Sunday, September 30, 2012

Microcosm












click to see all images at larger size

As promised: the world of the very small ... the forest floor at Belair National Park on June 1, 2009. These are a small selection of the images I shot -- and lost for three years! While searching for something else, I stumbled over them. I never forgot taking these pictures. It was a magical day, not really cold, just chilly, misty, dead of winter ... the sun would come out for a while then vanish again as the next bank of clouds came over.

The hardest thing was choosing a dozen from the shoot to upload here! The "first pick" was over 60, and whittling it down was tough. One of the "filters" was to take out everything that didn't pertain to the "Microcosm" theme. Before getting these images, Dave and I had stopped for lunch at another region of the park, Playford Lake. There were birds galore -- a whole flock of Ibis on the lake, and a lot more, including the male superb fairy wren ... and he stood still long enough for me to get two pictures -- which was no mean trick, when you consider he's the size of your thumb! Then, after getting these pictures, we took a hike in a third region of the park, and I was photographing koalas and kangaroos. So -- out they all went, leaving only the "Microcosm" theme. Even then, I had to cut about 40 images to 12, soooo...

I thought to myself, how about whacking the rest of them into a video? Which reminded me that I'd bought Corel Video Studio 2010, back in, uh, 2010. 

Next step: get the program installed on The Mighty Thor, and try desperately to remember how to use it. Figure out that it hadn't installed properly, because nothing worked. Uninstall it. Restart the computer. Reinstall it. Try again. Hey, it worked the second time around! (Thanks to Dave for jumping through the last couple of these hoops. I woke up with a migraine today, and if it had been up to me, I'd have frisbee'd the installation DVD back into the corner. Dave had more persistence!)

The soundtrack is empty: silent. You're not missing anything, and you haven't left the sound muted! It's just that I can't afford a hundred bucks to put halfway decent-sounding legal music on this little show. You know that YouTube is recently using a kind of "audio proofreading software" which scans the audio content of whatever you upload? You'll soon get a strange little email from them to the effect that you're breaching copyright law and will be investigated in due course. Don't want to go there ... also, I do understand about copyright. It's always so infuriating when people pirate ebooks, so in come to think of it ... why would I blithely "borrow" the music of some musician who also has to buy groceries and pay power bills? However --

I did take a look around at available canned music, before making the decision to upload this little show silent. Cheap music sounds dreadful -- it would actually detract from the quality of the video. By the time you get up to anything that sounds decent, you're looking at $100 investment. It's out there, and there's plenty of it. I've bookmarked a site called Royalty Free Music Dot Com ... guess what their URL is. (No, really?!) LOL ... if/when I ever get  seriously  into making YouTube videos, I'll get a bunch of stuff from http://www.royaltyfreemusic.com/ and will do the remix, mashup thing, which is perfectly legal.

[Note to musicians: if you charged $10 for decent music, not $100, about a million people would pay you. Charging $100 just makes folks like myself say, "Not today, thanks." Makes sense to anybody???]

Till I feel ready to invest hundreds of bucks on soundtrack elements ... well, silence was good enough for Charlie Chaplin! Or --

Wing it, guys. All you gotta do is play an MP3 in the background while looking at this show. YouTube doesn't have an argument with that!

So, here's the video ... [drum roll, cymbal clash] ...


My reactions to Corel Video Studio? Not bad, but it's not as flexible as I'd have hoped, for $90, or whatever the pricetag was. It has a very annoying feature that you can not turn off: it's panning and zooming all over the images. All I actually wanted was a static slideshow! Noooo way to stop this, sorry. So long as the subject matter is landscapes, scenery etc., it doesn't really make much difference, but the first time I used this software was to make DVDs of people pictures, for my Mom to watch on TV. With Corel's panning and zooming, you mostly got people from the nose to the chin, or the hairline upwards! It was disastrous. I wound up making individual slideshows in Windows Movie Maker on my laptop, and then importing these segments, daisy-chain fashion, into Corel to master the DVD. How silly is that? But for sheer convenience I did this one, here, in Corel...

The output was wmv, and the upload to YouTube took a looooong time. I assume they compress the movie at their end before displaying it??? To this point, I admit, I don't know much about YouTube videos, but I suspect I shall learn. Incidentally, if you're looking for a really nice, quick way to daisy-chain video clips, though, Corel is perfect. Let's say you have a couple of dozen clips from a trip ... all the best bits chopped out ... the parts where the camera is blessedly still and the image is in focus! All you have to do is drag them into the "timeline," and then tell Corel to burn a DVD at HD quality. Couldn't be easier. Which makes it all the more weird that you can't stop the program panning and zooming over stills. Hmmm.

So there you have it: see the whole "Macrocosm" set of images, if you're inclined, without having to download about ten yards of pictures to the body of the blog. Neat. 

I might disappear on you for a couple of weeks, but don't be alarmed that the blog is abandoned. Far from it. I just have a bunch of things to do, and I don't think I'll have much time for art, more's the pity. But I do have some ideas percolating in the back of my mind!

