Saturday, April 30, 2011

Let the raytracing begin!


Just about back up to speed ... and it all works! Almost everything is reinstalled and working nicely; the only thing that had a very nasty crash during installation was Corel Video Studio, and I've put that on the back burner for a while.

A few things still need to be installed -- Macromedia Director, for one. And here's one of the key reasons for rolling the system back and keeping it as it was: Macromedia hasn't been Macromedia since 2004! After that, they were bought by Adobe, and even the upgrades cost so much, it was hard to keep up with them. We started with Director 5 Studio, in about 1995, and even way back when, we paid $2,200 for the software suite that comprised Director, Extreme 3D, XRez and Sound Forge. Movie studio in a box. We kept up with it till Macromedia MDirector MX 2004, and -- thanks very much, Mr. Adobe, but after I've paid gods know how many thousands of bucks for the software, I don't want to pay another $1,200 for it, just because I was dumb enough to let the industry force/seduce me into upgrading to Windows 7!

Soooo... the restore has worked like magic. The computer isn't quite as blindingly quick as it was this morning, before it was loaded up with about 60 gigs of programs, but it's still very very fast, and short of having forgotten to copy over my Fonts folder (whimper), nothing was lost. Fortunately, I can get Dave to copy his Fonts folder over, tomorrow -- because it's essentially the same folder I copied over for him, when he brought home his new system when the computer we called Achilles died, back in November of 2010. That should cure the problem nicely.

So this afternoon I clicked on raytracing on several lights and held my breath. Nice. This is a basic raytrace -- no reflections are set, as yet. That experiment will happen tomorrow. Talk about holding your breath for that one!!

Here's the first render, as-is, with no post work of any description whatever:


That's Michael 4, wearing face and body morphs designed be me, plus the Matthias skinmap and the Hermes hair, the Sabby eyes, and not much else. The tattoos are handpainted in GIMP, right onto the skinmap, and then the skinmap is applied via the Surfaces tab. So far, so good. The background is a combo of couple of the images from a set of 2D effects I bought via Renderosity a long time ago. They were combined, saved as a JPEG and set as the background, with the figure posed and rendered in front of it.

Then the finished render and the background were re-composed ... and sorry, guys, but I have no idea how to do merge modes in GIMP. I imagine GIMP does this, but how, I can't tell you. Micrografx Picture Publisher Pro does this stuff at a click (but this is another program that won't run on new operating systems -- Micrografx was bought by Corel in 2001 and shelved. Most of the top-end functions were coopted into Corel Painter, which costs $699 ... eegads! Picture Publisher 7 cost twelve bucks on two CDs, ten years ago, and so long as you install it on the virgin Vista, service pack zip, it operate like a dream).

Then the composit image was shipped into GIMP for some overpainting with various .abr brushes, mostly from the Bokeh Lightsabre pack, by Ron (from DAZ).

The project let me test out DAZ, Micrografx, GIMP, Irfanvew and Serif, to make sure everything's shipshape. Yes!!

So, on the assumption that there won't be a problem rendering reflections, which there shouldn't be (experiment tomorrow!), that ought to be the last whining and winghing (how in the world do you spell that?) you hear from me for a looooong time. Let the renders commence!

Lastly, to folks who have been waiting on emails from me for a few days: thanks so much for bearing with me. The work load has been heavy, the ag factor has been high, and it's just taken a lot more time than I expected. However ... done! [smiley face emoticon ... which Blogger doesn't do, so please use your imagination]

Jade, 30 April

Friday, April 29, 2011

Alive and rendering!


Weehooo! Very Large Grin. Whoot! And all those kinds of exclamation...

If you don't think you recognize the Jarrat and Stone shot above -- you'd be right. It's brand new -- which means I got a render. Which means the computer went through its restoration to factory specs, and survived ... and DAZ Studio 3 came back up with my characters intact.

