Monday, May 13, 2013

Home from the Sea ... and Jade's back, too!

I'm actually alive, though there'll be folks out there -- possibly following this blog! -- who'd be prepared to swear I must have been carted off, feet first. Well, life has been a bear lately, but I did survive, and I'm juuust starting to get back to work, with this piece: a mixed media seascape called Home from the Sea, because it was done as the cover for Mel Keegan's new book.

Home from the Sea is a historical, and a romance, and a thriller, and a mystery and a sea story, all rolled into one. It's a cousin of Jamaica Inn and even Treasure Island. I can promise you a fantastic new read -- not much under 100,000 words, so this one is a major novel, which it'll be DreamCraft's pleasure to release at the end of May, 2013.

UPDATE -- actually, at the end of June 2013 ... Real Life intervened and things went ballistic, but HOME FROM THE SEA is launching today, and as part of the promotion, here I am updating this post! If you'd like to know more about the novel, click here, but to save you a click, here's the blurb:

It’s six years since Jim Fairley came west to manage The Raven, a sailors’ tavern on the English coast near Exmouth. For Jim, the inn is a combination of haven and prison, his home and his livelihood. But lately he’s worried he’ll never get out of there -- never see the world, meet the kind of characters, enjoy the sort of adventures he hears of in tales told by the sailors and smugglers who drink at The Raven -- because Jim has been lame for almost half his life, following an accident where he almost died. The last thing he could have imagined was that adventure -- mystery, romance and danger -- would walk right up to his own door, seize him by the collar and haul him into a maelstrom of intrigue and peril. In the fair weather between two storms which hit the coast just days apart in April, 1769, a wandering balladeer strolls up to the tavern, looking for his old shipmate. But old Charlie Chegwidden passed away years before, leaving handsome young Toby Trelane in deep trouble. As he and Jim swiftly become involved, Toby’s trouble becomes Jim’s.  An eight year old mystery explodes like a storm over the inn. Before Jim learns all the shocking secrets Toby Trelane has hidden for years, there’ll be deception and fear, struggle and blood, in a tense Gothic tale which spans the globe without ever leaving The Raven. For Jim and Toby, life will never be the same.

--so endeth the update. Back to the original post now:

(The other publishing news is that it was a load of fun to spend an afternoon with MK, talking Hellgate, sharing mental images and visions ... several pieces of art were inspired among my "leetle gray cells" right there ... more about this as we go along -- I'll be rendering and painting, starting tomorrow!)

But this piece, above ... a dark, moody, evocative seascape in Bryce, DAZ Studio and Photoshop ... is one I'm rather proud of for its own sake, and I thought I'd reverse-engineer it, take it to pieces here, for the folks who're doing as I did, and teaching themselves how to do this kind of work. Here goes:

Step One is to have a clear idea in your head of what you're trying to create. With this organized, you can go into Bryce 7 Pro, or similar, and create the terrain:

With the terrain created, using the "make terrain" and "edit" tools in your program, you then select "export as OBJ" ... and with this done, you can ship the 3D model landscape you just made right into DAZ Studio.

Now, you can do the whole thing in Bryce, if you like ... but it's sooo much easier to control what's going on in DAZ, or Poser, if you're a Poser person. Fact: when you know how to drive DAZ Studio Pro to its dizzy limits, there's not a whole lot of difference between DAZ and Poser; Poser does have the edge on it, where you come to render very, very sophisticated effects involving skin tones, glass, water, metallics etc. ... and that's where the DAZ user ships the render out to LuxRender instead. 

So, for the sake of this discussion, let's say you need or want to get the project finished today, not some time next week, so you're going to render it in old fashioned DAZ Studio! So --

Import the OBJ you made in Bryce right into DAZ Studio. Size it, flip it around, rotate it, till it's where you want it. (Save your work often. It's infuriating to have a crash with 100 changes and tweaks invested since the last save.) Now, adjust the diffuse and displacement mapping to get the land the way you want it. A diffuse map is essentially a picture of the ground, which is stretched over the 3D model of the same bit of ground. It makes gray virtual-plastic look like grass, sand, mud, whatever. A displacement map is a black and white image applied to the same 3D model, where the black and white parts of the image tell the program how to pull up or punch down the model, which effectively displaces (or deforms) it, to give it form, texture ... realism.

