Single-Slider Morph Transformation Technique

Transformation Test

To transform Katie Ashe from her petite civilian form into that of the superheroine Valkyria, I used single-slider morphs. It’s an easy technique that permits a wide variety of steps in a transformation process, without having to load multiple Vickis into the scene.

If you don’t know what a single-slider morph is, it’s the same thing a content creator like Fred Winkler uses. If you notice to get his Nadine for V7, you simply turn the sliders for Nadine in a G3F all the way up, and there she is.

This technique works for V4/M4, and any of the four Genesis generations. This assumes, of course, that you have a “normal” version of your character, and a superpowered version.

To create a single-slider morph, start with your character tweaked and ready to go. Remove all clothes, hair, geografts, etc. If you use HD morphs and muscularity, turn them off. It’s easier to turn them on when needed. Now, set your character’s resolution to Base Resolution, Subdivision 1. Export her (or him) as an object (obj) file. Save it to an easy to find folder, and just name it for your character. Use the scale DAZ (1 Unit = 1cm). Now, clear the scene and load a base figure; if your character is a V7, load a base G3F, etc. Set the Resolution to Base, SudDiv 1. Use Morph Loader Pro to load the object file to the base figure as a morph. From there, I follow the steps in this guide. It’s tricky at first, but if you make a mistake, just start over. Now, do the same for the other version.

You now have both a normal, secret identity version of your character and a superpowered heroine version, both set as single-slider morphs in the base figure, ready to go whenever you load the base figure.

Here’s how to use them for the character transformation. Or, how I did it.

Katie Ashe is a V6HD. She has four separate morphs total: two for her body (one for “Little Katie” and one for “Big Katie,” or Valkyria) and two for her face (again, one for “Little Katie” and one for “Big Katie”). The separate morphs for the face were necessitated by originally borrowing another character’s face for “Big Katie,” but it sure turned out to be a major boon to this process. It also allows me to give half her face to her sister permitting a family resemblance. Her hair as “Little Katie” is Elite Ponytail for G2F, and for “Big Katie” is Jazmine Hair for G3F.

The formula for the above transformation was:

Left to right:

1.         Katie Little Body = 100 %

Katie Big Body = 0 %

Katie Little Face = 100 %

Katie Big Face = 0 %

Muscle Volumes = 0 %

Scale = 95 %

Elite Ponytail (Opacity) = 100 %

Jazmine Hair (Opacity) = 0 %

 

2.         Katie Little Body = 75 %

Katie Big Body = 25 %

Katie Little Face = 100 %

Katie Big Face = 0 %

Muscle Volumes = 5 %

Scale = 95 %

Elite Ponytail = 100 %

Jazmine Hair = 0 %

 

3.         Katie Little Body = 50 %

Katie Big Body = 50 %

Katie Little Face = 75 %

Katie Big Face = 25 %

Muscle Volumes = 10 %

Scale = 96 %

Elite Ponytail = 100 %

Jazmine Hair = 10 %

 

4.         Katie Little Body = 25 %

Katie Big Body = 75 %

Katie Little Face = 50 %

Katie Big Face = 50 %

Muscle Volumes = 15 %

Scale = 98 %

Elite Ponytail = 100 %

Jazmine Hair = 50 %

 

5.         Katie Little Face = 0 %

Katie Big Body = 100 %

Katie Little Face = 0 %

Katie Big Face = 100 %

Muscle Volumes = 25 %

Scale = 100 %

Elite Ponytail = 0 %

Jazmine Hair = 100 %

 

There is absolutely no postwork in the above transformation image, other than to paste the five images onto one background. Little Katie just transformed into Big Katie without the need to bring a second V6 into the scene and hassle with multiple layers in postwork. Big Katie can transform back just as easily. I could conceivably have only one Katie model, fitted with both hair props and glasses (Little Katie is still nearsighted). The only trick is to remember the scale and muscle volumes settings.  Shaping presets for the various levels of transformation would take that pressure off. To get really fancy, I can use different makeup for Little and Big forms, switching the diffuse map in step 3.