Talk about a feeling of sheer relief! The computer is now screamingly fast, but there isn't a darned thing installed on it, only DAZ and Irfanview, and a my content folders. Tomorrow I'll put back my painting programs, plus Serif, a word processor, and one or two other things, like Corel Video Studio, but --

You want bizarre? No web browsers, no FTP software, to webmaster tools, because the system is now in a state of quarantine. It's not going back online, so all the "service pack this" and "service pack that" stuff which gradually, inexorably, stops your older programs working properly, and in the end can actually destabilize the whole system to the point where you have to go through this process, won't be happening. (This is the second system restore, for the same problem.)

Someone said to me, "Is it wise to not get all those system updates?" It turns out, over 95% of them are security patches, designed to beat Internet hackers. If the system is in pure quarantine, they're not necessary. The rest of the updates are usually fixes for things that were done wrong in the last service pack -- bug fixes and whatnot. Welll.... sure, if I'm going to run on the original Vista installation which came with the machine, before any of the updates started, I'll be inheriting some bugs. But here's the rub: in the first six months after the machine was new, it didn't have any ailments. None. They all came later, after a year or more or updates and security patches! So here's the theory -- and I know, I know, I'm testing this out: quarantine the machine away from Internet hackers, revert to the early trouble-free months during which the older programs flew, don't load the machine up with a hundred gigs of programs that are rarely used, and ... see what happens.

Knock on wood, I saved almost everything. The only thing I forgot to do was to copy over my Fonts file, so (doah!) I now have to track down a couple of hundred fonts to get back to where I was before. Fortunately, a whole lot of them will reinstall along with Serif, tomorrow, and if I have to buy a compendium of fonts, I can live with that.

So you know what I'll be doing tomorrow! Installing software and basking in the pleasure of being able to render artwork, and having my characters still alive and kicking! And I'll let you know, in the months to come, how the system goes, being protected from the nasty world of the www by simply not being connected to it, and being insulated from the slow, steady rot of updates on the service packs on the updates. If it doesn't work out, and the system gradually erodes into brain death, hey, I'll let you know about that too. We can always do yet a third system restore, then plug in the doohickey, put it online and let it call home for whatever it wants. But till then it'll be a screamingly fast, guaranteed virus free, utterly isolated, art-dedicated cyber-hermit!

Looking forward to rendering up all the art ideas I've had in the last week, and couldn't do a thing about...

Massive thanks to Dave for the advice, support, help, reassurance and all else which he's given in these last few days. I managed to do most of the work myself, but I'm sure I'd have missed something critical without his oversight. "Thank you, dear" doesn't seem to say it, somehow...

Jade, 29 April

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reconstructing Kevin Jarrat


Sorry for vanishing on you for a couple of days. Life has been interesting. It was a little too fascinating for me to find the brain cells to blog too!

Here's the latest update from the "Cyberhell of Upside-down PCs dissolving in Sulphuric Acid" ... you know how the Chinese concept of multiple hells works -- hells for all occasions, right? A thousand different hells, each purpose-designed for the sinners consigned to them. At the moment I'm still in an acid-resistant boat, punting among the upside-down dissolving PCs ... but my punting pole is being eaten away, and as for this PC -- I think it was SkyNet in a previous incarnation, and is presently working out its karma.

So I've spent the last few days saving all my characters -- all but one.

Jarrat refused to be exported, or saved as anything. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would save him in the original format, which meant he had to be reconstructed in a new format that would permit saving. And above, you see the result.

This is not a render, because I can't get a render before the PC is reformatted. This is just a screencapture right off the DAZ workspace...

On the right is the reconstructed Jarrat, "live" in the new master file. On the left is the reload. You load up the Michael 4 doll, then you merge on the data file, which is a little .dsb file, and the M4 mannequin jumps into the new format. The reload is identical to the original! So (wheeze, gasp, groan) at last I found a way to get a stable, predictable, dependable load of the character -- he was "saved" off the reconstruction.

Now, he's not 100% the same. The reconstructions never are. But it's close, and I actually think the new version is better.

Here's a couple of renders of the original:





And yes, there are difference, but I think I prefer the new version. I haven't been able to get a verdict from Mel Keegan, who is the creator -- mother and father, if you will -- of Jarrat, Stone and all the other characters from NARC and Hellgate ... but it's one of those, "This is it, kiddo, take it or leave it" situations. In other words, he ain't gonna get any better!

