Return To Cheirocrates

This past weekend, I was encouraged to create a new scene in Carrara. I have been swimming in the LightWave pool for some time now; so I wanted to re-discover my old friend.

desert render #7I love the Cheirocrates props that Jack Tomalin has created. It was one of the first models that I purchased from DAZ3D; I know that this is a set that I will return to frequently.

The idea of an oasis just outside the street scene has long been in my head. Getting the mix of greenery and desert parched sand right would be a bit tricky. My first attempt involved two terrain primitives; but getting them to blend seamlessly with each other required far too much effort for my taste. There had to be an easier way.

I ended up using a single terrain primitive using a heightfield that I created in Leveller and tweaked with Photoshop. Photoshop’s layers let me quickly create distribution maps that could control the placement of the palm trees and greenery around the oasis water. One further tweak that I would like to make in the future is another distribution map to put the papyrus plants along the water edge. The green terrain was controlled with Carrara’s terrain shader; I set a small range of altitude for the green and left the rest to be parched sand. Both the green and the sand are just procedural textures.

I owe a tip of the cap to evilproducer – one of the DAZ3D forum gurus – for the lighting. He suggested a light dome to simulate global illumination as well as the lens flare effect for the sunlight.

One of the best compliments was from a co-worker who saw the image on someone’s desktop wallpaper and asked, “Was that taken in Dubai?”

LightWave Tinkering

I spent some time on Friday night and Saturday morning playing around with a simple LightWave model and scene. The primary purpose was to experiment with nodal surfacing – specifically the Carpaint material. I also changed some of the light types (usually using an area light or a spotlight) and angles.

The Carpaint material was used on the cube with the rounded edges. I was also trying to get some caustics effects out of the gemstones.

Here are some of the results from my Flickr WIP set. There really isn’t much commentary to add about these.

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Playing With Fire

Playing With FireI have become interested in the work being done at Carrara Cafe to provide an alternative (and less censored) set of forums for Carrara users. So I began modifying my avatar image; it was nearly instantly that I thought about adding some fire to it.

Of course, this is a much higher resolution than the avatar itself. But there are some interesting details here that would be otherwise lost.

The texture on the t-shirt is one of my early lessons in UV mapping. To make it personal, I went for the RDFRS Out Campaign logo.

A friend of mine suggested that the hair should also be fiery. That is an interesting idea. It is probably one that I would want to create in Photoshop post-work because I do not think Carrara’s fire primitive is quite up to the task.

I am still working on the art gallery in LightWave and will post about that as it comes together. Honestly; I keep re-starting it as I experiment and learn more things about modeling in LightWave. I wish I had more time to be modeling during the week – but there are bills to pay!

Carrara Has A Future!

For some reason that I do not fully understand, DAZ-3D likes to keep their cards close to their chest. They are essentially silent about what they are working on. This leads to wild and usually unfounded speculation in the support forums (here is a recent example).

Coming from Microsoft and their love of blogging and general openness about their products, I do find this to be very frustrating. There is no doubt that DAZ-3D would prefer to be a content-only company (or just stick with their own Daz|Studio product).

For the past month;,we Carraraists have been speculating about an alleged February announcement. What might it be? Carrara 8.5 is piteously overdue, is it finished? Is DAZ-3D selling Carrara? Is Carrara abandoned? On and on the theories piled upon each other without any word from DAZ all month.

Late last night, Carrara Cafe released this tantalizing bit.

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff there. But at least they announced some dates that we can try to hold them to.

Crushed Sapphires: A Story Of Inspiration & Creation

While experimenting with Filter Forge, I created a rather interesting texture map that I called “crushed sapphires.” I thought it had a really neat pattern and the bluish hue made me think immediately of my birthstone, sapphire.

sapphire column and linear light 3I started playing with the texture map in LightWave – at first, just to learn more about the different lighting options in Layout. In the picture on the right, I used two linear lights.

