Category Archives: SciFi

My Only Hope Is an Alien Weapon

My Only Hope Is an Alien WeaponI started this scene with the intent of making a simple header for my facebook page.  A reclining figure fit the aspect ratio so I started there.  The rest came from that.

I also decided to use this piece as my first serious plunge into DAZ Studio’s new Iray render engine.  I have been avoiding Iray since my first experience showed a significant increase in render times.  I was right to be afraid.  The original render of the image above took 24 hours to cook.  But I’m skipping ahead.

A New Facebook Header

For the lighting I decided to keep things as simple as possible and use the light built into the ceiling of the set.  I changed the light fixture material to emissive and started the guesswork of how bright to make it.

Zorn BTS ceiling lightBeing a newbie, it took me awhile experimenting with the various controls.  The f/stop in the camera doesn’t effect the exposure, only the depth of field but unlike 3Delight, there are exposure controls called tone mapping in the Iray render tab.  For some reason the defaults are shutter speed 1/128, f/stop 8, and ISO 100.  It seems to me that would give you a dark photo even outdoors in bright sunlight.  I’m also not sure why you would change one setting or another.  If changing the f/sop doesn’t change the DOF and raising the ISO doesn’t increase grain then why have different settings?

I’ve seen a few online tutorials that say you should raise the luminance of your indoor lights into the millions of lumens.  That is extremely bright and seems wrong to me.  Why have real world units like lumens with no connection to real world light levels?  Anyway, I spent a day fiddling with all the various controls and eventually settled on something that looked properly exposed.  In the end I decided to follow the advice of the tutorials.  I kept the render exposure settings (tone mapping) at default and set the ceiling material to 2,000,000 cd/m^2 luminance units, which is excessively bright for room lighting.  But the final image looks correct.

Fill Light

Since the light is all top down and my character is wearing dark clothing I needed a little fill for the underside of his body.  At first I tried using a spot light.

Zorn BTS spot fillFor some reason the emissive mesh lights do not show when you are in working mode in DAZ Studio, only the regular lights do.  So to balance the mesh ceiling light with the spot fill I had to render each time I adjusted the light.  This became quite tedious since you really couldn’t see any of the nuance in the test render before ten minuets or so.  Here’s an example of a screen test render after about six minutes.  It’s still hard to tell what’s going on in the dark areas.  (Click to embiggen and see the grain.)

Zorn BTS grainy full with timeI abandoned the spotlight fill idea and tried what I would do in real life in this situation, which was to use a white bounce card.

Zorn BTS white cardIt worked but unlike real life I wasn’t able to subtly position the card to get the reflection going exactly where I wanted, again because there isn’t any live feedback from the overhead emissive  light.  My character was still slightly dark on the bottom but I fixed that in color correction.

Facebook Render

My first renders for the 851×315 facebook header ended up a little grainy with the default settings so I raised the max render time and max samples and was able to get a final result with 95% convergence.  I think this took a couple of hours.  I don’t remember.  All I remember is that it took a lot longer than I thought it would for such a small resolution.  My system can render the same 851×315 scene in 3Delight in a minute or two.

My Only Hope Is an Alien WeaponAfter I posted the image to facebook my wife CAT mentioned was that the red in the back might be too similar to the orange in the character.  Since I wanted to eventually render this scene again at high-rez and make something suitable for framing, I also decided to try and change the red elements in the set to blue.

Paint the Set

Up to now I have avoided directly editing the textures in a model mainly because there are so many other things I have to learn in CGI work.  I’m very familiar with photoshop editing.

Zorn BTS blue texturesChanging the color of the background set surface textures was easy although a simple color conversion left the set a soft baby blue which didn’t really fit the theme of a gun battle.

Zorn BTS white card 2Individually adjusting the darkness of the various blue elements I was able to balance things the way I wanted.

Zorn BTS blue redAt this point I set a new camera with an appropriate aspect ratio, set the resolution to 10K and hit render.