Jade, September 30

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Forgotten Songs: Chapter Five


click to see all images at larger size



Chapter Five

The night was calm, and not really cold at all. As fear dwindled, Martin realized that most of his chill had been the result of sheer dread, while the late summer evening was actually clement, pleasant. The sky was a vast, deep blue inverted bowl, with the last traces of the sunset that would linger for an hour yet, and an ocean of stars.
On any other evening, he would have said it was a glorious night for a ride, and if someone like Leon had taken him outside the walls of Esketh after curfew, Martin would have been breaking no laws. Tonight, he saw the same stars, felt the same soft breeze on his face, but he could feel Leon’s anger in the stiffness of his spine, and he knew the reckoning was coming.
Soon enough, he saw the old cenotaph in the distance, where the badlands gave way to high pastures. Goats and sheep grazed there, and trees began to overcome the thorn bushes and stones. Bats called out of the darkness as the gypsy horse approached, and Leon knew these trails. He took the horse by the shortest rout, and drew rein under the weathered marble steps.
The cenotaph was as old as Esketh. It was built to commemorate a battle fought here, where thousands died in a single day. Martin knew the story but had never known if it were truth or legend. No one was quite sure, since it happened long before the earliest memories of the grandparents of even the oldest people alive today.
Ivy had overgrown the building now, and the marble was cracked. Still, it offered a ready-made shelter, and Martin knew without asking, Leon had used it before. As the horse stopped, he slid down out of the saddle and looked up at the warrior.
“How come you know me? I don’t know you,” he said honestly.”Believe me, you I would remember!”
The man was still in the saddle, outlined in silhouette against the sky. “You were just twelve, the last time I passed through Esketh. You were in school. I stayed a week, but you weren’t home. I saw you playing ball with your friends, but you never bothered to notice me.”
“You were at Roald’s house?” Martin was astonished, and searched his memory, trying to recall where he would have been that summer, eight years ago. It must have been one of the months he stayed on at the school, because he wanted to play ball, and study with some of the visiting tutors — and just to get out of Roald’s house for a while and feel like a freeman. Roald had always told him he was family, but —
“Your guardian made me welcome,” Leon was saying. “He always does.”
“Always?” Martin heard the sharp tone in his own voice. “But I never saw you before.”
Leon only shrugged as he swung down to the ground and set about pulling the big saddle off the horse. “I don’t come through as often as I should. Eight years is a long time … too long. I haven’t seen Roald in a year, and we met by chance in the port of Krestway.” He rested the saddle on the bottom step, pulled a cloth out of one of the bags, and began to rub down the horse as he spoke. “This time I showed my face at Roald’s gate, it was all fear and weeping, and ‘Leon, will you do an old friend a favor? He’s gone.’ And I ask, ‘Who’s gone?” And Roald tells me it’s his moronic little whelp of a ward who’s taken off into the badlands — breaking curfew behind him, risking his stupid little life, and no one even knows what for, because in his wisdom, young Martin doesn’t even care to leave a note tacked to the door for Roald or Imara to find when they get home!”
It was all true, and Martin might have cringed. “If I’d told Roald where I was going,” he muttered defensively, “he’d have stopped me.”
“Of course he’d have stopped you!” Leon’s hands were quick and abrupt as he rubbed the horse’s flanks, betraying his anger. “It’s bandits and skinners out here, and it’s the sheriff for you in the morning, and the bastinado, unless Roald and I take responsibility for your stupidity!”
“Yes, but —” Martin began, and stopped. But what? Anything he could say was only going to make him sound more of a fool, and Leon already had a poor impression of him. Instead, he sealed his mouth and let Leon talk.
Done with the horse, he turned back toward Martin and stood in the moonlight, hands on hips. “It’ll be me taking responsibility, because Roald has to live here after I’ve moved on, and he’ll be disgraced. Word’ll soon get around that he can’t even control his own ward — the one who calls himself a man grown, but hasn’t done a day’s service in the militia to earn his right of majority!”
The militia had haunted Martin since he was old enough to understand how the system worked. Almost all of his friends had done their service; some had given their lives to Esketh, others were crippled — and every one of them had blood on his hands that would never wash away.
“The militia is sent to war,” he said quietly, wondering if a seasoned warrior would be able to understand a word he was saying. “I don’t want to kill anyone. And I — I don’t want to get killed myself.”
“No?” Leon’s brows knitted in a deep frown as he mulled over Martin’s words. “You don’t want to spill blood for the honor and defense of Esketh, but you’ll come out into the badlands after dark, and you’d have expected me to kill Yussan to save your skinny little neck.”
“He was going to sell me!” Martin protested. “He trades in captives and you — damnit, you know him!” He glared up at Leon. “Who is he?”
A wry half smile banished Leon’s frown. He reached up to take the bridle, lead the horse around into shelter. “Yussan? He’s my cousin.”
For a moment Martin was sure he had misheard. “Your — cousin?”
With a deep-throated chuckle Leon led the horse into the lee side of the cenotaph. He had set out feed and a pail of water there when he pitched camp, before going hunting. In a moment the horse was drinking, eating. “Don’t get excited. My parents had six siblings apiece. I have more than fifty cousins. Some are merchant princes and soldiers. A few are mercenaries like Yussan. Lucky for you, he’s one of the decent ones.”
“Decent?” Martin demanded.
“There’s an echo in here,” Leon observed.
“He was going to sell me!”
Leon leaned down, hefted the saddle. Halfway up the steps, he stopped, turned back. “Yussan deals in morons. I still haven’t heard a word about why you broke curfew and set up a killing field. If it had been anybody else but Yussan, I’d be cleaning my sword right now … and if he hadn’t backed off when he did, I’d have had to wound or kill my own flesh and blood. And you — you don’t seem to care!”




