Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yaoi prince ... or prisoner? Gorgeous Yaoi elf, at any rate -- and a lot more...

Here's a neat Yaoi fantasy -- or mystery! -- for you: prisoner or prince? Captive or king? Dressed (and I use that term loosely) like this, he could be either. He could be the heir to the throne, heart-sore and weary because the love of his life, also the general of his armies, just sailed to war, and he's being compelled to marry someone he never even met, in the interests of duty and the bloodine. Or he could be the prince who was captured on the battlefield and just became the plaything of the victors in that conflict. You call it!

These are very complex and very nice renders, but they're quite what I was after. Here's the detail from the leader shot:

...and you can see the level of detail that went into this! very map of every description, every lightning trick (right up to the multiple dim colored lights technique I've been talking about lately) is employed; and then the image was split into several layers of different colors in Photoshop and re-composited. This one, the leader shot, is the best in terms of the "response" I've been able to coax out of the render engine ...

Have a look at the other two, full size. They're pretty good ... but the nuance and luminosity and so forth that you're dying to achieve ... nope. Nothing would make the skintones come to life. Now, it could be a trick of this particular skinmap, and before I throw up my hands and admit defeat, I'm going to set up a similar scene, change to another skinmap and try again. Don't get me wrong ... these are very, very nice images! Yet I'm a bit bummed that the skintones continue to look flat and dull, no matter what I did with them.

Let me think a while, and give this another shot. In fact, a couple of ideas just occurred to me even as I type this, so I have at least two experiments to run before I admit defeat. In the meantime...

Smuggler's Cove ... done in Bryce 7 Pro, using IBL lighting and the skydone and additional lights. Nice.

...and some 3D doodling. Another render of the gunfighter; and the cute guys you saw the other day, and a "nebula rise over an alien ocean," which you might assume was done in Bryce, but in fact the whole thing was done n DAZ Studio, using primitives and mapping. The fog on the skyline was the only thing added in later, in Photoshop.

Now, I have to run -- literally! As I sign out, I'll be grabbing my bag and heading out the door...

Jade, February 29 (yep, it's a leap year)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

More cute guys, starships and Photoshop recomposition

click to see all images at large size, 1000+ pixels...

As promised ... there's a lot more to upload! And a couple of the images here today are the product of a new line of experimentation. Yesterday, I mentioned an idea mooted by a guy on one of the forums I've been looking at for info on how one can squeeze the most out of the 3DLight render engine (which is integral to DAZ Studio), or else get Poser to play nice. Or both. Preferably both. His suggestion was, to get more response out of an image ... if it had five lights, why not render it five times and do a recomposition of all five images, adjusting them to get the most out of them? I thought, what a good idea.

So, the first of the images, today, was done this way. I didn't render the image five times .. rather, I shipped it into five layers in a Photoshop project and made a dark one, a light one, a red one, a blue one, a green one ... and then played around with the merge/blend modes and the transparencies on each image, until  certain luminosity started to come up. The kind of luminosity you see in much more complex renders than can be managed by the DAZ render engine, which can't do the sub-surface scattering, for on thing.

So I went back into one of yesterday's renders, and reprocessed the whole thing. Well, well! Compare these -- and you'll have to see them at large size to appreciate the "response" which has come up in the skintones:

This, just done today (click to see it at close to 1:1 size. And this...

...which is the original, as posted yesterday -- no recomposition. 

Well, well. I'm not saying it's something you'd do all the time, because it's an extra fiddle which takes about 20 minutes. This provides an alternative to setting 16 dim colored lights, as I did on the Rhapsody in Green render yesterday ... that also is a fiddle, and it takes the same amount of time. 16 lights, 16 shadows, to properly light just one character. Ye gods, I'm trying to imaging raytracing that with a slower computer. I know, I know, I'm spoiled rotten with the Mighty Thor, may blessings be upon it.

I spent a while playing around, trying to find some way to make DAZ Studio generate a Collada file that can be read by anything at all, including its own sister programs, Carrara and Bryce. No joy. All I get is error messages galore. The Collada files I'm making don't seem to be compatible with anything. And Carrara is supposed to be able to open a DAZ file (on the .daz file tag), but all I get there is an error message too, so ... scratch that plan. Hmmm. Next: bite the bullet and install Poser Pro 2010 to my boot drive --

Speaking of which, in an attempt to get around the problem of not being able to get the Michael  and Victoria base models into Poser when it's running off a drive which isn't the boot drive, I spent a few minutes at Content Paradise, which is the model store of the company which issues Poser, SmithMicro. And  was absolutely bloody dumbfounded. Not in a good way. I was looking for FIGURES to plug into Poser, to get around the absence of M4 and V4....

