Garstor's World, My realm of 3D art, LEGO and atheism

The New Tripod

Posted on Friday, March 10th, 2017 at 5:26 AM in Personal by Garstor

As planned, I bought a new tripod last night to go with the new camera. I mentioned a couple of posts back that my old tripod was purchased at Wal-Mart for about $50. While it had three legs to technically meet the definition; it offered little else.

So I bought a Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB. This product is solidly in the mid-range, so that makes it a big step-up for me. The main selling points for me are the ball-head and that the central shaft can be moved 180 degrees (this will let me photograph ground and such for 3D textures).

This will be the last of my photographic purchases for awhile. At least until Photoshop World is over.

The First Photos

Posted on Wednesday, March 8th, 2017 at 7:29 PM in Personal by Garstor

As soon as I had the battery pack fully-charged, I went out on my balcony and snapped two quick photos of the building where I work.

First Photo 1Yes, I live that close by!

The only editing I did to this first image was a straighten and crop in Photoshop. I dropped the JPEG image quality very slightly to reduce the file size to a “mere” 4 MB.

First Photo 2The second photo really impressed me. The kit lens on the new camera is 18-135 mm; so I was astonished at how close I could get to the Moneris sign.

In both cases, the spectacular clarity of detail keeps my jaw dropped. I can hardly wait to get out on a photo-walk around the area – especially along Mimico Creek.

The Canon EOS 80D can create time-lapse sequences automatically. I’ve been think about creating a time-lapse of the Moneris building from pre-dawn to dusk. Just as soon as I learn the feature and can ensure a stable tripod mount!

New Toy!

Posted on Monday, March 6th, 2017 at 6:56 AM in Personal by Garstor

My Pentax K-x has served me faithfully for nearly a decade. I have learned the basics of photography and Photoshop through my friends Dave and Gabriella. EOS-80DI continued learning with a subscription to KelbyOne and next month, I will be going to Photoshop World.

It is time to step-up my game, to learn even more and start taking much better pictures.

Here is the first and biggest investment in that plan, a Canon EOS 80D. I made heavy use of the excellent DP Review website to compare cameras. I started with the Pentax K-1, the Pentax K-3 II, the EOS 80D, the EOS 7D Mark II and the Nikon D7200.

Having USB 3.0 and a GPS was a factor but I abandoned that. GPS would be spiffy but I don’t travel far and wide enough to really make it a necessity. Most often, I am taking photos off the camera by removing the SD card; so that eliminated a big reason for USB 3.0.

KelbyOne featured introduction videos to both the 7D Mark II and the EOS 80D. The 7D has a higher continuous shooting rate – this would be ideal for sports and wildlife photography and I don’t do either of those.

Rock-solid advice from both friends and the KelbyOne forums covered holding each camera body in-store. That was a major factor in eliminating the Nikon D7200 from my options. It has a grip that is just slightly more shallow than the Canon’s. You can’t even see it; but you can  feel it.

The EOS 80D has an articulated LCD screen that you can touch to change settings. The kit lens is an 18-135mm and it blows away my Pentax’s 18-55mm. The zoom / auto-focus on the Canon is smooth as silk and twice as quiet.

I went to my local Henry’s store and plan on using the price difference to add some additional gear in the very near future. First up is a new tripod; something a little more professional-grade than the Wal-Mart special that I currently use. Some filters are a must; I bought a circular polarizer with the camera. However, I definitely want a neutral density filter so that I can take some photos of flowing water and get that creamy look to it. I am debating investing in some flash and portable softbox equipment.

This is definitely plenty for now! New learning ahead.

Unwrapping A Celtic Knot Design

Posted on Friday, March 3rd, 2017 at 7:44 PM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

This was an interesting problem. On the surface it seems easy; however, as you consider the options as modeler and texture artist, complications arise.

imageA good friend of mine was modeling a Celtic Knot-like headpiece for a staff. She graciously permitted me to record a video about my attempts to unwrap it with UV Layout.

As I hopefully make clear in this tutorial, this is a question of trade offs. We can create rectangular strips that are easy to paint on and very nicely fill the UV space. However, they will contain UV stretching or compression distortions.

Or we can remove the distortions but have oddly shaped UV shells to paint on. The end result will probably look much better at the cost of the effort required to paint on it.

After I posted this to my YouTube channel; I thought of a possible hybrid solution. I may experiment with that over the weekend and write about it here if it bears useful fruit.

Poser Lights

Posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 at 6:28 AM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

In a word: FRUSTRATING!

At least so far. Maybe I’ll learn a few tricks to make this easier in the future.

Blade Maiden - my light rigI deleted the lights that start with the default Poser scene. Since I wasn’t comfortable editing them yet, those were what I had been using to this point.

However, lighting is a big part of the story-telling with any image that one creates – whether hand-painted, photographed or rendered with a 3D program. So I had to change things up in order to better convey what was in my head with this scene.

Since I envisioned the Blade Maiden rushing across a stone bridge to commence battle – perhaps over a pool of lava – I started with four area lights beneath the camera frame. Two pair on each side of bridge, one with a reddish colour and one with an orangey colour. Instead of allowing them to cast light straight up, I angled them slightly to better illuminate the model.

There is an infinite light above the scene to add some daylight to the mix. This was one of the things that I found very difficult and annoying to control in Poser. So it could be better. The blade edge seems to have picked up so specular highlights from this light though.

The last light – also one that gave me problems – is a spotlight behind Blade Maiden to act as a rim light. She needed to be separated from the dark background. But this light gave me the most trouble. I could not figure out how to illuminate only Blade Maiden. Positioning the light in the scene was more trouble than it was worth.

