Analysis of Victoria 8/Genesis 8 Female

It’s June, of an odd number year, and right on time, DAZ3D released the new figure line, Genesis 8, with its flagship model, Victoria 8.

Yes, DAZ3D skipped Genesis 4. Their reasons are pretty sound. First, Gen4 is the shorthand for Generation 4, or Victoria 4 and Michael 4. This avoids confusion. Second, it ties in with Victoria 8, avoiding further confusion.

When Victoria 7 appeared in June, 2015, my response was, “Oh, hell, no!” No, that’s being kind. I was vulgar, hostile, and antagonistic.  My resolve lasted fourteen months. Now, I work exclusively with Victoria 7. This time, I decided to buy Victoria 8 on the first day and put her through a series of tests before I said yay or nay.

I said that when Victoria 8 appeared, for me to switch from Victoria 7, V8 was going to have to really impress me. She was going to have to step off the computer screen, perform one heck of a lap dance, build me a stiff Manhattan, and take care of cleaning the place so I don’t have to. Has all that happened this week? Let’s find out.

With Victoria 8/Genesis 8, DAZ3D makes the following claims:

  • The most backward compatibility ever, through included clones for Genesis, Genesis 2, & Genesis 3
  • Includes clones for Male and Female figures for better use of content across sexes
  • New eyes, toes, fingers, lashes, and more
  • More realistic bending and articulation across the figure
  • Enhanced PowerPose support, including an all-new expression interface
  • Major muscle groups now flex automatically as the figure moves and poses
  • Dramatically more realistic skin through an all-new Iray Uber Shader

I’m going to look at the first, fourth, sixth, and seventh in depth. The third, new eyes, toes, fingers, etc., is actually the only major difference between Victoria 8 and Victoria 7 (I’ll get to that in a minute). The eyelashes are now geografted props instead of being part of the mesh. Why, may I ask? As for PowerPose, that only benefits the animator, not the still artist. So, in both cases, DAZ3D is pandering to the game developer. They don’t benefit me, so I could not care less.

As for the dramatically more realistic skin, that is definitely true! However, it’s part of DAZ Studio 4.9.4.177. It comes with an enhanced Iray Ubershader. I’ve used it already on my Victoria 7s and tested it on a V6 and V4. So, to claim it’s a feature of Victoria 8/Genesis 8 is disingenuous.

Victoria 6, Victoria 7, and Victoria 8, Side-by-Side

I loved Victoria 6! The only reason I switched to Victoria 7 was the improved sculptability of the figure, and that was made possible by Xenic101’s Muscular HD Morphs, and Zev0’s Vascularity HD, Shape Shift 3, and Breast Control 3 systems. Otherwise, she was a primitive brick. Here the three generations are, side-by-side:

V8A2

V6 on the left, V7 in the center, V8 on the right. This is something that DAZ3D didn’t tell us. V8 is taller. I put Measure Metrics on V6 and V7, so I know for a fact that they are both 5’11”. So, V8 must be 6’2″. Yet, they advertise her as 5’10”. Someone can’t read a measuring tape.

The Meshes

Here is the mesh for Victoria 6:

MeshV6

This is what I loved about Victoria 6. Notice the complex intersections in the brows, the mouth, the shoulders, the upper chest/collarbone, and tops of the breasts. These mimic the natural topology of the human body, and permit an astonishing array of character morphs that parallel realistic people.

Compare to Victoria 7:

MeshV7

Simplified. Far too simplified for my tastes. This is pandering to game developers. They don’t care about realism. They need maximum movement with minimal resource clogging. It’s funny, however. Victoria 6 still loads and renders faster than the more primitive Victoria 7. That Zev0 can develop morphing systems for this, and Fred Winkler can get astonishingly realistic people out of this are testaments to their talents and genius. If not for those two content creators, I’d still be working with V6.

Now, Victoria 8:

MeshV8

DAZ3D calls her the most advanced Victoria yet. Really? V8 is a copy of V7. In fact, based on the mesh, she doesn’t deserve the name Victoria 8, but rather should be called Victoria 7.2.

The Faces

Faces

Again, V6 left, V7 center, V8 right.

Again, V6 has the most pleasing and morphable face. I thought V7’s face was too hard and her mouth just plain ugly. I should have withheld judgment for Victoria 8. She looks too masculine. It’s politically correct these days to not be able to tell men from women, but it’s biologically incorrect. Over on the DAZ forums, V8’s supporters deride those of us who don’t like V8’s masculine face by saying, “I guess they’ve never seen a real woman.” Personally, I think that’s an affront to women. My wife certainly doesn’t look like me! My other complaints are V8’s face is long, where V6 and V7 have heart shaped faces. And, again, V8 has a mouth big enough to fit a tankard.

Flexion of Muscles

DAZ3D claims that Victoria 8’s muscles flex as she moves. Let’s see.

V82D

Well, yes. To a degree. Some. To get that claimed level of flexion, the figure’s arms and legs need to be nearly doubled over onto themselves. That’s fine for yoga poses, but not most everyday or action poses.