At last -- at last! -- we're ready to reformat this %@*! &%$#! computer. Jarrat's been the reason for the delay, and here's something weird: if you know the character in the books, you'd even expect him to be the one that caused the ruckus! He's drop-dead gorgeous, absolutely one of a kind, and he'll turn your life inside out.

So cross fingers, folks. When the computer comes back up again, she'll be as-new, and here's how we're going to (try to) keep it that way: she's NOT going back online. This machine is being quarantined away from the Internet -- which means no endless rounds of Windows updates, some of which have been causing horrific instabilities, and one of which is almost certainly responsible for the crunch which happened a couple of weeks ago. This machine is going to be an art machine, totally offline. My laptop is going to be online, sitting right beside it, and I'll network the two, to make it easy to pass files back and forth, to up- and download things. Let's see how this works.

Tune in again tomorrow, and with a bit of luck I'll be able to tell you how it all went. Nothing else to do but just hit the button.

Oh, and pray a lot...!

Jade, 27 April

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Science Fiction heroes in urgent need of rescue!









Just a quick update ... touching base with another bundle of photography. We're getting ready to literally format the harddrive, which involves shipping out every morsel of data you can remember to ship out -- and some fancy dance steps with the DAZ files.

Luckily, we've done this before. Just over one year ago, this computer had to be set back to factory specs -- and if you've been following this blog for any length of time, you'll remember that I lost a whole army of characters for over six months! Too late, I learned that your old DAZ projects won't just reopen after a reformat, or on a new computer...

Say, what?

Um ... if Google sent you here because you're asking, "Will my existing DAZ projects work on my new computer?" Then, you need to pull up a chair and read the next bit carefully. Because the simple answer is, no, they won't. Your projects will start to open on your new system (or on your reformatted old one), and then the error messages will start to pop up. "Can't find this file," and "Can't find that file," and at the end of the process, the project won't open.

Sinking feeling. Faint nausea. Slight fever.

What went wrong?!

Well, to set themselves up properly, DAZ projects depend on a bunch of data files which are made by the program on the fly as you create those projects. The program is making these data files all the time and just not telling you, but in fact it's these files which "spell" your character faces and physiques! Without these files, those faces and physiques can't be loaded up when you open a project. So if you happily reformatted the harddrive, thinking all you had to do was reinstall the software and all the models, and you'd be off to the races tomorrow --

Wrong. This is what I did, in all innocence (ignorance!) and learned the hard way.

The critical thing is to track down your data files and copy them all over onto an external harddrive. Then, when you reinstall DAZ, copy them all back into the folder where they're supposed to live. Then try opening the old project file and see what happens.

The file will certainly open, but what you'll probably see is the Michael 4 doll, the store-window mannequin, where your own self-designed, carefully sculpted and much loved unique face used to be. Why? I don't honestly know! But this time around we had the savvy to copy out all my data files onto another computer (so far so good), and then load up one of my projects, and see if it opened.

Oooooh, it opened. But it left my character faces behind. Jarat, Stone, Gil Cronin, Joe Ramos, Richard Vaurien, Curtis Marin -- all standing in a line looking like sextuplets. All of them were just the Michael 4 doll. Uh..huh.

Next: nervous breakdown.
Next: cup of tea.
Next: another cup.
Next: start thinking clearly again.

So I ran the experiment of exporting my characters to Character Presets. These are tiny little data files on a .dsb file extension. You open the file in which your character lives; selct him; go FILE > SAVE > Save as Character preset. The software generates a tiny (32k) file, and you apply this to a freshly loaded Michael 4 doll. You load up the mannequin; select him; then go FILE > MERGE, and select the .dsb you want to drop onto the model.