Without waiting for an answer, he turned away, marched up the stairs and began to unthong his saddlebags. Trailing after him, Martin saw that he had set up a rudimentary camp when he swung through here on the way out. A bedroll, a black pan, a pair of mugs, a pack of dried food, two skins of water, were all set on the side of a hearth that had been built by other campers, who knew how long ago.
“I had to come out here,” Martin muttered as he watched Leon fetch out an assortment of jerky, dried vegetables, flour, salt.
“Somebody made you break curfew, did they?” He spared a glance for Martin as he struck flint against steel in the hearth.
A little swatch of tinder caught alight at the tenth spark, and Martin watched him lean down to blow on it, bringing the fire alive. “Well, no,” he admitted, “but I was …” There was nothing for it but to tell the truth, and he gritted his teeth. He knelt by the hearth, intent on Leon’s hands as he said, “I was going to meet a man. A guide. He was going to take me into the hills to find — well, he’s supposed to know where there’s a tomb. And a relic, hidden in it.”
The fire was burning, crackling, when Leon straightened and looked down critically at Martin. Some of his wrath seemed to have diminished, and Martin was sure he heard a trace of wry humor as he observed — it was not a question — “You’ve been talking to the Gypsies.”
A wind out of the south caught Martin’s hair, tossing it into his face. If this had been daytime, it would have been a hot wind. “Why shouldn’t I talk to them?” he demanded. “You have something against Gypsies?”
The remark elicited another chuckle. Leon stooped to add kindling to the fire, and reached for the skins of water. “I am a Gypsy,” he said ruefully as he filled the black pan and hung it over the hearth. “I was born one of them, and I know every one of their ridiculous stories. Which one was this? The goldmine in the mountains? Or was it the treasure of great kings, buried in some lost cave?”
“No.” Martin heaved a sigh and looked up at Leon, wistful, embarrassed, annoyed with himself, and grieving a little, that another dream — perhaps a boyish dream — had perished. “I was talking to Miranda. You know Miranda?”
“I should. She’s my great aunt.” Leon looked out into the darkness as a jackal screamed somewhere, far away. “And she told you…?”
“She told me a story — a damned good one! Good enough to fool me. About a cryptic map that’ll get you to the gates of Atlantis. It’s, uh, not true, then?”
But Leon only shrugged with an eloquent twitch of the big shoulders. “It’s a legend. Some part of a legend is always true, or it wouldn’t have come to be a legend.”
“Well, that’s why I came here,” Martin sighed. “I need to … to make something of myself.” The last was a confession, and unexpectedly painful. He felt a sudden heat rise in his face that had nothing to do with the fire, which was burning brightly now.
For a long moment silence settled over the cenotaph. The loudest sound was the crackle of the hearth, the chirp of crickets, the cry of a hunting bird. At least Leon had not mocked him out of hand, Martin thought, and at length the warrior prompted, “I’m listening.”
“I … don’t want to do militia service,” Martin said slowly. “I’m not afraid to fight, but I don’t want to kill. If I let them send me to the militia, they’ll make me kill, and I … don’t want that. But if I don’t do militia service, I’ll never get my right of majority, will I?”
“No,” Leon said thoughtfully. “Not in Esketh. You’ll be able to work, and wed, and have children, but —”
“But I’ll never be able to own property or trade. You understand, don’t you?”
The water was starting to steam. Leon added sticks to the fire and vegetables and salt to the pot. “Oh, I understand more than you know. I understand Roald fostered you when your parents were killed when you were five years old … I understand that you owe him everything you have. You went to school. You’re educated, healthy, well fed … ambitious. I understand you don’t care if you just scared the wits out of him and put me in harm’s way to bring you back.” He stirred the pot with a blackened wooden spoon. “And if I’m going to keep Roald from being disgraced, it’s me who’ll answer to the sheriff for you tomorrow.”
Again Martin sighed, and had the grace to duck his head. “I didn’t mean any harm. I didn’t think.”
“Morons rarely do,” Leon said in philosophical tones. “For your information, the story as I heard it says the map leads to Lemuria, not Atlantis. And it’s not a treasure of gold or jewels there, it’s a magickal papyrus so old, nobody knows where it came from. Speak its words to elder archons and daemons, and they’ll grand your heart’s desire in exchange for amusing them for an instant in the boring eternity of their lives.”
Martin’s heart leapt. “You know the story!”
“Oh, I know it.” Leon dropped down to sit on the bricks at the side of the cenotaph. “And from what I can see, you’re an ungrateful whelp. Roald put me under oath to tan the price of this out of you … if I ever caught up with you before you vanished into a trading caravan heading over the mountains for Arkeshan and beyond. Well, I found you. And I’m still waiting to hear one syllable of remorse. All I’m hearing is excuses.”
A rebellious nerve came alive in Martin. He sat on the cracked old marble flagstones, leaned on one palm and looked into the fire. “I have to make something of myself. Roald has four kids now. I’m the adopted one — the outsider. He’s good to me, but the others are his pride. All I have ahead of me is work, militia, soldiering. So I talked to the Gypsies. Miranda told me the story, and I came here to meet a guide. It’s not an excuse, it’s the truth. What more could I tell you?”
“You could be contrite,” Leon suggested. “You might regret what you’ve done, or have a little gratitude for Roald — even for me. Do you feel any of that, boy?”
“Well … I am sorry,” Martin said honestly, though he was reluctant to say the words aloud.
“I wonder,” Leon mused. “I really wonder if you are. The sheriff would flay the flesh off your soles, and do it with great joy, for this trouble you’ve made. Now, tell me. What am I going to do?”
“You could accept my apology,” Martin said too quickly.
Leon’s dark head cocked at him. “If I thought it was genuine, I would,” he admitted. “But I don’t.”
“Then …” A pulse drummed in Martin’s throat. “Accept that I had my reasons, and … I’m an idiot, and didn’t think about what I was doing. Just followed my nose. And my heart.”
The suggestion did little to convince Leon. “You followed your ambition out here. That’s an explanation, not an apology. I understand why you’re here, even though I can’t forgive it any more than the sheriff could. Or Roald,” he added pointedly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Photo restoration work ... lovely results!


