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
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