Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Forgotten Songs - Chapter Four (and more)



click to see at large size



Chapter Four

“You’re lucky,” Leon said with a thin edge of humor in the deep voice. “You might have been halfway to market before I caught up with you.” He paused long enough to swing his leg over the saddle, and dropped to the ground, supple as a big cat. “And you were lucky it was Yussan who caught you, because if it’d been anybody else — and there are scores of the bastards out here! — there’d have been a pail of blood spilled, maybe some of it mine. Bloodletting,” he added darkly, “puts me in a foul temper.”
Martin’s head had begun to spin, and none of this made any sense. He was cold, his knees hurt, and fear prickled through him, making him colder yet. He knew the night was not really chill, since Leon’s broad torso was bare, and he seemed comfortable enough. But fear seemed to make the blood drain right out of the extremities, leaving Martin close to trembling.
The big man was glaring down at him, and his heart was in his mouth as he hunted for his voice. “You were looking for me? I don’t understand.”
The sound of a chuckle surprised him. “I know you don’t,” Leon said shortly. “I’d be shocked if you did.” He cocked his head at Martin and asked oddly, “What are you, boy?”
The question might have sounded strange, but Martin knew the answer without even thinking about it. “I’m an idiot,” he said dutifully, without even taking a breath. “I know I’m an idiot.” He shifted again on knees that had begun to bruise. “You think it didn’t occur to me, when Yussan was talking about taking me someplace? Selling me? Would he have done that?”
For some time Leon studied him mutely, while he, himself, was little more than a dark silhouette against the twilight sky. Stars had begun to twinkle there, and the night air was sharp. Somewhere not far off, a campfire or perhaps the hearth in a trapper’s hut was sending out a veil of woodsmoke that made Martin long for home.
“Oh, Yussan would have sold you,” Leon said at last. “You haven’t heard his name, back in Esketh?”
“I have,” Martin admitted.
“Then you know what he does. He makes a very good living, trading in morons. And there’s never any shortage of halfwits breaking curfew to try their luck in these badlands.” Leon cast a disapproving glance over the ruins, and on, toward the distant city of Arkeshan.
“Halfwits,” Martin echoed, and sighed, for the word was accurate enough.
At last Leon stirred and gestured with the sword. “Get up on your feet, boy. Are you hurt?” The dark eyes were all over Martin as he scrambled up.
He stood, head bowed, grateful for the twilight, which would hide the hot blush on his face. He could have mentioned his knees, which were going to be blue tomorrow, but he held his tongue as Leon said,
“I don’t see a mark on you. Nobody laid a finger on you, then?”
“Nobody touched me,” Martin admitted with a deep shiver, for he knew what could have happened. He chanced a little glance up at Leon, and then bowed his head again. Leon towered over him, bigger, broader, older, with a power Martin envied. “You know there’s a gang of men out there, armed with bows? They could shoot us dead.”
Again, the chuckle. Leon shifted his grip on the sword. “Who told you that?”
“Yussan.” Martin lifted his head now, eyes wide in the near darkness, eager to see Leon’s face. “It’s what he said. A whole gang out there, armed to the teeth.”
“And you believe everything you’re told?” Leon asked teasingly.
“Well, no,” Martin began, “but —”
“I think you do believe everything you’re told,” Leon observed, as if it amused and annoyed him at once.”I think you followed some wild goose chase out here, and you need your brains examined. My gods, you deserve to be groomed for the markets, and then stood up on an auction block!” He paused to look Martin up and down. “Have you any idea, any at all, the kind of lessons Yussan would have taught you?”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A superhero ... because it's "Avengers on DVD week"

click to see at large size

Well ... The Avengers came out on DVD this week, so I was in a superhero mood.  I thought, let's take a crack at creating one ... and here he is. You start with Michael 4, of course ... but, first -- hand-paint the skinmap and apply it to the model. I did a kind of "chrome" design and applied it generally. It's not an exact fit (have you any idea how long it takes to paint a seamless, dovetailed skinmap? I didn't have a week to spend on this!) so he's wearing a costume which conceals a couple of places where I'd still be painting the skinmap, if I wanted to wind up with something that was so perfect, you could go on Renderosity and sell it. That wasn't necessary here ... I just wanted to wind up with a nice painting in  couple of hours. So...