The next thing to add is the water: click on Create Primitive, and choose Plane. Resize it till its huge, and move it up and down till you get a shoreline you like, or can at least live and work with! Now you'll want to add a diffuse map and a displacement map to this plane, to make it look like the ocean. I used a digital image of the sea I shot from the Noarlunga Jetty in 2008 for the diffuse map. For the displacement map, I actually hijacked a reflection map from another project and just used it a displacement map to make the plane pull up into a kind of ground swell. The image was originally painted to give a chrome surface a believable luster without taking hours to render, back in the days when I was on a sloooow machine. You used to get up to all these tricks to save render time. 

Okay, so now I had my ground and my sea. The next thing I wanted to do was get the building placed. For The Raven tavern, as created by Mel Keegan for the story, I used Merlin's Medieval Tavern ... at 4% of its physical size, so it becomes a toy building on a diorama. (You can get Merlin's Tavern from Renderosity for about $29; it's fantastic ... it's a full standing set -- walk inside, go upstairs, walk into the bedrooms, check out the stables, 'round the back. Amazing. I bought this a couple of years ago.)

So, with the tavern in place it was time to set the sky:

Yes, the bottom of this image is flat white... with good reason!

For the sky, I used a widescreen shot I took of the lowering, heavy, rain-filled skies down on the Limestone Coast in 2012 ... Dave and I took a roadrip -- if you've been following this blog for long enough, you might even remember the pictures from The 12 Apostles, Mount Gambier's Blue Lake, Tantanoola Caverns, and so on. One of the stops we made as at Bool Lagoon, which is a waterbird sanctuary. On the day we visited, it was about to bucket down, with the kind of sideways rain that cuts you to the bone. I got some pretty fantastic images of the sky -- I stash things like this, because I know I'll eventually be using them. A good tip is -- always have a camera on you, because you never know what's going to happen right in front of you!

Having chosen your sky image, the next thing you need to do is adjust its horizon line, so the horizon in the pic you're going to import into DAZ Studio as a background is in the right place. If you just import the image, DAZ will stretch it to fit your stage size ... worse yet, what should be the horizon will be on the bottom of the frame. It's going to look incredibly weird. The solution is to open the skyscape in something like Irfanview and just change the canvas size (not the image size!!), by setting the bottom margin to whatever height (in pixels) you need to bump the horizon line into the right place. Irfanview is the program I always recommend. It's amazingly powerful, with a tiny download and footprint size; and it's still free.

So, now you have the land, sea, sky, and the tavern. So far, so good. I imported some boulders and shrubs at the water's edge to give it some more detail, and that was basically all the 3D elements in place. There are exactly two lights on this scene. One is a distant light; the other is a point light. The point light is orange on its way to being yellow, and is creating the lamplight spilling out from inside the building. The distant light is supplying the sullen, angry daylight Placing the light, you need to look hard at your backdrop and see where the light is coming from in the sky image. This will tell you where the distant (sun) light ought to be positioned, and which way it needs to be pointing. Also, experiment with brightness and color for the sunlight. I used a blue-gray color for stormy daylight, and not a lot of strength in the light. Turn on shadows, and ... render. Here we go:

That's the raw render -- no painting on it yet, but it's already pretty moody and effective. As a general rule, the better you can get the render, the more you'll have to work with when it comes to painting -- which also tells you, you need to render BIG, to give yourself the wiggle room to get in and paint small details. This one was rendered at 3600 pixels wide; and I rendered it "landscape" rather than "portrait," because we have every intention of producing a paperback of Home from the Sea, and you can clearly see the wraparound cover here!

I didn't bother raytracing this, much less sending it to LuxRender, because the painting was always going to be dark, murky. A LuxRender, especially at this size, would have taken a long time and wouldn't have added much, if anything, to the work. This one was the simplest possible deep shadow map render, before the image was shipped right into Photoshop to be painted.

And there was a lot of painting to be done. I used Ron's Fog (from the DAZ Marketplace) on the skyline and around the cottage; I used a brush from a pack of Grunge brushes by Mystikel to build up the ground around the tavern; then, several brushes from the Waves pack (Renderosity) created the water effects -- I don't remember the designer of this pack, but a quick search at Renderosity will turn it up. The birds were from a pack of Waterbirds brushes (same story ... if I could remember the designer, I'd be delighted to give a credit -- if anyone recognizes them, let me know, and I'll put a plug in right here). The chimney smoke is a brush from Ron's Smoke (DAZ Marketplace again). I also painted in reeds and rank grasses around the waterline and the tavern. 