Content Paradise is stuffed to busting with figures. 95% female. There are about four male characters, all for M4 (which rather defeats the object!), and this tiny handful of male characters are either ugly or weird. 

Now, what do you make of that?! Like I said ... dumbfounded. So it's M4 or bust, and I'll install Poser to my boot drive and keep my fingers crossed!

The SF shot -- second from top -- was done in Bryce. The starship is one of a pack of .OBP file format spaceships I got a little while ago, and the ringed planet --? Made that myself. The shot is lit with one light and a "cheat light" to create some fill-in and beat the too-dense shadows, to get an attractive image; the render was done at large size, and the subtle starfield hand-painted in Photoshop. This becomes the starship Gilgamesh ... and I used this on the book cover I just painted, for More Than Human. More about this shortly.

More odds and ends of CG doodling:

Here, I'm playing with lights and textures, basically looking at the interplay of the bounced light off ONE light source that's waaaaay out there and cranked to huge brightness. Actually, to get this much light from a single "source" that's a zillion miles away, I created three or four distant lights on the same coordinates. They're pretending to be the same light, but to get this much illumination, it took several of them. The experiment? I'm trying to get a realistic area of shade on an otherwise brightly sunny day. Like, a backstreet in the shadows at ten in the morning. And I reckon it worked.

And I think I can get back to you inside of February, because this is a leap year. Handy, that.

Jade, February 27

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Romance and fantasy ... render blues and experiments galore

click to see all images at large size,1000+ pixels

First, a huge "thank you" to the folks who have supported the relaunch of the NARC series this month. I guess the piece above will strike a chord ... I call it Rhapsody in Green, and if you know your Deaths Head, you'll know where this one came from! I've wanted to do something like this for ages, but it's a bit more complex than I had the time for, because the emerald green Jarrat with the wings wasn't done with lights, or with Photoshop twiddling. I got in there and created a whole new skinmap for the fantasy image that came right out of Stone's vivid imagination. (Interested? I've pasted in the links in the right-side column ... just scroll down, you'll find them. Five liveried book jackets.)

...and in the past few days I've been working up the characters for a new project ... basically, it's a cover I have to paint, and the truth is, I had no idea, none whatsoever, of what was going to be on it. When in doubt, I doodle in 3D, and as a rule something nice comes out of it. This time, something very nice indeed happened along. What you have here is young Jason Erickson, and Dirk Vanderhoven, of the starship Gilgamesh, which is arriving back at the domed space city in orbit in the Saturn system, and blundering into so much trouble, you'll have to read the book to find out what happens next! I'll keep you posted, let you know when the book comes out ... More Than Human, and due next month.

Last thing for today, a neat Bryce landscape:

I actually called this "Hillside at sunset," but looking at it as its pasted to the page here, it ought to be called Hillside at Dawn ... those are not sunset colors, but they do look like dawn. I guess we're looking east right here.

There's loads and loads more to upload ... I've been so busy on the laptop in the last few days, I've just kept hitting the button to keep the desktop pushing renders along. The laptop, you ask? Why the laptop? Because that's the one with the internet connection. The desktop, known locally as Thor, doesn't have a modem, and ain't going to be getting one. There's a mile and a half of complete security in knowing that the machine is utterly immune to updates and viruses.

Speaking of updates: I ran the Collada experiment, to see if I could get a DAZ character or scene into Poser, and the answer is, "You can, and you can't." You can export a figure as a Collada file, but when Poser imports it, it leaves behind every single preset. Meaning, I export Leon or Jarrat or Stone, and Poser imports the Michael 4 doll boy, standing in the zero pose, the T-pose. And he's not reposable, because a Collada object isn't rigged with morph points, or targets. So I tried exporting a character as an OBJ ... sure, you can do this, and Poser imports it just fine -- face and body morphs, costumes (no rigging, obviously) ... and not one single texture on it anywhere. Plain white plastic. Now, you'd have to go in and put about 200 maps back into place just to get to the point of being able to call one figure done. It would take hours. Not going to happen.

So, next, I looked at the realities of getting the Michael 4 base figure to load in Poser --

It won't, if Poser is running on anything except the boot drive. My Poser Pro 2010 is running on my internal 2TB harddrive, not the boot drive, because I don't have 20GB to spare there for Poser and a tonne of content. Big, big programs are on the boot drive, and it's about 66% full. Time to start conserving swap disk space. (You can run the M4 installer, but it bongs at you with error messages every time it doesn't read a filepath starting in a C.)

So I'm out of luck there too. Next? Will have to install the program itself on my boot drive .. not, repeat NOT the content. Just the base figures, so they'll load up. Then, when I want to do a render in Poser I'll load up the costumes and props I want to use ... render them up, and then remove all the transient content to keep my boot drive viable! This is the next step, and we'll see how this works.

