Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Painting a portrait in Photoshop ... rendering a rock star in LuxRender ... afternoon sun on the river in Bryce, and a DAZ cartoon. Okay!

Digital paiting ... brush painting ... in Photoshop. At the display
size on-screen here you don't see the detail -- I've uploaded it at
a good big size, so you can see it properly, but for the sake of
speed, here, below, is a 1:1  crop: 
Brush painting in Photoshop ... well, I won't say it's for the birds, but
it's for folks with a lot more time on their hands than I possess, and
also healthier hands, spines, necks and eyes! It's a LOT of work,
and you pay a price for it. So --
Instead, how about photorealism in LuxRender?!
NOT a "perfect face" -- Michael 4 here has a "bad boy" look
that makes me call this one "Rock Star." I love what he's
wearing ... it's that pattern off our old cushions! It was
photographed and whacked onto the M4 Body Suit.
Bryce 7 Pro ... and at last I managed to achieve real, convincing sunlight!
"Summer Afternoon on the River."
So let's go diametrically opposite now, and come back
to a DAZ Studio cartoon render. These take a few
minutes and can be a lot of fun.
One day, not long ago, I was flipping through a calendar of art by Boris and Julie, and lamenting to myself that, no matter how good you get with 3D renders, you're never going to get into that exalted place where fine art lives. Yet, 3D work is a second cousin to digital painting ... the fact is, when a render is finished you always (always!) have to get it into Photoshop and "do stuff" to it, to finish it. And there are artists out there by the regiment who are producing digital paintings which are, in all honesty, the equal of the work produced by Boris and Frazetta and the like. 

So, do the areas of technique overlap in the middle? Do they meet anywhere on common ground? I thought, "Hmm, this is interesting." The thinking cap went on, and I couldn't resist having a go. 

Now, a lot of fine artists start with a drawing, but the bald truth is, I can't draw and never could. Give me a pencil and paper, and you might get a doodle. Might. The whole reason I was drawn to digital art is because I can't bloody draw, LOL! If I could, I'd be painting, not mucking about with computers. It was the sheer inability to draw that killed off any aspirations to an artistic career by the time I was about 14. Sob. So, imagine my surprise, when I was about 25, to get hold of an art book and discover (ack!) that Boris, the leader in the field of fantasy art at the time, used to have people model for Polaroid photos, which were then transferred to a canvas panel by means of an old fashioned "camera luminar," which is the next best thing to tracing over an opal-glass --

I mean, retch, hurk, vomit, I could have done that myself!! I was always terrific at colorizing and detailing, I just couldn't draw ... and I chucked an artistic career on account of this failure. 

Fast forward about 25 more years (yee-ouch!)  and I found myself peering over Mel Keegan's shoulder as he tried to make heads or tails of DAZ 3D shoftware. Suffice to say, Mel was very soon shoved sideways with suggestions that he get back to writing stories, which was and is his forte, and leave the artwork to me. This blog is the chronicle of a somewhat epic voyage of discovery as I worked out how to load a model ... cast shadows ... achieve realistic lighting ... use a proper render engine ... get true sunlight and proper depth of field --

And it's all sooo nice, to wit the above images, the Rock Star and the Summer Afternoon on the River. Yet always, at the back of your mind, is a desire to paint pictures like Boris and Frazetta. Which brings me back to, "Do the areas of technique overlap in the middle? Do they meet anywhere on common ground?" And it turns out ... they do.

