Thursday, November 10, 2016

Done and dusted: eighteen covers? No sweat. Well ... okay, a little bit.



Finally, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, adjusting and re-re-repainting ... here's the last image in the current commission set of book covers, DONE. It's been a huge job:

You have to conceptualize the thematic material, then track down the cover elements, do the background painting, design the character, design the render, do the render, paint render and background together in post work -- and along the way wrangle a superior raytrace that'll actually serve the purpose, according to today's demands. You'll be lucky to get through a project in a day; and very fortunate indeed if the client doesn't want something changed later --

Which is why you always, always keep all the project files for every piece of art. I have everything going back to the reference photos for every item in this eighteen-cover commission, and several times I was sooo glad I had them, because I had to go back in and work on some detail or other.

But we're done now, and the last job was to add the text elements for title and author byline, on each cover. Ye gods. One last thing I did was to track down the best available art for six other existing covers and reprocess it through to meet the same size and shape requirements -- and in one or two cases, to redesign the text elements to bring these others into line with the new edition.

The result --


-- nice. Very. I've uploaded this "proof sheet" (as we used to call such an item in the days when we used to contact-proof negatives in the darkroom) at about 2300 pixels wide, so you can really get a look at the new work. If you've been playing "spot the novel" I was working on during the last couple of months, here's your chance to find out how right you were! Some speak for themselves, of course, and others you could probably work out by identifying the giveaway themes in the background. A gargoyle. A stone circle. A galleon. A schooner. A light plane crashed in the sea. A break-bulk freighter. A rain forest.

Enjoy!

Next, for me ... I'm working on something of my own. I've got a fantasy novel going (!) and am dying to visualize characters and situations, so I'll be playing with art purely for myself. The novel is a lot of fun -- having a ball with it. Am six chapters through and starting to think about packaging and promoting it. Will I bother looking for an American agent --?! Ye gods. There's easier ways to beat yourself up. No, no, I'm going to have fun with this, not fifteen years of frustration and heartache, before I give the book away in 2032!

Can you even imagine 2032?

As they say on the TV news shows, "Back soon with more."


Friday, October 7, 2016

Fantasy warrior -- again! (Wow ... two posts in one day)



Fantasy warrior -- again! Yes, I managed to get the second cover for today finished, and here it is. Not much to say about this one, save that it was a bear to get the lighting right. There's something DAZ Studio does, and even after all this time I have no idea why/how it does it. Basically, one or all of your lights will look dandy with the shadows turned OFF, but when you turn them on, sure, you get shadows ... but they seem to be comprised of thousands of gray freckles. They look very daggy indeed, and you can end up painting for hours to get rid of them --

Now, the smart thing would be to fix this in the render. And I've learned that it's something to do with the softness of the shadows cast by one or more lights ... but it has zip to do with the shadow bias. The ONLY thing that improves the "thousand gray freckle effect" is to dial down the shadow softness till the effect is almost imperceptible. Eventually you'll reach a point of compromise where you'll get just enough softness out of your shadows on the one hand, and few enough of the freckles on the other, and you can live with it.

So here we are with another fantasy book cover starring DAZ's Michael. For those who came in late: nope, this is not Genesis anything. This is the grandfather of the recent Genesis figures; and if you're clever with how you handle this "digitoid," as Mel Keegan has called the digital actors, you can do a lot with them. In fact, I've been looking at some renders, lately, of the Genesis figures rendered in -- I think -- Poser; and they're not all that impressive. In other words, you still have to be careful and clever with them, or you can get plasticky results (and yes, I know there's no such word.)

We're going to call this an "artistic male nude," because most of him qualifies!

One more cover to go. Counting down to the end of this assignment...

Stormy Weather


Stormy weather: an old break-bulk freighter, a big storm running, and DAZ's Michael, lost in the middle of it. Yes, another book cover (two to go, still ... dying to be finished this weekend), but this was the assignment. I'd originally thought the background image would be the difficult part, but it turned out to be dead easy, about twenty minutes fiddling with twelve layers in Photoshop.