Incidentally, the waves you see here are not just clicked into place with the .abr brushes; they were built in layers to get this effect, and the last layer of all was a color cast over the top (see below). You have a very finite collection of .abr brushes, and you need to create a wide range of waves from them, so you need to get clever. Prektiss, prektiss, prektiss, is the only answer: do it till you can ... and like any kid playing with clay, have fun making a mess for a while! It's well worth figuring this part out:

Then, the biggest difference to the overall piece was made by placing a "cast" into the bottom of the shot, and also into the top. I overpainted a sea green layer into the foot of the work, and adjusted the blend and transparency of the layer ... this is dark, dark sea green, on Overlay, at 31%, to bring the waves up into super realism. In the top of the shot, I have two "cast" layers -- a crimson one and a green one, both pushed and pulled with blend/transparency tweaks, to get this absolutely surreal effect, which makes it look as if the tavern is at the eye of a storm. 

So that was pretty much the painting finished, and I couldn't resist lashing up the ebook cover, just to see how it'll look:

There you go ... Home from the Sea by Mel Keegan, soon to be available in ebook formats, and not long after that, we'll do a paperback of this one. The text objects, rule and bounding box were made in Serif PagePlus, and I was done. I'll keep you posted on the book, and will tell you where to get it, when it goes live. This is something like Mel's sixth major historical, and I enjoyed it immensely. If you liked things like The Deceivers and Dangerous Moonlight, you'll get a kick out of this one.

Jade, May 13, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Kangaroos at Onkaparinga wetlands ... touching base here

Touching base as a wildlife photographer here, before March expires -- speaking of which, Happy Easter to one and all. You must think I was abducted by aliens -- I vanished again! I actually wasn't abducted, but there have been times when it might have been preferable to what's been going on in Life. Long story short: big tussle with health, family, work, all the things we can't avoid, even if we'd much rather pack our bags and run away from home.

Soooo ... Dave and I managed to get a couple of hours to ourselves on Saturday afternoon, and it had been a long time since we'd been down to the Onkaparings wetlands, so I thought, why not? Breath of fresh air, stretch of the legs. Both of which I  needed.

Imagine our delight when we came upon a family of grey kangaroos! There were actually four of them ... the big male was about two meters tall; the female, half the size, petite and so petty; a juvenile about half the size of Mom, and a very little one, out of the pouch but still very much a baby, of joey, as they're called. I never did manage to get all four in the frame at one time, but I managed three once or twice. They're so timid, you have to be quiet as a mouse, whisssper, and use your longest-reach zoom. I'm lucky -- with the Fuji HS-series camera I'm using right now, I have the equivalent of 730mm --

People ask why I don't used a digital SLR and "proper" lenses. Two reasons: I don't want to have to carry around a huge bag of lenses (oh, I used to!), and second, my eyesight ain't what it used to be, so fine focus would be a major problem. The digital "compact" cameras provide a really good alternative. I love them, and you'd have to offer me an incredible deal on an SLR + full set of lenses, to get me to go back. Especially with these eyeballs!

So, if you're looking for he kind of camera that'll give you a long reach, and not set you back so much money, it'd hurt, you could do a lot worse than look at this ... or try this ... or else this. Now, I'm still using the Fuji HS10, but the HS30 is out. The cameras are physically virtually the same, but the later one has a faster shutter response, an extra 4MP of resolution, it's less of a battery vampire ... better screen resolution, a digital zoom (up to 60x) on top of the 30x optical zoom ... and if you have any have use for a 3D camera, this one will take 3D images. The downside is, it's a leeeetle bit heavier, and switching out batteries is not so easy, because it uses lithium ion, not standard AA cells. For me, at the moment, I'll stick with the HS10, because it's doing everything I need. A friend of mine has the HS20, and the output is so similar, you'd need to be a specialist with abnormal eyesight to tell the diff.

Sorry about the camera talk, if you're not into that kind of thing. But if you are, and you're shopping for something right now, you might be interested to take a look.

 Speaking of shopping -- I just discovered a new site for buying 3D models: Xurge 3D ...