By the by, I spent some time doing about 20 test renders using every possible setting and combo of settings in the Render Settings section of DAZ. Result? With the exception of two of the pixel filters (Gaussian and Box, which give blurred renders, as you'd expect), every other render is utterly identical. So, at this point I don't think there's much more I can squeeze out of the 3DLight render engine...

In fact, I was interested/frustrated/piqued enough to spend a half hour on one of the DAZ forums, over tea, and it turns out that I'm far from the only person struggling to get exceptional results from 3DLight. Some folks are rendering their scenes in Vue, using the DAZ models. At this, my radar turned on, because we also have Vue Esprit. Now, would Vue import a DAZ Collada properly, where Poser won't?!

One guy on the forum had a technique I never tried before: say you have five lights on a scene. Render them separately, come up with five images and composite them later. Now, there's an idea. This is a trick I must give a try. Most users on the forum were chewing over the fact that high-quality renders take soooo long; and the render engines from DAZ are some of the slowest. (For instance, days, plural, to render volumetrics in DAZ. That's news to me ... I didn't even know DAZ had the capacity to handle volumetrics! Or are they talking about Bryce? If so -- nuff said. As soon as I turn on volumetrics, the universe implodes.)

Bottom line: everything is about compromise, and nothing's ever going to be perfect.

The experiments continue! For istance ... here, below, is the traditional DAZ render of today's leader art, Rhapsody in Green. There's four lights on this, and it's pretty much what you expect from DAZ. Compare this with the top one ... there are 16 lights on the top one: red, blue, yellow, green, purple, white and (!) black, all in various degrees of brightness, and all with shadows. Compare the luminosity in the skin tones. Sixteen dim colored lights bring you close to what you see in Poser renders. Black light. Hmmm.

Jade, February 26

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Now, that's more like it!

click to see all images at large size...

Suffice to say ... it worked. I've been looking for the right skinmap for Neil Travers for a long, long time, and it turns out, my intuition regarding the Bart skinmap -- which you saw yesterday, with the Brad Pitt clone wearing it! -- works very nicely indeed. I did have to do a little bit of painting to tone down some redness in the facemap, but otherwise, it looks very, very "right" on Colonel Travers here. (What's that, you say Colonel Travers? If you're still thinking Captain or Major, you just haven't gotten along to Flashpoint ... and you don't know what you've been missing!)

So I'm going to count this one done and dusted. He's amazingly realistic, especially when the lights are brighter; he got Mel Keegan's stamp of approval about fifteen minutes ago (in fact, Mel is thrilled with this -- "the best best ... lock it, call it good," said MK. So I did), and I look forward very much to posing him with Curtis Marin, Rick Vaurien and Mark Sherrat. I'll probably revisit some of the old renders -- open the projects back up, apply this skinmap, and the slightly repainted face, to the character, and re-render them ... especially as, now, I have the ability to fairly easily raytrace things that were giving my computer a hernia last year!

Speaking of lighting and rendering ... I got into the lighting settings of those David Brinnen scenes I mentioned yesterday (something I can do now, since I got the upgrade on Bryce), and ... aha. He's using something called IBL lighting, which I never did before. IBL stands for Image Based Lighting. It comes down to this: you load up an image of the sky, which the software uses to map the lighting onto your scene. The image you have to use is a special one called an .hdr file. The only software I have that can generate .hdr images is Bryce itself, so I had to render a bright sky, and then load it up to be used as the lighting map in this one:

In fact, this is a re-render of a shot you saw a couple of weeks ago. The original one was heavily, heavily enhanced in Photoshop to be useful at all, and even so, it was blue, with a purple cast, which you couldn't get rid of for love or money. I knew it was all about the lighting, but no way could I do much about it in the render. So I went back into the most problematical render I've done in ages, and loaded up a bright sky as the IBL map...

The result is hugely different, and a generation better. I won't say this is photographic, because it's not, but boy, what a difference it made! And it was easy to make the .hdr file and load it. Now comes the tougher job: figuring out all the fiddly bits. The settings and fine-tunings, to make it work properly But this one is well worth sharing, because if you compare it to the original, you can see the world of difference, and the only thing done differently is the image map used for the lighting.

All weird and wonderful ... and yes, I know, guys, I have a tonne to learn about this. I'm getting there! I still have't had the chance to install DAZ Studio 4 Pro, or run the Collada experiment, to -- hopefully -- get DAZ and Poser Pro 2010 talking to each other. I have high hopes, and I'll let you know how it goes!

Jade, 23 February

No, your eyes don't deceive you. Brad Pitt. Not guilty!

click to see all the images at large size, 1000+ pixels... 