If you look at the base of the cylinder with the crushed sapphires texture you can a brighter line of light on the marble floor. That is the linear light in action; you specify an invisible line in three dimensional space that is emitting light in all directions.

It really did not take me very long to become curious about what the crushed sapphire texture would look like on the Victoria 4 model in Carrara! I was really pleased with how that turned out and posed Victoria on a marble-like base and in a “room” (just a vertex cube to make wall, floor and ceiling – nothing fancy).

art gallery test 3Here is close-up angle that helps show-off the texture map.

The pose here still wasn’t quite to my liking. It looks like Victoria is almost floating above the base. I put a spotlight pointed at her but that was far too bright.

The ideas started flowing at that point and I could hardly stop trying to implement them. The vision of an art gallery appeared in my brain and I knew that I had to create it. It was like a compulsion.

In LightWave, I modeled a rather simple cylinder and base. The idea was  to make a metallic, brass line queuing pole; such as what you might find in a bank. I tried to model the velvet rope to hang from the queuing poles but I simply could not easily stretch and rotate the polygons to appear like a natural draping object.

I would have to use bones and rigging. Bones are an essential concept to posing or animating a polygonal model. However; they are something that I had yet to use in either Carrara or LightWave. Fortunately, there was plenty of help from the kindred minds in the DAZ-3D forums. I owe a special note of thanks to Phil Wilkes (here is a link to Phil’s excellent Carrara training videos), Dartanbeck and evilproducer for their advice and encouragement.

art gallery test renderHere is the art gallery scene on the right shortly before I ceased working on it.

Ceased? Yes. Sort of.

It was coming along rather nicely (Dartanbeck and evilproducer gave me permissions to use their renders as framed paintings). I discovered that as more ideas formed in my mind, I realized that I would have to start over from scratch.

The art gallery room was an after-thought. All of this started with the accidental creation of the crushed sapphires texture. If I was going to create a proper art gallery scene, I would have to plan around the room itself. I wanted a much fancier room than just a box.

So I have been back inside LightWave trying out different ideas. Currently, I am considering a t-shaped room with a vaulted ceiling. The crushed sapphire Victoria will still be a major part of the scene; but I want to display other models – either purchased from DAZ or created myself – as exhibits in the gallery.

I may write another post describing the gallery modeling work in LightWave – I’m going to start again today with attempt number three!

crushed sapphires (evilproducer tweaks)This story isn’t quite over yet! Carrara guru, evilproducer, made some significant tweaks to the crushed sapphires texture. He shared his knowledge with us in the forums and I am very grateful for that. The shader now has a much better gemstone-like glitter and translucency to it.

In the picture on the right, you can also see that Victoria is posed much more naturally on the base.

Thanks EP!

This whole process has been interesting and educational.

Medusa At Sea

Medusa At SeaI recently completed a new render that I am quite proud of – it has become my new favourite render; displacing Pier View Romance to second place.

I used Faveral’s ship model Medusa and Phil Wilkes’ Realistic Seas For Carrara.

The tweaking on this was rather extensive. I experimented a great deal with the lighting and learned quite a lot about faking global illumination. I originally had more clouds in the scene and although it looked very nice, with full GI it took more than a full day to render. I never let it finish…it might have taken more than that!

There were a few minor tweaks to the island; but the focus was on the lighting. I used a set of Distant Lights positioned above the masts and then I focused on getting the effects right for the lanterns on the stern and main mast. I ended up using Carrara 8’s fire primitive but illuminating it with a Bulb Light and putting a post-render Light Sphere effect on it.

This work has definitely encouraged me to try my hand at more nautical scenes in the future.

I also want to use my Flickr account more often. So I am going to add a “Ray Tracing Drafts” set where I will upload experimental stuff. The current “Ray Tracing” set will be for displaying final scenes.

The Waning Hours Of 2012

Here it is. December 31st 2012.

