Creating landscapes…

I like to create CGI images and I use Poser to set up the model, add clothes and other props and then put them in a specific pose that would generate an interesting image. That sounds a bit complex and to be honest, yes! It is complex, because you have to consider many small things to get the best result. It’s a bit like programming, actually. You start to think about an interesting design and as you advance with the project, you’ll have to focus on smaller and smaller details. At first, it’s thinking about clothing and poses, next you have to check if the clothes fit good enough. Then you have to look even closer making sure no small items are poking through the wrong places. Nails from fingers, for example, when your model is touching something.

But hey, that’s one part of the whole process. I want to talk about landscaping! And for this, there are two interesting tools that are available for free! There’s Bryce from DAZ3D which happens to be a great tool. It’s available for both Windows and Apple’s Mac systems. I’ve downloaded it in the past, just never started to use it. Instead, I use Vue 10 Complete which is a bit expensive when you’re just starting since, hey! It costs money! So, if you want to start for free, get Vue 10 Pioneer instead! The difference? Well, you will be missing a few practical tools like importing models from Poser, and you’ll be missing some extra content. But, it’s a start.

Setting up a proper scene isn’t that difficult, although you will need a lot of patience, since rendering landscapes takes a lot of time. This is especially true when a lot of details in your image. I’ve rendered images at sizes 4000×3000 pixels with highest quality within 20 minutes, but those had just simple details and barely any reflections. I’ve also rendered a battle between a female warrior and a big dragon, far above the clouds with the landscape far, far away in the back. It took over 6 days to render and this is the result:

To be honest, the original size was 4000×3000, which happens to be huge, even when rendering with 64-bits software on a system with 24 GB of RAM. And part of the complexity are the clouds, which both reflect and refract light. And even though I didn’t much detail in the ground, the terrain that’s visible also happens to be a huge area.

So, problem one with rendering landscapes it that you need to be patient or just have to accept smaller images.

Would this image render faster if I hadn’t added a Poser model in the foreground? I don’t think so, since the model actually make the image less complex! It hides the items behind it, and those items would be harder to render because of transparency and shape. There are no shining items in the model, so it doesn’t reflect much, and the only transparent part happen to be the hair of the woman and the wings of the dragon.

Of course, the most complex part of landscapes are plants and especially grass. An image that I managed to render quickly just didn’t have much details. A starry night with a strange sun, one tree in the background and the top of some castle. This combined with a female warrior fighting against a lizard-man resulted within 30 minutes in the following image:

 

And why did it render that fast? Simple! The sky has no clouds and except for the tree on the right, the number of polygons happens to be very low. It’s not one of my best artwork but it’s a nice example of something that can be done fast, and tells us about the next problem…

Problem number two: the more polygons your image has, the longer it will take to render. And please do realize that plants will generate a lot of polygons. Filling your landscapes with trees and grass might turn a render-time from hours into days.

To solve this, try to cut the number of polygons in your image by, such as only adding details in front of the camera, and not all around the terrain. And putting simple objects in the foreground will remove the more complex details in the background, except when the foreground object is semi-transparent.

Although clouds can result in some complex images, they do become less complex when there’s just sky behind them. You could, for example, generate an image with a female warrior riding a dragon with a floating castle in the clouds, like this one:

It took over 10 hours to render, even though I’ve kept most of it quite simple. The reason for the delays were the clouds in this case, which had to show part of the terrain and castle. By avoiding a lot of plants and grass and just using a simple texture for the terrain, I did manage to keep the render reasonable fast. Also, not having too many light sources helped a lot.

Problem 3: each additional light source or glowing object will add to the complexity and thus to the total render time!

Still, you can reduce the influence of those lights by editing them as objects, and limiting the things that they would shine on. For example, you could add a light in the foreground which would only light up the dragon and warrior models, but not the terrain or clouds. That way, the objects in the foreground become more clear. (You might also want to turn off shadows for those lights!)

And so I get at the next complexity, which you’ll probably guess from this image:

 

I didn’t post the complete image, since there’s a naked fisher-woman who’s about to spear this fish, but you can see it clearly: water.

Problem 4: Water reflects and refracts and has a very variable shape. And fortunately, the original image at 3200×2400 rendered within 12 hours, simply because it only showed water, and a few naked models on top of a wooden construction. But I’ve decided to make the water very wavy, so the fish would rise up from the water. To add to the complexity, I added splashes around the fish. Yeah, more polygons. And because water reflects and refracts, it just takes some time to finish. For distant water, turn off the transparency to speed up the result, since at long distances, there’s no need to see what’s under the water surface. (Unless you’re looking from a great height down on the water surface!