Not guilty! I didn't put Brad Pitt through Poser's Face Room ... but someone did. And the results are very good indeed. The designer is H3D, and you can get this character from Renderosity -- he was on sale the other day, and I couldn't resist. The face works very well from almost every angle ... cheers to H3D for this one! In fact, the character is retailed as Bart, not Brad, so if you're over at Renderosity looking for him, remember to search under "Bart for M4," of course M4, or Michael 4, being the base model.

So the next thing was to plunk Brad, uh, Bart, into a scene with characters of mine, and the next thing I couldn't resist was this: 

That's my own Leon on the right -- one of my favorites from among a lot of characters I've created over the last several years. My characters are created in DAZ Studio and saved as "preset" files. They're not compatible with Poser, which is the only downside to them. But having said that ... Poser will import and open a Collada file. Uh huh. Thais means I should be able to do the scene set up, right down to the textures and lights, in DAZ, save it to the Collada format, then open that in Poser, and render it up in the Firefly engine. Now, there's a thought to conjure with! This would also save me having to reinstall about 30 GBs worth of 3D models and props ... hundreds of installers to run, and what have you. That's not a job I've been looking forward to. But if you have this "3D Bridge" between DAZ and Poser, via Collada, then you just do your stuff in the familiar old program, and render the living daylights out of it with the Firefly engine. Hmm. Wouldn't that be nice!

(Incidentally, if you're wondering how I got the shirt on Brad, I mean Bart: it's the Lockwood shirt ... go into the Surfaces tab and make the collar and laces transparent; then add a brocade transparency map; and use the same map as the displacement map, jiggling the settings till you get what you want. Add a diffuse map to create the overall color and toning for the fabric itself, and you're done. I made the brocade map myself ... I just photographed a chair, believe it or not, and then dropped the image into grayscale and flattened the contrast waaaay down.)

This week has been a blizzard of work -- so thick, I haven't even had time to install Studio 4 Pro ... which, as I blogged the other day, they are now giving way ... which is the whole reason I'm revisiting Studio 4, in the hopes that the pro version will be several dimensions smarter and smoother than the basic version (which sucked).

But I did manage the wrangle the time to get Bryce installed, and ...

Yes!! It works!! Not only does it work far better without falling over six ways ever ten minutes, but I'm also able to open up a bunch of content that I bought a while back. The content only ever made the old Bryce 7 Pro crash, or else it would open the files and "bong" at me with a message, "Object missing." This time around, the files load very nicely indeed.

The top two landscapes are all me: in fact, it's the same landscape, with the mist/fog turned ON in the top one, and turned OFF in the bottom one. The mist-off one has the look of a renaissance painting, but I really like the misty one. When you're working in Bryce, you work most of the time with the atmospherics turned off, because as soon as you turn 'em on, it takes a couple of minutes to get a preview -- in other words, so that you can see if the tweak you just made worked out, or made a mess. So you're done with just about everything before you turn the mist on ... and I knew by that time, I wanted two renders, because they're two very different pictures.

The third landscape here ... I'm reluctant to even sign it, but I have signed it because it took 7.5 hours to render, even on the fastest machine you can get in these parts (rendering on four processors threaded as eight). I call it "Canyon, after David Brinnen," because this shot is based very closely on one of the scenes from a pack of David Brinnen landscape materials (which wouldn't open in the old Bryce, but open nicely in the upgrade). I want to stress, this isn't really my work, as such ... although I did drive the camera around, change a few things, and worked my computer hard all night to render the shot...

Now, I know how to do the terrain, the materials on the terrain, and the foliage. But what Mr. Brinnen is doing with the lights, to get this daylight effect, is a complete mystery to me so far. I have literally no idea how to get this quality of light out of Bryce. But I'll reverse engineer this, I swear it, and find out! This is the whole point of buying a pack of scenes, like this one: you take them apart and learn. This is what they're packed and retailed for.

Next: I'm looking at the Bart (ha!) skinmap -- which is a lovely skinmap -- and I'm wondering how Neil Travers would look wearing it. For months, I've been somewhat stymied, because I can't get any skinmap right on Neil. If you have a long memory, you might recall that the last skinmap I tried on him was the SAV Eros one. It was extremely realistic but it really changed his face too much. He looked uber-real, but very different, and I wan't happy with the result. Since then, I haven't had the chance to return to Travers, and I also haven't bought many skinmaps lately, because I have a pretty good library of them. But they'll all quite tan, swarthy, and in the Hellgate books Neil Travers is described as being "pale," as many spacers are. He needs a very fair skinmap -- but at the same it has to be very different from the skin used for Captain R.J. Stone, because (and this is on of the things that makes life hard!) if you notice, Travers and Stoney answer to very much the same physical description. The way they're described, they could be first cousins, yet they're very different men. If you know your NARCs and Hellgates, you know what I mean. If you don't, you might want to click here and find out a little...