What a ride! The silly Mayan stuff. A terrifying American election. Horrific tragedies (followed-up with spectacularly stupid ideas) and personal failures and extraordinary pride and world-beating accomplishments.

There were many big changes in my own life this year too:

  • I left Microsoft for Azaleos.
  • Only to have Azaleos begin a morph into Avanade.
  • In health, my weight seems to have plateaued again between 216 and 220 pounds; but my body fat percentage has dropped and I have definitely become stronger than ever.
  • Early in the year, I dove into the 3D art world with Carrara and toward the end of the year, I began to continue that journey with LightWave.

Of course, now Americans (and us ex-patriots living here) now have to face the so-called Fiscal Cliff. I think the CBC’s Washington Correspondent Neil Macdonald described it perfectly:

What other democratic nation’s leaders, after all, would deliberately design a fiscal disaster and aim the country’s economy straight for it?

And then stand back, holding news conferences, double-dog-daring each other to step over some imagined line, chanting the political equivalent of nana-nana-boo-boo?

My own thoughts about the Fiscal Cliff? I hope this country plunges over that cliff. Yes, that will hurt me…it will hurt everyone. But the United States cannot carry on mortgaging its future and it has been doing that for so long that ending the cycle and recovering from it will hurt. Taxes should be raised. Spending in the military should be cut. Spending should shifted to building up infrastructure – especially building several new nuclear power plants (like military spending, this creates jobs for tens of thousands of people for several years and will cut pollution and foreign oil dependence).

So what happens tomorrow? In about 18 hours, I’ll start to find out.

My Newest Render

I spent some time posing the Victoria and Michael models into a nice, romantic kiss and embrace. I wanted to make another romance scene like this one. Once things were just about perfect, I needed to put the lovers into a scene.

The artist Umblefugly had released a simple but very nice model called The Fountain. In fact, it was one of the first models that I had bought from Daz-3D. I used it here before knowing much about Carrara and how to design scenes properly (admittedly, that is a skill that I’ll be forever honing).

Unlike that first image; I now knew about building terrain and using distribution maps to control where models are placed in the scene. So I set about to create a better looking forest scene to place The Fountain and ultimately my embracing lovers in. I knew it would have to have a water element since I was so inspired by Howie Farkes.

Here is the result.

This is far from perfect. There are two problems with it that leapt out at me immediately. The first – and easiest one to fix – is that the lily pad models are not resting on the surface of the water. I did not know that these models included dangling roots; so the tips of the roots are what Carrara used to determine placing the lily pads on the water. Romantic Pose - Forest Fountain 2The answer to this is to replicate the lily pads on a second plane hidden below the surface of the water – put it at the correct depth to place the lily pads where you want them to be.

The harder  problem (it seemed) concerned the shadows of The Fountain columns. Take a close look.

It appears that there are shadows being cast inward from the columns. This should not be possible because I have only a single light-source; the “sun” illuminating the scene. All the shadows should fall in a single direction.

As with most problems in life, it is usually best to try to break things down into simpler, easier to manage sizes. I switched off most of the scenery – trees, grass, water and the kissing couple – so that things would render faster. I then began moving the camera around to different angles to see how the shadows were falling.

debug lightingThe answer was obvious once I moved the camera above The Fountain and pointed it down. Clearly, those apparently errant shadows are actually being cast by the arches constructed over the columns. These arches are not visible in the scene but are in the debug render and my first scene using The Fountain.

The red dot marks where the Victoria & Michael models are located.

Live and learn!

Being inspired by this work, I am going to make more forest scenes using The Fountain. Eventually, I will model my own fountain-like shrine to use as well.

More Howie Farkes’ Renders

When I bought Howie Farkes’ amazing scenes for Carrara, I could usually only render the default camera view. These scenes were so detailed that trying to move the camera around would hang my machine! Now that I have the more powerful server-class machine, I decided to try some new renders with Howie’s work.

