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  1. #141
    Thanks for the comments, folks, much appreciated. I'll take things in order, please forgive any sluggish words, I'm fighting off a cold and have to drag them out of my head through a layer of goo. Yuck.

    @megastor I'm finally happy with my skin shader, don't really see any "plastic" in the Amber Gatherer renders, just that slight increase in specularity that comes from a thin perspiration layer, natural consequence of a hot sunny day at the beach. I don't use Emit except for special effects (like Neziņa's vampire eyes), it's too powerful an influence that to my eyes usually looks too unnatural. The scene lighting's dynamic range I determined after poring over a lot of "beach party" references (tough research), as well as dredging up memories of living practically on the Atlantic as a kid (east coast of Florida, USA). I wanted the image to seem suffused with light, and that meant a challenge balancing highlights that shouldn't be too bright and shadows that shouldn't be too harsh, yet still preserve solid modeling of the forms. It turned out to be more a matter of shader specs than lighting levels, however. SSS played a huge role in the look of the skin as these comparisons show:

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    The left image has no SSS, the right, SSS has been enabled with the specs shown. Note that I use a very high-value, low saturation color for the base RGB of the SSS effect. This not only lightens the skin but also helps balance the intensity of some of the textures applied, many of which are very saturated. While I like the very sculptural effect of the no-SSS shadowing, and it may be truer to actual beach sunlight conditions, the skin, beyond being a shade more appropriate to a tropical than northern European ethnicity, lacks depth, and is much more "plastic" to my eyes. The with-SSS skin diffuses the light wonderfully (or seems to, at least), but without that waxy look that too high a Scale value can create.

    In Seeking I wanted to explore the consequences of light heavily filtered by the environment, in this case, a deep forest canopy, so lots of fairly saturated green. The most noticeable effect this had on the skin shader is that a great deal of the red components are suppressed (red and green being near-complements on the color wheel), and the skin appears much lighter and slightly yellowish in tone, like fine ivory. Yet the only difference between this scene and the beach scene is that I added a second texture channel for coloration of the redder parts of the skin, such as lips and nipples. They had otherwise just faded to a dull tan. A good illustration of how specific lighting can fairly radically alter the look of Materials and shaders.

    @Khell[PT] Thank you, I agree completely, this image sets the bar for my future work on the project pretty high. But that's a good thing, as I'm slowly defining the requirements for achieving the high degree of naturalism I want, without being a slave to the "photorealism" addiction that pervades so much of 3D work.

    @loramel Thank you, Martin, I'm glad you're enjoying the fragments I'm tossing out as teasers in this thread. Without the story this would just be a rather dull exploration of technique. With Neziņa's experiences driving the production of scenes, it's a lot more focused and gives me a chance to hone the image to the perfection you mention -- which perfection I know is not possible except as something to strive for.

    What I find interesting is that the story and the images sometimes happen in what might be considered "reverse" order. For example with Seeking, I knew I wanted to see what could be done with a deep forest environment, but had no particular story event to illustrate. But after doing some research into waterfalls and springs in the region of the story, and recycling a contrapposto pose from early on in this thread, I realized that a plot point I had yet to resolve could be realized in this image -- I needed a way to keep Neziņa from actually marrying Vientuļiš, thus setting up an even more important event down the timeline of the story. She has a very strong spiritual aspect to her personality, and taking a few liberties with the concept of the Native American vision quest, I was able to turn what would otherwise be a joyous life event into a moment of terror for the character that affects the direction of her life from then on. I probably would not have taken that route with the story unless I had begun rendering up poses and sticking them into ref pics as early tests of setting and composition ideas.

    @ furlow Yes, I'm sorry that the links to the vids has gone down, the server was shut down after 8 years of excellent no-cost and ad-free service, so I really can't gripe. But I haven't had time, either, to scare up an alternative. The videos can be seen in slight lesser quality on my Facebook page, though. I'll look into putting them on Vimeo as well, though the formats don't fit the requirements that site recommends. The Neziņa models use my Othello face rig (Version 2), which employs only bones, though for some types of expression I would no doubt be using shape keys as well.

    Speaking of facial expressions, as sometimes happens, the pose and lighting for Seeking revealed a weakness in the facial topology of the Neziņa model, with her naso-labial folds originating too low on the face. Made her look odd, so I fixed that, which required not only revising the mesh, but also the UVs that I'd already painted some skin shader components to. Oh, the price of progress!