So -- Bryce is on and working like a charm. Next is to give Studio 4 Pro a workout and see if it delivers the goods; and to try out the, uh, Brad (!) skinmap on Neil. Experiments in Poser are continuing, but I admit, I've been so strapped for time in the last few days, I've barely had a chance to touch it. On the other hand, Dave has done a couple of renders in Vue that blow you away ... I just can't get him to post them. Grrrr.

Jade, 22 February

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A little fantasy, a little whimsy ... and, they're giving it away now --?!

click to see all images at close to original size -- 1000+ pixels wide -- 
especially the Tales of the Riverbank piece, which you can't even begin to see at this compressed size...

Today I'm running all kinds of experiments -- in mapping, lighting, what have you. I'm all over the spectrum, and in fact, learning a lot. I suspect that you never stop learning, and when I look back at my best work from, say, 18 months ago, I'm gobsmacked at the growth there's been in that time ... not that there was anything "wrong" with the work that was being done back then.

But take a look here, below. I've uploaded the "detail" of the leader shot, above, at full-size, so you can see the whole thing properly, because I want to compare it, visually, with a page out of the old Abraxas graphic novel I was working on, till Project Wonderful categorized it as porn, and I dropped it like the proverbial hot spud. In all seriousness, porn was never the intention -- and it might be me, but I still don't see it as porn. Mature? Sure. But porn? I honestly don't think so. Not unless you classify the work of Boris and Julie and Frank Frazetta as porn, too ... and it isn't. Anyway, that's by the by ... and when I come back to the story, it's going to be told in narrative, as an ebook, with "bonus extras" ... meaning, great gobs of images you can download, which illustrate the narrative, all carefully organized so that they play properly on your Android thingamajigs. More about that later. For now, compare these:

There's nothing "wrong" with the Abraxas render (this is page 34, incidentally ... if you want to check out the whole thing, up to the end of Chapter 7, where I curtailed it, click here). But what I'm getting out of the software now, with lighting, mapping and post-working is ... nice. Very nice.

Speaking of the software, I'm starting to get the hang of Poser Pro:

This might look like a simple picture, but it demonstrates large amounts of control over the scene: import a set? Sure. Load up one of Poser's fairly unimpressive stock characters -- no problem. Get it posed, and add a costume and toupee -- okay. Load up a prop (the chair): yup. Get into the Materials Room and get ten layers of textures on everything -- uh huh. Put in a background wallpaper. Put ONE light on it, but be in absolute control of that light. Drive the camera around, as required. Control the shadows. Render it. To get all this under control, you have to figure out the Pose Room, Materials Room (especially the "advanced" pane), the light and camera controls; how to get a costume and toupee to "conform" to the figure; how to select body parts or the whole body; pose the body;  add a backdrop ... 

These are all very basic skills, I know, I know! Be gentle with me, I'm new to Poser, which is very different. I still have to load up some proper content -- sets, costumes, figures, skinmaps -- and basically get rid of the ticky-tacky stock figures that ship with Poser. Then I need to figure out the nuances of manual settings for the Firefly render engine, which was the whole point of getting Poser ... because I can't go any further with the stock render engine from DAZ.

All that comes next, and I have a heck of a lot more to play with --

You've heard me griping about DAZ Studio 4 being the cartoon interface from a cartoon hell? This is perfectly true for the version which doesn't cost $450 -- in other words, the version you can afford, right? Right now, I'm wondering how many other artists are griping the same way, and defecting to Poser, because as of last weekend, DAZ is giving away the Studio 4 Pro version. I'm going to stress that again ... the Pro version. The one that was $449 -- which, coincidentally, is the one where you're supposed to be able to customize the workspace and get back to something resembling workability. At least, this is what I've read on various blogs and forums. Hmm.

Naturally, I downloaded the installer! I have't run it yet, but (along with getting Poser loaded up with proper, useful content and figuring out the manual adjustments for the Firefly engine), this is top of the agenda. I'll let you know know Studio 4 Pro performs.

And yes, while I was at DAZ, I found my way to the "patch," or "fix," which should stop Bryce behaving like a bratty little twerp, breaking its toys all the time. The version I just downloaded is, which has to be a long way up the ladder from the 7.0 version which we've had since it came out. 

So I have toys galore to play with, and am looking forward to it all with some glee. 

Meanwhile, you wouldn't believe the stuff Dave is doing in Vue Esprit, and I'm desperately trying to get him to do a guest post. I'm going to have to bribe him with something. (Salt and vinegar potato chips might do it.)

Stay tuned.

