Friday, May 25, 2012

CG illustration, calendar boys, fantasy plots, and a rhapsody in Lux Render!

click to see all images at large size (mostly 1:1)

As you can see, CG illustration is on my mind -- these are actually images designed around Chapter Two and Three of Abraxas: Leon has gotten the kid, Martin, back home, and in the evening he and his old friend Roald enjoy a quiet hour in the gardens, talking over the past -- and the future. What's to become of the kid, and in fact, does Martin have a halfway decent idea, though he went the wrong way about realizing it? The story is actually about the conflict between the 'old warhorse' and the conscientious objector ... the natural warrior and the person who is not a born soldier, but isn't a coward, and needs to go out and prove this. I still think it's a very strong story ... and it's yielding some rich, evocative illustrations --

These were rendered BIG, because I've lately discovered that (hee hee hee!) I have the ability to render at 1600 wide and more. I've gone up as far as 2400 so far, with no crashes of the software or computer. And I loooove having the big images. So everything I'm sharing with you lately is at full desktop/pinup size. These pieces, today, are well worth seeing at large size, but I know a lot of visitors won't give me that extra click or to, so -- at the bottom of this post I'm going to paste in the "detail" crops, just for fun.

At last -- al last! -- I got the painting finished on the LuxRender version of the Hyborian Age Calendar Boy ... and here he is:

You have GOT to see this one full-sized! It's like walking into the studio and meeting the model who posed for the painting! Lux does amazing things with the skin tones -- and I also had a lot more luck this time with getting it to handle a darker complexion without going muddy...

Notes for the technically minded:
This is just about the first time I've coaxed LuxRender to handle the darker skin tones well, and to do this, I used an odd kind of mix between the 'biased' and 'unbiased' lighting setup. What's the diff? Well, raytracing uses resolutely 'biased' rendering, meaning, you set up a boatload of artificial light to create artificial (or contrived) results that, if you get really, really good at this, can be made to mimic proper daylight, moonlight or whatever. LuxRender is an 'unbiased' renderer, so you can feel free to set one light, call it SUN, make it really bright and a long way away ... set it to render, come back tomorrow, and you can get a startlingly photographic, real-world daylight result. It's not all that difficult to get good daylight results that way. So far, though, I'm having a much tougher time getting Lux to simulate (or duplicate) very soft lighting, such as firelight, candlelight, torchlight. This ain't so easy. So ... hmmm. Now, one of the ground rules in Lux is to stay the hell away from distant lights, which Lux recognizes as suns. O...kay. So in the last few dozens of renders, I've been using exclusively spotlights and point lights. And it turns out, you can ship a scene out of DAZ Studio that was set up with spots and points, and you can fiddle happily, and endlessly, in Lux's own window (not the Reality bridge -- Lux itself), changing the strength and color of spots and points while the render is in progress. Wahoo.

The results are ... well, you're looking at 'em! The Hyborian Age Calendar Boy is such a hybrid -- a biased light set rendered in an unbiased renderer. Ye gods. Does it work? Yep. And it really does look like lamplight. Compare the LuxRender image with the previous raytrace: 

Please, please, see the above at full size: LuxRender on the right, raytrace on the left. The raytrace is by 3DLight, done in DAZ Studio 3. This scene, complete with spots and point lights, was shipped into Reality, and thence to Lux. Nice!

And now, those "detail" crops I promised. And yes, I do intend to post the Photoshop tutorial on retouching and overpainting. All the images you see today are heavily overpainted. One or two are experimental. These, below, are from a scene in Abraxas that comes along well after the point where it was discontinued on account of being tagged as porn. And that is something I'll never agree with. It wasn't even spicy enough to be called 'erotic romance.' There was nothing 'hot' in it up to page 62, which was the last on-line -- just some adult concepts which were logical, rational, salutary, cautionary. In fact, the story would have been just plain dumb without them -- the developing plot of a tale about a young conscientious objector out to to prove he's not a coward won't "go" if he blunders along, oblivious to danger and doing "brave" things because he has no idea he's in mortal peril! To make the story mean anything, Martin needs to know he's in real danger, and do his stuff anyway, and the only way to learn this is to walk into danger, have a close call, a narrow squeak, survive, and grow. In the first chapter of Abraxas, he runs into a real villain ... remember Yussan? Uh huh.

On that note, here are Leon and Roald (Martin's guardian, if you recall), in the courtyard, talking over the days of their service in the militia, and trying to hash out if Martin has half a plan after all:

...and it occurs to me that I also ought to give you the link to the site where the graphic novel itself was unfolding as a web comic: Abraxas: The Lost Songs. Stay tuned for more on this, because I'm starting to get bitten by the inspiration bug. Again. In its next incarnation, Abraxas won't be a comic, but it's going to be richly illustrated, because I'm having a ball with this, and I'd forgotten how much I love these characters and this story!

Jade, May 25

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