The body morph on Michael 4 is "blown out" here and there to get the superhero effect. One of the tweaks I made was to enlarge the hands. Then, get the pose just right -- a kind of martial arts pose. Then drop the Dystopia city blocks into the background. The Dystopia skydome is actually standing in for the background here, but I created a new sky to drop onto it. There's only two lights on this -- both raytraced -- and it was rendered up at 2700 pixels high, to give me wiggle room to get in and paint things like the eyes and brows. I didn't paint the hair ... no need. That's the Aether hair with the peak waaay overcooked to get a "strange" effect, and it'll do just as it is.

The raytrace only took a few minutes, even though the image is huge, because there's only the one hardo ... no feathers, fur, trees, plants. Phew! They're the culprits that slow down renders. In fact, lately I'm doing all the thousand-and-one preliminary renders -- the previews, which you do by the dozens to get things right before you set it up to render properly -- with the hair and foliage turned OFF. This makes your characters look a bit odd, and can make the scene look bare, but you get 30-second previews instead of 6-minute previews. Anything that makes the job go faster, right?

With the render done, then it was time to get the picture into Photoshop, and I spent about an hour painting highlights, shadows, effects, the face, the fog, the smog, smoke, tattoos, symbols, kanji. (Incidentally, don't ask me what the kanji means ... it just looks really cool.)

How much happens in Photoshop? Well, a lot, actually...


...without which, the bare render tends to look pretty "flat," even though there's nothing actually wrong with it. The digital painting later is what brings it to life.

So here's my superhero -- and he looks like a zombie hunter after the apocalypse! Just the thing to make a salute to The Avengers ... which we just bought, and will be watching tonight.

Also, I've done the next Abraxas art ... I just haven't written the Chapter yet. I'll be able to get this done this afternoon, and will upload art and chapter tomorrow, and this actually brings us to the end of August. What happened to the month? It's flown by! The 28th was Dave's birthday --

Those of you who are into Vue might be interested to know that he doubled his RAM, for his birthday -- necessary to run the program better/properly -- plus got the Bontanica and EcoSystem plugin modules for Vue. Now he can create plants and trees and, with the EcoSystem, populate a landscape. Theoretically, this can be done (these are images borrowed from the Vue brochure):

picture credit: the Vue brochure: borrowed, not hotlinked

picture credit: the Vue brochure: borrowed, not hotlinked

...and this is the kind of thing Dave will be figuring out in the weeks and months to come. I would dearly love to collaborate on this sort of art. The Vue plants and trees are far, far superior to almost anything you can get for use in Bryce and DAZ (and by extension, Poser). Vue does everything differently, and I am so impressed. Am dying to see what Dave can do with these new modules --

And for myself, it's Abraxas next. The new piece depicts Leon and Martin, and I'm delighted with it. It was a loooong render because it's full of foliage, and I think I was painting on it for 2-3 hours -- almost every pixel was painted, one way and another. See you tomorrow, with this and the chapter!

Jade, 30 August

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Midnight rites


click to see a large size

I was in a Boris mood ... at least as far as wanting to do something as color-saturated, exotic and passionate as Boris, though of course I wanted to depict a beautiful young man rather than a female type ... not that I have any single thing against female types,  but the www is filled to overflowing with images of fantastic fantasy women. Have you tried to find images of fantastic fantasy men? Dang, it's hard to find any. So here I am, trying to fill the niche with pieces like this!

These are the same characters you saw in the "knighthood" piece. Remember this:


In fact, there's a kind of story weaving itself around these images -- especially when you remember back to this one, too:


Raven: a guardian of the city's nights ... so far so good. You find in in the hours between midnight and dawn with his wings spread in the starlight, the wind in his hair, and the sword stashed not far away. Now the imagination begins to weave stories ...

It's an old city with a thousand year heritage, and the winged ones were its guardians in times so long ago, only legends survive now. Raven's people are rare these days -- there are too few of them for them to be risked in times of danger, save as a dire last resort. However, they still hold the commissions of guardians; the regiment protecting the city is under their command, although in these latter days it's manned by ordinary mortals who feel the call to the vocation. Like Corrin. Let's give him a name; I like Corrin.