Jade, 20 February

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beefcake. Does one need a reason?!

click to see at large size, 1000 pixels wide, or high...

Beefcake. I love a hunk out of uniform, don't you? These were done for my own amusement, and also to test out a couple of theories I had about working in various aspects of Photoshop. I won't bore you with the details -- suffice to day, it worked like a charm. Add one more thing to the repertoire.

I don't have much time to write a lot today ... and tomorrow is (wait for it) My Day Off, first one I've had in a couple of weeks, so I'd be shocked to be blogging before the weekend, and I do want to touch base and share these!

You might recognize the characters, though I haven't rendered these guys in a loooong time. I've just been comparing my skills and technique now, against the proficiency I had the last time I rendered these guys. Well, that's how life works -- it's an organic process of growth. You often hear about an artist's "late" or "early" periods. Even Leonardo -- you can always tell a work from his youth, as compared with a work from his later life, when the skills of the master had fully matured. Same difference here --

In fact, I actually want to go back and re-do some of the early work I did yonks ago, and the beauty of it is, when you're working in CG, you can, so long as you kept the original files. I think I kept all the scenes in which Gil and Joe appeared (Gil Cronin and Joe Ramos -- you probably know them well), so in theory all I have to do is open the files and work new magic with the lights, shadows and post work...

I've actually reworked the facial structure of the Native American character; I was never fully satisfied with it, and the subtle differences have made a huge improvement. Please do click to see these at close to full size. These guys are a knockout. 

Yes, I'm slogging through Poser! Right now, I think I have the nuances of the lights figured out; am shifting between "rooms" comfortably, and moving things around without trouble. Have worked out how to slap maps onto models with various results. Mapping doesn't work in the same way as DAZ Studio, and the results can be very different. You need to learn how to get the same results by a different rout. The next challenge for me is going to be working out the shader system, shader nodes and what have you. This is something new, because I never got into shaders in DAZ ... why not? Before last Christmas Day, I never had a computer that would do the work! However, for some time now I've been working in a very similar interface with Bryce 7 Pro materials, so that although I haven't touched shaders, as such, I know how it works. Bryce has something called the DTE, or Deep Texture Editor -- yep, same approximate thing. So if I can get this worked out for Poser, I'll be ready to load up the content folders with USEFUL models, not the cartoon-type gear that's given away with the program. 

Looking for an update on the NARC-to-Kindle project? The uploads happened today, and Kindle reports that all five are "publishing" at this time. Tomorrow night, I ought to be able to get the linking code and get it built into Mel's webpages. However, the epub uploads have us scratching our reads: the file server we use for this is Payloadz.com, and when we tried to upload this morning, Payloadz was apparently taking the files, and then promptly reporting "error: no such file on server," or words to that effect. Hunh? Well, the problem ain't at our end, so it's a safe bet something was going on at Payload. Will try again tomorrow, and all being well we're still "on pace" for the full NARC series to launch on time, on target.

Day off tomorrow!! Weehoo!! I'll be back at the weekend...

Jade, 16 February

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's!

click to see at large size -- 1000+ pixels wide

Happy Valentine's Day to all! Have been absent for a few days ... sorry about that, guys ... work has been busy, and things went a little bit ballistic yesterday, which put me further behind schedule. But I've been doing art, just not getting the chance to upload it!

Quick update on the progress of the NARC books on their way to Kindle: we're on pace to be sending out a newsletter first thing on Saturday morning, downunder time, which will be late Friday afternoon in the States -- and this is the perfect time to catch you as you head into the weekend.

And now the big news:

Poser Pro 2010 has arrived ... has been installed ... is being puzzled over. You're waiting for first impressions, yes? Uh huh. Well...

Nice sturdy box ... don't like the artwork on it (she looks really, really weird) ... and the quick-start guide is printed in TWO POINT text. They ought to give away a free magnifying glass with it. Can't read a word, even with my glasses on! Two disks in the box -- one for Windows, one for Mac. The installation went with one hitch: they put up he ReadMe file, tell you to read it carefully before proceeding with the installation ... it's 14 letter-size pages of densely-packed type, and the window it's sitting on gives you no access to the printer. Umm ... sure. I'd love to sit here for an hour, puzzling over all this, but like the Grinch, my puzzler is sore, so I hit "next" and just installed it. Type in serial number to activate, and we're over the first hurdle: it understands about running on a computer that is NOT connected to the Internet. That'd had me worried because as you know, my machine has no modem, and is not likely to ever have one. 