As a byproduct, I’ve noticed that single-slider morphs of characters reduce the memory load sent to Iray. That’s helpful for those of us with smaller graphics cards.

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Valkyria Superheroine Comic Underway!

I have entered the world of superheroine comics! If I’d known it was this much fun, I would have gotten involved years ago.

Meet Katie Ashe, also known as Valkyria.

Katie Ashe Character Card

Here is a turnaround of the Valkyria costume. It was her mother’s old Halloween costume. Katie is broke. The costume originally had a cape, but I discarded it. It was too difficult to make look right in dramatic poses.

Valkyria Costume Upgrade Turnaround

Valkyria will be a superheroine story for mature readers. It will feature nudity, violence, foul language, sexual themes, social commentary, and occasional bloodshed. It will be more along the lines of Budd Root’s Cavewoman and Dynamite’s Red Sonja than anything released by Marvel and DC. Obviously, it will be composed of 3D renders. I can’t draw.

I’m going to play Valkyria straight. As in, serious. That gives me a chance to comment on the world as I see it from my chair. It’s also my natural bent as a storyteller, as it allows me to develop fully-dimensional characters and add emotional poignancy. Already, the first chapter is pretty serious and dark.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be funny. The humor will come from Katie herself, being inept and incompetent as a superheroine, and realizing the real world does not behave, or respond, like it does in a comic book. There are semis on those roads she’s running on! With only one costume, she’s spending half her pay at the laundromat. Meaning, she’s making it up as she goes, often with chaotic results. Those chaotic results will include being stripped naked and tied up. Besides, her superlair is a backstreet hovel and her supervehicle is the city bus. This is one impoverished superheroine! Ralph Kramden is a lot funnier than Bruce Wayne.

It will be the same with the villains. Most were once decent folk who snapped because of the world they live in, and decided to turn against it by going evil – except they aren’t very good at it. Being evil in real life isn’t like it is in comics and movies. Trying to act like a comic book villain, in our world, only makes them look silly. If they succeed at all, it’s out of dumb luck. The one thing they’re good at is luring Katie, stripping her naked, and tying her up. There may be one or two who were rotten to begin with, and they will be the truly dangerous ones. Then, there will also be monsters.

I believe that humor is funnier, and more pointed, in a comic drama, than in a comedy. MASH was a comic drama, and the funny parts were more hilarious because they happened in a devastatingly unfunny situation. There is also great humor in the surreal, as in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But let’s face it. How much more surreal can you get than being transformed into a metahuman in about two minutes by a being that shouldn’t exist?

Katie will have allies, namely Katie’s mom, her little sister, and her uncle Robert, who is her contact at Parthenon PD. Her step-father is just an asshole! There may be other superpowered allies as the series progresses, but I haven’t though that far ahead yet. Right now, I have seven chapters outlined in my head, up through when Katie takes the name Valkyria. After that, like Aura has, Katie will tell me what happens.

And, of course, Katie doesn’t really know what she’s doing. Except attract cats.

Katie Ashe

Some days, Katie Ashe feels like she has a split personality. Between all the changing into “big” form to practice running, lifting, and jumping, and changing back into “little” form to carry on with her life, she’s starting to see herself.

Katies

“Aw, man!” Big Katie whined. “Do I hafta wear a bra? Like I even need it when I’m you. And I hate glasses! There are benefits to being superpowered, you know.”

“Screw you!” Little Katie snarled. “I have to go to work, and they won’t recognize me if I show up looking like you, Gargantua! Until you … we … I start making some money at this superheroine gig, I’m the only one paying for this dump.”

“You? Me? We? I am you. Oh, crap. I’m talking to myself! That’s it, I’m blowing the tips at the liquor store!”

She should be more careful when she runs on the sidewalk.

Running

She needs to remember to get undressed before changing out of her 5’0” “Little Katie” form into her superpowered “Big Katie” form.