Compare to Victoria 7, with Muscular HD in action:

V82E

A superior level of muscular flexion and definition is possible with Victoria 7, with systems already in place. Systems that do not exist for Genesis 8, and may not if Xenic doesn’t want to upgrade yet again.

Backwards Compatibility

DAZ3D claims that Victoria 8/Genesis 8 is their most backwards compatible figure yet. They claim that she will wear all clothes for Genesis, Genesis 2, and Genesis 3, as well as accepting their poses. Is this true? The answer is a qualified no.

Here’s Reason Number One, the zero pose.

This is Victoria 7’s zero pose, one used by V4, V5, and V6 as well.

Zero7

Now, Victoria 8’s zero pose:

Zero8

DAZ3D moved from the classic T pose to an A pose. The A pose is preferred by game developers. Now, I understand the game development community is good business, but DAZ has a sister company called Morph 3D that is specifically geared for that community. So, why muck with us still artists like this?

The A pose throws all legacy poses into a fit. Forget using them! Unless … There is hope. Sickleyield, perhaps one of the best content creators in the business, designed a T pose for Victoria 8, as well as a tutorial for adapting legacy clothes to fit her. It works for poses, too. You can find it in Sickleyield’s Journal on DeviantArt. Highly recommended if you plan to use V8. But we shouldn’t have to resort to that kind of convoluted process.

Now, here’s the second reason V8 isn’t as backwards compatible as DAZ3D claims.

This is the list of all figures supported by Victoria 7/Genesis 3 Auto-Fit:

AutoFit3

Now, for Victoria 8/Genesis 8:

AutoFit2

Do you see who is missing? DAZ3D wants Victoria 4 and Michael 4 to just go away.

Some claim that Victoria 4 clothes were never supported by Genesis. Uh, her name is up there for Victoria 7. As for them fitting, take a look at this:

V7 Iryndelle

Iryndelle here wears AeonSoul’s Classic Fantasy for Victoria 4. Iryndelle is a Victoria 7. For the first two years of her existence, she was a Victoria 6, and wore the same outfit. In fact, it fits V7 better than it fit V4, and it was designed for V4.

How does it fit V8?

AutoFit

YIKES! I stopped right here. This is with Sickleyield’s T pose applied to V8. Auto-Fit tried to place the arm jewels in the original pose. So, V8 will not take V4 clothes.

UNLESS … I can’t remember his name to give him credit, but someone on DeviantArt developed a workaround. He applied V4 clothes to V7. Then, he transferred them to V8. They fit like tailored gloves. So, there is that option.

Now, how do Genesis clothes fit Genesis 8. Well, let’s take a look at Auto-Fit.

This is the Auto-Fit pane for Victoria 7, and it’s the same for Victoria 6:

AutoFit4

Now, the Auto-Fit pane for Victoria 8/Genesis 8:

AutoFit5

Again, see what’s missing? Footwear, capes, gloves, pants, and shirts all qualify as none. For V6 and V7, if we did not specify the type of garment, the adjustment and effects morphs did not convey to the applied figure. They do for V8, regardless, but there are limitations.

Here is what the Auto-Fit looks like in action:

AutoFit8

This is Out of Touch’s Button Up 2 for G3F on a V7. Now, below, is the same on V8.

AutoFit9

It looks kinda wrong. Just a touch, like Vicki stole it out of her little sister’s dresser. The biggest problem is the effects morphs do not perform as well as they should. The shirt opens, but the buttons don’t move with it, and it doesn’t open as far as it should.

Now, I haven’t tested to see if Genesis 8 finally avoids the nasty tearing of the mesh on long skirts from previous generations, or avoids the “crash into the cleavage” that happens with tops that bridge the breasts.

Oh. Once again, you can forget about giving V8 any high heeled shoes from previous generations to Victoria 8. It ain’t happening! Sickleyield gets it to work, but I don’t think it’s worth the hassle.

How about the reverse? For a whole fourteen months, I bought V7 clothes to go on my V6 characters. They fit quite well. This is AerySoul’s Aery Mage for V7 on Victoria 6:

AutoFit7

Now, Throne Defender for V8 on V7:

AutoFit6

Well, she’s trying to wear them. It’s that A pose that’s throwing Auto-Fit off.

So, backwards compatibility of Victoria 8/Genesis 8 exists in theory. In practice, is it far less flexible and thorough than that of Victoria 7/Genesis 3.

How about that Male/Female clones so we can transfer clothing across sexes? Take a look at this:

AuraIraySM

Aura wears Pirate for G2M boots. Not only are they designed for Michael (a male), but they’re from a previous generation. Victoria 7/Genesis 3 already does across sex clothing transfer, at least, as far as I need it to go. So, this new feature of Victoria 8/Genesis 8 doesn’t benefit or interest me.

Character Transfer

This is the big one for me, the deal maker or breaker. I have custom made recurring characters, the primary ones being Aura Lockhaven and the Sarethian Seven. According to DAZ3D, characters can transfer from one generation of Genesis to Genesis 8 without difficulty.