One Day Later…

As I mentioned above, I rendered the 10,000 x 6667 image for a full twenty-four hours.  Well, I should say the FINAL render was twenty-four hours.  I did a lot of test renders at various resolutions including 10K, 8K, 4K, and 1080HD.  This took a few days.  Most of the tests I set to time out at fifteen hours since that’s already more than “overnight.”  They were all a little grainy but not bad, perhaps similar to something shot on film.  I was able to get 95% convergence in fifteen and a half hours at 1920×1080 HD resolution.  That’s the resolution I would use for animation and that’s just way too long.

This picture shows the grain at about twenty minutes into one of my Iray render tests, which is about how long one of my 10K 3Delight renders takes.  I believe this one was 8K.  (Click to embiggen)

Zorn BTS grainy faceI’m hoping that there will eventually be a few ways to speed this up.  I’m guessing that the emissive lighting used here takes a lot longer to render than lighting with spot lights.  I haven’t tested that yet though.  I could also throw more graphics hardware at the problem but my computer is no slouch as it is.  All the work I’m describing here is on a dual eight core 3.1 GHz Intel Xeon processor system with 128 GB RAM and an nVidia Quadro K5000 with 4 GB RAM.  The render logs say my CPU’s are doing a little less than half the work so I’m guessing installing two more graphics cards (maybe nVidia GTX 980s?) could double the speed.  So that means a 24 hour render could be done in 12 hours, still a long overnight render.  And how much heat will build up in the case with three graphics cards?  I don’t know.  I need to do more testing.

The Final Picture

The final render is still a bit grainy even after cooking a full 24 hours.  Click the image below to see the 10K image at 1:1 pixel ratio on the left.  The complete image, however, has enough resolution that it looks pretty good.  I’m quite happy with the light too.  I didn’t do much color correction on this one, just brightened up the shadows and color a bit.

Zorn BTS lightroomIray is still a big question mark for me.  I got into DAZ Studio because it made CGI easy which I felt could make it possible for one person to do short animation projects.  Iray makes everything harder.  It takes a lot more time to light.  You have to essentially work in the dark if you are using emissive mesh lights.  You have to futz more with all the material settings on the models.  And the render time is a killer, not only at the end but throughout the process as you are changing things and checking your work.  For my first steps into animation Iray is probably going to have to take a back seat.

Created in DAZ Studio 4.8
Texture editing in photoshop
Rendered with Iray
Color Correction in Lightroom

Figures used:
Zorn
NWX Section 18

Stepping Outside She Is Free

Stepping Outside She Is FreeI’ve been wanting to do a “big character” for a long time.  CGI scales easily so I thought it would be simple.  Well, the scaling was simple, then I needed a city so you could tell the character was twenty times normal size.

urban renewal

I used Stonemason’s Urban Sprawl 2 The Big City which is absolutely fabulous.  Once I found a good spot for the “incident” I needed to add some buildings and extend the street another block or so in the background.  I also moved some buildings around and shortened one in the back to get the skyline I wanted behind the girl.

Big Aiko BTS - city 01Big Aiko BTS - city 02I’m tremendously impressed with Stonemason’s work on this city model.  It’s incredibly detailed with 20 or so different buildings – lots of props like streetlights, signs, mailboxes, and trash bins – and yet the model is very light.  It doesn’t slow things down that much even when you have all four city quadrants loaded as I do here.

bad skin

The scaling of the girl created a problem I didn’t anticipate.  When I started lighting I did a screen render and the skin was all messed up.

Big Aiko BTS rendering SSSI tried different skins and some were better but all seemed to have problems.  I eventually figured out that the Subsurface Shader (SSS) was the issue.  Apparently it didn’t scale well.  While I was trying to fix the problem I discovered that it got better if I added in HD details.  The character Aiko 6 doesn’t have an HD add on so I tried adding the Victoria 6 HD details.

