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Last week was a tiny rant about the state of temperature in the lecture theatres. This week is not a rant (scouts honour), but instead is a request by Seraphim 2150 on how I do (most of) my art.

I am primarily a 3D Digital Artist. At least that is where the majority of my art goes on deviantART, though at times I’m not sure if it’s becoming more digital manipulation with some of the post-work I am beginning to do with colours, lighting, glow effects and the addition of a digital signature (as of the end of the year, my artwork is now “signed” if you haven’t noticed).

It seems I’m drawing blank stares here. So I shall explain.

Traditional art traditionally involves thinks like pencils, inks, oils, acrylic paints. Clay, sculptures, metals, anything you can touch and feel and form in the real world are traditional media. I, however, operate in the world of computers, the realm of digital.

There are arguments back and forth between traditionalists and digital, CG and 3D, and between many other forms of art about what counts and what doesn’t (it seems the one thing any party can agree on is that there is always someone to argue with). Is a painting done on a computer any less valid than if the same artist had constructed it in the real world in a studio? The point is mute since all the good artists (and I mean the ones that make you go wow! And the ones that make you go Oooh) probably spend the same amount of time planning and preparing their pieces. Doing it digitally doesn’t make it quicker. It doesn’t even make it easier (trust me, all those fancy settings need to be set to you!), though digital media does allow you to correct or move or remove at the click of a button and versions can be saved for future work,

But this is not about the differences between my art and your art, oh no dear reader (if you want a debate, head over the deviantART and join any one of the current ones on there!). This is about what I use. What I do.

And we include screenshots.

The 3D Render Engine

The software I use to build the “set” is Daz Studio 3.0, available for free (the standard software and some base figures) at DAZ 3D. A similar software is Poser, produced by Smithmicro, which contains a “cloth room” allowing user generated textures to be applied to models. It costs, but is great for people who want to built their own costume sets etc. I started with Daz, and everything I’ve got works for it. At times it’s frustrating that there is so much with poser settings, but many merchants now offer “fixes” or sets specific for Daz, or include the presets within the purchased items.

daz screen 1

DAZ 3D produce several “figures”, many in their 4th Generation, which act as the foundation to your characters. These can be human (Victoria, Michael, The Kids, Millennium Baby) to animals (Millennium Dog, Millennium Pup, Millennium Horse) to vehicles and scenery. The main market is for the human models, the latest being The Kids 4, and you can purchase clothing, clothing textures, accessories like jewellery, hair and skin textures. The bases come with their own morphs which will be explained below. DAZ 3D also offers some anime style bases, though the latest versions have a default “reality” settings (Aiko, Hiro)

Working with Daz or Poser is not cheap. Most base figures come free (though some are being withdrawn to be included in Bundles) and stuff is available for free download from ShareCG or Renderosity or as part of the monthly freebies on Daz. I have found some amazing sets of stuff (particularly scenery or additional props) on these sites, but these have only enhanced my work. The majority of stuff is purchased and is, in my opinion, definitely worth it.

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Above is Daz Studio in action (or rather inaction). This is the standard window which opens, set for my personal use. The standard setting has two sets of operation windows with the render engine in the centre. I found this frustrating when working in the larger desktop styles to get the right size to see details and opted to using the multi-tab option you can see. I’m still playing around with settings, but this seems to make for smoother working as everything is to had all the time.

Before I discuss the steps I take to making a picture, let me first give some definitions:

Render: Can refer to the process of generating a 2D picture with 3D “photorealistic” properties from a computer generated wire frame model or the real-time creation of animation from textured wireframes in games or simulations.

I usually use the former when I mean render. I treat the whole process like creating a film set – I “cast” my characters, clothe them, do their makeup, adjust some fits, build the set/world around them (either through 3D scenery or digital trickery), add effects, add lights and then I “render”. I instruct the computer to analyse the scene from one of the “camera” viewpoints, calculate the depth of the shadows and how the surfaces will react to light – i.e. reflect light, absorb it, refract it (liquids etc). The speed of this is reliant upon my computer – having got my new laptop, my render times are significantly faster than before.

Wire Frame/Mesh: A visual presentation of a 3D shape using points to define edges or changes of angle and creating “faces” between these points. The resulting polygon wire frame or mesh gives the underlying form to the pieces used in the scene. They can be complex (human faces) or simple (a box) and can be told how to behave.

I’m still not quite sure how the different things I use are made or how the textures are produced, but they work and I’m not complaining. Some people would say this is argument for 3D art not being art, just putting of pieces together and getting the computer to figure out the rest. I say to you – you make as good a picture as some artists (such as *Bad-Dragon, *KaanaMoonshadow or *Tasharene on deviantART) without understanding something about composition, lighting or their software and then we can talk about the nature of art. Understanding the software takes as much time as learning techniques with paints or pencils – trust the person who’s tried both (it’s taken me around 3 years to get to the point where I would be happy to sell select pieces of my art, and even then these are rare amongst lots of misses).