  2. #142
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Salisbury SA, Australia
    Originally Posted by chipmasque View Post
    Neziņa: Seeking the Mother

    ... Here she is to mark herself with the red ochre found in the nearby clay beds, and seek a vision from the Mother Goddess...
    Great work as usual - the part of that story that doesn't fit the picture - if she ceremoniously painted herself with clay the markings would be jagged and rough, not perfect and pristine.

    You have a great realistic character - don't break the illusion by making everything perfect, keep it realistic.

  3. #143
    Thanks for the feedback, LoopyShane, and the compliment. I was a little concerned about the body paint -- I did roughen the edges of the strokes considerably, but SSS has a tendency to fuzz out textures, so a lot was lost. I've gone back in and made it really rough. More convincing?

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    Another contributor to the perception of smoothness is the size of the image I can post -- at actual render size it's quite a bit more apparent, and at 2x enlargement you can see a great deal more detail to the edges. Make sure when viewing the full image to click on it so it isn't shrunk to fit the forum's framing, and is seen at actual size. The shrinkage can fuzz out a lot of fine detail.

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    I revisited the Amber Gatherer image as well, using harder-edge sunlight shadows and the stormy sky BG to create a lot more satisfactory image:

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    I think it was DaVinci that said art is never finished, only abandoned. Guess I'm not ready to abandon these yet

    BTW, if you're interested, Google up some images using "aboriginal body painting" as the search words, you'll see a very wide range of "styles," some very coarse, others very smooth & detailed. So I guess the cleaner look wasn't all that out of character, especially since the pigment used can be extremely fine-grained and when thinned with water, is much like todays kids' finger paints, which can go on very smooth. But I like the roughness, it just wasn't pushed far enough in the first image.

  4. #144
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    Back to the "mannequin" pose to work on Neziņa's armor layers, this time the "jack o' plates," a medieval design using tough leather sewn with harder bits like metal or, in this case, bone. I'm not sure how I'll rig all those pieces up for posing/animation, but at least they're in place. The bracers are also mostly done, just needing some lacing details, perhaps.

    I also decided to add some color to the leather armor, since in doing research on medieval dye processes for cloth I found that red was very common as a leather dye, both vegetable and mineral materials being used.

    The biggest change is hopefully not visible -- I've made this the default Rest Pose for the figure, because it makes working with the sleeves more reasonable, but it also created a lot of headaches with the meshes bound to the armature -- it's not just a simple button-push! I had to fix some unintentional reshaping of the face due to the switch -- subtle, but enough to make her look noticeably different.

    And if you're wondering why the shorter hair here and in the Amber Gatherer images, it's part of her story, but that will be told elsewhere :-D
    Last edited by chipmasque; 21-Oct-11 at 14:30.

  5. #145
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Salisbury SA, Australia
    My first thought was a more rugged thick clay painting (like warriors preparing for battle) but now that I think a bit more the ritual you describe would most likely be a slow tranquil painting that can have the passion of perfection she is praying will carry to the rest of her life, but the first image just seemed too perfect for hand clay painting. I think there is enough variation now to make it seem hand painted yet done slow and meticulously for perfect results.

  6. #146
    Originally Posted by LoopyShane View Post make it seem hand painted yet done slow and meticulously for perfect results.
    Yes, that's my intent. The "prayer" she recites as she marks herself gives thanks for the gifts the Mother gives all people and women in specific, which is why the lines cross and encircle specific body parts and areas. It would have been done with great reverence and care.

  7. #147
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    The gorget and "demi-cape" of bone plates is modeled, though not finished. The bones of the gorget (ostensibly the long bones from the rear feet of an otter) need to be made less regular (which comes from using an Array and a Curve modifier), as do the bone plates (carved from the scapula of the same animal?), plus the textures should be stressed some, they're too clean-looking right now.

    Short of passing the file through the game engine, any ideas about how to create linked solid-body physics for these accessories? I guess I could build an armature for that but it wouldn't be physics, just keyframing. Cloth distorts too much (like cloth, duh) and Soft-body frequently has a bad case of the jiggles. I'm wondering why there's no similar provision for rigid-body other than through the BGE, which seems an awful crutch.