So Corrin has come to the regiment, just as his father did; and the same immortal is there to witness his graduation from student to Knight of the Citadel. It begins with a ceremony in the great hall, where generations of royalty and heroes of old bear witness to the vows in the  light of scores of blazing candles. But later, when midnight has unfurled across the summer hills, the immortal and the new knight climb to the temple under the open sky for the deeper rite, where the young man's vows are made not to the kings of men but before gods so ancient, even the immortals have forgotten their names. What passes in the temple is known only to those who take part in the secret rite; they never tell...

But this time it's is different, because Corrin has fallen under the spell of this particular immortal. Against every word of advice to the contrary, he's lost his heart -- and might as well have lost his wits, because Raven has to be five centuries old, and he's not likely to even notice when a mortal lad not yet 25 years old is smitten. Corrin is just grateful to be in the Citadel, part of the regiment, close enough to him to dream and hope, in the old, old story of unrequited love, until -- well, in these kind of stories all hell invariably busts loose, and in about 125 pages' time you'll reach the Happy Ending just before the list of new books in the back!

It's a lovely fantasy, isn't it? Call it Yaoi, if you like.

And all this, because I was in a Boris mood! Cool.

Jade, August 21

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Forgotten Songs - Chapter Three (and a whole lot more!)


click to see at large size; notes on the art after the story!


Chapter Three

A voice called out of the darkness, and the sound of it made Martin’s hair stand on end. It was deep, resonant, with an accent he could not place — it had much in common with the local dialects, but the sounds of strange places thickly overlaid the accent of Esketh.
He shot a glance up at the bandit, but Yussan seemed to have relaxed. He still held his hands well out from his sides, in plain view, as if even now we was not about to take liberties, but the man who had spoken out of the darkness was clearly not his enemy.
With a ring of iron-shod hooves, a big gypsy horse stepped out of the ruins. He was muscular, black and white, with a luxuriant black mane stirring in the night breeze, and a white tail he twitched restlessly as the man brought him closer. The animal might as easily have been a warhorse as a ‘vanner’ bred by the wandering people who crossed enormous distances from Setzele in the far east to Thulis in the north. His harness was heavy, well-tended but scuffed with age and wear. Martin saw all this at a glance as he looked up at the rider who had spoken out of the night.
The man was lean, his skin blued by the moonlight, which gleamed on hard muscles and wove highlights through the red hair that was clasped loosely at his neck. He was shirtless, but wore the forearm guards of an archer, and the band about the right biceps, common to warriors. The band contained their valuables, and on the inside was engraved the names of their next of kin. They wore it on the sword arm, and the understanding was tacit: it would be the last possession they lost, just moments before they lost their lives.
Many times, Martin had seen young men heading off to the regiment for the years of their indentured military service. Their fathers fitted the leather armband before they joined the ranks marching out, and into the band was placed a few silver coins, a charm for luck, perhaps a cameo painting of the family they left behind and might never see again.
His eyes swept over the man’s broad, lightly-furred breast, came to rest on his face, and Martin swallowed hard. The stranger was handsome, with strong features, deep eyes, a wide, sensual mouth.
“I thought it would be you,” he was saying to the bandit, and that mouth twitched in a half smile. “You’re getting too predictable, Yussan. One of these days it’s going to be a father or husband who tracks you out here, mad as all hell. He’ll have a dozen men behind him, and they’ll spike your stupid head on the Esketh gate.” The big horse came to a halt, and the stranger gestured with the sword he held loosely in his left hand — not the right, which made a statement. The armband circled his right biceps, but here, tonight he was not on the offensive. “You should have better sense,” he was saying. “There’s far easier ways to make an end of yourself!”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The colors of winter -- Aussie style -- 2012













click to see all images at large size

As promised, a selection of the images from the overnight trip Dave and I took to Milang last week. Indulging my other art form again, before I'm back in a day or two with some art and writing. 

How can you tell it's winter? All those yellow flowers! They're known locally as "sour sobs," and they're actually a pest. They're pretty, but they suck water out of the soil and evaporate it away through their massive greenery, which means the soil is dehydrated, going into spring. This wouldn't be too bad, if this country continued to get plenty of rain through the springtime, but we usually don't. We rarely get what you'd call "plenty" of rain, and in a normal season, by October it can be very dry indeed...