The site is specifically about Poser-format costumes for the 3D characters. I bought a couple and will be testing them later today -- in DAZ Studio, mind you. With any luck, DAZ will read the files properly, and I'll shoot back to Xurge 3D and buy a bunch more while the Easter Sale is still on. Cross fingers, because this stuff is really, really cool. (My problem is that I can't get Michael 4 to load into Poser, because my Poser Pro 2010 is installed on E:\,not C:\, on account of me having a very small solid state boot drive. Makes the PC screamingly fast, but you run out of space just as fast. The Michael 4 installer scrams if you put in any other drive than the C:\ drive, as the target. So I need a bigger C:\ drive, right? Right. Soon.)

The truth is, I have piles of new gear ... skinmaps, wigs, costumes, props, the works, none of which you've seen yet. I just haven't had the time and/or energy and/or braincells to do much art lately. Too much going on in the background -- it's so odd: you'd think you'd relish the chance to indulge in art as a form of escapism, but the work takes the energy of creativity, and I "don't got none" right now. (Which is another thing that makes me want to chew a chunk out of people who dismiss 3D and digital art as "done by a computer." Done WITH a computer, people. You just leave the whole thing up to the computer, and see how much art gets done! People don't understand or respect the amount of skill, vision, creativity and energy it takes to do this kind of art, and do it well. *sigh* Maybe one day.)

What can I say? Bear with me, folks! There are images galore going around in my head, and stories, too. If or when life stops being such a bear, I'll be back with goodies to amuse and entertain. Till then -- well, I'm in the business of surviving...

I'll leave you with a few more pictures from the wetlands, and wish you Happy Easter, 2013!

Jade, March 31 (Easter Sunday)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Poseidon Rising -- revisited

click to see at larger size; #2 is a 1:1 crop from the original

About 20 months ago I did a render, with Poseidon rising from the ocean, and for some odd reason it popped back into my head a few days ago, and stuck there. Maybe it was watching Percy Jackson! Whatever -- the original render floated back out of memory. If you've been following this blog for any length of time you might remember it:

...and see the full post here. Golly, that goes back a long way. That post is dated July 31, 2011. I've always remembered this as one of my best face/body morphs, and I really wanted to go back to it, and do more with it. Sooo....

Then  I remembered that I still have the insert disk from 3D World Magazine, from (!) November 2005 (now we really are heading back to the Paleozoic), and one of the freebies on it was Zygote's dolphin ... an unrigged, low-poly model without any surface tetxtures. Hmm. Here's the thing of it: these days, I don't mind hand-painting something to make a piece of gray plastic look realistic.

Apologies for the download size of the big image, uploaded first today. It was rendered at 3000 pixels wide (to give me painting space), and I've uploaded it here at 2400 wide, because I know a lot of folks looking at these posts are trying to work out how to get these effects ... it really, really helps if you can get to see the piece at Very Big Size, close to the original. So, it will take a little while to download, but if you're looking at ways to do the same kind of work, you and I both know it's far easier to reverse-engineer a BIG image.

Posing the model took about twenty minutes -- and a lot of it was about flying the camera around rather than turning Michael 4 every which-way. A really good "weightless" pose was a good start. Then, import the dolphin and basically use the x,y,z controls to turn it this way and that -- get it the right scale and so on. As I said, Zygote's dolphin ain't rigged (or at least the freebie on 3D World's disk wasn't), so you're stuck with the one pose.(Rigging is where a solid model is given "flex" points, enabling its sub-parts -- for instance, the fins and flukes -- to be moved independently of the whole. And, note to self: I've heard that you can rig a model in DAZ Studio 4 Pro, which I have, and which to date I've only ever used as the bridge to get from DAZ to LuxRender, via Reality. So ... must get into Studio 4 and figure out how to rig models!!)

This is "just" a raytrace. There was no point setting it to render in Lux, which would have taken about a day, because I was going to use so many "atmospheric" ... or in this case, aquatic ... overlays that all the nuance with which Lux would have imbued the characters would have been smothered by these overlays.

So ... a good face/body morph; a great pose ... the critical thing was to get the lights right. I did this with three colored distant lights, and shot myself in the foot. I'd got the lights juuuuust right before I painted the background. It was only when the background was painted that I realized (doah!) I had the sunrays pointing dead opposite where the Studio lights said the sun was. The lights were therefore jogged around to agree with the background. Then ... render.