Textures: The coloured surfaces applied to the mesh. These can be skin colours, makeups, cloth, hair strands, backgrounds, metals, wood – anything you would see in real life becomes a texture in the world of 3D digital. The surfaces they are applied to can be instructed to act in specific ways which I don’t totally understand (in Daz these are: plastic, metallic, skin, matte, glossy plastic or glossy metallic) but I’m learning what they can make things look like – though I default to skin for hair, skin and fabrics, plastic for pretty much everything else, glossy plastic for liquids, metallic for the odd metallic object (e.g. swords) and matte for the stuff I’m not sure of (like background skies that shouldn’t do anything).

The Process

Okay. So, I’m working on a picture. What do I do?

1: Load model

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This will be Ifan for this piece, though at the moment he is Michael 4. Say hello Michael. What? You’re embarrassed at being seen this way? One moment, and I’ll get you dressed.

Honestly, models.

When loaded, the latest models (or is the latest Studio?) brings up a window offering different plugins that can be included. I don’t really do much with these since I play around with characters, so all models are loaded with their ++Morphs, anime counterparts, Creature Creator morphs and injection slots for fancy morphs. The ++Morphs allow me to do fancy things like position the eyes properly, apply full body morphs, facial morphs and control the mesh to do expressions etc. The Creature Creator morphs allow the easy use of a set of morphs released by DAZ to do funky things to faces, ears and teeth – like making cat and dog people, aliens of many varieties or give them horns …

“Dialling up Morphs”: in Poser, the morphs are on a rotating dial icon and you move the dial to morph your base mesh. In DAZ it’s on a sliding scale that can be locked to certain settings to avoid weird things or unnatural posing, or unlocked to allow some extreme poses. It’s still referred to as dialling up your morphs.

For now, I rename Michael 4 to Ifan in my scene tab and go and find him some clothes. I have found that by naming my models in large scenes I avoid getting things confused, and to keep the scene pane organised, I move anything applied to particular characters under their names (demonstrated later).

2: Clothe the model

screen 3a
Okay, Ifan is now no longer completely naked (though he wasn’t really. The default textures for all models provided by DAZ 3D come with underwear when loaded as you saw above). In the panel, Ifan’s clothes have been “parented” to Ifan’s character. These will now move as Ifan is posed or moved around the scene, making my life easier (you have no idea how difficult it can be to find the owner or an errant shirt in large renders).

Ifan has a particular set of clothes used with him, such as the armband, gloves and his beard. Sometimes loads of things are added to be considered and then removed or hidden. More characters now have things taken from many purchased sets, or have things altered to fit such as belts with pouches applied over other belts and then the original belt hidden from view in the render to give the illusion that the pouches were originally there. Some computer trickery can be used to get the desired effect, but this is down the artist and what they want to achieve.

Now, time to colour him and make him actually Ifan. Excuse me a moment.

3: Texturing the figures

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Ah, now Ifan looks like Ifan, even if he looks a little wooden. Additional props like his neck torc have been included and the other necklace removed from the scene. The content panel shows various options for Ifan’s skin texture – arm tattoos, chest options etc. These textures are provided in sets by various merchants on DAZ 3D or Renderosity or other vending websites. This set is Woodland Prince Elric for M4 by Morris and JoshuasART on DAZ.

Everything has been textured from similar sets, using combinations I have explored whilst developing my characters.

Now I usually pose the character. Steps 2, 3 and 4 are not always in this order. It just depends on what I feel like when making the picture.

4: Posing the poser

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Okay, since this is a tutorial, we’ll just use one of the set poses I have, without messing with arms, limits (the locked/unlocked nature of the dials associated with each piece of limb) though I have moved the default camera angle, altered his eyes and given him a wry smile. The cheeky so and so.

Posing can be a nightmare! I have been known to spend hours just moving an arm, or sorting out a hand, or dealing with eyes as I change camera angles. This is where the art kicks in, ladies and gentlemen. Here begins the art of composition.

The contents bar shows how the “tree” of pieces work, and the fact that the torc on Ifan’s neck is special compared to the clothes. Clothes are parented, certain things are fitted to allow them to work with changing morphs (to a certain degree) or to keep on the body a certain way (like the torc or some of the older generation hairstyles or some weapons). It makes texturing things interesting since I have to go hunting for them.

The background is set in a colour I find pleasing but it also sets an assigned colour that the computer is told to ignore when creating .png files, allowing me to layer things up in my graphics software for a bit of post-render editing.