Big Aiko BTS - V6 HDThe screen render turned out better but there was still some problems as you can see here on the arms.  (click to embiggen to see the issue)

Big Aiko BTS - HD skin renderIt turns out though, that the problem doesn’t present itself if you render it out huge (at 10K) which is what I always do at the end anyway, so I stopped trying to fix it.  The final render came out fine.

crazy pants

This was a most annoying problem.  Every time I closed the project and re-opened, the guy’s pants over on the left would go nuts!

Big Aiko BTS - normal pantsBig Aiko BTS - crazy pantsNow maybe this was because I had Genesis clothing on a Genesis 2 character, but I’ve done that before and I’ve never seen this.  It’s the Morphing Business Suit on Gianni 6.  Never found out why this was happening.  The only solution was to delete the pants and re-load them onto the character.  That worked at leased until I closed the project and re-opened.

big finish

For the final color correction in lightroom I decided to pump up the color on the main character while keeping the city bland and gray.  What do you think?

Big Aiko BTS - lightroomCreated in DAZ Studio 4.8
Rendered with 3Delight
Color Correction in Lightroom

Figures used:
Aiko 6
Michael 5
Gianni 6
Victoria 7
Urban Sprawl 2 The Big City

Goodbye Cruel World

Goodbye Cruel WorldThis image was created by mistake.  Occasionally while you are working in DAZ Studio the materials and shaders get screwed up, disappear, turn solid white, etc. and have to be reset.  This happened while I was creating I Spit My Last Breath At Thee.  I was trying out a wet body geometry shell attempting to make it look like sweat and as I was adjusting it the guy’s skin material disappeared.  The water droplets created a ghostly transparent shell and you could see the inner mechanisms of the mouth and eyes.  Creepy!  So I set up a camera close on the face and rendered it out at high quality.  A happy accident.

Created in DAZ Studio 4.8
Rendered with 3Delight
Color Correction in Lightroom

Figures used:
Gianni 6
Wet Body Geometry Shells
Kaylum Hair

Trembling on the Brink of Infinity

Trapped in a space time loop with no escape.Most of my work is dark, film-noir like with tiny spotlights in a black void.  It was time for something different.  I wanted something bright with lots of negative space, hard graphic lines, and very little color.  Something that looked like Space:1999, or THX-1138, or any other SciFi that has a number in it.  (2001: A Space Odyssey?)

A line in the egg

Creating this piece was pretty straightforward.  The only trouble I had technically was a strange shadow line on the egg ship.  The front of the ship was significantly darker even though that’s where the light was coming from.

trembling on the brink of infinity BTS 2eggsI finally realized the line was a reflection of the edge of the huge white background.  The environment was simply two planes.

trembling on the brink of infinity BTS gridI had to put a huge side and top on it to solve the reflection problem.

trembling on the brink of infinity BTS worldIt probably would have been easier to create a white dome over the whole scene but I was worried the horizon would be curved and ruin the grid line effect.

My constant conundrum

When I’m building a scene I usually drop cameras here and there when I find a new perspective that looks good.  It’s the filmmaker in me I guess, shooting from multiple angles.  When I’m finished setting the scene and lighting it’s always hard for me to decide which angle is best.  My original perspective for this piece was a full body wide shot that featured the expanse of the void.

I finally settled on the medium shot because it was easier to see she was crying and I think it conveys more emotion from the character.  Of course I also came up with this crazy extreme close-up which I totally love.

It was a difficult for me to pick only one.  Which is your favorite?  Wide, medium, or close?

Prints are available on my Deviant Art profile.  CLICK HERE

Created in DAZ Studio 4.8
Rendered with 3Delight
Color Correction in Lightroom

Models used (from DAZ3D.com):
Teen Josie 6
Letizia for Lilith 6
Awesome Fantasy Eyes
Stalker Girl Hair
Sci-Fi Body Suit SF-001
Actual Tears
Nomad Module 2

The Creation of ATOM (hands)

After Man destroys the planet Earth with nuclear weapons, God creates machine life to take his place.

