Thursday, March 7, 2019

A cowboy fantasy, a truly glorious digital sunset, a kerfuffle with lights, and ... trees!



Just a (cowboy) fantasy ... a test-bed, in fact, to set up and hammer the problems out of a lighting set that's bothered me since something like 2012. You've been doing this stuff for almost twelve years, you think you know lights backwards and sideways, right? You think nothing is going to catch you unawares? That, my darling possums, is an excellent definition of hubris. Ack. Then this happens:


😵😳😱 WTF?!!! At first glance, it looks like the mesh collapsed, or buckled, but nope. Delete all lights and take another look. The mesh is fine. What you have there is two lights having a fight (ah, the joys of biased rendering...) and making it look like the mesh collapsed.

So now we re-re-re-relight what should have been a simple scene: an exercise, like a musician playing scales and arpeggios for practice. Yep, I learned a lot. This image was only intended as a test stage to work the bugs out of a lighting set, but it turned itself into a two hour marathon. Simple as it is, it almost beat me (I did have a smashing headache at the time, and I was full of pills: that could have had something to do with it). But, never say quit, right? Right.

Then I noticed something...


Is anybody out there old enough that if I said, "Johnny Madrid" you'd know (or care) what I was talking about?! Honest to gods, this just happened, and it's only a trick of the light. If the character turns around, the illusion will vanish. But just right there ... Johnny Madrid by accident.

Played in Terragen some more, and came up with some lovely stuff, one in particular:


That one looks superb at large size: I uploaded it at 1600 wide (no, I'm only using the free version at the moment, so the biggest I ever render is 1200, but Photoshop and Irfanview do a nice enough job of enlarging the images. I will be doing the subscription version of Terragen eventually -- but not on this skinny little laptop. It's struggling, and will burn itself out if I run it much more, or much harder!
Also...


Above: exact same landscape, water and clouds, different time of day. Am starting to play with clouds right now: I want to be able to do big, dense, dark thunderheads, then have the sun come peeking around them. I think I see how it's done. Will play some more tomorrow. Also...


All the other landscapes were done with the old heightfield terrain, which you can only drive so far. For this one, above, I switched to an alpine fractal ... something or other, which has these really neat erosion patterns built right into the mesh:


I love the erosion patterns in the rock faces ... and the beauty of it is, Terragen does this stuff automatically. You just have to add in the "shaders" for snow, vegetation, rock color, what not...

In fact, the last thing these landscapes are crying out for, now, is ... trees. And I know where to go to get them. There's a company called Xfrog which seems to have modeled every bit of herbage on the planet, and they are very, very nice models. Such as this:


They work out at about A$65 per tree, if you just buy a single tree, or A$130 for a "library," where you're buying 20 trees for a particular geographical zone -- for example, they've covered Europe in three packs. I mean, I am drooling, seriously:


I haven't taken it to this level yet. for two reasons. One, they're not cheap. It makes no sense to spend $65 for one tree, when you can get 20 trees for $130, so you know ahead of time, you're up for $130. Which is actually out of my price bracket at the moment, if I tell the truth. Second, I need to know before I spend money what adding plants will do to the render times of my Terragen scenes -- because longer renders mean a lot more work for the computer, and this really is a skinny little laptop! If I burn it out, asking it to do the implausible, I'll need to buy a new one ... uh, no. So, the plan is to get hold of the free samples and take them for a spin first. Then make the decision.

And I know I'm only delaying out of sheer cowardice! I could do it tomorrow. I might. Or ... I might go play in LuxRender, which I haven't done in years, but I do need to do, because I have a book cover to render up for a client in the fairly near future, and it's going to depend on Lux, because it has to give the impression of being a photo, which (with the best will in the world) raytraces don't.

Back soon with more!
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