All right, so, if you're like me, you can't draw to save your life. But you can sure as heck pose a Michael 4 or Victoria model, get a 3D render ... and convert it to a sketch. In the final analysis, what's the difference between an artist having people come in and model for Polaroids which are traced off onto a board and painted, and posing a 3D "digitoid" (a term I love -- Mel Keegan coined it; it means "a digital actor participating in a virtual reality scenario") to get the virtual equivalent of the Polaroid, which is then processed into a sketch to be painted inside the computer with virtual brushes? Nada. I see no difference at all. So --

The question was how to turn the render into an appropriate sketch. And here's how it was done:
If you're interested in how to turn a 3D render into a brush-art digital
painting, here's the preparation stage. See this at full size --
2000 pixels wide -- to get the full story. 
I'll give you the body of that panel of text in the middle of the image there:

There must be at least a dozen ways to tackle the job of turning a render into a REAL brush panting ... and I don’t mean just slapping it into Photoshop and applying a filter! A real brush painting is painted. With brushes. And it’s an enormous amount of work. I did three of these projects, and frankly, I have to say it would be an incredibly special commission job that wooed me to do it again, because it takes so long, all of it desk work, right-hand work, staring glazedly at a monitor. Not good for my hand, my back or my eyes! (Am I getting old?!)

Having said all this, my technique was to take an old, old render that looked appropriate and put it through a process of simplification: drop the number of colors to 16; then use the ‘edge detect’ and ‘convert to negative’ filters, plus ‘convert to grayscale,’ to get a sketch of sorts.  In Photoshop, combine the raw grayscale image with the 16-color image plus a white bucket fill top layer on the hard mix blend at 100% to get a really good sketch that can be used as the base.

From there, you use the original render as your color reference and you ... start painting. About 12 hours later you’re done and ready to strip a canvas texture into the image (am using the photo texture under this typing). The result: gorgeous! But ...

At the 10-hour part you’re asking yourself why you’d bother. The only answer I can think of is that somebody wanted cover art that was the next best thing to Boris and Julie, and faaar from the usual quick/cheap 3D render ... And that this somebody was willing to pay for about 12 hours of damn’ hard work! Those jobs don’t come along often, but when they do...!


So now you have the sketch and you're about to paint, right? Right. This is where either the fun begins or else hits the fan ... and probably a combination of both. Here's at least one method, and there's going to be a dozen others...

You want to have the original render open in one Photoshop project, because you're going to be color-picking off this to get the hues to blast into the appropriate areas on your painting. Have the sketch in the bottom layer of another project. Pick a color from Project A, and blast virtual paint into the right places into a new layer on Project B. Keep on blasting till you can no longer see the original sketch. Then duplicate the sketch and pull the copy up to the top layer so you can see it again ... and start gently, carefully, smudging the blasted-in colors till you get nice, even tones and gradations. Blast in more highlights and shadows and blend these in too. You'll need to be painting at a good size -- say 2000 x 3000 pixels, to get any control over fine detail; and even so you'll be working with small-bore brushes.

When the colors look just about right, and they're all pushed and shoved into their correct places, create a new blank layer right on top of the b&w sketch. Now, pick a deep, dark shade of the base color and redraw the sketch, tracing over it into the blank layer. This is the hardest, nastiest part of the job, but unless your technique with a Wacom Bamboo etc. is utterly hopeless, you'll get there in the end -- and the more you use the pen, the better you're going to get. Prektis, prektis, prektis. Small round brushes with soft edges and about 75% opacity will give you a lot to work with, and you can blend, smudge, erase, as you go.

Got a good enough tracing? Okay. Now, delete the copy of the original sketch -- you don't need it now, and it's only a copy of the bottom layer anyway, so you can get it back if you decide to start over (ugh, what a horrible thought). Now, DUPLICATE both the tracing AND the blended color layer --

I can't stress this enough: never, never, never work on the original layer, over which you just sweat blood!! Fiddle with disposable duplicates!! Okay.

Turn OFF the original layers, but keep them as backups ... and merge the sketch and the color layers into ONE layer. Aha. Now, "all" you have to do is start blending, blending, blending, till they really do look like one layer. If all goes hideously wrong, delete the whole thing, create fresh copies, merge them into one, and start again.

Painting the hair is almost another project entirely -- so complex, I'm not even going to talk about it right here; because the truth is, you could just as easily be painting a tree or a car, so talking at length about hair, here, is unnecessary. The same is true for eyes, and eyelashes, and so on.