The Creation of ATOM - handsIn light of the close up experiment I did last week, this one was a no-brainier.  Once again I didn’t just crop the original image.  I went back into the 3D space, set another camera in the exact position, and composed a new shot with a longer focal length.  That allowed me to create a new 10K render and also control the focus on the mountains in the background.

As I was color correcting this piece I noticed that you could see a reflection of God’s face in the machine-man’s middle finger.  Not sure what that means but it’s obviously important.

Created in DAZ Studio 4.8 beta
Rendered with 3Delight
Color Correction in Lightroom

Figures used:
bot Genesis
Lilith 6
Dry Mud Desert

The Creation of ATOM

I Was Fluid, Like Water (close up)

I was fluid, like water (close up)I’m frustrated with my work.  In most of my previous CGI pieces I started out with an idea that should be dynamic but ended up with something less exciting.  Most of my ideas have become medium to long shots of characters just standing there.  If I was directing a movie, this is when I would punch in for a close up to capture more of the emotion.

As an experiment, I’ve taken a previous piece I Was Fluid, Like Water and created a close up of the face.  It looks like a cropping of the previous image but that’s not how I created it.  I went back into the 3D space, set another camera in the exact position, and composed a new shot with a longer focal length.  That allowed me to create a new 10K render and not lose any of the small details like the stitching on the jacket.

The hair is still a problem, maybe even more so in the close-up.  I fixed it up a little in Photoshop but it’s still kinky and unrealistic.  The overall style is on the “doll-like anime” side with fake eyebrows etc. so maybe the kinky hair is OK.  What do you think?  Which do you like better, the original long shot or the close up?

I was fluid, like water

A Collection of Rusty Robots

Can six rusty robots fight crime without driving each other crazy?

A Collection of Rusty RobotsThis one was complicated. Six characters and twenty-five lights.

I was trying to emulate a team freeze frame at the end of an anime intro. I wanted to capture the uniqueness of each character. I even wrote out a short description of each robot to help me differentiate them. Looking at this piece now though, I think it ended up a little too “characters just standing there.” It could do with a few more action poses, but it’s done now so here it is.

I’m going to post my usual more in depth behind-the-scenes info but that will have to wait a few days since this piece is so complicated. It’ll probably end up as multiple posts. For now I’ll leave you with the character descriptions I wrote. Let me know what you think!

Meet the team!

(from left to right)

Gomer is a wise guy. He always has an opinion and he doesn’t take lip from anybody. He thinks he’s the leader but nobody else listens to him. When attacking a bad guy’s hideout the others always make him crawl in thru the air ducts which pisses him off. He thinks Brigitte is “hot stuff.”

Barney is a “can do” fella. He can fix just about anything. Knows how to make explosives too. He gets the job done while the rest are goofing around. Currently he’s in a romantic relationship with Alice.

Alice is a fighter. She can swiftly and silently take out a whole gang of bad guys. She’s a bit fussy though and, unlike the others, she likes to stay clean. She avoids the general dirt and grime of crime fighting. She’s in love with Barney even though he always seems to be a bit dirty. It’s OK though because she’s confident she can change him.

Jim is the leader of the team. He’s a powerful warrior but is totally lost trying to get the rest of the team to work together. He thinks Alice is his girlfriend even though she wants nothing to do with him. Alice thinks Jim is too full of himself.

Brigitte is a master of disguise and can wear a rubber mask to look human. She doesn’t really enjoy fighting crime but she hangs around because she likes Jim. Gomer is in love with Bridget but she can’t stand him.

Gronk (AKA “Five”) has a powerful Plasma Death Ray to blast holes in buildings and blow up cars. He wants to do more but doesn’t really have the ability. He trys.

Buy a print here –> http://www.deviantart.com/print/38109712/

Welcome to DAZneyland

Welcome to DAZneylandAfter walking for ages, our hero finds a curious place with two dimensional beings.