    PS: Anyone know what causes that little "floret" reflection on the right breast protector (on screen left)? I have a World Sky Texture (the rendering in the BG, actually) that does not render, but provides samples for Environmental Lighting, but I'd expect that to show in both the dome-shaped reflectors rather than just one. It's not modeling or Materials, since that's also the same for both.
    Last edited by chipmasque; 22-Oct-11 at 10:38.

  8. #148
    I think the modeling is done well. The hair and the skin makes it look kind of like a Barbie doll, so it's not very realistic. Textures are quite clean. I would say if you were trying to create a doll for print and sell, you've done a great job.
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  9. #149
    In the mannequin pose, which is necessary for initial modeling of costume parts to the figure, she is a doll for all intents and purposes, no attempt to add any expression or body language, just a "clothes hanger" . Have to get all the detailing done before I can put her into more strenuous action poses where she's more emotive.

  10. #150
    True, but the textures, skin and hair make her look unrealistic in poses as well. Reminds me of the models in Poser, which is actually a compliment if you look at it from a modeling perspective. Don't get me wrong; you're doing great. But I think her skin and the rest of the textures need more work in order to achieve something more realistic. But hey, you're kicking butt so far in my opinion.
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  11. #151
    I'm open to specific suggestions about the skin, always willing to consider ways of improving textures and the like. "More realistic" doesn't say much, though, since the word is ill-defined at best and used to mean any number of things depending on who's using it. The skin suits my concept of the character, which doesn't embrace what's often (and erroneously) termed "photorealism," I'm much more interested in a look that is closer to fine illustration, which embraces various levels of stylization with enthusiasm. The hair fits within this visual concept as well; I've not seen any uses of Blender's particle hair that are wholly able to capture the look of real hair faultlessly, but would love to see some if you have any examples. Shader specs would be good, too.

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    Sword, scabbard and "equipage" (thank you Osric ) are done. Loosely based on the Viking sax, but also a custom design, fabricated by Neziņa's oldest brother Teodors as a gift for her coming-of age.

  12. #152
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    Full battle kit almost done, only needs her helmet now. I decided to shift the color and mood of the images some, since she's in a much grimmer and darker part of her life as she heads off into the conflict with the Swordbrother Crusaders. Slightly desaturated, a little more contrast, with the background changed dramatically to emphasize its storminess. This was done in Photoshop but I'll see what I can do in Blender's Compositor now I have a target for the CC shifts.

  13. #153

    Neziņa: The Huntress

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    Her first costume layer having been prepped for posing, I decided to take Neziņa on a hunt. This meant she needed a bow, so I built a Mollegabet-style self-bow, made of yew, stained with natural dyes and finished with a fish-oil and beeswax varnish. The bow is rigged so it bends as the string is drawn at the nock-point, so it can be animated as well as easily posed.

    The Mollegabet design is of ancient Danish origin, a tie-in with Neziņa's Viking ancestry. It has an unusual design with the ends of the limbs being shaped to form stiff "levers" that act to increase the bow's power for a given draw weight & length, much as a recurve does, though with less effect. This bow is about her height, 60", with an approximate draw weight of around 45-55 lbs @ approx 27"-28" draw. The string is a sinew and flax-fiber composite with double-reverse twist. Arrows are of ash, with owl feather 4-vane fletching and mild steel points smithed by her brother, Teodors, and bound to the shaft with the same sinew & flax cord used for the bowstring. Bone nocks.

    This is a detail at actual rendering size:

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    Her quarry is a red deer stag, one of the largest of the deer family.

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    Neziņa was a very successful hunter, her surplus often providing winter meat for less fortunate families in her village, as well as contributing leather, bone and sinew for her family's use.

  14. #154

    Neziņa: The Warrior

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    After the death of her family at the hands of the hated Swordbrothers, Neziņa leaves her home behind and joins the battle to resist the Christian invaders. Here her childhood nickname Mazs Valkyrja, "Little Valkyrie", took on a deadly reality. The Crusaders relied all too heavily on their steel shells, but their armor also slowed them down so much that the fierce young girl's flashing blades easily found the chinks. Her victories heartened the fading courage of the kurši warriors she fought with, and they began to take a serious toll among their enemies.