(I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. Dave had the guys at IT Warehouse build and configure an incredible system for me, for Christmas, and between them, Microsquash and Adobe and so forth would take turns screwing it up with live updates, if they were allowed to. No way. No modem in the chassis!! Mind you, I just found out about "tethering," using my new phone. Do you know about this, folks? You can plug your Android phone into your computer with a USB cable, and suddenly it's online. Turns out, the new Samsung Galaxies are routers -- not modems, mind you, but routers. Now, would that work with my machine, which deliberately doesn't have a modem? Gotta find out. Don't think so, actually. But I digress...)

So far I've (only) spent about six hours or so wading around in the ocean of Poser, but I can tell you this already: it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have Poser with its incredible Face Room, where you can feed it photos of Orlando Bloom or Andy Lau or Jason Momoa, and render him into a threedee model (ouch!); and the Cloth Room, where you can make clothing waft in the breeze and fold naturally around a figure; and the Firefly render engine, which is going to give me the luminous renders of my dreams ... on the other hand, you have the interface from hell, a content library system that is utterly brain-dead, and a series of pre-installed stock human figures which are surprisingly ticky-tacky.

It's not any astonishment that as of Poser 4 (or 5?), SmithMicro stopped trying to design their own figures, and embraced Michael 4 and Victoria 4.2 from DAZ! Now, Poser Pro 2010 is the Pro version of Poser 8,while Pro 2012 is the Pro version of Poser 9, so I'm one skinny generation behind state-of-the-art. (Will catch up at mid-year, when they've worked the bugs out of Pro 2012). As of Pro 2010, the stock Poser figures are really not what you want and need. The male one is called Ryan, and he's about as lifelike as a tailor's dummy!

So -- next chore: get back to DAZ and download the installers for the Poser versions of Michael and Victoria, and the dangly bits for Michael. Get them installed ... work out the directory structure to get some skinmaps and face/body morphs installed to get them up and running. (And while I'm there ... makes note to self! ... have them reactivate the download link for Bryce 7 Pro 7.1.0.whatever, so I can get some sense out of Bryce, which is crashing every 34.2 seconds when I try to do anything other than the most basic work with terrains).

How does Poser stack up against DAZ? It's not for the novice, or for the easily confused. DAZ may have the render engine which ain't so hot, but ye gods, for Studio 3 they designed a clean, easy, intuitive interface where you can work like greased lightning. Poser is stuffed with features and power, tools and all, giving you probably three times the control over every little detail, which DAZ doesn't give you (at least until you get to the top-end version of Studio 4 ... which costs $499 and has a cartoon interface from a cartoon hell ... not going there, guys!!). But the downside to Poser is its workspace and workflow. It's weirdly cumbersome, and doing anything takes a lot longer. Even simple jobs, like moving figures around, takes longer, due to the way the program does things. I'll get used to it, obviously -- God knows, you can get used to having a wooden leg or a glass eye. But in an instant I can see the downside to Poser as well as the upsides -- and there are more upsides than you can shake a stick at.

Poke around in the menus and the "rooms," and you instantly start literally falling over the features. What SmithMicro needed to do was streamline the workflow -- the interface is the absolute best feature about DAZ Studio 3: it's fast, smart, clean. They wrecked all that with Studio 4, of course, so this is all academic now. But having said that, if you can hang onto your sanity for long enough to wrap your head around Poser's often counter-intuitive way of working, you'll be able to worm your way into the gajillion and one features -- and I can see this at a glance, too!

How far away am I from getting a proper, useful scene to show you? Couple of days. I figured out how to import objects, set the lights, move stuff around, control shadows and cameras and so forth. Am now figuring out how to slap textures on things. Let me get the directory structure down, and get some useful content imported. They do indeed give you a couple of gigs of free content, but it's cartoon stuff; little is useful, if you're looking for serious artwork --

Luckily, I've been shopping at Renderosity for years now, and in almost every instance, when you buy something from Renderosity, they give you all the files, Poser and Daz, in a zip archive. By contrast, when you shop at DAZ, they give you the choice of the DAZ installer as an executable, or the Poser installer as an executable. Now, I didn't bother downloading the Poser installers -- why would I? -- so now I have to go back to DAZ and get them to reactivate all the dead links, a bunch at a time, to get the Poser versions of the models I bought up to 28 months ago ... download over a Gig, and run 100 installers. Bliss. Uh, yes, I much prefer to get the zip archives with everything  onboard at the one time. 

At this moment I have no clue how to do mapping (displacement, bump, opacity, reflection, whatever) in the new interface, but I know one thing for a fact: everything James Cameron would have wanted when setting up Avatar is in there. I just have to 1) find it, and 2) have patience with the cumbersome, slow, somewhat muddled interface. Give me a few days, guys.

Meanwhile, Dave is going gangbusters in Vue ... importing objects, importing terrain maps, having fun with the ecosystem builder, which will "populate" a terrain for you, with anything from grass to skyscrapers. Am twisting his arm, trying to get him to do a guest post here about it.