Not Again

I will leave you with a closeup of Katie’s face.

Katie Portrait

Valkyria is going to be fun and exciting! I already have the first seven pages of chapter one completed. Other than DeviantArt, I’m not sure exactly where Valkyria will land for publication. Wherever it is, I’ll let you know.

 

Converting the Dynamic Bikini into Conforming Cloth

Yes, this is backwards from what most 3D artists want. Most want more dynamic clothing! Well, dynamic clothing does look good and drape well with the pose. However, it is impractical for any sort of comic related imagery. It’s a pain in the neck as it is to drape for one fine art image. Imagine draping it over and over again for the forty panels required for a mere four page comic. Well, I found a way to convert some dynamic clothing into conforming clothing so that it bends with the figure’s pose every single time.

Aura Lockhaven wears the Dynamic Bikini for V7 by Optitex. I’ve had some issues with it, primarily that it does not wrinkle and it lacks eyelets for the thongs. But it’s the only corseted bikini available in the 3D market, unless I revert to her original Elven Strapped bikini by AerySoul (No Longer Available). That does have wrinkles and eyelets, but it reveals more skin than I wish. The Dynamic Bikini isn’t too much of a hassle to drape for a fine art render, although I can’t move Aura once it’s draped. If I do, it springs back into zero pose.

I’ve wanted to feature Aura in a series of comics that fill in the gaps of her backstory and between the novels. That bikini kept stopping me. The thoughts of redraping for multiple panels of a comic made me think that perhaps it would be better to reveal more of her skin after all.

Not any more!

I converted the Dynamic Bikini to conforming cloth. It now sticks to Aura and follows her everywhere, regardless of the pose.

Here’s how I did it.

This is for converting the Dynamic Bikini for Genesis 3 Female to fit a Genesis 3 Female. It may or may not work for converting a V4 article to G2F, Genesis to G2F, or G2F to G3F because of the boning and draping differences.

I’m using DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro.

1. Load G3F. Do not morph her in any way. If you use any geografted genitals, load them, too.

2. Load the Dynamic Bra and Dynamic Panty.

3. Drape both to the G3F. Bra just needs to collide with upper abdomen, upper chest, lower chest, and pectorals. Panty just needs to collide with pelvis and the geograft genitals. Now is a good time to refit the bikini the way you want. I lowered the bra to cup under the breasts instead of just draping across them. Draping will happen fast.

DB1

4. Export Bra as an object. Make sure Write Groups and Write Surfaces are selected. Use DAZ Studio (1 Unit = 1 CM) as size under To. Save it somewhere easy to find and under simple a name like, well, Bra.obj. It can be renamed later.

5. Repeat for Panty.

DB2

6. Clear the scene.

7. Load a new G3F, and her lady bits. Do not morph her in any way.

8. Import the Bra and Panty. They will slide right into place.

9. Select Bra. Apply the Morph Transfer to the Bra. This is found under Little Funky Box with Four Lines and an Arrow in Upper Left Hand Corner of Scene Tab. Go to Assets -> Transfer Utility.

DB3

10. Source is G3F.

11. Target is Bra.

DB4

12. Click Accept. All the available G3F morphs now transfer to the Bra, and buddy, I have a slew of G3F morphs. Fit-to is activated, and will automatically see the G3F figure.

13. Repeat for the Panty.

14. Both are now conforming figures, instead of objects.

15. Apply Mesh Smoothing to both, and set it to Smoothing Iterations 2, Collision Iterations 3. This helps with poke through.

DB5

16. Apply Mesh Subdivision to both. Leave it at default. As complex as the mesh is for Dynamic cloth, if this is not done, the geometry will show up under sunlight in both Iray and Reality, giving geometric shadows instead of smooth shadows.

DB6

17. Save Bra as Support Asset -> Figure/Prop Asset.

DB7

18. Repeat for Panty.

19. You’re done.

For the final touches, I applied Aura’s bikini textures to the Bra and Panty, and saved them as Wearables Presets. Then, I simply applied the Wearables to Aura. As her morphs were already loaded into the bikini, it fit her perfectly. She went skipping away as happy as an enchantress in a room full of men.