HF_StoneyCreekI used the “Stoney Creek” scene. In the first render, I wanted to highlight the detail that Farkes puts into the river rocks and stones. He never ceases to amaze me and I am still studying the scene in Carrara to learn more about doing quality nature scenes like this.

 

 

 

In the second scene, I wanted to show-off both the foot bridge and the fallen tree.HF_StoneyCreek_bridge_2 The vegetation is very nearly a scene-stealer though! I may try adding a Victoria or Michael model to the bridge; but I suspect that it will take away from Howie’s work.

The Daz-3D forums lit up when word came out that Howie is working on a new scene. This one appears to be of an alpine valley with plenty of evergreens. I’ll certain buy that for my collection.

Dodging A Heavy Calibre Bullet

There is a bit of a tale to tell here. It has been just over a month since I powered on my rendering server…I had been too frightened to do so until today. Back then I had noticed that the keyboard and mouse were not responding, so I could not logon to Windows – very annoying.

But I could remote desktop from my laptop…and to my horror, I noticed that 2 of my hard drives were not showing up in Windows Explorer. Worse…one of those hard drives contained all my 3D work and runtime libraries.

I powered the server off and on several times – even the POST complained that there was no keyboard attached. This prevented me from getting into the BIOS to check things out from there. My new fire-breathing beast appeared to be mortally wounded.

This depressed me a bit. I was annoyed that I would have to spend money to fix this (worse case, a new motherboard and possibly new hard drives). But what really gut-punched me was the thought that all my 3D work was gone. It would take weeks to download and re-install my runtime libraries. So the machine sat here…unused…while I contemplated how to approach the problem.

Yesterday, I decided to tackle the problem and see if I was about to spend weeks at the Daz 3D site downloading all those files again…to my surprise the POST passed without issue! My hopes were raised considerably! Sure enough; I could logon to Windows and the keyboard and mouse worked correctly. The hard drives were present in Windows Explorer.Mesa At Noon 2

I ran the chkdsk tool against the 3D drive. This was a multi-hour process on a 1 TB drive; but I wasn’t going to take any chances. Chkdsk reported that the drive was error-free. I am a happy camper.

Here is a quick render that I whipped up using the "landscape wizard" in Carrara as a quick celebration. I added a few clouds and changed the original light source to Sunlight

Nothing here that I truly claim as my own creativity. But it looks nice enough and might make some decent Windows Desktop wallpaper.

Pier View Romance Renders

For the last week or so, I have been working on new Carrara 8 renders for my friend Pam. She wanted to see more water in my images and I had an idea about having Michael and Victoria embracing in the Pier View model. This was a perfect opportunity!

I had thought the embrace pose would be the hardest part to accomplish. Actually, the lighting required extensive tweaking and test renders.

Pier View RomanceTo make the moon visible like this ended up plunging the Pier View into near total darkness. So I created the lamps and placed them on every other post.

I really like how those lamps turned out, given my rather amateurish skills with modeling. The glass bell makes the point light inside look like a flame – I also added a yellowish tinge to the light colour.

This first render came out quite nicely. However, the shadows on Michael and Victoria are too hard. Users on the Daz-3D forums helped educate me and gave me the ideas needed to build a new and improved scene.

Pier View Romance - soft shadows - nightAfter setting the soft shadows from the lanterns and being very happy with the results, I decided to get the scene into a deeper night and improve the moon effects.

I think that both images – but especially this second one – make for great desktop wallpapers.

If you are interested in creating images like these, Daz-3D has an incredible promotion going on right now. You can get Daz Studio 4, Bryce 7 and Hexagon 2.5 for free! That is nearly $1,000 worth of software; but the offer is only during the month of March.

Another Blogging Hiatus

I had originally intended to not blog for the first week of January. The goal was to skip clichéd Christmas and New Year’s blathering.

