Tag Archives: science fiction

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:
NWX Section 18

My first glimpse of Star Wars was through Ralph McQuarrie’s eyes

Below is a full page Log Entry from Starlog magazine, issue number six. My dad picked it up for me at the airport as he was coming home from a business trip. As I flipped through the pages I slowly realized that I enjoyed almost all the articles. Up to that point I knew I liked Star Trek re-runs on TV but I liked a lot of other unrelated things too. I didn’t understand the concept of a genre until I saw all these wonderful articles grouped together in one magazine. I decided I liked Science Fiction. It was a revelation that shaped the direction of my life.

The Star Wars preview from page nine was my first glimpse of the SciFi explosion that was to come in just a few short weeks. The blurb itself was forgettable (and as it turns out, highly inaccurate.) What dominated the page were two paintings. The scenes were so far out that they really didn’t register with me at first. Surely these were just paintings and the movie won’t look like this… right?

Younglings reading this won’t understand but before Star Wars, nothing like it existed. It was so far beyond what anyone had seen before. The commercials on TV left you stunned. The movie played in the theater for 25 weeks even in the small town I grew up in. That’s half a year. Some people went to the theater to see it 20 and 30 times.

Star Wars not only changed the course of cinema, it changed my life. It solidified my love of Science Fiction and eventually convinced me that I wanted to dedicate my life to making movies. I’ve been doing it ever since. And it all started with this one page in a magazine dominated by these two magnificent paintings.

Thank you Ralph McQuarrie. You changed my life.