Apply the same techniques to the background, but you can afford to be a lot quicker there. Check out the backgrounding on paintings by Boris and Frazetta. Uh huh. Last step: you might or might not want to strip a canvas texture into the picture to give it the look of a painting done on a board.

The real problem is, it takes many, many hours to do a piece of work like this, and if you're anything like me, you wind up hurting with real pain in the neck and hands, and a headache. So ... as much as I love this kind of art, I'll indulge myself seldom, since I don't enjoy pain!

And, in all honesty, getting Bryce 7 Pro to deliver proper photographic results has its own charms, which are equally seductive. Check out this crop from the above render. Nice!

Been saying it for years now, but I really can't wait to get Vue!

Jade, February 19, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Starting a revamp on the old blog ... and about time!

The Shaman, in LuxRender
Woodland glade, in Bryce 7 Pro
Mist on the great River Anduin ... in Bryce, of course
Bryce again ... city waterfront on a misty, moonlit night

After years without a change, a revamp of the blog is in order, and a good place to begin is with the header art. The toughest job is finding something to fit the constraints imposed by the template. It has to be 980 pixels wide, and I'm using 300 high as a nice ratio between height and width, though it could be anything. 

Looking around among all my LuxRender images, I realized belatedly, not a one of them would drop properly into the required dimensions. Rats. So, somewhat paradoxically, the image you see above is a crop taken from a raytrace done in good on DAZ Studio 3 ... and then painted ten ways from Tuesday in Photoshop. I'll have to see if I can get something going in Lux that will fit the dimensions! It's so odd, because I rarely use DAZ Studio itself any longer.

The Shaman is quite an interesting piece; and you're looking the composite version here. I did three -- a rough in Studio, to make sure everything was in place, then two in LuxRender, one with the depth of field turned OFF, and the other with DOF not only turned ON, but also with a virtual aperture that gave boatloads of blur in the back- and foreground. Then it was a simple matter of shipping both the images into Photoshop as layers and blending them together to get the "juuust right" image.

If you're interested, see this at large size:

I've uploaded that at a good, big size, so you can see what's going in. Neat.

Once again, here I am hand-painting hair, which is something I once swore up and down that I'd never do. The reason is simply that the 3D hair props (wigs, toupees)  so often look baaaad when you render them in a high-end render engine. It's been said before that rather than redesigning their interface, DAZ should really have worked on a better render engine within Studio. If only! I keep hanging on, waiting for Studio 5, which might have been brought closer to something I want to use. At the moment, Studio 4 is still their flagship -- though the Genesis figure which replaced Michael 4 and Victoria 4 has gone into its second generation: Genesis 2. Wow. I still haven't dabbled in this, because no matter how good the figure is, you're still stuck with the crap interface and even worse render engine! Patience, grasshopper. One of these days I'll get into it, I guess. Or else Studio 5 will come out with a gorgeous interface ... and maybe Genesis 3 will be shiny and new to go with it, and I just won't be able to say no.

One question that's very frequently asked of digital artists is, how much post work is done on the art? And in particular, on landscapes? Well, it depends on the work, really ... but you'd have to trust Bryce, much less Vue itself, to do most of the work. After that, you get into Photoshop and do all sorts of stuff to it, but the basic image itself has to be 70% of the way there. For comparison, here's the Mist on the River image, just as it shipped out of Bryce 7 Pro:

And for those who tuned in late and are seeing just the new header art, here, below, is the old art, which was done in Studio 3 with a Bryce 5-generated backdrop and a modicum of over-painting ... and this one was done so long ago, it was over-painted in GIMP! It goes back to the inevitable time when (at last) I got a 64 bit computer that utterly refused to load Micrographx Picture Publisher, which forced me, kicking and screaming, to look into GIMP, because Photoshop was so vastly overpriced, it wasn't going to happen for me any time soon!

In fact, it's so long since I changed out any element in the template (been too sick for too long to even think about it), I'd forgotten how! I believe they've changed the interface not once but a couple of times while I was sidelined with personal problems. I hope ... knock on wood ... that I'm back to blogging regularly now. I used to enjoy this, and am looking forward to doing it again.