So, I tried transferring Aura Lockhaven from V7 to V8. She has been a V4 and a V6 in the past. To transfer her from V4 to V6, I rebuilt her slider-by-slider. For V7, I created a shaping preset of her V6 incarnation, and applied it to a raw Genesis 3 Female. Ninety percent of the sliders transferred without difficulty. The ones that did not no longer existed. The missing 10% was a simple matter of tweaking.

Victoria 8/Genesis 8 has the same exact morphing sliders as Victoria 7/Genesis 3, so the transfer should be 100 %. Was it?

V8E

NOT AT ALL!

Oh, I suppose Aura (on the left) could be standing with her 40 year old cousin. It’s that massive difference between the two base faces. Victoria 8’s face isn’t just long and masculine. It’s also older. Aura is twenty-two. She also doesn’t have a double chin. Her V8 mouth is too wide and her lips too thin. Here’s the profile:

V8F

From the nose up, the V8 version looks great. Below the nose, she looks horrid. Now, granted, Aura is a V7HD. The HD morphs don’t exist yet for Victoria 8, but they will probably appear within the next week. It’s pretty standard for them to be released within ten days of a major character launch. That could make a lot of difference.

I couldn’t test her body. Aura’s body is morphed using Shape Shift 3 and Breast Control 3 by Zev0. He will have to release Genesis 8 versions before I can test a below the neck character transfer of Aura from V7 to V8.

Skin Transfer

DAZ says that V7 skins will fit V8. Do they?

V8G

Well, yes. I’ll give credit where credit is due. They fit perfectly. However, now the V8 Aura looks even worse. Aura’s skins are G3F, designed for G3F, enhanced in Skin Builder 3 for G3F, and worn by G3F. Just because it fits V8 doesn’t mean it works. Again, it’s that totally different base face shape.

Conclusion

As of today, I can’t use Victoria 8/Genesis 8. I have no need. There really isn’t any difference is meshes, so why bother? The major differences are things I can’t use (separate eyelashes) and things I won’t (that face!). V8 offers too much of what I don’t need, and not nearly enough of what I do need.

For me to use Victoria 8/Genesis 8, Xenic101 and Zev0 will have to release new Genesis 8 versions of their morphing systems. Morphing systems to turn this androgynous supermodel into a real woman are underway. Powerage has released Breast Factory 8 for Genesis 8. I use the G3F edition on my standard models to give them a different look. Fred Winkler is already performing his magic. His V7HD characters were some of the reasons I switched from V6 to V7. He got the granite slab of the Genesis 3 mesh to look like a real woman. He’s doing it again for Victoria 8 with his new character Elizabeth. She has a feminine face, and a natural height.

With any luck, perhaps Zev0, or someone, will release a Face Shift 8 that will take care of that ungodly mouth and horsey face on V8.

That does not in any way mean that I can ever use V4, V6, or V7 clothing on a V8. Not without a lot of effort and too much work; effort and work that I should not have to do. Perhaps, a Genesis 8 version of Wear Them All will take care of those issues.

Until then, I’m sticking with Victoria 7. If I have to make my own Manhattan and vacuum my own carpet, I’ll do it with a trusted friend.

 

 

Country Come to Town

Country

“It’s this one!” Holdric growled. He thrust his dagger down, pinning the card to the table.

“Yes, sir, you’re absolutely right,” Chumley stammered. “Today is your lucky day. You win the jackpot. I’ll even throw in a few gold coins for the lovely lady.”

“You’re a smart man,” Sieglinde said.

Chumley vowed to himself never again to try to take those naked rubes from the hills. It was just too dangerous.

Tariman the Druid watched, a gleeful smile on his face. For years, he sought a way to put the conniver in his place. These “hicks” from the country just did it for him, with no effort on his part. Leave it to the unclouded eye of someone unaccustomed to the city’s ways to see right through Chumley’s scheme. Tariman thought the leatherclad Holdric and Sieglinde might make splendid company for a round or two of ale.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6 -> GIMP 2.8.

 

To the Death

Duel

Ygraine Pagel looked up from her work table as Aura Lockhaven entered her chamber. She cast Aura a cold glare. She said, “I know who you are.”

Aura frowned. There was a note of cynicism in the sorceress’ voice. It was not that of a merchant receiving a customer. She said, “You should. I wrote you last week. I’m interested in the emerald sphere you have for sale.”

“Hmm,” the sorceress said. “We’re both initiated magicians. There is no need for subterfuge.” She looked Aura up and down, and sneered. “Crimson. I expected death to wear black, and reveal much less skin.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Feigning surprise is disingenuous of you. My order sent you here to assassinate me,” Ygraine said.

“Wait. Excuse me?” Aura asked. She couldn’t believe her ears. Rumors abounded that Ygraine had turned her cloak, surrendering to the lust for power that seduced some sorcerers. The idea that the Order of Sorcerers would send someone from another magical order to deal with one of their own was ridiculous. The mere thought that that someone would be an enchantress, a member of an over-wrought and far-too-sensitive order that the aristocratic and rib-numbing tightly-corseted sorcerers despised, was beyond absurd. The sorcerers had the best internal constabulary of all eight magical orders, and were notorious for dispensing swift justice against members who violated their oath of non-manipulation. If they wanted to execute Ygraine, then Aura would have found a week old corpse. Aura shivered at the thought that she may have just walked into an unpredictable situation. Still, Ygraine was the finest purveyor of magical crystals in all of Ayrdland. “I’m here to buy a stone, Ygraine. I am customer, not an assassin. I don’t kill.”