Does it work perfectly? Yes -- when it works, it works fine. But about 1 time in 10, it doesn't seem to work at all. Right now, I've managed to save Stoney but not Jarrat; Richard and Barb, Mark and Curtis, but not Neil Travers -- and so on. I'm saving them to .dsb files and then checking them all. I have no idea why I can't get Jarrat to save in .dsb format, and this is going to be the chore for tomorrow -- figure it out, save the character! I think I have something like 50 - 60 characters to save this way in total, and I think I have about 25 - 30 of them saved. So tomorrow they should all be squared away. In just a tiny handful of cases, there seems to be some problem in making the .dsb file...

Tomorrow. Yaaaawn. Too tired right now. It's been a very stressful time, what with Mom still being very frail and the computer doing weird, weird stuff. But if rolling it back to factory specs works, I'll be glad! Saves us $1,200 for a start. If this reformat works as well as the last one did, it'll be April 2012 before I have to go shopping for a new system -- and I can live with that. Gives me plenty of time to save up!

Jade, April 24 (Easter Sunday)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Still working on the computer, so...









Easter Saturday -- still trying to figure out the computer. Haven't even opened DAZ today! I did play around with some new .abr brushes for a while, but ... yaaaaawn ... I have to confess, too tired to make anything remarkable happen. Have been doing the late-night and all-night carer duties while my Mom is very frail and fragile, and it's hard to prop the eyes open!

So here's some more of my photography, as a filler. All these shots were captured during our weekend away, a month ago, when we drove down south, as far as you can go on the Fleurieu Peninsula and not get into the water. We lost the weather on the second night, so in fact, everything you see here was captured inside of the same day and a half, between McClaren Vale and Hindmarsh Island, and Milang, on Lake Alexandrina.

With any luck we might be able to get the computer stuff solved tomorrow. Mom is getting better -- there's a rhythm in her pulse this afternoon! -- so tomorrow we can do a couple of things to this PC. Things that do not involve axes and hammers. (Seriously, I've been shipping everything out to to big external harddrives, and tomorrow, all being well, we're going to revert this beast to factory specs, which is as close as you can come these days to typing he command line Format C:\ ... remember that? Did you ever do that? Fun, wasn't it?!)

So I'll let you know how it goes! Happy Easter to all...

Jade, 23 April (Easter Saturday)

We apologize for the interruption in normal services








We apologize for the interruption to normal services --

In other words, sorry guys, I'm going to have to bore you with my photography for a few days, for two reasons.

One: the computer has croaked. It starts up, it runs dog-slow, staggers around the edges of multiple crashes ... you can get a render, but you cannot save the render, so your work is like music. Stop playing it, and it goes away. Also, the problem is now so broad, when DAZ crashes, or semi-crashes and refuses to save a file, or save a render -- it causes the same error in all programs! So, sure, I can screencapture the render in Irfanview, but click on "save" in Irfanview and nothing happens. So, short of grabbing my camera and photographing the screen, I can't show show you any new work, and in fact, where's the point in doing more work, when you can't save it?! So for the next few days I'll be busy with digital painting while the computer is turned inside out and shaken; but --

Two: I don't have the opportunity to get into this for a day or two, because my Mom has just had a suspected mild (and I stress MILD ... she's not hospitalized) heart attack which, when you're 81, is no small deal. So things are revolving around Mom at this time.

But hey, I've been a photographer for how long? And I have how many pro stock images on file? And --

Today is Earth Day. So in honor of the day, and to fill in here while I can't do a damn' thing in 3D, and haven't the opportunity to paint --

As I began, "We apologize for the interruption in normal services," and I'm going to bore you with photographs for a couple of days.

Thanks to all who have sent their well-wishes to my Mom. She's getting better, though her pulse scares me ... no discernible rhythm; however, she's feeling better, having dinner and so on. Cross fingers, she'll recover well.

Speaking of dinner, I have a date with a pile of potatoes whose time has come!

Jade, 22 April (Earth Day; also the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Render blues, heroes and "Earth Sights"



Render blues ... a little bit like soul reggae, with a piledriver (rum and coke in a two liter beer stein) and a bash on the head with a brick.