More soon, images drawn from the enormous cache of goodies that have been stockpiling while I was in dock...

Jade, Feb 18, 2015.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Phororealism in LuxRender ... flights of Bryce fantasy

LuxRender, using one spotlight only ...
and you really can't tell this from a human model.
The overlay effects were painted in Photoshop later,
using various third-party brushes.
Photorealism in LuxRender ... nice!
Bryce 7 Pro lends itself well to SF and fantasy subjects. One of the
spacecraft (the big one) is an OBJ imported, but the glider-plane is
actually an OBP, or Bryce Object, from a pack I bought from
Renderosity ... oh, a long, long time ago.
Very nice "lines" on this design -- an OBP for Bryce ...
check out the Renderosity catalog for this one. In the background,
that's one of the Dystopia City Blocks imported into Bryce and then
all of the textures switched out for Bryce textures...
A closer look at the water in this little stream, reflecting the sunset sky. Am
very happy with the way this turned out.  
The big spacecaft is an OBJ from Renderosity ... I think it's called
the Allied Fleets Frigate. Very good model -- renders brilliantly
with the Bryce atmospherics. Have used it several times.
DAZ Studio's "cartoon" render setting is a lot of fun
to play with. Am re-rendering some old, old projects
just to see how they turn out as 'toons.
More images from the bottomless stash I've been accumulating for the last year or so, while not having the energy or the braincells to upload so much as a postage stamp!

The swordsman image is a re-render of an old, old project: Fantasy swordsman ... GIMP brushes .. Yaoi romance ... and to save you a click, I'll pull the prehistoric render over here, to show you the diff between what DAZ was doing at the time, and what LuxRender is doing right now:

The old DAZ Studio render, done almost five years ago.
For the new LuxRender image, I used the same file,
same light, same everything.
Now, that's not a bad render at all, and you can certainly recognize the lighting as being identical with the file shipped into LuxRender. But the new render is ... well, so close to photographic, you're sitting there frowning over it, saying, "Is that a render or a human model?!" And that, guys, is the object of this exercise...

Well, it is and it ain't, after all. Because just as often as we want to achieve photorealism, we want to take off on a flight of artistic fantasy. Which is where I went with the second picture. Anybody old enough to remember the artwork of Chris Foss, from the British edition SF paperbacks way back in the 1970s? I used to drool over this art, way back when, and have always wanted to do something like it. Now that Bryce 7 Pro is largely doing as it's told, I'm enjoying the heck out of it!

Oh -- Chris Foss has a marvelous website: ... more than well worth a look, if you're into space art. I still love this work, and have enormous respect for this artist. He's one of several who influenced me over the space of decades.

Lastly, another of DAZ Studio's cartoon renders. Occasionally, I take one of the old, old files (never throw anything away) and push it through Studio on the cartoon settings, just to see what'll happen. Takes about two minutes to get a carrtoon, whereas it takes anything between four and 40 hours to get a LuxRender picture. (Speaking of render times, the atmpspherics on the Bryce 7 Pro image pushed the time on that one out to something like four or five hours.)

More soon. Promise.

Jade, February 11, 2015.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sunlight in LuxRender and atmospherics in Bryce 7 Pro

Achieving real sunlight is difficult in any render engine,
bu there's a knack to it. LuxRender gets you halfway there
by virtue of offering "unbiased rendering."
Depth of field is turned ON in this shot, which gives
a beautifully natural photographic effect .. check out
that background! A photo stripped in? Nope.
The whole thing was done in LuxRender.
The exact other end of the scale from the
photorealism of LuxRender is the cartoon
render function of DAZ Studio itself ...
never experimented with this before. Fun!
Bryce 7 Pro is really starting to do what it's told for me now ... it's
only taken about three years of fiddling about before the
proverbial penny dropped! But drop it did, in the end.
Bryce atmospherics can give great results:
check out that depth of field, and how the
horizon is soft with ever-increasing haze. Nice.
Two left-side images: DAZ Studio. All others: LuxRender.
Loads more goodies to upload. 