An ancient image of an utterly obsolete ship (probably went to the scrapyard thirty year ago. Or forty), plus one of my own stormy skies -- I grab the camera every time the sky does something extraordinary -- and then, with the backdrop done, a lot of work doing everything possible to make the old Michael 4 model render up quite realistically in a raytrace...

This is a new Michael face; he's wearing the Tosca skinmap, which I like a lot ... it has a realism which is very useful; that's the Garry hair, mussed up to make it look like there's a wind teasing it. This isn't a hairstyle I've used very often, because it's short, and my own preference is for longer hair. This time the project demanded short hair, though. Just two lights are set, one gray-green, the other pale gold, both with shadows; and the DOF is turned ON, as usual. (One of the neatest tricks for making a 3D render look a bit more realistic is to knock the "focus" off the virtual camera, just by a few percent. 3D renders, especially raytraces, can look rather obnoxious ... plasticky. There's no such word, I know. But if you whop the focus off a bit, you can get around that to a surprising extent.)

Okay: two more to go, then I can get into my own stuff. I've got this fantasy buzzing around in my head. I've actually written the first chapter of it, and would love to get into rendering characters and scenarios. The thing is, to do a full-on job I'll need to track down a 3D model of a galleon. Yes, you heard, a galleon. Or similar.

So I spent a few minutes on the DAZ marketplace, and was pleased to see you can get several ships that look pretty decent, for $15 - $40 ... good enough to get the job done, I guess. Though...

If you didn't mind laying down five...hundred...bucks you can get a Hollywood resolution model of the Golden Hind herself at TurboSquid:



Add to cart...? Uh, not today, thank you! Yes, I know: TurboSquid is where the pros go shopping for their odds and sods. But their pockets are somewhat deeper than mine! So we'll have to see what we can do, with what we an afford. That comes next, when I start to render the fantasy that's been buzzing around in my brain.

For now: back to work! I have two more book covers to do before I can call this assignment done, and they're not going to render themselves! (Wish they would...)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Fantasy warrior ... you might know this face!


Fantasy warrior ... and this is another one I'll be sending to LuxRender in the fullness of time (meaning, when this current monster assignment is done and I have the time to think). This is a project spanning about eight years. I painted the first version of this book cover a long, long time ago, and at the time it was done completely digitally, without recourse to DAZ Studio, or Byrce. The whole thing was painted inside Micrographx Picture Publisher ... yes, it goes back so far, I didn't even have GIMP, much less the pocket-sized version of Photoshop I'm running now.

(I used to adore Micrographx, but on one of the PC upgrades that were necessary over the years I switched up to a 64 but system, and Micrographx ... ceased to work. For some time I ran on GIMP, but continual crashes and a lot of grumbling caused Dave to track down an affordable Photoshop for me; possibly to save his sanity. Ahem.)

Anyway ... time for a reboot of all these old covers, so here we are reimagining the character and scenario. But the backdrop remains perfect, transferred over directly from the original project. The sky was hand-painted from scratch; the lake is a location in Finland, overpainted from an image appearing in a tourist brochure; the foreground began life as a photo of "somewhere in Fairbanks, Alaska" -- one of my own shots, scanned in from a print.

Now, in this incarnation of the cover, it's one of my own Michael 4 characters (I've called him "the Raven" for years. You've seen him with wings, and sometimes in armor, four or five times on the blog here). He's the perfect choice for this project. The hair is the Yannis Rasta dreadlocks (by SAV, I believe), which suits this character to a "T" ... and the rest was a question of muted daylight: it would have been a mistake to overdrive the lights, given the soft colors and "sunset" kind of lighting in the background. The sword is one of the DM props -- from "The Shrine," as I recall (from Renderosity, like the dreads). And if I could only remember what the skinmap is, I'd be happy to tell you. That information has vanished utterly from my brain.