I put this image together mainly as my first test of the new nVidia Iray rendering engine in the just released DAZ Studio 4.8 beta.  The changes at first glance seem a bit like re-inventing the wheel but I’ve just started working with it and I’m still finding my way around.

I was initially attracted to DAZ Studio because of it’s simplicity.  Throw some twenty dollar models in a scene, light it properly, hit render, and it looks fantastic.  This new render engine seems much more complicated and I’m not sure what you get for all that extra work.  I’ve seen others rave that the renders look more “real” but so far I haven’t seen any comparisons where the Iray version is significantly better.  In fact in many comparisons I’ve seen the Iray version is significantly worse but it’s still early days and people are still learning.

One problem I’m seeing immediately with this new engine is the render time.  The very simple 3D scene above took about an hour to render at 4K (4000 x 2667) which is quite long for my relatively powerful system.  For comparison some of my previous (more complicated) scenes took anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes to render at 10K.  Maybe I’m doing something wrong but I don’t see how.  This piece has only three elements: one character (with no clothes,) a sky dome, and two flats with photos on them.  This needs more testing but these types of render times just won’t work for me, especially when I get into animation.

I also had trouble with the sky dome.  I had to work quite hard in Lightroom to eliminate significant color banding across the sky in the picture above.  Everything was set to the default so I’m not sure how I could have avoided this.

As far as the rest of the picture quality, we’ll have to see.  The rendering technology is different and for a fair comparison I’ll need to get more proficient with all the new settings.  I’d like to see the best this new technology can do and compare it to the best of the old engine.  That’s the only true comparison and that’s going to take some time.  The old 3Delight render engine is still available in the new version of DAZ Studio so I’ll probably keep using that for my serious pieces while I continue further testing of the Iray engine.

Created in DAZ Studio 4.8 beta
Rendered with nVidia Iray
Color Correction in Lightroom

Figures used:
Infernal Behemoth
DAZneyland

The Creation of ATOM

Prints of this image are available on my Deviant Art page:
http://ericsusch.deviantart.com/art/The-Creation-of-ATOM-516835191

The Creation of ATOMAfter Man destroys the planet Earth with nuclear weapons, God creates machine life to take his place.

This CGI piece took me awhile. It’s based on the The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.  CAT and I were recently in Rome and were able to spend five minutes in the Sistine Chapel admiring all the artwork.  You couldn’t take any pictures of course, since the Japanese own the copyright.  (The Vatican is a strange place.)  So when we got back I decided to make my own creation imagery to hang on the wall.

I used this project to learn how to pose characters manually.  The poses were iconic and predetermined so I didn’t have to worry what was going to look good, just how to get the characters into position.  In the end It took some doing to get everything adjusted in three dimensions and looking correct for the camera.

Creación_de_Adám

I don’t think a man can actually lean back in the real world the way Adam does in the original, at least an android can’t.  I have several of the robot joints pushed way beyond their limit and still he isn’t really in the same position.  It’s close enough to get the idea though.  The posing process was long and tedious but ultimately rewarding.  I’m especially happy with the hands in the center.The Creation of ATOM - handsI had problems again with kinky hair.  The short style I chose was an older mesh and didn’t have the smoothing control I used in the last piece.  I then discovered that the smoothing controls can be added to any object by selecting it and accessing the DAZ Studio menu in the upper right of the scene tab.  Select Edit / Apply Smoothing Modifier and then the smoothing controls will appear in the object’s Parameters tab.  This fixed the kinks but I still had hair shadow trouble.  Some of the underlying shadows were ending abruptly probably because some of the hair was poking into the skull.  Adjusting the hair didn’t resolve the problem.

The Creation of ATOM - bad hair 03To fix the funky shadows I rendered the hair again without shadows.  I then layered this underneath the head and used a matte in Photoshop to erase only the parts of the hair where I wanted to remove the shadows.  This left the shadows at the edges and bottom of the hair but eliminated the distracting ones deep within.