Getting LuxRender and Bryce 7 Pro to "play nice" has been one of the good things that happened in the last couple of years. Each system is enormously complex -- dauntingly so, in fact; but if you persevere, they eventually start to make sense. Of the two, LuxRender is the easier to master because the Reality "bridge" between DAZ Studio and Lux proper is designed to make the job ... well, not "easy" as such, but doable. The Bryce interface is something of a logistical nightmare, especially when compared with Vue; so it's no surprise that Vue is where I'll be going next. As good as Bryce images can be (and some of them are amazing, especially the phenomenal landscapes of the greatest Bryce artist anyone knows, David Brinnen), Vue work is ... well, distinguishable from photographs only due to the fact that reality don't never look that purfek'!

And even now, I haven't gotten the new harddrive for my desktop! So I'm still loading scenes into LuxRender via DAZ Studio 3 files opened through retro-compatibility in Studio 4 ... which faffs about like you wouldn't believe when asked to open a Studio 3 file. Suuuure, it'll open the file, but due to the way it reads directory structure, half the props will be missing. For example: you wanna see a male nude, the whole picture, rendered in Lux? Uh huh, so would I. But DAZ Studio 4, when opening a Studio 3 file, leaves the poor man's dangly bits behind. Michael 4 arrives as an unhappy castrato. (And no, I can't install Michael 4 into Studio 4, due to the aforementioned harddrive problem. It's a long, long story. And no, I haven't switched to the Genesis figure, for unavoidable reasons which are way too complex to go into here. And no, Reality 2.0 will not work in tandem with the final version of DAZ Studio 3, even though it swears up and down that it will. Go figure. And yes, I know that the new version of Reality is out, Version 4.0.x ... and I'll be getting this when I have the new harddrive. Oy.)

However, that new harddrive won't be far away, and the good thing is that in the two YEARS I've spent battling to stay alive and sane while not having one braincell to even think about upgrading the PC ... the hybrid drives are now about 25% of the price they used to be. Which means I can get a HUGE-capacity drive for the same money. Which means I can get Vue, and the new Reality version, and the newest version of Poser, and "triple-install" all my 3D props to suit these various programs; and I might even be able to afford to get the PC's chip updated. When Dave got me the system -- fastest on the market 38 months ago -- the workshop put in one of the best motherboards in the country with a heat sink that'd cool Vulcan's forge. So I oughtta be able to just update the chip and bring this baby right up to current spec. Hope so.

Click the pic to see larger...
One of the things I'm currently trying to learn (still!) is how to hand-paint really good, realistic hair in Photoshop. This is an artform in itself, and when you start to work on human figures in LuxRender, you really must learn it ... because LuxRender has a nasty tendency to render 3D toupees badly. The finished render can look like the model is wearing a plastic bag on its head. It's surprisingly nasty. Spoils the shot. So, hand-painting hair is something you just gotta learn.

The work is done in Photoshop, with tiny brushes, a Wacom Bamboo ... and a hell of a lot of practice. Am still getting there, but when it works, it works. This one, at left, is fairly decent -- also gives you a closeup squiz at the face work done on the Michael 4 model to give him an "alien" aspect ... he's about three inches tall and has pointed ears and lovely blue wings, as well as a foot-high battleaxe with which he could probably chop your foot off at the ankle if you strayed too close to the bottom of the garden where this faery clan hangs out! This work was done in good old Morphs++ for M4, and the effect is extremely nice. This is just a crop out of the middle of the main render (it was a 40-hour render ... you wouldn't want to do it over!), and -- check out that background. A photo stripped in? Nope. The whole thing was done in LuxRender, right down to the most distant tree, with the sunlight cranked up high and the depth of field turned on. Nice. The best hand-painted hair I've seen yet is done by digital artist Nan Fredman, who frankly waltzes rings around the folks who're tutoring this subject in ImagineFX magazine. Right now, I can only aspire to those effects, but I'm getting there: prektiss, prektiss, prektiss.

Jade, 3 February 2015

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