click to see at larger size; photos used by permission

Just a quick post today, because I really want to share the results of a photo restoration project I just completed. A great friend of mine has only a few pictures of her father, and they're in pretty poor condition. The question was, what could be done with them? In fact, you'd be surprised!

Both these images were scanned at good resolution, and then to make the most of what was left to work with (and in some places, it wasn't much), I did multiple "virtual exposures" of the original pictures and blended them together ...

They don't call it "Photoshop" for no reason, right?

In the b/w shot, with the horses, the horses were lifted out and processed separately, just as soon as the image, which had been scanned in color, was converted to pure grayscale. To get the most out of the shot, the contrast was really lifted, with the result that the horses just went away into zones of almost pure black. So I balanced the horses only in a different layer, and blended the two back together. Then, it was a question of adjusting everything to get the right balance ... and then painting. A lot of painting, because the old image was filled with flocks of black spots and white spots. With that all done, the image was matted onto a fresh white border and saved at 300dpi, ready for the printer.

Then the color shot ... the real challenge was to lift the color, which actually involved generating realistic color in an image that had faded away almost to black and white. To do this, I made two versions of the image: a blue one and an exaggerated-red one. These, plus the original shot, were then placed in different layers, and I adjusted the blend and opacity levels on the blue one to get a nice background ... and then selectively erased the blue layer over the skintones, and blended the too-red layer with the original layer, to achieve realistic color there. With this done, the next challenge was the sky...

The sky area had faded out to an area of grayish tones and yellowish tones. First step: scratch head and say "hmmm" a lot. Then, blow it up to huge size, make the monitor very bright, and really use your eyes. Doing this, I noticed that the yellowish tones suggested areas that had almost certainly been clouds. I sampled the best of the remaining sky color and hand-painted in a new sky, in a layer right on top. Then, dropped the opacity to about 10% so I could see through it to the original, and followed the guidelines of those yellowish zones, and painted in the clouds. Last jobs ... repair the torn place on the left side; paint out the surface damage; and re-border the image. Save at 300dpi, ready for the printer.

This was a great experience for me, as an artist and photographer. I enjoyed it a lot, and the images posted here are used by permission.

Next: Abraxas, and ... a "lost photographic shoot" has turned up, over three years since I misplaced the pictures! I'm seeing these images as if for the first time, even though, once my memory was jogged, I actually remember taking them. It was June 2009, a few months before this blog even began, so I'll be going to do a special post featuring "the world of the very small, on the forest floor, June 2009."

But first -- Abraxas!

Jade, September 26

Monday, September 24, 2012

Movie poster ... NARC. Happy 3rd Birthday to this blog!


click to see all images at large size;
wallpapers are 1600 pixels wide

NARC: The Movie. Imagine! Jarrat and Stone and company, the brainchildren of Mel Keegan, in blazing color, on the big screen. In 3D. Whoa. Well, it would cost about $150m and take over a thousand designers and artists to make it happen; then, being a movie in which the romantic thread is ga, it would more than more than likely go over like a lead balloon at the mainstream box office ... but we can dream. So here was the idea:

Design the poster, as if NARC were a major motion picture. 

The first thing I did was have a close look at the posters for the Iron Man movies, and from these I took inspiration in the form of the dynamic. Not the design, but the spirit. This made two or three poster designs jump into my imagination, and I deliberately went with the one that is the LEAST like the Iron Man poster designs, so no one was going to be able to say, "Oh, you just copied." I didn't copy nuthin', and I'm very, very pleased with the final result.

The poster was assembled in Photoshop -- at 4800 pixels high, which gave me plenty of wiggle room for painting. The first step was to assemble a set of big, high-rez renders which would be used to compose the whole image. Where to start? Characters!