The Bra laces don’t bridge the breasts. They bend into the cleavage. Zev0’s Fit Control corrects that. Sickleyield’s Universal Breast Helpers should, too.

Does it work? Here’s Aura modeling her new bikini in several different poses. No changes were made to the bikini between the images. I simply put her in a new pose and rendered away.

DB8

DB9

DB10

 

Now, Aura and I can get busy making a few comics.

I would like to get fancy and add eyelets and wrinkle morphs to the conforming once-Dynamic Bikini, but that’s for another day.

I have no idea if this method works for other Dynamic entries, like the Century Nightgown. Try it and see. If it does (or does not) let me know.

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.

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.

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.

HUNTED

Warning: As the kids today say, the following image is not safe for work.

hunted

The Vakaldin tracker Sar ta Olt caught the scent of Tanglevine at first light. The foolish Kromanji shaman had left her village, probably searching for herbs. He set out to capture her. Those pesky, ugly naked things moved into the swamplands two hundred years ago, without an invitation. Vakaldin hated Kromanji, but the ancient warrior clan found uses for them. Tanglevine would provide a week’s sport for the he-Vaks, and some of the bolder she-Vaks, of his village. Later, her flesh would taste like pork, if roasted alive and slathered with enough garlic and watersage.

Sar ta Olt sniffed the air. Tanglevine had two companions. He knew the scents of that detestable Catwhisper and Goldfern. He chased them before. They always eluded him by splitting up. Today, they couldn’t, not protecting their valuable shaman. He had them! Three noisy, smelly, clumsy Kromanji were a thundering herd of swamp sloths. A blind she-Vak could track them. A wonderful prize they would be. If he captured them, then he got his pick of the bunch for his very own. Catwhisper looked the most delicious in many ways. He would bring them back to his chief and great acclaim. After all, Sar ta Olt was the best tracker in the swamplands. This was a mere stretch of the legs.

If Sar ta Olt was the greatest of the Vakaldin trackers, then Goldfern and Catwhisper were the best of the Kromanji scouts. Not strong enough to bring down a mastadon, the two women swept the area around their village for threats to the hunters and farmers. The swamps were more home to them than their own huts, and nothing eluded their eyes, ears, or noses. Not even a knifetooth lion heard them move, nor could a dreadwolf outsmart them. They often guarded Tanglevine on her forays beyond the village. Not every death in the swamplands walked on paws, wrapped in fur. The shaman often became too lost in her flowers to pay attention to what approached. Goldfern smelled Sar ta Olt at fifty feet. In their tongue, they called him Ohkar, the deadliest predator in the swamplands.

The women exhausted their wits eluding Sar ta Olt. Their stealth and cunning only threw him off long enough for them to breathe. They were far from the safety of the village walls. Finally, they ducked into the water, hiding in a canopy of moss and vines hanging from some dead trees. They could run no farther without rest. The trio become as still as stones. There he was, only feet away. So close, they heard him snarl. Kromanji had fallen prey to enough Vakaldin for the women to know their bone weapons were useless against Sar ta Olt’s thick hide. He also had that club made from something called iron. They saw the ropes and manacles hanging from his belts, meant for them.

Goldfern and Catwhisper tense. They ready their weapons. Tanglevine senses their intentions. They plan to sacrifice themselves so the shaman can escape. The scouts are her friends, and she’ll be a corpse before she lets this Ohkar defile them, much less eat them. Tanglevine wasn’t chosen Kromanji shaman simply because her mother spoke with spirits. She reaches out to the snake overhead. Their wills become one. The snake hisses encouragement to the shaman and her guards.

The sound of the swamp grows. The insects and birds sing loudly. The wind kicks up, blowing the hanging vines and moss together into a curtain between hunter and hunted. It brings the thick odor of wet muck into the face of Sar ta Olt, masking the women’s scent. The usually quiet water laps at the rocks beneath his feet. The swamp’s creatures close in on the Vakaldin. Now, who is the hunted?