Inertia extended that to two weeks. Then to three weeks…

Four…

Now with January nearly completely gone, I determined to get at least one post in here. Honestly though, there isn’t a lot to update. I suspect 2012 will be a big year for me but I’m not ready to talk about why just yet. My hopes are high.

The Fountain In The Forest

I’ve been developing my Carrara skills and try to spend as much free time with the product as I can.

I call this one “The Fountain In The Forest.” There is definitely some improvements to be made here but all in all, I really like how it turned out. Eventually, I’ll work this scene so that it is more obviously within a clearing in a forest. Some visible sky and clouds would be nice and maybe even some spraying water from the fountain.

The fountain structure itself is purchased content from the Daz-3D Platinum Club. The PC is an awesome marketing idea and I need to be careful that I don’t go too crazy buying stuff from here. It is also a spectacular learning tool as you can see how others have built their models. One day I hope to make my own models that are worthy enough to be shared with the world.

Wherefore Art Thou, Garstor?

Wow! My last post was nearly two months ago…

SharePoint Customer Support got busier than I have ever experienced in my time at Microsoft. Stress is through the roof and lately once I am home, I shut down and decompress. My workouts keep me going.

For_Mark_House

The coolest news to share is my purchase of Daz 3D’s incredible modeller and renderer program, Carrara 8. This is much easier to use than POV-Ray’s programmatic Scene Description Language. Carrara can do landscapes, skies, plants and animate with both soft body and bullet physics.

With Carrara, I bought some training videos from Infinite Skills so that I could start rendering decent stuff quickly. Users on the Daz 3D forums are also incredibly helpful and I have learned a lot from them.

Alright, both workouts and learning Carrara keep me going these days.

Stay tuned for more posts about my renders!

Please don’t get me started on the American election mayhem…it depresses me too much…

Ray Traces On Flickr

As previously mentioned, I have experimenting further with ray tracing graphics. It is a fun blending of both art and programming.

When I create an image that I really like and want to keep, I will upload it to my Flickr set.

If you have any questions about how a particular image was created, feel free to leave a comment and I will share the Scene Description Language file(s) with you (if it is a POV-Ray image).

Glass & Tiling Experiments

This image is one of my newest and also took the longest time to render – over 300 minutes. It looks deceptively simple but I I put a light source behind every piece of "glass."

This meant that POV-Ray had to compute many millions of rays and all their refraction and reflection angles.

I have also purchased Leveller from Daylon Graphics. This should help me render some interesting landscape features and bump maps for base objects.

If this hobby keeps up, I may very well have to build a dedicated rendering computer!

Diving Into 2011

I intentionally delayed my first post of 2011 so that I would not get caught up in the hype of summarizing 2010 (though my hero Paul Randal did make an excellent summary of the books that he read during 2010) or making silly resolutions.

I have a few things planned for the first half of this year – yes, this are dangerously close to being called "resolutions." I think they are different though.

More Ray Tracing

I am really enjoying experimenting with this. It is fun to see what can arise visually from one’s "programming" efforts. I’ll be exploring POV-Ray’s color_map feature as it is something that I see used quite often but didn’t grasp. A shout-out must go to Friedrich Lohmueller again for helping to explain color_map in an approachable way.

I am going to be purchasing Daylon Graphic’s terrain editor Leveller program in the very near future. I am excited to see what I can create with this. One of the key reasons that I chose this program is that much of what it produces can be exported to POV-Ray.

Work With The SharePoint Team

I have proposed to my manager that I leave the DSD team for the last quarter of our fiscal year and incubate with the SharePoint CSS team. We help that team a great deal since SQL Server is the back-end storage support for it and few SharePoint engineers really understand the nuances of that.

My goal is to be the first point of contact for all things SQL Server related. After directly assisting with their cases; I will be producing training and exploring ways to improve our data collection and analysis tools. I am hoping that ultimately both CSS teams will benefit from this in the long run.