Rendering four characters in the same shot, on a complex set, with lights and shadows?! That's four base figures four skinmaps, four face and body morphs, four wigs, four costumes, four sets of diffuse and displacement maps, a half dozen lights and the shadows. Urk --

That's what the computer said. Urk. It told me, in no uncertain terms, it was not happy. I said to it, "Be as unhappy as you like, just do your job and stop snivelling." It continued to snivel, but it got the job done.

Richard and Barb, Mark and Curtis, all in the same shot, standing in another section of the Commander set. And I've uploaded them at 1:1 size, so you can really get a look at these. I'm thrilled to bits, and so is Mel Keegan. Yes!!!!

The computer is somewhat less thrilled, and let me know by crashing DAZ in an interesting way: perfect render -- but when you click to save the last render, it won't save. Nor will it save the scene under any name. Just the twirly-whirlies (I miss the old eggtimer) for about 15 minutes and then it shuts down. So these renders were actually rescued by being screen-captured! They're not raytraced, or anything fancy. Heaven alone knows what would happen if I tried to raytrace something like this. I think, a small mushroom cloud in the vicinity of the CPU.

And render blues are not something confined to the entry level of the CG world. Have a look at this video -- please click on the icon to see it full screen, because it's just so amazing, it will bring a tear to the eye:



...whoa. And yet if you look at the comments on the YouTube page were this is posted, it's all about render blues.Like this:
I purchased vue for a particular project and haven't used it since. For me it is too slow for any purpose within my workflow. The only thing I use it for is animated clouds. Unless you are a big production company and have access to a renderfarm and prepared to spend a lot of time and money rendering sequences its only ever going to be viable for stills. I for one won't be upgrading.

and,
...its just very hard to find the right settings between rendertime and no flickering. unfortunately not everyboy has a renderfarm. im working on 16 cores and it still takes forever to render in highend quality.

Sixteen cores, and it still takes forever! Other people say that unless you have a renderfarm like Weta Digital or ILM, Vue is only any good for stills. That might be so, but ... what stills you can get in Vue. There's an artist who posts a heck of a lot to a Renderosity gallery, and who works in Vue and Terragen 2, and if incredible landscapes are your thing, that gallery is more than worth a look. In fact, you could spend a week there, viewing almost 1,000 images. The artist is Dotthy, and here are a couple of links to some stills which are just astonishing:

http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/full.php?member&image_id=1749843
and
http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/full.php?member&image_id=1746608
and
http://www.renderosity.com/mod/gallery/full.php?member&image_id=1696073

You're not going to get stuff like that out of Bryce, DAZ or Poser! That's the realm of Vue and Terragen. And yes, I would love to get into that realm. One of these days! All I need to do is win State Lotto, right?!

So for the time being I'm going to keep on amusing the heck out of myself with handsome heroes and statuesque heroines. And we've had a lot of SF lately, so I think I'll drift back to fantasy tomorrow. Or maybe a cross between the two. Mmmm -- an image just leapt into my mind. Fantasy meets SF...

Jade, April 20

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The high frontier, the vanishing 3D model and a whole lot more






Doing a little dance of glee here ... Vaurien and Jazinsky! These shots are spot-on what I'd wanted to achieve, and they follow the descriptions in the books to the letter. The word from Mel Keegan is: perfect!

A little bit more work has been done on Richard Vaurien. The face had some problems -- it didn't render well from one or two angles, and I was always conscious of posing him to get around the shortcomings. So this afternoon I spent about half an hour tweaking the face so that it renders well from more angles -- in fact, it renders very well from virtually any angle now.

They're standing on the Commander set, once again, and I'd like to explore more of it. Commander is a set the size of a football field. It has the bridge, the ops room, a lounge, a lab, a conference facility, all rolled into one, and every time you drive the camera to another nook or cranny of the set, it looks like a whole new set.

Now, the big ship you see from the outside isn't the Wastrel ... can't be, because anyone who's read the books knows what the Wastrel looks like, and this ain't it. But this one is very close to the super-carriers, so I'd be happy to call this one the Kiev, the Shanghai, the Chicago.