The four main heroes were rendered separately: 


Jarrat and Stone, Cronin and Ramos, were rendered at 2500 pixels high, which, for a portrait is big ... big enough to make it possible to paint human hair realistically, which I knew I'd have to do for Jarrat and Ramos, both of whom have hair that's luxurious, a little wild. Turned out, even Stone's hair needed some painting. Only Gil Cronin gave me no chore in this area. Thanks, Gil. 

They were raytraced, not rendered in Lux, for a good reason. LuxRender does fantastic justice to skin tones, but it really, really shows up the shortcomings of 3D hair. (The designers need to get on the stick and work out how to do hair that will look good in the top-end render engines.) In Lux, alas, Jarrat and Ramos would have rendered quite poorly on account of their hair, so I'd have had to paint the hair from scratch. Well ... I could do that, but it would have doubled the time spent on the project ... and the truth is, I'm also still getting the feel of my new mouse pen/tablet. I'm not quite ready to paint that much hair from scratch, though I can touch up existing hair for a composite image like the poster. Last reason for raytracing, not rendering in Lux: each of these renders would have been about a day long, and I'd have run out of time. This project was designed as the Third Anniversary Special for this blog, so it was time sensitive ... if I'd thought of it two weeks ago --!!


The next major element to be rendered was actually the planet! Working wholly in DAZ Studio, you're a bit hamstrung by what you can do with primitives -- ie, spheres. DAZ's spheres don't enlarge very well. When they get very big (or you get very close to them), you start to see straight lines around the edges, because these primitives are actually made up is gazillions of planes. So I went into Bryce, made a biiiigggg sphere and exported it as an OBJ. Then, I wanted to paint a diffuse map to make the planet beautifully blue ... I was thinking, Aurora, from Aphelion. To do this, I took a photo of the sky on a blue-sky day with white clouds, and in Photoshop put a heavy motion blur on it. Done -- how easy was that? The picture was saved at 2000 square, applied to the sphere in DAZ Studio, and rendered ... the render was passed back into Photoshop to that the atmospheric haze on the edge of the planet could be painted in. Save this ... pass it back into DAZ Studio and use it as a backdrop. Now --

Time to work on the ship! I know, I know ... this is not the NARC-Athena as described in the books. To built that, I need to be working in a 3D modeling program. They have learning curves like the north face of the Eiger ... in the last few years, I've either been working flat out, or sick, or (frequently) both, so I haven't had the time or the braincells to learn a new program and actually build the NARC-Athena. So --

This is actually something called the Allied Fleets Frigate, which costs about $30 from Renderosity. It's a lovely model, and you can do a lot with it. Here, I've fractionally changed the dynamic by stretching it in one axis ... and I've changed 100% of the textures on it, to get a whole new look. It was then lit from two angles. One -- the sun angle, to match the light falling on the planet (several glaring spotlights, far outside the frame), and two -- blue light reflected up off the planet. 

The ship was rendered at 3000 pixels square, and then shipped into Photoshop to have the engine flares added, and the red beacon lights marking high points on the hull, for aircraft avoidance. These were done with .abr brushes -- specifically, Ron's Bokeh Lights.

One element remained to be rendered. Yep -- the NARC riot armor...


Now, as I was saying a moment ago, I never did climb the learning curve to master a 3D modeling program and build the NARC armor as it's described in the books. But I was able to cobble together something very like the armor -- certainly good enough to do the trick, till I can make the real thing! What you see here is jigsaw puzzled together from two different body suits; two suits of SF style armor; a "survival" suit; and an SF style costume for M4. With he exception of the helmet, I'd just about defy the folks who designed the originals to tell the bits and pieces apart...

The trick was to dump every single surface map off every single bit, so the whole suit turned into featureless white plastic, and then start again, and build it back up so everything matched. Obviously, I made everything black, glossy and reflective. I made everything very smooth, and used a reflection map -- something I don't normally do -- to get uniform, consistent reflections, across the whole suit. I used the map because (duh!) I rendered the suit alone, and there's nothing else standing in the frame for those surfaces to reflect. Then ... lights. I did red, blue and gold lights to pick out the armor in dramatic colors; then this was rendered at 3000 pixels high.

In the books, the armor is made of kevlex-titanium alloy. The pieces are "smart" ... you put them on piece by piece starting with the boots, and they "smart seal" around your joints. It's incredibly heavy, but when you put the shoulder pack on, which contains the power source, the anti-gravity turns on, and you can set the apparent mass of the whole suit anywhere you want it ... say, 250 kilos, to hold you down while an explosion goes through, or 20kg, to allow you to literally jump over a house. Soooo cool. The biggest difference you see between this armor and the "hardsuits" as described in the books is the helmet. This is not the NARC helmet.  But it's a heck of a nice helmet, and it'll do! (In fact, it's one of the two helmet designs that come packed with the Sedition Soldier for M4 kit.)

Now all the pieces were assembled, and it was time to start putting them together. The first thing I did was use a lot of compressed, low-rez cut-outs to get a "sketch" going ... basically, to make sure the design I had in mind was actually going to work. And it did. So, now I imported each of the high-rez elements into a new Photoshop project that was created at 4800 pixels high. Cut out each of the picture elements, and start painting on them...