“Then, that shall be your downfall!”

With that, Ygraine launched herself at the young enchantress. Before Aura could brace herself, Ygraine knocked Aura’s staff from her hand. Then, she grabbed her by the throat. Aura did not need to ponder what the sorceress had in mind. She felt that intent in Ygraine’s right hand as a malignant spell poured down the woman’s arm and flooded Aura’s neck. Aura knew some of the sorcerers’ spells, but not enough to counter them. This one was new. She didn’t have to tighten her hand. The spell did the work for her. It felt like an iron vise upon soft pine wood. Aura felt her windpipe cramp.

“Ygraine,” Aura said with a gasp. “Let me go. You’re killing me!”

“That’s the whole idea, you stupid tart!” the sorceress said.

Aura grabbed Ygraine’s arm, trying her best to break the sorceress’ hold on her throat. Ygraine’s hand was fixed to her flesh as ivy to brick. All of Aura’s respect for elders vanished. The sorceress meant to murder her. She threw her considerable weight and height into Ygraine, but her hand and spell remained fixed. Around the chamber they danced their waltz of death, knocking over the bookcase, overturning a chair, then spilling a rack of tinctures. Dozens of small bottles shattered on the stone floor, their contents mixing in a bubbling brew. Then, Aura slammed Ygraine against her table, in an effort to knock the woman loose. It only served to upset the table, sending books, rats, and even a skull into flight. A lit candle fell onto the ruins of the tinctures. The mixture erupted in flame.

The inferno diverted Ygraine’s attention long enough. Aura employed an old tactic she used against boatmen who lusted for her budding breasts when she was younger. A woman lacked the necessary external appendages, but it would still hurt. She kneed the sorceress in the groin. With a yelp, Ygraine released Aura’s throat and fell back against the table.

“Ygraine,” Aura wheezed, trying to catch her breath. “We have to get out of here.”

“I shall. The only way you’re leaving is in a coffin, assassin!” With that, Ygraine advanced.

Oh, merciful heavens, Aura thought. Ygraine was mad. It was bad enough that she wanted to kill Aura. Now, she continued her murderous assault as fire spread the floor of the windowless chamber. Noxious smoke, the result of igniting tinctures that should never be mixed, filled the air. The flames would soon reach the wood of table and bookcase, and the chamber’s timbers. If the fight lasted much longer, both women would die.

Ygraine pounced. Aura turned, dashing toward the back of the chamber. The sorceress grabbed Aura’s cloak and pulled her backwards. Let her have the cloak, Aura thought, gripping the clasp and tearing it open. Ygraine threw the garment across the overturned chair, and dove toward Aura.

As the enchantress turned to flee around Ygraine, she slipped on broken glass and spilled potion. She went down on one knee. That was all the sorceress needed. Again, she gripped Aura by the throat. Again, the vicious spell poured into Aura’s neck. Again, her windpipe constricted. Aura tried her best to wrench free, but her boots kept slipping on the wet floor. If she fell, Ygraine would simply sit on her and kill her. She had to maintain her footing. To keep herself upright, she locked onto Ygraine’s leg with her own.

Black specks appeared in front of Aura’s eyes. The spell was strangling her, ending her life one failed breath after another. Her mind reeled in panic. Aura gasped for air. None came.

“Here’s a kiss for the leader of my order,” Ygraine said.

A ball of pure life force formed in Ygraine’s left hand. It was enough to turn a human inside out. This woman not only could cast one spell, while maintaining a second of a different type, but she cast both without a single incantation. Aura had to speak an incantation, and speech was now lost to her.

The Enchantress of Hartshorn had only moments left. She lashed out with her left hand. She grabbed Ygraine’s face. Claw her eyes! Tear her skin! Rip her mouth! Anything to get her to let go. Not enough. Her hand still grasped Aura’s neck, the vile spell pouring into her throat.

Aura felt her fear and desperation coalesce into a ball of pure vitality, will, and emotion. It formed on its own volition, without any conscious thought from the enchantress. It formed without an incantation. It rushed from her chest, and poured into her right arm. It erupted in her hand as the most lethal spell in her entire arsenal – the Divine Thunderbolt.

I don’t kill, Aura said only moments earlier. If Ygraine did not release her throat, then Aura would violate that statement by shoving the ball of solid light into the sorceress’ face. The woman’s skull would survive. At this range, her flesh would be incinerated. Aura knew, as entwined as they were, that she too would take the force of the spell. She would crawl away with massive burns, burns that could be healed tomorrow. If she did not launch the spell, there would be no tomorrow for healing anything. Aura gritted her teeth. Someone was about to die, and the determining judge was Aura Lockhaven herself.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

This is not canon.

The Evolution of Aura Lockhaven

For the fun of it, I put all three of Aura Lockhaven’s 3D incarnations in the same scene. The result reveals her evolution as a 3D character, as well as serving as graphic touchstones of her evolution as a fictional character.

