch. The story came to me at second or third hand, that at least some readers were waiting, right through the story, for the scene when the hero, Dermot Channon, lost his eye! Never happened, people. Nope. That cover had nada to do with the book.

Since then, it's been pretty important to me to at least try to get into the ballpark. Sometimes a writer whispers to me, "Well, actually, I was thinking about Brad Pitt when I wrote this..." Or it'll be, "It was Tom Selleck on my mind when I was doing this story..."

Hey, where is it written that movie stars shall not be used by writers as inspiration? And even if it was written, that's a rule I would love to see them try to enforce!

Right now, you might be wondering what the heck this book is, so --

There you go. It's a good read, if you like your romance hot enough to scorch your wee little fingers as you hang onto your Kindle or your Nook for dear life!

This one was done in three layers: the sky, clouds, moon, wolf and general backgrounding into the bottom of the shot were all done in one piece, and most of it was hand-painted. The wolf was borrowed from a photo, and extensively (and I mean extensively!) worked. This was then imported into DAZ Studio as a backdrop, and the characters were designed, dressed, posed, and stood in front of it. Raytraced ... shipped back out into Photoshop to be overpainted and enhanced. Then the whole composition was shipped into Serif to have the text objects added. Done!

Next job: finish painting the covers for the NARC series. These five books are hanging over my head like a flock of albatrosses -- I've been trying to get them rejacketed and reformated for six months! Been busy. (Now, there's an understatement!)

Jade, 2 December
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