The biggest problem I had was the horrible, horrible dress.  I purchased and tried several Greek/Roman toga-esque dresses which were similar to what God is wearing in the original piece.  I really liked a dress that had one long sleeve but unfortunately it covered the wrong arm and I couldn’t figure out how to flip it.  This next best alternative was nice looking but turned out to be a disaster.  It had a million shaping controls but I couldn’t get it to fit correctly without the mesh bunching, tearing, and dripping all along the chest.  It was the only dress I had that looked right so I grit my teeth and fixed it with the spot healing brush in Photoshop.  That kind of fix isn’t going to work when I get into animation.

The Creation of ATOM - bad dress 03I struggled with the background again too.  The original idea was a destroyed city like after an earthquake or a nuclear attack.  It was way too busy and difficult to separate the characters, especially the chrome of the android, from the background.  There was just too much detail in the rubble.

creation of ADAM BTS 04CAT suggested I try a desert background.  I wasn’t sure.  I didn’t want it to look like an unrelated background photo.  After I tried it I changed my mind because the background became a metaphor to me.  It suggests nuclear testing, or maybe a Mad Max type social collapse.  What do you think?

The Creation of ATOMCreated in DAZ Studio
Postwork (fixing hair and dress) in Photoshop
Color Correction in Lightroom

Figures used:
bot Genesis
Lilith 6
City Ruins: Vehicles
Dry Mud Desert

Prints of this image are available on my Deviant Art page:
http://ericsusch.deviantart.com/art/The-Creation-of-ATOM-516835191

The Space Between Us

Prints of this image are available on my Deviant Art page.The Space Between Us

I’ve started working on a few CGI images with multiple characters but this is the first one I’ve been able to finish.  Right now I have five or six projects that are stuck at various stages.  One thing I’ve realized is I’m having tremendous difficulty with backgrounds.  I’m consciously starting my scenes with character ideas first because I see that as the most important element in the image. I then end up trying eight or nine “sets” for the background and nothing seems to fit.  It’s easy to move entire sets in and out in virtual space and try different things but I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way since it’s not how you make movies in the real world.  All my creative experience starts with the location first, then the actors come in to block the scene, and finally the camera positions are locked down.  I think I’m going to have to change my workflow and do it the way I know.

the space between us BTS extI originally envisioned this scene as an exterior, but that didn’t work so I tried several interiors including this space bedroom complete with professional video tape rack.

the space between us BTS space bedroomI eventually settled on the interior of a shuttle type spaceship.

the space between us BTS vanguardYou may have noticed I originally had a different character for the boy.

the space between us BTS space bedroom2He was anime style but a bit too realistic for skinny toon/anime girl (Keiko 6.)  Modifying a straight up toon style boy character (Animated Shapes for G2M) with a different skin texture and bigger eyes created a figure more in line with the anime style of the girl.

I had that kinky hair problem that I’ve mentioned before.  You can see it here above the right eye.

kinky hair detail

I asked about it on a DAZ facebook group and there is a fix!  There’s a hidden control in the hair parameters called “smoothing iterations.”  Increase it a bit and the kinkiness goes away.  I found that you should only increase the smoothing just enough to solve the problem because higher numbers thin out the hair considerably making your character look like a post-apocalyptic radiation victim!  (…which, come to think of it, may be a hair style I need some day.)

the space between us BTS aux viewerWhile working on this piece I started using the new Aux viewport in DAZ Studio 4.7.  You can set it to continuously render so that, as you are working it will keep updating.  It sort of works.  My processors and fans were churning hard as it was trying to keep up with the changes.  It’s usable for lighting, only re-rendering the area of the picture effected when you move a light.  For moving models around the space it’s not as good.  The screen update gets slow and you end up waiting a lot.The Space Between Us

All in all I’m very happy with this piece.  It’s my first with two characters interacting in a two shot which is more like a movie and less like a character just standing there.

Prints of this image are available on my Deviant Art page:
http://ericsusch.deviantart.com/art/The-Space-Between-Us-513716053