The raytace took about seven or eight minutes -- long enough to wander off and make some tea. Then, the 3000x2500 raw render went over into Photoshop for lots and lots of painting. The aquatic effects were dead simple, and the one that gives the best effect was the simplest. I took a displacement map that creates a rippled surface on a plane (to give the appearance of a pool or lake) in the 3D render environment ... resized it, plunked it into a Photoshop layer at the "top", and gave it a Merge mode (blend) of Overlay, and an opacity of 18%. How easy was that? Some of the bubbles are .abr brushes ... the motes and impurities in the open water were actually painted into the background before it was imported --

The background was hand painted, using several undersea photos for reference and inspiration, and the motes, whatever you want to call them, in the water, were done with (!) Ron's Magical Snow brushes!

One of the things I'm most pleased with in this one is the way Poseidon's hair is foofing out with the water movement -- it looks so realistic. This was handpainted over the top of the Neftis Danyel hair, which the model is wearing. (He's also wearing the JM Alexander skinmap, but I've done "stuff" with it to make it "shine," for want of a better term.) The fish scale kilt is the Euros Skirt, with new textures and maps everywhere.

And that's basically it. If you're wondering about where the lights are (or would like a peek at the flat-plastic model of the dolphin, pre-painting), have a look at this screencapture from the DAZ Studio workspace, at larger size -- it also shows the orientation of the camera, if you notice the cube floating in the top-right corner:

Yup, I plopped the light representing the sun right where the sunrays were painted into the background. And if you'd like this as a wallpaper, you're in luck. I wanted it too, so I made a version that will fit nicely on either desktop or laptop:

...enjoy! It looks a treat on my desktop monitor -- am looking at it right now. Nice. And I do believe I'm going to do more with this face/body morph. I like it a lot. Aside from "Poseidon," he doesn't have a name yet ... I think he needs one.

Jade, March 7 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Male nude: Conan takes a vacation ... in LuxRender

(click to see the top image at full size; the two above are 1:1) 

Still getting the hang of LuxRender, and starting to scratch the surface of what it can do, I went back to another picture I was very happy with, last year as a raytrace, and set it up to render again in Lux. Result: fairly stunning, though there were some oddities along the way, like --

I originally had a couple of Austrian pine trees right behind the barbarian here. They show up in DAZ Studio all right, but they're just nor there in Lux, and there's nothing to be done about that. So I replaced them with the young fir trees from Rhodi Design, and also loaded up with grass (also by Rhodi), because I discovered that the grass prop which is problematical in DAZ Studio (and one presumes, therefore, Poser??), is a breeze in Lux. It renders up beautifully.

There where also problems with the skinmap, alas. This is SAV Atlas -- and it's one of the very few characters where I also use the original face morph as well as the skinmap. He's a beauty ... s'why I call this image "Conan Takes a Vacation." And the skinmap looks terrific in a raytrace, but when you come to do the Lux render, you can see "tidemarks" where the patches in which the skinmap is made join together. Obviously, they ought to be seamless, and in Lux, this one ain't. I did a bit of painting, and I also stood some props in front of him to save myself a lot more painting!

Otherwise, it was easy. The render took about 20 hours, and was done at 2000 pixels wide and 1600 high, because I knew I'd have to paint here and there, and I wanted to leave myself space to get in and do it. But what I didn't have to paint was the hair! Miracle of miracles, this is just how it rendered up, and it'll do just fine. I think this is the Akaste hair.

The big tree is the Ultimate Woodland prop (DAZ); and the ferns are from the DM Elven Shed set (Renderosity). The basic sky was done in Lux itself, by changing the values of the "sky light," which is a vastly editable parameter in the Light Groups. But the clouds were done in Photoshop, using the Mystikel Cloud Pack brushes as an overlay.

Next thing I need to work with in Lux is the depth of field ... which I expect is going to be tricky. I'll get some weird and wonderful results before I figure it out. And thing after that will be getting into the Materials editor, and taking control of every little detail. I confess, this image still uses the defaults, and any settings I put on the props in DAZ before sending the scene ti Lux.

Speaking of DAZ (well, any graphical work, I guess), I need a new harddrive. Waaaah! No, it's not busted, it's just full. I'm working with one of the screamingly fast solid state harddrives, and when the system was built for me, the shop kept the price down a bit by using the small boot drive, at just 111GB. Turns out, there's a lot of stuff I use that will only run cleanly off the boot drive ... so the boot drive has consequently filled up in 14 months. I'm scavenging for space now; just managed to get back enough Gigs to keep going for a couple of months while I organize myself one of the new hybrid drives...