Improve The House

This coming May will mark two years of house ownership. It is time that I make my mark with this place and turn it into my home instead of just a place to store my stuff. This goal is still very fuzzy on details and I am open to ideas in the comments (Oh! That could be a mistake…).

Keep Working Out

back workout 12-22-2010It is around this time that my second anniversary of hiring Patrick as a personal trainer is due. I have made a lot of progress. I have no doubt that I am at the healthiest that I have been in at least 20 years.

This picture was taken by Patrick on December 21. He says that my back is getting into great shape and now has some clear definition. Of course, I cannot see my own back so I’ll try taking some pictures here at home (I’ll spare the global community the horror of that and keep them for my eyes only!).

My last body fat percentage was 17.3%. I’d like to get just below 15%. My diet is the toughest obstacle there, I have always known that. The fact is, I dislike a great deal many vegetables; I find that their flavours are unpalatable. I also dislike cooking; so I am often consuming quick and dirty options like frozen dinners (even brands like Healthy Choice probably do not stack up to doing it yourself).

There are new tools that are helping me. Gold’s Gym now has an online food journal that can total calories, fat and other dietary statistics. This is giving me quick visual feedback – especially when I slip and consume some fast food or make a poor snack choice. I also bought a Polaris watch to monitor my heart rate and compute calories burned.

Read More Books On Religion

Last night I finished Bart Ehrman’s excellent Misquoting Jesus. The subtitle, "The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" drew me in right from the start. I have a certain conservative, Christian friend who immediately rolled his eyes upon hearing the title. It is sad that people dismiss things out-of-hand without first seeing what the subject is really about.

Textual criticism is a fascinating subject and it is a shame that our children do not learn about in school.

I need to finish Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures too.

He has a superior style of writing that takes a complex subject and makes it accessible to the lay-person.

Sam Harris (another hero of mine) recently blogged the Afterword that he wrote for his Letter To A Christian Nation. Both are excellent reads. I was very glad that my father read Letter twice while I was visiting him in Australia last year. I will definitely be reading Harris’ newest book The Moral Landscape very soon.

To be fair to my former Christian beliefs, last year I read Patrick Glynn’s God: The Evidence. This was, unfortunately, pitifully written. It was unconvincing on all levels. To me, it felt like just about every chapter stopped short. Almost as though Glynn believed that he had presented his "evidence" sufficiently for anybody to connect the "obvious" dots together. He failed. Badly.

I have many others in my ever-growing queue thanks to Amazon constantly recommending purchases.

Bring It On 2011!

In one month, I’ll be heading to the Dominican Republic for a week to attend a friend’s wedding. All the old crew from my Proctor & Gamble slumming days will be there and we’re all looking forward to ensuing mayhem we’ll cause. A vacation is a great way to start a year!

So now, we’ll see what the next 50 weeks bring!

Return To Ray Tracing

I am getting back into learning more about how to use POV-Ray to create ray-traced graphics. Unfortunately, the POV-Ray documentation makes it an uphill climb. Just evidence that programmers should not produce documentation.

Fortunately, I have found a site that helps out quite a bit. Friedrich and Andrea Lohmueller’s site is focused on ray-tracing and other artwork. Friedrich has put together a helpful tutorial for using POV-Ray and he includes custom expansions to the Insert Menu (to save yourself some typing) as well as some useful macros for building interesting shapes.

The best aspect to the tutorial is that he often includes thumbnail images of the code in question. You get to see what the code in question should look like ahead of time. If I build up any real skill beyond the cliché work that I do now, then I may try to produce a similar tutorial.

I have been trying various modellers and editors for POV-Ray too. So far, nothing has really been useful in that regard. Bishop 3D is looking promising, but this only works with the 32-bit POV-Ray. I may try exploring Blender too. These seem to be the most advanced modellers.

I also hope to learn a great deal from this rendering. It is rare that an artist who creates such an incredible image shares the code behind the work.

Look for more posts here as I explore further.