Left: Victoria 6 incarnation. Center: Victoria 7 incarnation. Right: Victoria 4 incarnation.

Auras II

Victoria 4 Incarnation (April, 2010 — January, 2013):  She wasn’t even Aura Lockhaven when I designed this character. She began as my feeble attempt to create a model based on Playboy Playmate Lindsey Vuolo. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, there is no resemblance between the figure and the Playmate. How she became Aura is chronicled on my website if you’re interested. This is the graphic novel version of Aura.

Victoria 6 Incarnation (January, 2013 — August, 2016): I suspended the graphic novel when I started grad school. Upon graduating, I decided to write a fantasy novel, using the graphic novel as the foundation. That required a new physical representation of my heroine. So, I chose Victoria 6. That base figure much more human like roundness than the earlier V4 (I skipped Victoria 5 completely). Her appearance is based on her written description, so there is no resemblance to the V4 counterpart. Around 2014, I decided the gold body jewelry was too blooming difficult to describe in a written narrative, and gave her the outfit worn by the V7 version.

Victoria 7 Incarnation (August, 2016 — Present): I refused to upgrade to Victoria 7 for an entire year. Eventually, the improved posing and sculpting systems won me over. I transferred Aura from V6 to V7, slider by slider. They don’t quite look alike. The V6 base face is more heart-shaped than V7’s, but the new version is close enough. I really like the new muscular body. Aura’s transfer from V6 to V7 occurred at the same time I determined to finish her first novel by the end of 2016 and publish it. It also happened at the time I cut the opening trilogy down to a duology. This is the incarnation who appears on the cover of A Path of Stones. It is how I see Aura at the end of the series, transformed from the unsure wizardess in the brown dress into the powerful enchantress who fights tyranny.

Most of us in 3DLand anticipate the release of Victoria 8 this June. I said no to Victoria 6 and Victoria 7. We see how well that resolve lasted. So, I shall see what Victoria 8 has to offer. She best impress me. As in, she needs to step off the computer screen, perform one heck of a lap dance, and build me a stiff Manhattan. If she does, I will once again, transfer Aura to a new rig.

This is what that one, silly, little Victoria 4 figure back in 2010 started.

Aura Lockhaven in Iray and Comics

Yes, you read that right. Aura Lockhaven comics!

I’ve been experimenting with the Iray rendering engine, and the results are beyond what was expected. So, I had to see what Aura looked like.

Usually, I render her in Reality-Luxrender. That texturing system and render engine gives me more control over the look, and has far greater textural fidelity than Iray. It is, however, slow. Luxrender is the Treebeard of the rendering world. It never does anything hasty. A six hour render is just too time consuming for a comic, or even an illustrated short story. A page of a comic per week is reasonable. One panel per week is not.

Iray, however, is lightning in pixels. I can expect a render to complete between 20 minutes and 90. Extremely complicated sets and lighting require more time, but that is usually limited to fine art pieces, not the panels of a comic.

So. Here is the first image of Aura, rendered in Iray.

AuraIraySM

Aura looks great! Her skin is fantastic, and comparable to Reality. The clothes, however! They’re too orange. I can control the colors better in Reality. She’s the “red enchantress,” not the Orange Bowl Queen. Well, they are three years old, and date from her incarnation as a Victoria 6 figure (she’s a Victoria 7 now). Time to give the lady a new wardrobe.

This scene was … interesting. Iray should have rendered her in 20 minutes or less. It’s just one figure, a few clothes, a simple set, and two lights. She took an hour to reach 15% completion! That is not acceptable. This required some drastic measures. I could only surmise that the issue lay in the fact that Aura is a custom made, slider-by-slider, character. All those morphs had to slow her down. So, I made a single character morph and applied to to a stock G3F. If you don’t know what that means, I essentially turned her into a character I can sell. Instead of ten different morphs for her mouth alone, I have just one that says Aura Lockhaven, and it controls both face and body. That cut load time in half, but did not significantly increase render time.

Oddly enough, I experimented by rendering her in the Beta edition of DAZ Studio 4.9, instead of the public release of 4.9.3. She rendered much faster. At eleven minutes, she had only reached 10% completion. Not great. Not good enough for a comic. Better than 15% after an hour. At that point, I stopped the render to check her pose. Satisfied, I resumed the render. Within four minutes, she shot from 10% to 55%.

What the heck! There is no difference between 4.9 Beta and 4.9.3. They are identical. Why would stopping and resuming the render cause that much of a speed increase? My wife speculates that stopping it freed tied up resources in either the cache or VRAM.

It does matter. I’d like to know the answers so I can correct them. However, this opens the door for Aura Lockhaven illustrated short stories and comics.

I plan a few short comics, as in ten to twelve pages. They will fill in the gaps between novels, and provide a bit of backstory to some of the characters and situations. They will be free, on my website. Why not? Give them away as promotional items, and as fun things to fans.

This also opens the door for the Sarethian Seven to be that series of illustrated short stories I’ve envisioned for three years.

I will leave you with a scene I call “Night of the Wraiths.” Aura seems to be in a wee bit of a predicament.

