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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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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Sword and Sorcery

Captain Elisabeth Lovejoy (Sword) and Aura Lockhaven (Sorcery) team up to take down a nasty ogre.

SnS2

Elisabeth’s importance in the Aura storyline is growing. The Aura tales are sword and sorcery. If Aura handles the sorcery, someone has to handle the sword.

The two friends obviously have different fighting styles. Aura fights from a distance. Her accuracy is pinpoint up to fifty feet. Using bladed weapons, Elisabeth has to get up close, and personal. This ogre is already dead; he just doesn’t know it yet.

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