The big ship model is the lite version of the Allied Fleets Destroyer, which I bought a long, long time ago, and discovered I couldn't load the full version, and didn't notice that there was a lite version with less than half the polygons packed right along with this one. Oddly enough, I can render the full version in Bryce, though DAZ Studio 3 won't even load it (too many polygons). This morning I was going to do a couple of renders in Bryce and I discovered two things:

1) Bryce 7 Pro only has one thing to say to me now: "Crash detected, closing program," and

2) I couldn't find the model anyway!

Turns out, the installer had gotten lost in all the data transfers that are going on in desperate efforts to save this computer. Fortunately Renderosity keeps your download links alive, so you can go back and re-download if you have a big mixup. So I was able to replace the model ... and this is when I discovered the lite version.

So this super-carrier shot was rendered in DAZ, not Bryce, with a Hubble image as a backdrop ... the engine flares were painted on in GIMP, using Energy Spheres by DesignFera and Bokeh Lightsabre by Ron. I've also uploaded it at large size, so you can see it properly.

Now the question is, why won't Bryce work? Is is symptomatic of the stuff which is happening to this computer -- blue screen of death, and all? Maybe. My plan is to uninstall it and reinstall it, and see what happens...

Jade, 19 April

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another of my favorite characters comes to life





One of the biggest thrills of CG art is creating characters -- in fact, it's the biggest thrill. This is what I got into it for, in many ways. And it's a huge pleasure to bring to life a character who's a major player in a very major fiction event. You must be able to "pick" this one! Six foot four, statuesque, white blonde with ice blue eyes, brain like Einstein, fists like Xena, lives and works on an industrial ship that's as powerful as any warship?!

You got it -- Barb Jazinsky. I got the nod of approval on this character this afternoon. And put another tick against another Hellgate character! Mel Keegan is "tickled" with this one. My next project is to pose the two of them together -- Vaurien and Jazinsky, they go together like ham and eggs. Add Mark Sherratt, and there's the brains trust that makes a lot of Hellgate go. Can't wait to see the images myself! You won't notice how big Jazinsky is till she's standing in the same scene with other characters who are normal size. This is going to be fun!

So here you have Victoria 4.2 wearing a new hairdo that I bought this afternoon specifically for the character. It's the Accents hair, and I switched to this because after about an hour of mucking about with other styles, I was getting nowhere. She's wearing the Shadow Dancer costume, but I changed the texture out completely, and added a pair of stylish boots rather than the "cockroach crushers" that come with this costume. That's the Mimi skinmap (actually, it's too olive to be 100% right on this character; I definitely need to get a couple of new skinmaps for V4) and the palest eyes in the Eyes Have It set of eyeballs. The set is Commander, which is a vast starship ops room and bridge set.

Answering a quick question I was asked the other day: Can I use V4 poses for M4, or do they not work, and therefore stuff up your scene and/or computer? In short ... you can use any pose for any character; it just might need a bit of adjustment because the various characters have different proportions, so what's perfect for one will be a close fit, maybe not a perfect fit, for another. (A lot of the V4 poses, when applied to M4, are going to look like scenes out of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but hey, give me a reason why not? You want "go-go boy gorgeous," check out Guy Pearce in that movie ... and this is the effect you'll get, slapping V4 poses onto M4 as he arrives right "out of the box.") But yes, short answer -- any pose can be applied to any character. M4 poses work fine for V4, giving her a lot of gravitas ... how well the V4 poses work for M4 depends on, uh, what you want out of them!

Not much else is happening in this neck of the woods. Just working while the year winds down into fall. The sun is gone much earlier and the blackbirds are singing, which is a sure sign that we're well into fall.

Jade, 18 April

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Serendipity, Hellgate and the Blue Screen of Death



After a lot of fantasy in the last week I thought, let's do some science fiction. I also wanted to play around with a couple of new props that I got recently -- that hairstyle (Mullet, by Neftis) and that set of jeans and shirt, Cold Life. All elements just came together in the one project, and I was rendering the first one (it's the Section 15 set in the background -- a great SF prop, from DAZ) when I thought, "Just a second, this reminds me of someone." So I bounced the renders off Mel Keegan who said, "You're dead right." So you can put a tick beside another of the Hellgate characters -- one of the secondary players, but one of my favorites.The Wastrel's Weimann Drive specialist, Tully.