Wraiths

Computers, Content, and Colds

March has been an interesting month.

It began with a hard drive crash on my trusty Sager laptop. Sigh. I replaced the hard drive, and then reinstalled my DAZ Studio content. One. Item. At. A. Time. That took ten days.

Then, my computer CPU spiked at 98C. Whoa! That’s almost at meltdown temperature. Well, Sager made a mistake with their technical manual. They didn’t say to replace the thermal compound every time I removed the heat sink. With all the brick dust in the air (I live next door to a brick factory), I have to remove the sinks once a month to clean the fins. New thermal compound brought the temperature down to a mere 68C. But the damage had been done. My CPU was wearing out.

Time for a new computer. I bought a new Sager 8156. It comes with an i7 7700 CPU, and 32G RAM, upgradeable to 128G (oh, yes, I will!). Not only that, but it has a geehonking big GTX-1060 graphics card with 6G VRAM. So, I can render in Iray as well as Reality.

Time to reinstall all that DAZ content. Again. This time, however, I popped the hard drive from the old machine into the external dock and ghosted the content folder over. That only took six hours.

My wife inherits my old computer. It will serve her well for several years, as long as she doesn’t render on it. No problem. As our content folders are synced, all she has to do is give me a saved scene on a flash drive, and I’ll render it on the new computer, while we sit back with a bowl of popcorn and some beers. The couple that renders together …

Still, it took close to a week to install all my programs and test out the new system.

As if that wasn’t enough, I caught a bad cold. The song lyric “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes” was written for Texas weather. Hot. Cold. Dry. Wet. Blah!

By Monday, I should be ready to resume writing The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. It is a third of the way done, so catching up won’t take too long.

In the meantime, I will leave you with the first piece of 3D art performed on the new Sager, in Iray. I call it Not That Easy … she just isn’t that easy to bring in, much less take out.

Not that Easy.

Book Covers; Namely Mine

Those of us who self-publish need to provide our own book covers. The cover artist is just one of the things we lose by choosing Self Publishing over Traditional Publishing. On the other hand, we have tremendous freedom to decide what that cover should look like. There are plenty of people ready and willing to help us. In fact, they make their livings designing covers the way we make ours writing what goes inside them.

Conventional wisdom says do not design your own book cover. The results can be less than stellar. In fact, there is a whole website devoted to such train wrecks, called Lousy Book Covers. Take a look at it. Not only will it provide hours of hilarity (or stomach aches), but it will also guide you to know what to avoid.

If you can, hire a cover artist. You know what goes into a book. They know what goes on a book. This needn’t be expensive. The website Fiverr has plenty of professionals who will produce an outstanding cover for $ 50, sometimes less. They have as many stock photos as you have ideas, and know how to blend them together to make an original piece for you. This is a boon for the writer of romance or mystery. Browse romances on Amazon some time and see what they look like. For fans of brawny men, you will have a field day. For fans of erotica, I must quote George Takei and say, “Oh, myy!”

Fantasy, science fiction, and horror writers don’t fare as well. No matter how deep an inventory the cover artist has, few have stock photographs of women in Medieval garb hefting a sword, a spaceship hovering over the surface of Rigel X, or a werewolf about to devour a child. So, what are we supposed to do?

Well, the first choice is to hire an illustrator to paint the cover. Most fantasy and science fiction covers are paintings. You’ve seen them. We grew up with them. I could spend the rest of this post listing all the names of the great cover artists, but I’ll stick to Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Ken Kelly, Ralph McQuarrie, and the Hildebrandt Brothers. They set the tone for the genres. Another choice is to hire a photographer to put models in costume, take them to an appropriate setting, and tell them to have fun. Both of those are the optimal choices. They are also the expensive choices. A good illustrator can charge $ 500 or more, and photographers and models charge by the hour.

As someone who writes in a genre with few stock photograph options, and as someone who had to wage a Kickstarter campaign to afford the ISBNs for his books, that left me with only one option: design my own cover.

Here, I have an advantage. I’m also a 3D artist. Oh, I’m far from the best. My work lacks the photorealism craved by so many (including myself). But in nine years, I’ve learned much, especially how to pose the characters, thanks to studying Frazetta. In no way do I recommend that you follow suit. What I learned about designing my own cover, however, may help you tell a professional artist what you want for yours.

Here is my original cover design.

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I designed it to reflect what lies inside. It is symbolic of Aura’s journey to discover herself. Yet, it just didn’t feel right. Mostly, I didn’t like Aura’s dress. No matter what I did to it, that dress looked plastic. The cover also looked pedestrian to me, literally, as Aura is simply walking.

So, I set out to redesign the cover. For that, I turned to Susan K. Quinn’s book Indie Author Survival Guide. She devotes an entire chapter to covers, what they do, and what they don’t do.