When you get your character how you want it, it’s onto lighting and eventual rendering.

Step 5: Lights, Camera, Action

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So Ifan is sat smugly amidst a grey background. So I decided to make it a little bit – more.
Its just a quick set of additions, but look how much it’s added to our contents (!). This is what makes renders big! That, and the pixel resolution …

Daz Studio comes with a set of lights as part of the software, each with their own particular settings and properties. Distant Lights (the triple arrow things in the picture) simulate natural light, sunshine etc, stuff that comes from far away and affects entire scenes. Spotlights (look like film set spot lights) act like spotlights – directed cones of light from a particular source. They are great for creating shadows or for highlighting faces or features in dark or gloomy renders. Point sources (little balls with rays all over the place) are good for simulating individual sources like candles or glow effects from orbs or effects. I’m not doing anything too fancy today, just a fairly standard setting.

Lights are something I’m still learning about. Following advice from *IamUman and his Realistic Lights tutorial, I now use two lights lightly tinted to give ground reflected light and light from the sky, as well as my major lights for the scene. This scene has 3 lights: one scene and two minor reflected lights.

Step 6: Render away

Before I render, I check all my lighting model settings for my surfaces. Originally I didn’t mess with this at all (!) but now I know what I want out of my pictures, so I change a few things, alter the severity of the settings and generally check that skin will act like skin (some figures are set to behave like dolls and so render as plastic – it makes for interesting gleams in weird places). Then I save.

Saving is important! The number of times I’ve been preparing to render and then have the software crash is maddening – there is no “autosave” setting so if the window closes, its bye bye everything. For small renders I save near the end. For larger ones I usually save at the end of each step.

Once done, I click render and wait for the outcome.

Nowadays I render this is multi-stages: a full “everything showing” render to get a feel for composition, problem areas and any odd things with the backgrounds. Then I render the foreground, the middle ground (if it exists) and the background into separate sections to piece together in Corel. Since I’m still learning about lights, this involves me removing light settings and rendering the characters “blacked out” with the background lit by ambient settings. This means I can’t fiddle the background too much, but I can change colours, brightness and contrast and this suits me just fine.

This is it for the 3D Render Engine. Now to make Digital Art!


The Digital Painter: Art and Manipulation

There are many digital art packages available with many different uses. Some are free (GIMP), most are not (Corel, Photoshop). I’m not going to explain my reasons for my choice of software, nor explore the other options. I use what I use. Moving on.

I use Corel Painter 11, produced by Corel. It was part of my 21st birthday present from my parents along with my Wacom Intuos 4 tablet. I use these tools for my more traditional digital art and for my little dragon designs for my mugs, t-shirts and hoodies. But I also use it to manipulate my digital renders and prepare them as desktops and prints.

screen 7a
This is my usual workspace – ink pen at the ready, colours and layers down the right-hand side, other tools down the left. This is quite a common set up, but lets start editing our render.

As you can see in the layers box, we have our fore, mid and backgrounds ready to be played with. There are many ways people can play with the settings, and probably a hundred thousand different set of tutorials detailing how to do this on deviantART. Just do what you (or your chief critique) think looks good and roll with it. Seriously, what could go wrong?

Sometimes I play with adding borders or little flourishes to the corners. This is something I’m experimenting with using stock off deviantART, though eventually it would be nice to have a set of my own personal borders crafted with my own pen (that and a hundred other “wouldn’t it be nice”s).

I usually finish this with a flourish of the digital pen, signing the image and dating it before saving it as a .riff to allow me to play with the layers at a later date (you know, just in case) and then resaving the same image immediately as a .png. This is to preserve the quality of the image and avoid the graininess .jpegs often cause during compression for the web. It’s a personal preference.

And so there you have it: from wire mesh to artwork.

Space-wolf style.

website tut
Thank you for reading this. I hope this gives some insight into how I do the majority of my art, and give you a vague understanding when I talk about renders, lights, meshes and textures.

Meshes and textures used in the render:
Michael 4 Base by DAZ 3D
Michael 4 Morphs++ by DAZ 3D
Woodland Prince Elric for M4 by Morris & JoshuasART (textures)
The Eyes Have It by Marieah (eye textures)
Valkynne Hair Mega Pak by Magix 101 (hair & textures)
Jack of Hearts by Luthbel (boots, corset, pants)
Rogue Brotherhood for Jack of Hearts by Arien (textures)
Shades of Atlantis Cobalt Hierophant by Luthbel (gloves)
Shades of Atlantis: Arcane Brotherhood by Arien (texture)
Woodgod M4 H4 by ElorOnceDark (torc)
Woodland Prince for Woodgod by Morris (texture)
DM’s Around the Lair by Marforno & Danie (midground)
Multiplane Cyclorama by DAZ 3D