Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Making of Winter Snowscape

The first 3D art program that I used was Bryce, by DAZ Productions.

My husband Eric introduced me to it and I was thrilled that here was something I could use to create art that the cats couldn't get into and mess up and they seemed to manage to do with other arts and crafts projects!

Eric's sister, Michele, also uses Bryce for her art and I noticed right away that she was a very prolific artist.  This inspired me to learn all I could about the program and start creating in it!

I spent a lot of time over the Christmas season on 2007 listening to Jethro Tull's Christmas Album. It's still one of my favorites but then it was even more special as it had been the first Christmas gift Eric had bought for me, before we were married.  Since he was travelling on business that Christmas (bummer) I listened to that album almost 24/7 as a way of keeping Eric near.

I really loved the cover art of that album. As I listened, I began to wonder if I could recreate the scene, or at least evoke the feel of it, in my newfound obsession, Bryce.

So I started out by opening a scene with the default ground and sky in Bryce.  Then I had to consider where to get or create a building that looked similar to the one on the album cover. Bryce comes with landscape features built-in -- the terrains, atmosphere and texture editors.  But it doesn't have any man made objects - they have to be purchased, or obtained as "freebies" from one of the 3D art content providers.

I found this one as a freebie at 3D Commune, which sadly is no longer online.  I felt it had promise, but obviously, I was going to need to either find or make a texture for it.

I was able to find a texture that simulated the brickwork.  I still would have to find/make a "snowy" texture for the roof parts and perhaps have some lights glowing at the windows.

But first I needed to make the scenery look a bit more wintery.  I added some basic mountain terrains and moved them to the back of the scene, and added a snowy texture to the ground plane.

In this one, you can see I've added some snow to the roof parts of the building.  It gets a little tricky adding textures to these 3D models because you have to identify, out of the hundreds of meshes that make up the whole object, which ones are which.  It's especially difficult if the parts are named in a foreign language.

Here, I've located all the windows in the mesh and applied a yellow glow and I've also started working on the atmosphere to try and come close, or at least get the same feel, as the inspiration piece.

I continued to tweak the atmosphere and  I also added some more houses, all objects found free at Renderosity or 3D Commune.

To add a little more detail to the scene, I added some trees - both pine trees and leafless winter trees - to fill out the scene and make it look more complete.

I might have decided to call it finished at this point, but I had been doing quite a bit of work in another 3D program, DAZ|Studio, also by DAZ Productions, and it offered me a chance to do something I hadn't been able to do in Bryce up to that point -- add people to my scenes.

Whereas Bryce is specifically for creating digital landscapes, DAZ|Studio is a program in which you can create characters for your scenes by using 3D models to which you add textures and clothing and then pose them. Scenes can be rendered within DAZ|Studio, using a photographic backdrop for the 3D models, or the models themselves can be exported and used in programs such as Bryce and Vue, which is what I did here.

Looking back on this now, I see I changed the atmosphere again.  Not sure I like this version, it's too yellow to my eye, I prefer the previous version, but this was the one I went with in the end.

I added some more characters, as well as a horse and sleigh (which I really had fun creating in DAZ|Studio) and that was it, finished.

Of course, it's difficult to see the detail in these small images, so you can click on this one to see a larger version of the finished render.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I was inspired by the cover artwork on Jethro Tull's Christmas Album.

Do you think I captured the essence and feel of it?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What is 3D Art?

One of the difficult things I come up against when discussing my art is that many people have no concept of what 3D art is.

After all, the end result is a 2D image on a computer screen, or if you have it printed, on paper or canvas  -- right?

So where does the "3D" come in?

Let me see if I can give you an idea of how it works. Please note that this is by no means a tutorial on 3D digital artwork. This is just so you know what I mean when I say I create 3D digital artwork.

The following relates to the program I use, Vue, but other 3D programs have the same sort of interface.

Whenever you open a new scene in Vue, the display shows four views of the scene -- Top View, Side View, Front View and Main Camera View. You can click on the image below to see it enlarged.

In to that scene, you load objects - which can be primitive shapes, such as this sphere, but also  terrains, trees, buildings or anything else. Then you use the "gizmos" (the blue, green and red arrows in the above image) to move the objects along the x, y or z axis and position them within the 3D enviroment of Vue. 

That's where the 3D part comes in. In addition to moving the terrains and other objects within the 3D environment on your screen, you can move the camera around and point it in different directions for different points of view.

Once you've loaded an object or terrain, you can apply a texture -- Vue comes with a lot of textures built in, but you can also create your own for a custom work, or purchase textures for use in Vue.

As you work, you can do "test renders" to see how things are progressing since the Main Camera view (bottom right on these images) doesn't give the full detail on work in progress.

As you can see in the image above, the lighting is coming from the right, so the shadows are to the left of the objects.  But the lighting, like the textures, is totally customizable. You can change the atmosphere by loading one of the built-in pre-sets, or by going in to the Atmosphere Editor and changing the angle and direction of the sun, adding cloud layers etc.

And finally, you can set the quality of detail in your final render.  The more detail, the longer the render time.

As I mentioned above, I use, Vue, by E-On Software. It's a very powerful software which offers different levels of functionality, from the hobbyist level to the CG professional - it has been used to create the scenery in movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean II, Avatar and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, to name just a few.

I have the middle "artist" level, Vue Esprit, to which I added some extra modules for added bells and whistles. Naturally, shortly after I purchased Vue 9, they came out with Vue 10, which had some new features.  And now they are on Vue 11.  I'm still learning to use Vue 9, an upgrade will have to wait!

If you want to give it a try, you can download a fully functioning Personal Learning Edition - the only down side to the PLE is that after a certain amount of time, it places watermarks on your finished renders, and a logo in the corner.

One thing I didn't mention in the steps above is probably one of the most fun parts of working with Vue - the Ecosystem painter.  I'll show you that in more detail on a future post but for now I will show you a finished work, created from start to finish in Vue, with no filters or other Photoshop tweaking.  I titled this piece "Heartland" and it placed 4th in the Digital/Photography category and 7th in the Overall Winners Category at the Second Annual "Countryside" art competition at Light, Space and Time Online Gallery.

It is on permanent display in the November 2012 Countryside Art Exhibition.