Each of the characters was painted -- skin tones, eyelashes, hair, shadows. This was where I really, really got to play with my early-birthday-present. The Wacom Bamboo mouse/tablet is a dream. This was also a great project for me to start getting in some serious practise with it ... it's very much like drawing with a fine pen, and I love the way it "shakes hands" with Photoshop. 

Usually, you'll hear me saying, "start at the bottom and work up," when you're building a complex piece of art, but it turns out that there are times when you'll paint the bottom layer last -- and this was one of them. I'd bucket-filled the base layer to flat black, to let me work on the individual elements; then, with them all done, it was time to fill in the background with dramatic stuff, to make the image consistently interesting across the whole frame:


...this layer was painted right there, under the major elements, so there was no guesswork about where something ought to be, or how bright, or what color. To do this, you're painting on a 4800 high canvas, with your brush size set to 2500 pixels. It's huge ... and I am soooo glad that I got some extra RAM a few weeks ago. I'm working on 16GB of RAM now (with four processors threaded to work as eight). The lag time in the painting process, from brush stroke to "done," was usually unnoticeable; only big blending strokes, using the smudge tool, had a visible, measurable lag. No problem. Slower computers will show a longer lab, but her, just be patient. This background was done in five layers: black underlay; blue "flux" effect; red "flux" effect; bright white starfields; flat blue matte overlay adjusted to juuuuust the right merge mode and opacity to give you this result. The flux effects and starfields are .abr brushes -- find them at Renderosity.

The logos were done in Serif Page Plus ... I'm still using X3, though I believe X5 is out. I'll upgrade when the newer versions do something that I can't do, and need to do. These logos were done in Bolts SF font at something like 100 point. In Serif, I did the big logo green, with gold highlights added with several 3D lights, matted on a black rectangle. Copy to clipboard; paste right into Photoshop. Get rid of black rectangle ... duplicate layer. Make a drop shadow by modifying the lower of the two (adjust lightness to black, apply heavy Gaussian blur), and jog the top layer up and right a bit. Lastly, I "walked the color" of the logo through every shade in the spectrum to find out what worked best. It was going to be green, gold or red, and it turns out, red works best.

The final effects were done in Photoshop: lens flare; a shimmer dancing off the movie logo; major lens flare falling right over the logo; and a diffuse black border under the logo but on top of everything else. Done!

WALLPAPERS
These crops from the final image are 1600 pixels wide. They'll suit almost all monitors. I have them set on a 22" flatscreen and a 15" laptop, and they look ... amazing. Enjoy!



With this project, I'm marking the third birthday of this blog! I uploaded Post #1 on September 25, 2009, which was about five weeks after I started up DAZ Studio 3 for the first time. For post work, I used Micrographx Picture Publisher until I upgraded to Windows 7 and a 64 bit system, which won't run MPP. Three years later, I still Use DAZ Studio 3, (because I -- can -- not -- stand Studio 4), plus LuxRender; plus Photoshop Elements, plus Bryce 7 Pro, plus Serif Page Plus X3. I do have Poser Pro 2010, but don't use it ... too cumbersome, and the Firefly Render Engine doesn't produce work which is one bit superior to LuxRender. I also have Cararra, in which I'll one day -- I swear! -- do the 3D modeling part. All I need is time and health. (On the desk next door, Dave has Vue Esprite with a load of plugins, and he's doing marvellous work. I need to learn that. One day...)

So  it's Happy Third Anniversary!

Next: Abraxas, in a couple of days.

Jade, September 25 ... 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Legend of Chino Vollias (happy Post 700!)



click to see all artwork at large size

In the taverns along the Anderlay Road you can find some of the best beer in the East, brewed right there in the cellars under the house. It’s stronger than wine, and a lot easier to drink then the rum and brandy brought down by the keg from the northern ports, so it’s easy – too easy! – to lose your wits while the fire crackles and the minstrels play bawdy songs that come in with the kegs of spirits.
As evening wears on the minstrels retire to wet their throats and the storytellers start to mingle. For the price of a soft bed and breakfast in the morning, they’ll spin you the most amazing tales, and the best of them are said to be true.
Now, I don’t know how many travelers would believe the stories to be true, but the Anderlay Road is rich with legends, and legends have to start somewhere, with some fragment of truth. Who knows?
Twice a year, I travel the great road from Dulhanna in the far west to Megadir in the east. I’m Bartali – Raston Bartali, dealer in spices and rugs, rare wines and even rarer jewels, manager of fair courtesans, trader in ancient maps to lost cities and new navigator’s charts drawn from the finest observations of the heavens.
Twice a year, business takes me from Dulhanna to Megadir and back, while my two wives and five daughters enjoy the cool of spring and fall at home; and in my travels, I’ve heard every tale the storytellers know, from one end of the Anderlay Road to the other. Some, I’ve heard many times, because I have my favorites and will gladly pay a gifted storyteller to weave it again for me.
One of these is the Legend of Chino Vollias … and of all the stories told on the great road, this is the one I wish most were true.
Three hundred years ago, Chino Vollias was born in the village of Lydris, on the craggy coast of Anderlay, where the great chalk cliffs are being eaten away by the hungry sea. His mother ran fishing boats and his father was a mercenary soldier in the service of Duke Ohmar the Elder; so what was more natural than that young Chino would grow up as a sailor and swordsman who feared neither the ocean storm nor the steel of the barbarians who snapped around the heels of the Dukedom.
By the time he was twenty-five, Chino was known as a great athlete, an adventurer, a lover, as unbeatable in a brawl as in a drinking contest. He had made several fortunes in battle and lost them to the cards or to capricious lovers, but Chino was untroubled. He was the best swordhand in all of Anderlay, and one of the best sailors. Another fortune would always be coming his way before long.