These renders are not raytraced ... so much this PC will do, and no more. I'm starting to see the Blue Screen Of Death, which usually tells you to get ready to install a whole new system inside the next few months. You're supposed to be able to cure the problem by installing new drivers and getting rid of recently acquired software which has stuffed everything up, but the only new thing I've installed lately is (!) Internet Explorer 9, from Microsquashed itself! Uh ... Microsquashed just sabotaged itself??!

So the next thing we're trying is a roll-back ...revert the system to where it was 10 days ago, on the system restore points. the PC is working, but it's gone from being a greyhound to being a dachshund, waddling along on little short legs! (And before anyone says anything, I like dachshunds, and corgis -- they're dead cute. You just don't enter them in high-speed events.)

I'll let you know if the system restore works; and if I have to get a new system - well, I guess I'll blog about that, too!

Anyway, at the moment things are a bit fraught, mechanically, but I'm working on prepping Hellgate for publication, and (which might be good news for some of you guys) we're also preparing the NARC series to go to Kindle. It's a big project, which is why it's taking time, but we're getting there.

And here's serendipity for you. Tully Ingersol just "happened" --! The other Hellgate player I'm working on is Harrison Shapiro, and he's a very major player. He's not quite right yet, but when he is, I'll also do his partner, Jon Kim, at the same time. Mel Keegan is a lot less "picky" about Jon than about Shapiro, which allows me a lot more latitude.

So here you have Michael 4 wearing the Neftis Mullet hairdo, and the Cold Life costume (with the overshirt from Stylin', with the texture changed out to denim my me); the set is Section 15, and I have one distant light set for ambiance and two spotlights set, with deep shadow maps. I put about 30% reflection on the set, to make it a bit more "lively" in the renders, but otherwise it's just as-as. Nice!

Jade, 17 April

UPDATE:

Just logged into Renderosity, where I'm uploading to a gallery in this last week, and saw one of their news items. The new Vue -- 9.5 -- is coming out right about now. So I bounced over to YouTube to see one of their demo reels. Whooo! You have got to check this out -- and DO click the icon to see it FULL SCREEN. This is amazing ... oooh, the stuff that powerful computers can do:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cyber-surgery, just short of the Zaphod Beeblebrox brand of PC repair --!


Cross fingers and knock on wood ... the computer problems might have been resolved! Please do click on the above image and see it at 1:1 size (1000 pixels high) ... it's raytraced, it has about a hundred textures set, including reflections, refractions, displacement, bump, opacity, the works. It took about 40 minutes to render, but it DID render. Right now, I'm faaaar from complacent, but I'm grinning because I did get a proper render!

I want to thank Dave for loads of work with the brainbox, and for just not giving up on it, and also for helping me with stuff when I was so far exasperated and at the end of the tether, I could just as easily have set about reprogramming it with an axe (to take a leaf out of the bookof Zaphod Beeblebrox).

I call this one "Ice Angel." Just one render today, because it's the experiment following a lot of work on the computer...

Michael 4, wearing the Albane (albino) skin map,
Skinmap retinted in the surfaces tab...
Danyel hair by Neftis with all textures taken off
Hair recolored with blue textures...
Loin cloth from The Hunter, all textures taken off
Colors added, plus displacement map.
Demon Wings -- same story -- textures taken off...
Reolored int he Surfaces tab, plus...
Opacity, displacement and refraction mapping.
Powerage's supreme armor on shins, chest,arms...
All textures off, everything redone in the surfaces tab.
Merlin's Katana, all textures off, ditto, ditto --!
Bit of jagged ice to stand on (made in Bryce months ago) --
Same story with the colors and textures on it.
Backdrop: a free wallpaper of Arctic Canada --
Some painting on the backdrop; and
Some digital post-work on the finished render.

Most of the post work was on the hair, which is almost all hand-painted. That was the easy part. The hardest thing? Juggling the ratios between the maps and values to get the wings translucent, shimmering, semi-reflective. Beautiful!