Ms. Quinn says that the cover is marketing. It is designed to capture the reader’s attention and arouse his or her interest. It should convey the genre in one image. It does not tell the story. That is what the blurb does. The cover does not have to match the story. It just has to convey the idea. Whether the writer uses people, landscape, items, or symbols is personal choice and dependent on genre. Symbols work well for science fiction, people work best for fantasy and romance, items such as guns and maps are standard for mystery, and close ups of faces are the trademark of young adult. Ms. Quinn specified that the two genres that fare the best from an illustration, as opposed to a photograph, are children’s books and fantasy. She used the cover to Indie Author Survival Guide as an example. The cover shows a mountain climber facing a mountain. The book has nothing to do with mountain climbing. On the other hand, it does have to do with surviving what can be the figuratively rough landscape of self-publishing.

Armed with that knowledge, I returned to DAZ Studio. 3D art is an illustration. In fact, my less-than-photorealistic images work better with Ms. Quinn’s guidelines.

Before I started, I asked myself, “What would Frank Frazetta do?” He was a professional cover artist, knew a cover was designed to grab the reader’s attention, and nothing is more riveting than drama. He wouldn’t focus on the landscape. He would focus on the character. That meant Aura had to be front and center, dominating the cover. I kept the steps, symbolic of the story, but now they are just there, not the focal point. Frazetta would also pose the character in action. Again, that sense of drama. Aura did not have to do anything she does inside the book, just look interesting enough to convince the reader to buy it.

Putting Aura in an action pose forced me to discard the dress. No 3D dress works well in an action pose. Now, at this point in the series, Aura wears a dress. She does not acquire the red corseted bikini that some of you are familiar with until the third book. If I can’t use the dress, and won’t use the bikini yet, that left only a blouse and pants. However, she doesn’t wear them in the book. Is that permissible? I’m sure you’ve seen a cover to one of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels. On every cover, Harry Dresden wears a hat. In the stories, however, he never does. The hat is an inside joke between Butcher and his artist. So, yes, it is permissible. Remember, the cover does not have to match the story, and that includes the character’s clothing.

To convey the idea that this book is fantasy, I gave Aura two of the traditional emblems of a magician; a staff and a cloak. I also posed her with one hand raised, as if she is about to cast a spell. That emphasized that A Path of Stones is a sword-and-sorcery story, heavy on the sorcery. Finally, I wanted to convey some idea of who Aura is and what the story is about. Her motto is “defend the defenseless, help the helpless, and give hope to the hopeless.” Few are more defenseless or helpless than a child, so I had her defending a child from an unseen threat.

Setting up a cover is not the same as setting up a scene to post on DeviantArt. A cover has a title and an author’s name that go somewhere. Space has to be allowed for those. The colors of the illustration cannot conflict with them, either. I spent an entire day tweaking the colors of the set to permit the title to show, and moving the camera around to avoid overlapping the figures.

Here is the result.

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I like this much better. Certainly, it doesn’t match the story. It doesn’t have to. On the other hand, it actually does. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t have 3D art skills.

A 3D artist may be the cost-effective route, should you not have the funds for an illustrator or photographer, and Fiverr artists don’t have the needed resources. Many will take commissions, and be happy to collaborate on a commercial project. Their commission rates are affordable. Browse through DeviantArt, find a few 3D artists whose work you like, and contact them.

 

 

 

Aura Lockhaven’s Latest Incarnation

auraptswebsite

This new image marks the transition of Aura Lockhaven from Victoria 6 HD to Victoria 7 HD. It also coincides with the completion of her first book, A Path of Stones.

Like her V4 and V6 counterparts, this incarnation of Aura is totally custom morphed. Aura’s skin is hotrodded Elyza by Vyktohria. Her clothes are identical to her V6 counterpart. In fact, I simply imported the V6 version into the V7 file, and changed the fit to for the clothes. Done. For the record, Dynamic Clothing fits V7 just fine. The only new item is the cloak. The V7 edition has better movement control. With the new version, I thought some new hair was in order, so Aura sports Aave Nainen’s Free Spirit Hair.

Technogeek stuff here. Transitioning Aura from one model base to another was easier than I suspected. In fact, the idea of transitioning her is why I delayed using the Victoria 7 model base for a year. But simply copying the morph slider settings from V6 to V7 gave me an almost identical duplicate. The main differences lay in the shape of the faces. V6’s face is heart shaped. V7’s is more oval. That required some adjustments to the settings for Heart Shaped Face and Oval Shaped Face, but at least, I know what I’m doing.

This opens up the possibility of transitioning the Sarethian Seven to Victoria 7. They’re pretty muscular women, and V7 has superior muscle definition. Also, there is a script to actually change an adult figure into a child, without requiring the construction of a new character. Half of the Sarethian Seven tales occur when they are eleven years old. The script makes illustrating those tales easy! But that is a project for the future.

Poor Aura has been through some changes. If you’re interested to see how she evolved from a very primitive V4 incarnation back in 2010, please check out the page “Creating Aura Lockhaven, Part II: The 3D Effect,” on my website.

DAZ Studio 4.8 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

Is 3D Art Actually Art?

Is 3D art actually art?

That question is as oft asked, and debated, as the still asked question is photography actually art. We should think the latter question long settled by now, at least by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans if no one else. The war over digital art seems to have settled down, as well it should. There are too many masterpieces composed with stylus and program for that controversy to have any further sway. As far as I’m concerned, 3D is in the same boat as photography and digital. So, in this essay, I’m going to wade into the argument; obviously from the side of those who say yes, it is art.