A hybrid, you ask? Yep. Seagate came out with some new technology about two years ago. Google the Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid 2.5" SSHD. Uh huh. Speeds are comparable to the SSD (solid state drive), but you can get much higher capacity drives, and at a fraction the cost. In the States, the Momentus retails for as little as $106! Naturally, Australia being Australia, the same thing costs $230 at IT Warehouse, which built my system and will be doing the upgrade, including cloning the original boot drive over.

This is Very High on My Agenda, because I'm seriously running out of room! Have shopped some sales at Renderosity in the last few weeks, got some fantastic new sets and props, and when these are installed, I'm pretty sure I'll be juuuust about maxed out. But, with 500GB on a new hybrid SSHD, I can do all sorts of things ... like, get Poser running on the C: drive, which it demands before it'll install Michael and Victoria ... and then I can also play happily with the Firefly render engine, which admittedly gets fantastic results too. Never been able to do very much with it, because I can't get the figures installed ... and if I do surrender to pure lust and get Vue, I'll definitely need the space. I say "lust" deliberately there. I look at the Vue landscapes, and I just drooooool. Like this, for instance:

The picture credits on these should read: Artur Rosa, and they're borrowed from the E-on site, to show you what I mean about droooooling over the way Vue handles -- not so much the landscapes, as the foliage. Bryce will generate the terrains. It just won't populate them with credible foliage to save its life. You can see from "Conan Takes a Vacation" where my brain is trying to go. Lux is getting me about halfway there, but I honestly don't think the photographic realism you're dying for in the landscape itself will happen outside of Vue --

Though, to be fair, Lux does an incredible job. There are galleries on the LuxRender official site stuffed full of images that I'm still drooling over, and I've promised myself I WILL figure this out. For the moment, though, I'm quite happy with the barbarian's holiday snapshot, and -- well, how good it the figure work, really? As a test, I dropped it into monochrome, to see how convincing it is as a b/w photo, Try this:

...and that's pretty convincing. So... here's the wallpaper version:

...enjoy! It's 1920 wide, and looks a treat on both my monitors, desktop and laptop so it ought to fit most.

Jade, March 3, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Let there be Lux! Chino revisited...

click to see all images at larger size

I've been wanting to get back to LuxRender for weeks now, and this was my chance. The weather has been too hot to do much ... well, much that didn't involve sitting infront of a cooling device! Go far from a cooler, and you walk into heat and humidity. So this was a great time to experiment with Lux, see if I can get back to where I was a loooong time ago.

The first thing I learned when I started it up was that I had forgotten just about everything. So I set off again with simple subjects. A couple of props sitting on a table, with a simple background: far, so good. There's a bit of "burnout" on the skull there, but I'm not too bothered about it, because I know it's a pretty simple fix, messing about in the Reality materials. I did this, and the next two experiments, at small(ish) size for quickness. The bigger the image (not to mention the more complex), the longer it takes to render. This little one, above, was about 40 minutes, and told me enough for me to get a grip. It's actually worth comparing the LuxRender render (!) with the raytrace:

So, if you were wondering why you'd bother getting into Lux, here's your reason! The LuxRender image has a quality very close to a photograph. In fact, when you get very, very good at this, the renders are impossible to tell apart from photos --

For those of you who could really get into this, you need to visit the Lux homepage, and take a look through the galleries of user images. It's, and the link to the galleries is at the bottom of the page, not the top. Bear with me while I learn this. There's a LOT to figure out, but I'm getting there...

The next thing was a more complex image -- an exterior, in sunlight. The top image, here, has been Photoshopped a leeetle bit to add clouds into the sky; the second image is just as she comes:

All right! That's nice, that's very nice. Still simple enough that the render took only about 50 minutes, but not to bad at all. So the next thing was to go back to a couple of old projects and re-render them; and I wanted to add a figure. The 3D human figure might not look a hundred times more complex than a whole garden set, but it is. So this one was always going to be more of a challenge both for self and the software:

This one was still rendered small (if you call 1000 pixels wide small. Three computers ago, I considered this a pretty good size to be working at ... because the 'puter would "barf," as Dave so delicately puts it, if I asked much more of it), and it took about 90 minutes to get to a really good render. 

Sooooo, time to get ambitious!