After one grand adventure, he held onto his wealth for long enough to buy a trading ship, which he sailed to the port of Lydris, where the vessel was re-rigged, repanted and renamed as the Carmelita – named after his one great love, the only woman he could not have.
Carmelita was the wife of Duke Ohmar; the third, youngest wife, young enough to be Ohmar’s daughter. She came from Harrandal, across the mountains in the east when she was seveneen years old to fulfil the contract of a marriage arranged by her father. In return, Duke Ohmar agreed to furnigh a whole regiment for the defense of Harrandal, which was much poorer than Anderlay, and ill fitted to defend itself against the brigands and pirates who rampaged along its shores in those days.
So Carmelita was honor bound to stand by the contract and remain faithful to the Duke of aAnderlay, for the sake of her father and her homeland – though she gave her heart to Chino in the road out of Harrandal, long before the wedding.
It was Chino who commanded the cohort of cavalry which fetched her west to Castle Mauvais, the ancestral home of Ohmar’s family. Handsome young Chino and the beautiful Camelita spent two weeks on the high road, and love bloomed like a wild rose; but it was a tragic love that left Chino bruised-hearted and, mayhap, a little wild. Four days out from the Aderlay border, he almost gave his life to protect the party in a despeate fight against brigands, and Carmelita bound his wounds with strips of the silk she was bringing with her, for her wedding gown…



Two months later, healed and strong, he wore the ducal livery and stood at attention in the great temple of Ghiris, when Ohmar exchanged vows with Carmelita. Chino swore never to love again, and I think he meant every word, for indeed he never wed, nor settled with any woman. He had as many mad flirtations with lovesome male courtesans from Shehend and Elyssan as with the magnificent women who plied the mercenary trade alongside him, but he gave his heart to none.
And all this, before Chino Vollias was twenty-three years old! So, little wonder that he named his trading ship Carmelita, and followed every tale of treasure to be found, glory to be won. Over and over, he sailed back to his home port of Lydris with full holds and a hundred new stories for the minstrels and storytellers, who loved him … and they’re still telling those same stories today –
How he fought the Iron Trolls of Gnothica and won the freedom of the fair Tressida; how he cut the head off the Black Gryphon to liberate the city of Selendria; how he found the ancient necropolis of Eldrev and fetched the Carmelita back to port heavy in the water under the weight of treasure that had been buried by greedy, superstitious god-kings of old.
And they tell of his last adventure – which is my favorite tale, heard so often that I can recite it word for word. The storytellers call it ‘The Gates of Petheris,’ and it begins as they all do, with the Carmelita tied up at the wharf in Lydris, the crew a little inebriated at an old sailors’ tavern called The Silver Sword, and Chino himself tangled in the limbs of some lovely young thing who had taken his fancy.
In comes a man with a broken nose and two gold teeth. “Where will I be finding Chino Vollias?” he asks.
“What would you be wanting him for?” asks Toby, the landlord of the Sword, whose back was bent with the ill of the bones, while his eyes and mind were as sharp as those of a general on a battlefield.
“I want him to hire him, his ship and his crew, for a voyage up the coast,:” says the man with the nose and the teeth. “Then I want to retain him and his crew for their expertise in the desert. I have a map that shows the way to Zuralia, but I can’t get there alone!”
The mere whisper of the magical name of Zuralia makes heads turn and ears prick. Everyone knows the name of the city – and its fate. It was a great trading city, long ago, before the Borisk came down out of a sandstorm and settled there. You get a Borisk in your area, you might as well pack your bags and head out, and warn your neighbors to run while they can.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Playing happily in Photoshop (and this is Post #699, so...)


click to see all images at large size...

Playing happily in Photoshop, as the post title says ... indulging a fascination for lens flare, and for flirting with layers, and experimenting to see what colors will do, how they'll fluoresce, when effects are piled up, one on top of another. And sometimes it's pretty amazing what happens. The effect that comes up in the legs of the costume is metallic:


The costume is just a pair of pants ... I think it's the Lockwood pants, actually. But the textures and patterns, everything you're seeing here, was done with mapping, so the end product isn't even vaguely like the 3D model as unpacked after purchase! This is where a lot of the fun happens, with this kind of art,

The fun actually goes back one or two stages previous to the character being added in. The background was rendered separately:


This was done as a displacement map whacked onto a primitive (plane), and then a diffuse map (marble) added, and a bump map too (rocky texture), plus some gloss and reflection. The result looks like a piece of weathered copper or brass, which is already pretty neat. I shipped it into Photoshop and did this:


...which was done by duplicating the layer, "walking it" into different colors, in fact, gold-greens, and then applying a merge/blend to the second layer. The effect is pretty amazing. I like the ad hoc nature of this kind of work. You're never sure how it's going to turn out till it's "cooked," and it can be quite exciting to see things come to life.