No one can define art. The definition is unique to the artist, as well as the viewer. I’ll use my own. Art comes from within. It’s a vision in the mind and heart of the creator. How it is produced so the world can enjoy it is a mere convenience, and whatever feels natural to the artist. Some use paint. Some use pencil. Some use stone. Others use a stylus and a computer. Others use cloth or metal. But all begins with that vision in the heart and mind, and ends with some form of story told in a visual format. The difference between Pierre-August Renoir’s “Girl with Watering Can” and a child’s fingerpainting is a difference in skill. Both Renoir and your kindergartner had a vision that screamed to be seen, and would not rest until it was.

It’s interesting that those who condemn 3D art the loudest are not artists. Painters, illustrators, and photographers are usually kind and constructive in their criticisms. Those who scream “It isn’t art” tend to be those who have never advanced beyond ball point pen stick figures on ruled notebook paper, or worse — blurred selfies taken in bathroom mirrors, with the tops of their heads cut off. Perhaps the adage should be rephrased to say, “Those who do, do. Those who can’t do, criticize.” I’d like to see these condemnatory critics do something just as good as we do, with paint, pencil, stylus, camera, or computer.

Most 3D artists would rather paint or draw. We simply never developed the skills to do so. But we found a medium that permits us to express our visions, elevating us beyond the stick figure. Sure, we move things around on a computer screen, not unlike playing with G.I. Joe or Barbie in a Hasbro or Kenner set. But these pixelated figures do what we want them to do, and they’re cheaper than a twelve inches to the foot model hired to pose for us. At the end of the day, we have an image that, we hope, comes close to a visual representation of that vision screaming inside our minds. Now, I could stop right there. Visions screaming in our minds? Voices in our heads? Yeah, this is art!

Granted, 3D art has its limitations. I’ve often accused painters of having it easy. They can make that oil say what they want it to say. We 3D guys are a bit hard pressed to get wire mesh to perform as well. Bending virtual wire mesh is not unlike bending real chicken wire. It just doesn’t quite perform like the human body. Cloth is worse. Hand artists will get cloth to fold and flow like cloth. 3D cloth folds like, well, chicken wire. We’re also limited by available products. If a comics artist wants a particular suit of armor, he gets it. We have to work with what has been made by someone else, unless we’re skilled with an autocad type modeling program, and most of us are not. This latter fact does provide a foundation for one of the critics’ most legitimate complaints — we see the same clothes, props, and sets in everyone’s renders. There are ways around that, and if we are true to our visions, we will find them.

Even if we do all use the same suit of clothes, it is still art. One of my creative writing professors said, “All the world’s original stories could be written on a postage stamp. Everything has been written, but it has not been written from your point of view and in your style. Those make it unique.” The same thing is true of art. Both Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo painted Conan the Barbarian. Yet, the two versions cannot be compared to each other because one is Frazetta’s interpretation and the other is Vallejo’s. Each artist had his own style and his own vision of the Cimmerian.

There is a plethora of nudes in 3D art. Too many, in fact. However, none look like “The Hunted.” No one has seen the Victoria 6 figure like those characters, with those skin textures, standing in that swamp, ready to tackle an ogre, and believe me, no one has ever seen the Michael 6 figure turned into that particular ogre. It was the vision I had in my mind, and I was able to achieve it. That, my friends, makes it art.

Critics condemn us for using bought products, saying real artists begin with nothing. Really? Not even painters make everything from scratch. Most use purchased tools and items. There may be some industrious artist who has a loom and weaves his own cloth, but most buy ready-made canvas. Some grind their own pigments, but most order paints from a dealer. I know no artist who makes her own pencils. The closest that come to total purity are the folks who make their own paper and inks, but that is part of the overall handmade book process, an art form unto itself. So, how is 3D art any different from watercolor painting? We simply use our fingers in different ways, on keys instead of brushes. The half-crazed, half-genius mind is the same regardless of medium.

How about time. A painter will spend days on one painting. Some scrap it and start over. Frank Frazetta repainted “Conan the Destroyer” twice before he was satisfied. The original that graces the cover of the 1971 book Conan the Buccaneer no longer exists, lying underneath two more versions. Heck, there is something underneath the Mona Lisa. Very few 3D artists load a figure, pose him, add a light, and click the render button to get a final piece. Most spend days setting up the scene. I once spent an entire month on one scene because the final image just didn’t look right. The published version of “The Hunted” is not the original version. In the original, the characters were swallowed by the set. So, I scraped the first set and started over, posing the characters up front first, then building the set around them. Painters will empathize, and look at their stacks of used canvases. Comics artists are grinning while glancing at their overflowing trash cans. It’s art if we spend time on it, agonize over it, achieve ecstasy with it, reach the point where we say “one more touch and it’s ruined,” and walk away.

Ultimately, though, the answer is this. One of my professors in college said about free verse poetry, “It’s a poem if the poet says it’s a poem!” That can be applied to any art. It’s art if the artist says it’s art. And I say, 3D art is art. Because I said so.