I certainly have more to learn. However, at this moment, I find lighting to be much easier in LightWave than in Poser.

Playing With Poser

Posted on Sunday, February 12th, 2017 at 8:31 PM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

Although I (mostly) like how this turned out, I am still putting into the WIP album.

Blade MaidenThere is a lot that I need to learn about Poser still. Especially the texturing.

An early draft of this used a red & gold texture set for the Blade Maiden outfit. But the specular and reflection settings were running away from me; I couldn’t get them where I wanted.

So I opted instead for the more subdued tan texture set.

I wanted to get out of the blank “room” that is the Poser default scene. So I added Jack Tomalin’s Cliffhanger product. I bought this years ago when I was still using Carrara but today is the first time that I have put it into a scene.

This render still uses the default lighting rig that Poser starts with. I’ll have to start experimenting with lighting in Poser soon.

More Terrain Work

Posted on Monday, February 6th, 2017 at 6:42 AM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

Sandstone Ridge #4I had another burst of experimenting with rendering World Machine terrains inside LightWave.

The most serious issues have been worked out now. Here is the last render I created.

The normal map is solved. World Machine uses a Direct-X normal map, so I need to invert the Y-channel to get the OpenGL normal map format. The end result is better looking erosion lines that no longer appear to be vascular pumped veins throbbing across a power-lifter.

You will notice some odd stretching in the sky. That problem is also solved – I just did not upload a new version to Flickr. As it turns out, Image World is not the best answer for displaying HDRI sky domes. Image World is best suited to HDRI light probes and is not usually meant to be seen in the final render. I am using a Textured Environment using spherical projection for the sky dome now. That correctly renders the sky and clouds without distortion.

Alien LandscapeIn a very happy accident, I began exploring the new GeoGlyph 2.0 plugin for World Machine. Taking a cue from the work on “Sandstone Ridge,” I wanted to enhance the look of the erosion lines and get a more rock-like look to the terrain.

What came out immediately reminded me of some non-terrestrial planetoid. I instantly imagined a star field and nebula instead of an Earthly sky dome.

I also wanted to use the erosion to hint that there may be something else below the surface. So I made that a yellow-gold blend to mix with the brown and grey of the rock.

Instead of Textured Environment, I simply created a huge rectangle to act as a backplane. There is a slight curve to it but I don’t think that comes through in the picture. I used the Filter Forge plugin for Photoshop to create the star field and nebula.

Since it is in space without any atmosphere, the key light is a Distant one. This creates very hard shadows and you can see the light angle puts much of the left-side terrain into darkness. Behind the camera is a very large Area light that uses some of the green colour from the nebula. This light is very faint but it fills in some of those shadows a little bit.

I think it is time to return to building my skills with Poser and ZBrush.

Improvements On The Terrain

Posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 at 6:42 AM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

I have been experimenting with the new terrain, trying to work out some of the issues.

The default “size” of a terrain in World Machine is 8 kilometers square. But this is completely relative. The main output from World Machine is a heightmap (or optional OBJ mesh) and colour textures.

Sandstone Ridge 2When I open the OBJ file in LightWave, it is only 1 meter square. So I have been scaling it up by a factor of 8,000 so that it “matches” World Machine. This had the unintended effect of diluting the normal and bump map effects that I was trying to introduce.

This time, I only scaled up the mesh to be 100 meters per side. This brought out the normal and bump effects. It also revealed another issue – the normal map should be producing erosion cuts into the rock. However, these are looking like veins on a steroid-abusing power lifter’s arms!

I think I know the cause though. The OBJ file is using the Z-axis as “up.” Carrara did the same thing. In LightWave the Y-axis is up and I have rotated the mesh to fit LightWave. So I need to adjust the normal map, either in LightWave or figure how to adjust it in World Machine. That will be what I experiment with tonight.

The sky is darker than before. I previously adjusted the brightness in the LightWave Image World tool. This caused too much light from the HDRI and I had to reduce the effect of the global illumination. This is not the best solution. I now know that the HDRI gamma needs to be changed.

So I am slowly getting there. Pretty soon I should be able to create good looking terrains on a regular basis.

Heading To Photoshop World!

Posted on Monday, January 30th, 2017 at 8:25 PM in Photoshop by Garstor

I guess the post title says it all. I’ll be going to Photoshop World in April.

I don’t know what to expect because I have never been before. Hopefully there will be plenty to learn.

A short and to the point post.

A Bit Of 3D News…

Posted on Monday, January 30th, 2017 at 6:33 AM in Photoshop, Ray-Tracing by Garstor

It will be good to get another post in before January ends. I have been playing around a lot with 3D this month but none of it was really worth blogging about.

After a long hiatus, I bought several more Photoshop Actions from Sevenstyles. They include:

I definitely need to acquire images – either my own photos, stock or renders – that I can use these Actions on. There are even more Actions that have been created since I last purchased. Sevenstyles is quite prolific.

Sandstone RidgeMost of my work this past month has been with World Machine and GeoGlyph. I just bought the upgrade license to GeoGlyph Professional v2; this brings some very large changes from the Indie v1 license.

This area is where most of my experimenting has not been worth showing off. But this past weekend, I came up with the following. It is still a work-in-progress but at least it is worth sharing.

I bought an HDRI sky image from CGSkies. They are fairly expensive at about $30 USD per sky; but they do add a lot of realism to the lighting. Most HDRI sites include a ground with the image, but CG-Skies removes that and has just the sky. I’d like to buy more skies, but we’ll see…

My biggest complaint with this image is that it is too smooth. I have not been able to pop out details with a normal or bump map. Hopefully I can get that bit figured out and start producing landscape renders that are really nice.