The 2000 pixel high raytrace took about an hour, then another hour of painting to bring it up to a place I was happy to call "finished." By far the longest time was spent in textures and lighting control. The beauty of it is, everything blends so well, you're not even noticing where the work was done ... a sure sign it was well done.

With that remark, I'm going to sign out and go grab some tea.

Followers, note: I'm very likely to disappear for a couple of weeks. A friend is coming in from the States, and Dave and I will be taking some time off to basically tour around the local area and have a well-earned break. But I'll be back before long: scores of images and stories are buzzing around in my head, and I'm really enjoying artwork again!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Buccaneer meets holiday hunk ... alas, two centuries apart!


A pirate hunk in 3D (thank you, DAZ Studio and Photoshop!), against the backdrop of an Elizabethan galley in the mist; and, staying with the Caribbean theme --


...another 3D hunk -- genuine poster boy for the Jamaican Tourist Association! Two more book covers today. Just a handful to go now, to get this assignment complete.

These are raytraces, not LuxRender projects, of course: it's a question of time. There just ain't enough hours in a day to scramble through so much work, if you want to put 4-8 hours into every final Lux render. Almost always, you need to do three or four (or more) test renders in Lux before you can set the piece to "go" and come back tomorrow. The results are gorgeous, but ... not this time.

However, I plan to come back to some of these pieces in a week or two, when I have the time, and see what LuxRender will make of them. I'll upload what I get, if it's rewarding enough to share around. (Not every project works in LuxRender. Very occasionally you do come up with a dud, where the raytrace is better. Shock, horror!) In the meantime, these are "superior" raytraces, in which all the technique available has been invested; so there's not a light year of difference between what you see here and the real unbiased renders...

In all seriousness, raytracing is becoming an abandoned art, with the wide availability of engines like Lux and SuperFly on the desktop. In a couple of years, it'll be forgotten -- and this is a pity, because if you know what you're doing you can get very good results. You also get very different results;  the best unbiased renders are eerily photographic, whereas even the best raytrace possible is still, well, art. And what's wrong with art, pray tell?!

Speaking of art, I'm also extremely pleased with the background images appearing with all of this 3D hunk work. In virtually every instance, these are full-on digital paintings (just a couple defy this rule).  I'm still in the learning curve with Photoshop. It's my pleasure, now, to tackle projects that would have scared me off a few years ago. So nice to be learning and developing, even now.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Space pilot ... the ever-versatile Michael 4


The space pilot, rendered in two layers, so as to avoid having a big lighting battle between the foreground human and background spacecraft. The backdrop is a one of the HST photos, which was cropped and enlarged specifically to fit. The ship was raytraced with some new textures to get around some unwanted decals inherent in the original model; then that render was shipped out into Photoshop to be muted and blurred, in line with the current paperback vogue. I use a slight motion blur, which seems to look better than the usual Gaussian blur ... this 'shopped version was shipped back into DAZ Studio to be the background for the portrait. Lots of toing and froing, but, trust me, it's the most efficient way to do this, even if it does take an extra half hour.

Michael 4 is wearing the Jagger skinmap and the Aether hair; and the M4 flight suit with the mission badge darkened out. The character was raytraced against the existing backdrop, then shipped back into Photoshop for some adjustments in the gamma, contrast and so on.

(The last step was to import the "done" version of the picture into Serif to have the titles overlaid, but we're not concerned with titles here. In fact, I'll hit you with the promotion for these books later ... you'll have a chance to pick up a swag of ebooks FREE, from Amazon, B&N and so forth, and get hefty discounts on a lot of others. I'll let you know when the deal is on.)

Not much else to say about this one. I have SIX covers left to do, to get out from under this job, and though it's been all kinds of fun -- and yes, I have appreciated the work (!) -- I'll also be grateful to have it done.

One of the reasons is, I'm starting to actually WRITE on a new fantasy novel, and as I imagine the scenes, I want to illustrate them. Am dying to cast the parts and get some images going. More about that later.
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