DAZ Studio 4.8 Pro -> Reality 4.2 -> Luxrender 1.5.

“Hunted” is unusual for me. I usually stick with fantasy or Medieval themes. But I was inspired by Frank Frazetta’s “Night Winds,” featuring a nude woman hiding from an armored night. The scene I had in mind felt more at home with cro-magnons than anyone Medieval. And it made more sense to have them hiding from Ogarus Uglius (primeval ogre) than another of their kind. I figure this took place about 20,000 years ago, before the Agricultural Revolution and urbanization and the social construct of “modesty.” It ain’t cold in swamps, so why bother with artificial fur?

Learning from Frank Frazetta

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn from the Master himself, but I’m not sure if the lesson learned is even something he did.

I’m currently working on a render inspired by Frank Frazetta’s painting for the cover of Karl Wagner’s novel, “Night Winds.” The painting features a naked girl hiding under a fallen tree from a nasty looking knight who hunts for her. I thought about switching it up, with a swamp instead of a mountain meadow, the girl on the left instead of the right, and having an ogre hunting for her instead of the knight. Like everything else I do, it grew, and grew, and grew. Until it was a full sized swamp with three girls. By then, however, the characters were so small as to be hidden by all that swamp.

It just looked wrong.

So, I went back to the original painting. That is when it hit me.

Frazetta and I approach composition from equally opposite directions. Or, it appears that way.

I approach 3D art like a model railroader. Those of you who have played with trains probably know what that means. For those of you who don’t, putting together a model railroad goes something like this: oh, this is a cool model stockyard and I like this Oldsmobile and that is an awesome tree and I have to have this set of crates and that pile of junk is great and look at that battleship and that building is fantastic and so is that building and that one and that Model T and that collection of figures and … uh, I should probably leave room to run a train through here, huh? When I design a 3D art scene, I pretty much do the same thing, assembling as many props as allowed by law into the most amazing set you’ve ever seen. Then, I bring in the characters and pose them in such a way as to still see the whole set.

The end result is the figures, the actual characters telling the story, are lost in the details. This is most apparent in my render for “Magical Yule.” I was so bent on that storefront and snowfall that it required 14 figures to fill the scene, and their stories are lost. Now, for “These Mean Streets,” it was deliberate. That scene was about capturing the look and feel of Daytona Beach circa 1974. The figures were details. Yet, in that deliberate composition, the figures become characters, all telling their stories at once, and it works.

Frazetta didn’t do that. Okay, so I really don’t know if he did or not. So far, I haven’t come across anything saying he didn’t, but it sure doesn’t appear that he did. In “Night Winds,” all we have are the girl, the knight, his horse, and the tree. Some vague mountains appear in the background. The rest of the set is there just to hold the figures together. It appears that he painted the figures first, large, up close, and in the viewer’s face. Then, he added the set. The end result is a sense of immediacy and intimacy. All of his paintings are like that.

I scrapped that beautiful swamp.

I brought in my four characters into the empty screen, positioned them, and posed them. Then, I moved the camera in close until they filled the screen. They take up about three fourths of the scene now. After that, I positioned the set around them, prop by prop. I positioned the props to the characters, instead of posing the characters to the finished set. It is a much more powerful scene now.

Here is the test of the swamp set, without the characters.

hunted set test

The girls will be on the left, and the ogre on the right. The space gives me plenty of room to pose all of them dramatically. The set looks packed, and it sorta is. I need that many props to make it look like a swamp. But the main reason it looks packed is all that swamp set I had before is now compressed into a small, intimate area, instead of being spread out. Consider it artistic critical mass. There isn’t much to the set beyond what you can see here. This type of set design was actually easier than my old grab it all and shove it in model railroading method. Everything is placed deliberately for maximum effect and interaction with the characters. Because the set is so small, it also saves resources on my aging computer.