And now -- back to work, with about another six hours ahead of me, today, to stay on pace. Keep the coffee coming, right? Right. 

Jade, February 14 -- Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Not this week. Well ... darn.

click to see all images at large size, 1000+ pixels wide...

Well ... darn. And I could put that in stronger language. Not quite the news  wanted to be giving you today ... we "lost our window of opportunity" for uploading the NARC books to Kindle this week, and it's my fault -- not that I could have done anything about it. I was going great till I woke up with a monster migraine yesterday, and today I'm seeing out of one eye. As you probably know, there's a heck of a lot more involved in launching a book, or series of books, than just uploading them. There's webpages, wiki pages, banners, ads, and there's the timing of the launch. A new book needs to show up in the leader pages of stores like OmniLit at just the right moment, when visitors and customers are actually looking at those pages. This means, late Friday night (in the US), through to Sunday. This is when potential readers actually see new books appearing -- otherwise, a book rapidly vanishes into the impenetrable depths of online stores that have literally millions of titles in their inventory. 

I was doing fine, on pace to make it comfortably. I had all of Thursday and Friday to make up the pages and the ads. Then I opened my eyes Thursday morning -- or tried to. Nope. Not going to happen this week. It's now late Friday, downunder time, and I still haven't been able to make the ads ... and as for doing the work on webpages ...? My guess would be Sunday, earliest, for that work. Any migraine sufferer will tell you, when your eyes are like that, you can't stare at a computer for long enough to get the work done. Sigh.

Okay, so the NARCs launch on February 18th, not February 11th. Copious apologies go to Mel Keegan for the delay...

Please do click on this image, right above, and see the inside of the domed city I built for the cover of Scorpio. I never did get the chance to share this, and the details don't show on the bookcover. But believe me, if they weren't there, you'd notice! All the details have to be in place for the "whole" to look great on a cover. There's a park, complete with hills and trees, in the middle of that city ... and of course the city is floating in the air of an arctic world. If you didn't see the original post where I uploaded several renders of these "cities in sky-spheres," click here. And if you missed the Aphelion cover where they were built into the montage artwork, then click here

(One thing that's been very gratifying: since I've been uploading artwork featuring Jarrat and Stone, and have been blogging about the process involved in getting the books into the modern marketplace, there's been quite a lot of interest in the paperbacks. I mean -- paperbacks! It's so nice to tell old fashioned books.)

The two leader pieces today are a visual treat rolled into an experiment. If you can drag your eyes off the hunk for a second, look at the ground! The ground! Real, genuine, proper meadow grasses and flowers and what have you. These are Flink's Instant Meadow props -- scores of them, carpeted all over the little terrain I have the hunk standing on. There's 10 different patches of plants, and you just keep on whacking them into the ground space till you build up a meadow --

Then you stand (or sit) a naked hunk in the middle of it, so people will look at your picture --

--because, let's face it, if I uploaded a picture of  the ground, you'd say, "yeah, yeah, sure," and wouldn't bother to even look, right? Right. So here's a naked hunk wearing the SAV Atlas skinmap, and suddenly you're looking at my ground. See, it worked. Ulterior motives. Also ... he's a beauty, isn't he?

Not to mention ... sunlight! At first glance, you might be thinking these were rendered in Bryce, but no, these are still DAZ Studio renders. I've pretty much got the knack of getting photo realism (or very close to it) in bright conditions. I haven't managed to get this in low-light conditions, but I'm still experimenting with "black light," or multiple very-dark lights of many colors. 

Next week, I'll be watching the mailbox -- it's not impossible for Poser Pro to be delivered this soon, but it also wouldn't astonish me if it didn't arrive till the week after. Meanwhile, Dave is doing fantastic things with Vue, and he's also "gotten his feet wet," buying some small props and models at the Cornucopia3D store. The other place that's great to shop for the .vob models which are native to Vue is Renderosity. If you're ever interested, and have a few minutes to kill, go there and do a Marketplace Search specifically on Vue models. Whoooo. 

The Bryce landscape, I call "Top of the World." Photorealistic? No. I did everything I could with this one to make it cross that line from art to photo, and it wasn't going to budge ... I was also having big, big problems with Bryce. Crash, crash, crash. The other day I bought two sets of materials which would have made terrains much more realistic, but they won't install. All I get, when I try to import them is -- crash! The program has crashed, and is crashing, so often, it's become profoundly unstable -- and it's done this in about six weeks. The least I can do us an uninstall-reinstall, to bring it back up to usability, but I really, really need to get the upgrade, or patch, or bug fix, or whatever it is, from DAZ. This is on my agenda, soon as I have the time. In other words -- not today, but soon.

Jade, 10 February
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