This year could be the exception. The lowlands, around the lakes district, was full of standing water, and the level in the lake itself -- Lake Alexandrina -- was higher than we've ever seen it. Locals told us there had been flooding, and a couple of the houses close to the lakefront itself were still sandbagged. So, I guess this year the sour sobs won't do much harm! As we left the lakes district, headed back to town, the next weather front was just arriving and the forecast for this week is for more rain. Lots more. 

(And I know, before anyone says anything ... we're spoiled rotten. This is the middle of winter? Uh huh. We're wusses.  What can I tell you? It's true.) 

We went to the wetlands hoping for waterbirds galore, and weren't disappointed. Alas, most birds are too far off to photograph well, even with 12MP and a 30x optical zoom, which is equivalent to something like 730mm in the old lenses we used with the SLR cameras. I would love to be able to photograph birds in the wild, but you'd need at least 1000mm. (Now, with a 50x optical zoom and 20MP, you'd be in with half a chance. I wonder what they cost??? Note to self: find out.) These are quite good bird pictures, but ... the ones I'd have been able to capture if I'd had longer reach!

After dark, those wetlands are loud with frogs. There are three different kinds in there (the spotted grass frog, the "banjo" frog, and one other kind which escapes me at the moment), and although they're quite active in daylight, they seem to go hyper after dark. We had dinner at the Milang Pier Hotel, and on the walk back to the park on the lake, where we were staying, it was amazing ... the air seemed to be popping and crackling with the calls of about a million frogs -- of which, we never saw even one.

The next opportunity to take the cameras on a outing will be a couple of weeks from now -- Loftia Gardens, high in the hills. I'm trying to work out if the magnolias will be in bloom, but I think it'll be a leeetle early for them ... Magnolias at the end of September and rhododendrons in November, is it? We'll find out!

Jade, August 6

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Big skies at dawn over Lake Alexandrina











click to see all images at large size

This time I'm indulging my other art ... photography. Dave and I took a day off last week, and spent the night on the shore of Lake Alexandrina. You wake to the sounds of herons and the waters lapping, while pelicans soar over the lagoon. There was not much of a sunset the night before, so we were really, really hoping for a spectacular dawn, and Mother Nature didn't let us down. In fact, she didn't miss a trick! 

It's the middle of winter downunder, of course. It was cold -- or what we think of as cold. Maybe one or two degrees Celsius, which would be something like 35 degrees Fahrenheit. But it was well, well worth the chilly fingers and toes, as you can see from these pictures!

In fact, there are many more, and I'll share some with you very soon. Last winter, I did a post called "The Colors of Winter, Aussie style," and I think I'll do something similar for Winter 2012. (Good gods, was that really a year ago? It was! I just looked at the post, and it was uploaded August 1, 2011. Where did the last year go? I want it back!)

One of the things that impresses itself on me the most, when we get out of town, and particularly when you get out of the hills too, and into the flatlands, is ... the size of the sky. It's, um, well, it's big, and every time you look at it, it's different. There's a movie called Local Hero -- I wonder if you know it? It's set in Scotland, and filmed on the west coast, looking out towards the Hebrides. One or two of these shots make me think of that movie. 

These images are uploaded at 1600 pixels wide (one or two are a little smaller, due to being cropped to get rid of unwanted elements), and they're well worth a look at the larger size. As I've said elsewhere, there's a place where art blurs into photography, and photography blurs into art ... and this is definitely it.

Back soon with more of Abraxas! I'd be uploading a chapter of Abraxas today, complete with an image of Leon that's still buzzing around in my brain, my imagination ... but wouldn't you know it? I came down with gastro the same morning I took these dawn images. That was Thursday; this is Saturday, and I still feel weak and wobbly. So I haven't managed to get the art rendered and finished, and I haven't been able to track down enough viable, functional brain cells to actually write the chapter. Give me a day or two. The art that's knocking on the doors of my imagination, wanting to get out, is becoming very insistent. It's going to happen tomorrow -- I can "feel it in the tips of the fingers," they want to apply themselves to the other computer, the big desktop where the art happens!

Jade, August 4

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