So, cross fingers -- the problems might be solved. It was really weird. A few days ago, I just stopped being able to get a proper render! The last one I was able to get was the Michael 4 glamor boy, and even that was a struggle to avoid crashes. Things started going askew a couple of weeks ago, and then suddenly, wham!

Anyway, after loads of work (some of it involving opening the brainbox and checking the seating of the video card ... and vacuuming out abut a pound of dust! ... and then deleting about 35GB off the C drive, plus an error check and defrag) it's back working again. Whew!

Jade, 15 April (The Ides ... which Seneca didn't say to beware...)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New editions of old favorites




It's been book covers today ... as the post title says, new editions. These books were issued a long time ago, in publishing terms -- they go back five or six years, which is eons as publishers and writers understand the passage of time. Every so often, it's a good idea to change the covers on a work for the sake of freshness -- and it also gives a publisher or writer a chance to experiment.

What kind of covers sell books? That's a heck of a good question! Over the years we've tried many kinds, and it comes down to this bottom line: faces on the covers sell books better than anything else, and if you can't manage a face on the cover, figures are the next best bet. Unless the book is sexy as all get-out, in which case it had better be a figure shot!

The covers we originally used on these books were virtually "mainstream." They were good covers, but they were much more the kind of art you'd see on the shelf at the bookstore, and in fact when your object is selling ebooks over the Internet, you need to grab the reader's attention and hold it.

So I've wanted to rejacket a number of these books for some time now, and at last the job has worked its way to the top of the list. It was a lot of fun doing these, if I tell the truth. I did the Harbendane cover a few months ago, but I'm including it here (like a rerun) because it really is part of the project.

You'll also notice that the word DREAMCRAFT is shouting off these new covers! It might look a big and obnoxious, but it's there with good reason. We're using a distributor to get us into the big bookstores, and it seems there's some wild and wacky confusion in the software engines driving book distribution. Imagine this: we sweat blood on polishing and packaging books, and then they show up in the iBooks store, and in other key places, listed as being published by the distributor!! Little puffs of smoke come out of my ears when I see this because, in all honesty, the distributor is not much more than what's called an "accumulator" -- in other words, an engine that gathers up ebook from all parts of the marketplace ... from self publishers who have one book in which no attempt was made to even punctuate the semi-coherent blather, right up to the high end of the spectrum, the "small" publisher who has almost a thousand books on its current list. All are lumped together under the banner of the accumulator, and the tender reader (gods help him, or her) has to sort the wheat from the chaff. DreamCraft is somewhere in the middle, with a healthy list of very professional titles, so the new covers are carrying the badge of honor, and this should help the reader to short wheat from chaff at stores like iBooks, Sony, Kobo, Diesel and so forth.

Nice covers, too. I'll be rejacketing the NARC and Hellgate books as those series are finished ... speaking of which, Hellgate will be done this year. The process is getting exciting.

Jade, 13 April

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Digital painting on a 3D canvas ... because I can't get a render for love or money!

I think the title of this post tells the whole story! But there's a saying about gray clouds and silver linings. I've had all these great .abr brushes for six months and have never had an opportunity to get them installed and play with them. So rather than just fight with the computer (which is fruitless, because the computer always wins and you limp away with two black eyes), I've just said, "What the heck, let's paint. Actually, I put it in stronger language at the time...

And it's a lot of fun. What I'm doing is taking old favorites from a long, long time ago and doing a "revamp" on them. They're pictures that were pretty good on their own, but they always lacked "something." They were done about a year ago, when I had a lot fewer models than I have now, and also, not enough processor power to get fancy. I doubled my RAM and added a netter video card, about a year ago as of now ... of course lately I've gotten soooo fancy, even this system is buckling at the knees.

So the painting is like a blast from the past, and it really can be striking. It's well worth having a look at the details at full-size:

And just for fun, here's the process, from the old shot to the new:


With any luck we can get some more life out of this computer ... and fortunately there are three other computers in the immediate vicinity which I can use while this one is having brain surgery, but I shall get withdrawal symptoms, not being able to click that "render" button ...!

Jade, 12 April
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