I pulled up the old file for the leader image for The Legend of Chino Vollias, and worked with that. First step: delete all the lights. ALL of them. Second step: import a Reality mesh light, and render it small, so I could check to see it was working, and working properly, before I set it to render full size. Because rendered at 2500 pixels high, it was a 24 hour render. I left it going overnight, stopped it this morning, when it got to 1500 "samples per pixel." (I've learned many things -- one of them is, the smaller the image, the more samples per pixel they need to look good. The render, right above, was 2000 S/p, as Lux terms it. The big one which leads off this post, was only 1500 S/p, and looks extremely good. I kept an eye on it between 1200 and 1500, and not much was resolving after the 1200 point. So -- time to call it good and start painting.

There's a lot of Photoshop post work on this, I admit. Lux didn't render the whole thing looking like this ... but it could have. It will yield a raw render that looks like this, if you have almost unlimited time to fiddle with the lights and materials. Right now, I don't have that kind of time, so -- Photoshop to the rescue.

So -- how good is LuxRender?! I'm just getting my feet re-wet with this, and there's so much to learn. It's going to be fun!

Jade, February 26, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Playing with fire

click to see all images at large size ... top image is wallpaper size

"The Fire Juggler" is almost entirely a painting. Not much is left of the 3D render that forms the foundation of the project. Please do see it at large size ... you can really appreciate the painting if you can see the details. The inspiration comes from several directions, and I got to thinking, "What about a fantasy world where magic really works, and people with these skills are so commonplace that if you can conjure fire and juggle with it, you might just be able to earn yourself a living performing in the marketplace. What an idea! Imagine that you have a caravan of performers moving from place to place, town to town, full of exotic skills that are almost ignored, because so many people can do this kind of thing. So I couldn't resist this image.

The landscape is another crack at Bryce which turned into a hybrid. The background is all Bryce, up to the tall grasses. The foreground is all DAZ Studio, because the routine of importing and positioning little plants in Bryce is more than patience can cope with! Here's the bit where Bryce turns into DAZ:

...but I will admit, the result is very nice. Cool flowers -- from one of the Environment props sets. Must do more like this. I know I keep grumbling about the end product not being a photo-realistic landscape, but if you appreciate it as art, it still has a lot going for it. 

Right now, I have a render percolating in Lux ... the hardest thing about this is jogging my memory! I had LuxRender just about "nutted out" before we moved house, and now I can't remember the first thing about it. I knew I should have written it down!

For the artistically inclined: Michael 4 was posed with a lot of point lights -- no spotlights, just point lights. One in each palm to create the glow off the fire, and a couple of others here and there to give a bit of depth -- for instance, the blue light off his left shoulder, which gives the impression of blue backlighting from the marketplace. The raytrace and the deep shadow map render were enormously different, and each had a lot to recommend it; so I did one of each, at 3000 pixels wide, and shipped both into Photoshop. Then each of them was duplicated, and all the layers recombined at different merge/blend settings. When the color and tone were right, painting started ... highlights, shadows, hair, eyes, eyebrows, mouth, skintones ... not to mention the fire! The flames were done with .abr brushes: blat on the fire, then copy the layer twice ... walk the color into a deep tone and a highlight tone in subsequent layers, and apply a different merge/blend mode to each. The background was blocked in from a digital sketch based on a shot of a renaissance fair in Hungary! Michael 4 is wearing the Akasta hair, but you'd never know it, because 80% of what you're seeing here was hand-painted. M4 is wearing the SAV Eros skinmap, but that's one of my face/body morphs. In fact, you've seen it before, but it was wearing a different skinmap -- and what a difference it makes, when you change out a skinmap! The last time you saw this face, it belonged to John, from Umbriel. The other thing I changed for M4 was the bump mapping on the torso. You see realistic veins. This bump map was hand painted for a project a long time ago (to be honest, I can't even remember what it was!), and I keep going back to it, when I want to get the effect of a guy who's been working hard.  

Glad to say, I had a lot of fun with this one .. it's sitting right on the line where "rendered" meets "painted," and it was painted this way because getting a really good render was going to be the job from hell. The lights were low ... the raytrace was too dark, the deep shadow map was too grainy, and each test render (where you fiddle with the lights yet again) was a twenty minute wait! In the end I thought, "Nuts to this, it's going to be a painting." Nice!

Jade, February 21, 2013 
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