So the next step was to add the character. You've actually seen this guy before: do you remember Li and Lung, the dragon? I told the bare bones of a story, a loooong time ago. This is the same character, sans dragon, and in a fantasy setting with longer hair, katana and whatnot. And what's happened here is that Li has fallen through the old real-world adventure into a fantasy realm one layer above or below or beyond reality. You figure, he has to fight his way out to get back to the real world and finish out the original story! The original story was about Jimmy Li and Shao Lung, who's a "lucky dragon," and a bunch of antique/relic smugglers. Shao Lung wants to get home to Sichuan. It was all about antiques and smuggling, the police and young love as Jimmy Li meets lovely Fang Mei Ling, but now ... figure out how to add in the fantasy sequence ... have Jimmy and Mei fall through into a realm of magic and mystery ... and that's not just a cute story, it's an awesome story. Shades of Big Trouble in Little China, but with a real, life dragon.

So, you're probably wondering how much of this piece is the original render, and how much is the painting. Here's a half-size peek at the raw render:


...which is nice, but flat as the proverbial bikkie. It all happens in Photoshop -- which is where I played happily for about an  hour, and had a lot of fun with lens flare. I painted his face, hair and eyes, highlights and shadows on everything, and then got to work with the aforementioned lens flare. You really have to know where to STOP with lens flare, because what you can get away with in a photo, you'll be criticized for, in a painting. For example, check these out:




Those, I photographed just this morning, in the backyard, under the Blue Pacifica where the bees are going ballistic. (Got some very good bee pictures, too, which was actually the reason I was out there. Then I saw the lens flare through the branches, and lost interest in bees for a while!)

So, this is actually Post #699, and as I mentioned a while ago, I've been trying to figure out what to do for Post #700. Inspiration struck, and I'm just trying to get it together now. The two paintings are done and I'm working on the text. Give me a few days and, as the saying goes, I'll be back. Ye gods ... what will I do when Post 1,000 comes around ...?!

Jade, September 10

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Enchanted Forest - Jupiter Creek






click to see all images at larger size

There's a legend out there somewhere about an enchanted forest ...a place that lights up with magic at certain times of the year ... it's "dark magic" on the last day of fall (Halloween, anyone?) and it's "bright magic" on the first day of spring. And you know, I'd have to swear we saw it yesterday ... the first day of spring. The sun shone, we took a spin out to Jupiter Creek on a whim, and couldn't resist a hike, for about an hour, in woodland that was pure magic!

The trees had turned to spun gold, the ground was alive with fairy bells, there was even a ruined castle tower with a "troll hole" ... but the trolls were sleeping peacefully in this magic time. You don't even have to use your imagination to see all this --







These images have been reduced in size, some down to 1000 pixels -- sorry. It was the only way to make the download sizes small enough, at an average of about 300k each, to be practical, because there's a whole swag of them. They were actually shot at 12MP, and there's not a lot of enhancement on them -- no painting and so forth, just a bit of adjustment in the shadows and highlights, because the light levels were difficult. We're just coming out of winter, and by 3:00pm the shadows are already getting long. (These images were also captured during the space of a single hour. Everywhere you looked, there was a new picture. I took hundreds.)

In fact, Jupiter Creek is the site of the old gold mines. All this woodland you see here is secondary growth: the whole area was clear-cut for the mines about 160 years ago. There wasn't a tree left standing when they were done, and as for the native population --? They appear to have beaten a hasty retreat, and who would blame them! It was all mine shafts and "puddles" and chimneys, of which some still exist. The area (about 10 square kilometers, I would guess) is full of chain-link fences and warning signs, telling people about the deep holes and tunnels, and to keep well out --

Because there's trolls down there. Big ones. And Orks. Lots of Orks. They must be paddling around in rubber boots right now, because there's been so much rain lately, the mine shafts are flooded and the main tunnel, through which you can usually walk, is flooded through much of its length. Dave took a flashlight and went in, to see. Too much water to get right through ... but he said there were a couple of trolls, Fred and Bert, playing poker. In fact, in this shot right below, you can see a lake of standing flood water that's deep enough, and has been there long enough, to be full of tadpoles:






click to see all images at larger size

The trail runs 3k in a loop to and from the parking area (which has a picnic table, a bin, and no bathroom. Makes sense, doesn't it?) It's a quite easy walk, so long as you don't mind climbing up a hillside into which "steps" have been made -- and the steps look and feel like they "happened" as tree roots grew there deliberately to make steps into the enchanted forest (see the second from last image).

Thanks to Dave for making this happen. He suggested taking the Millennium Possum (uh ... the van. It was either going to be the Possum Van, as per Red Green, or the Millennium Falcon as per -- well, you  know what. So I said, how about the Millennium Possum?) for a spin before we hit the stores. But, where to? I suggested Jupiter Creek, never thinking that we were going to actually stop there. So glad we did!

Jade, September 2
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