Friday, January 13, 2012

Fantasy and SF in Bryce and DAZ -- plots, and all!



click to see at large size -- images are compressed, so they shouldn't take too long to download.

It worked! It worked! Am doing laps of the room without quite touching the floor. The second of these renders is The Sword in the Stone ... it was done in Bryce, and -- heee hee! -- this was the image that was in my mind when I started up the program. Nothing happened by accident -- I know exactly what I did. In other words, I was driving Bryce 7 Pro, it wasn't taking me for a ride. The penny is starting to drop rapidly now, and it's actually a bit thrilling! 

The sword is the High Fantasy prop from DAZ, a Viking sword. The big stone is the "Big Brick" from H3D's "Lost" standing set. These were imported into Bryce as OBJ objects, whacked into position, and so forth. Now, I did change out every texture on the sword for Bryce pro textures, and it's well worth having a look at it, at large size (I uploaded this at about 1250 pixels wide, something like that, so you can really see it). The grasses in the foreground are Bryce OBP objects. Loads and loads of them to create some nice, rank grasses before the plane stretches away to the hills at the edge of the heath, and then the mountainous structures lost in the mist, way beyond. The rock was retextured with a digital image of a piece of mossy sandstone, and then when it landed in Bryce I whacked one of Bryce's bump maps onto it and cranked the settings way up. 

All the mist was generated in Bryce; the birds were painted on in Photoshop, using Ron's Birds. Now ... if I told you the one render was good enough, that would be a lie. In fact, it took four renders to get every element of the picture "right," and some of them were mutually exclusive. For instance, to get detail into the hilt of the sword, the blade washed out, and to get nice toning on the mountains, the foreground went a bit weird. (I might be doing something wrong in the render settings ... dunno yet. Am still learning, right?) So what I did was, get all four renders into different layers of Photoshop, and systematically erase everything I didn't want, keeping only what I did want, so that all the best bits showed up in the one frame ... flatten the image (drop if to a single layer) and save it, quick!

Is there a story behind this image? Well, half a story. Imagine ... you're taking a vacation somewhere off the beaten track -- the Orkney or Shetland islands. An unseasonable storm comes through and floods the lowlands, there's lots of washaway damage, the landscape gets rearranged a bit. It dries out, and you take a hike and find ... this. The sword in the stone. But here's the rub: it's the Odinsword. Enter the archaeologists, one of whom is a martinet who doesn't believe in anything he can't catalog; the other is a (secret?) pagan, who knows just what she's looking at here. She tries to save the sword from being boxed and shipped off to a museum basement -- it comes to a shouting match in the local pub, which makes it onto Twitter, and someone from the Norway pagan group sees the Tweet. The sword ... goes missing. The police arrive, to accuse the archaeologist of stealing it. And ... so on. What a novel this would make! 

The other image, I call The Conjurer ... not a magician, or a sorcerer -- a stage magician. Showman. Or maybe something along the lines of the character of Drake Stone, in The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- he actually is a magician, but he makes a fortune on the stage. (There's also a lovely old book by Paul Gallico, The Man who was Magic, which has the same sort of central character -- he's a real magician, competing with stage magicians (and boy, do they get mad when he can do "tricks" they can't). I read this when I was about 14, and have never forgotten it. Don't have a copy, sad to say. Never owned it, in fact; it was a library book. 

There's half a story that goes with this picture too. Try this on for size:

It's way in the future, when civilization has crashed due to climatic change and pollution. Mankind survives in pockets of "grunge resistant" strains of homo sapiens, some of whom have mutated due to the pollution. The physically deformed are hounded, hunted, destroyed. Those whose mutation is not visible can "pass" for human, and get by. This guy, here, can do magic, and he earns his living in a traveling medicine show, as a conjurer ... till someone, somehow, realizes what he is. Then he's captured and dragged off to the laboratory of a bunch of mental giants (genius is their mutation!) who are trying to figure out how the "special" ones work. The lab is in the decayed and crumbling ruins of an old, old city, where survivors camp out in shanties built of the rubble. The last computers are here -- super-computers, since this is long in the future. There are way too many people for the resources, and one of the super-geniuses has been charged with fixing the problem. This is why he's researching the "magic" of the special mutants ... because the alternative is something that was suggested by various SF writers back in the 1960s: people have their consciousness "uploaded" to a whole world inside the massive computer systems; then their bodies can be recycled. They haven't been exterminated, because they now live in a fantastic, perfect world. The only problem is, the system of upload hasn't yet been perfected -- it's not working properly. Test subjects are just dying. So, can magic come to the rescue --? Does our hero make it out of the lab alive? Do people get uploaded -- are they still alive in there? Can they be downloaded into perfect android bodies, that don't need food and water, later --?? Again, what a novel this would make. 

Those experiments I mentioned yesterday ... seeing how far the DAZ render engine can be pushed: no joy. I maxed everything out, and the software fell over consistently. Throttled it back to what it would tolerate, and there's no visible difference in the render quality. Meanwhile, I've been looking at the render quality one can get out of Octane, and drooling. Problem: DAZ Studio exports a Collada (.dae) file that it can't even read back into Carrara or Bryce, which are from the same company! So, expecting Octane to open the same file is an improbable fantasy.

So... I looked at Poser Pro 2012. The Firefly render engine. Mmm hmm. Uh huhh. Heading that way. Definitely heading that way. Damn, but the Firefly engine generates some fantastic renders ... and I'll just bet the shaders work properly in Poser, too (which they don't, in DAZ). Now, I also read the reviews, as I always do, and the current version of Pro 2012 is a little bit buggy and crash prone. So -- wait six months, and watch out for a sale!

And now -- back to work. Duty calls, and so forth...

Jade, 14 January 



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