So the four major problems with rendering landscapes are image size, number of polygons, number of lights and the complexity of water-like materials. There are a few more problems that will slow things down, but these are the ones you’d best be aware of when you’re just starting.

And of course, you could wonder if I use half-dressed or even undressed models in my art to cut the number of polygons, but no. A Poser model will probably add a few hundreds of polygons and my system can handle this. A single tree will be just as complex. Besides, the clothes would hide the model from view so it’s effects are small.

No, the reason for the lack of clothes in my models is because it’s easier to create them in Poser. As I said at the top, clothes adds complexity to the pose. Things always tend to stick through clothes, like parts of the arms or legs, belly, breasts and occasionally hair. Clothes can be too wide, too long, too rigid in shape to make them work with the rest of the pose. For example, I have a suit of armor for my model, but the chest size cannot be adjusted so my models need to have a specific chest size, else it won’t fit. I also use models with different lengths, and clothes are often set for specific lengths, forcing me to re-size the clothes and doing more checks. So, the naked ladies are just me being lazy…

Getting the eyes just right.[NSFW]

I love creating images using Poser and Vue. Poser is great to create a model based on existing models that’s imported in Vue. And Vue will add the additional landscape, larger objects, plants, water, cloud and lights. The final result can sometimes be very stunning. Unfortunately, there are always some small problems in each item because of flaws while posing the model in Poser. Or because the landscape in Vue overlaps the Poser model.

One flaw tends to be the eyes on models. Each model has two eyes and you need them to look in the same direction. And you’d prefer them to look in a specific direction. So, what’s my trick for this? How to get a model to point her eyes e.g. upwards, because she’s under water, on a huge hook and surrounded by fish? Or have three girls in the grass looking at the same point?

Well, it’s not too complex. I just add a simple primitive, often a ball, to my models. Just one. I also make it invisible so it won’t appear in the rendered result. Once done, I select the left eye of the model and using the “Objects/Point at” menu, I point the eye at the ball. I repeat this for the right eye and the eyes of the other models so all eyes are pointing in the same direction.

Next, I have to move the ball in the direction that I want all models to look at. This means moving it over the X- and Z-axis, preferably far away from the models, else they will become a bit cross-eyed. Then, move it up and down to point them upwards or downwards, and don’t be afraid to put it at -100 on the Y-axis to make them look a bit down.

When dealing with multiple models, like in my image below (which has nudity, thus it’s not suitable for work environments), you might have to do more adjustments. Often, this means that you have to twist and bend the necks and heads of the models while looking if their eyes are put in the correct locations. Since the eyes already point at the right direction, all you have to do is adjust the heads and neck.

A drawback is when you have to re-position the model because that often means re-positioning the ball too. This is something important when you create an animation because you would then have to move the ball to the locations that your model is supposed to look at. But it does make your animated models look more natural during animations. It allows them to quickly move their eyes and even though it’s a very minor detail in animations, it’s still a very simple trick to make their looks more natural. Because the most important part behind this trick is that the eyes are both pointed at exactly the same spot.

And well, as you can see, the eyes aren’t the first things that you’ll notice. Most will notice the nudity in the image, which just happens to be very casual and peaceful. Others will notice that one model, Aisha, happens to be a cyborg with nice, shining body parts. And people will notice the background, the trees, and probably several flaws too. But when you look at their eyes, they’re all looking at the same point, since they’re all pointing at a ball that’s behind the camera. This makes them look straight at the camera.

My artwork

Not only do I like to write code and play some online games, I also like to create CGI images with Poser Pro and Vue. It’s not very difficult but you will need to have some inspiration to create something artistic. Just like you need some artistic skills while writing code.

CGI and software development have much in common. With both, you use special libraries and frameworks to speed things up. And with both, you never know at first what the outcome will finally look like. Fortunately, I can create a CGI image much faster than I can create a new software project.

In general, I start with Poser Pro and pick some models, add clothing, weapons and other props, adjusting the pose to show something I have in mind. Often a scantily-clad lady with a weapon being something other than a damsel in distress. Then again, the weapon and clothing tends to be optional, since images are much faster to create without those additional props. I’m not thinking about the background this early in the project, although I do keep track of items to be included in the Poser model that need to be shown in the background. OFten, these props are things for the model to stand on, so I can easily align them with the ground.

The next step is importing the model within Vue and deciding what a proper background for this model would look like. Water is always nice, since it adds additional reflections. Clouds or stars will add more interest to the sky. Mountains and large buildings can also be include in case I want to hide part of the sky. And of course the proper ground and vegetation is required.

So here is some of my artwork. Some of it is new, some of it is old. None of it is indecent, although your employer, teacher or parent might ask what you’re looking at when they look over your shoulder.

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