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    Prepping Neziņa's armor for posing was tedious but effective. I decided to leave off the gorget and helmet for this image, to keep her expression unobscured. The Swordbrother knight was a challenge in a lot of areas, mainly devising a way to do chain mail armor that could be used as a Cloth object. The method I came up with can't be animated effectively (at least not yet) but is very useful for still images. The individual links are designed to hook together properly according to a mail design I found on the web. The knight's over-tunic required a high-res sculpt to get the folds looking their best; the graphics are original but based on the Livonian Brothers of the Sword (Swordbrothers) coat of arms. With the four or five particle systems (hair, blood spray, grasses (two types), fog, and the chain mail) plus multi-res on a number of objects, the face count in this scene as a whole really soared, and it's all ray-traced using three lamps, making it necessary to render in many separate layers just to keep Blender from memory starvation. The premultiplied PNG renders were composited in Photoshop, where I also did the paint effects.

    Try as I might I could not get a consistent blood splatter effect in Blender -- trying to get it consistent across all the various materials was just not working, so most of them are painted in. But the stains on the knight's garments and most of the spray from the killing blow are Blender effects, since in these cases Blender was more effective than painting. Having decided to not animate this project (given the nature of the imagery I think it's pretty obviously way beyond my meager desktop resources!), I'm much freer to mix various techniques and apps to realize the images.

  15. #155
    Member daren's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    North Central United States
    This is not going to be an animated short? So this is more like a 3D graphic novel? how and where are you planning on publishing this work?

  16. #156
    Member loramel's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Tyrol, Austria
    Great progress here !

    Originally Posted by chipmasque View Post
    ... mainly devising a way to do chain mail armor that could be used as a Cloth object. The method I came up with can't be animated effectively (at least not yet) but is very useful for still images.
    This chain mail looks fantastic. Care to elaborate how you did this ?

    Originally Posted by chipmasque View Post
    With the four or five particle systems (hair, blood spray, grasses (two types), fog, and the chain mail) plus multi-res on a number of objects, the face count in this scene as a whole really soared, and it's all ray-traced using three lamps, making it necessary to render in many separate layers just to keep Blender from memory starvation.
    I guess I can feel your pain here . What is the actual memory consumption during a render and also what is your render time ?

    Originally Posted by chipmasque View Post
    Having decided to not animate this project (given the nature of the imagery I think it's pretty obviously way beyond my meager desktop resources!), I'm much freer to mix various techniques and apps to realize the images.
    As I said previously I really welcome this decision. We're going to see so much more from this world doing it that way.

    ps: cool new avatar btw

  17. #157
    @ daren: no specific publication plans yet, the writing is still very much a WIP, and I've been concentrating on imagery lately. I'm leaning more toward an illustrated novella rather than a graphic novel, the main difference being in the number of illustrations involved. Not a "comic" format, though.

    @ loramel: Thanks! My memory always maxes out at around 2.5 - 2.8 Gb per render (my system has only 3GB!!). This after economizing a lot on various aspects of the scene. So it's often a case of planning what I have to (and actually can) render at once, then doing these in bits and pieces that I assemble in Photoshop. Particle systems seem to be the biggest drain on system resources, mainly because it's all ray-traced. I use two Sun lamps, one as a key light and one as fill (both low energy, soft shadows), plus a low-energy hemi for additional side-fill. This varies depending on the scene but is typical. The two Suns use a medium to high Soft value and Samples rate, again adding to the memory load. I found that for these scenes, using the Octree optimization @ 512 does best, it's both fastest and memory efficient. Render times run from 10 or 15 minutes (no particle systems) to over an hour (hair!!) per "layer." I usually have to separate the particle systems for rendering, more than one or two crashes me every time. But digital repeatability saves the day!

    Moving away from an animated story is bittersweet -- I have so many scenes I want to see in action -- but at the same time I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish, or end up accomplishing nothing

    See my next post for a mini-tutorial on the chain mail process!

  18. #158

    Chain Mail as Cloth

    Doing a medieval story requires chain mail, since it is one of the first metal armors developed in the period and was used throughout most of "civilized" Europe. Modeling the basic unit in Blender is relatively simple once the interlocking orientation of the links is understood, but getting that linked "fabric" to act as cloth is another matter altogether. Unlike vegetable-based fabrics like cotton or linen, and others like leather and silk, there is absolutely no stretch in the basic units, which means that a cloth mesh used for chain mail must maintain its structural integrity to a very high degree throughout all deformations. While I didn't find a way to make it completely non-stretchable, I did find some Cloth specs that do a good job, and might be even better with more tweaking.

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    The attached .blend has all the basic ingredients needed. You'll have to bake the Cloth and enable the Particle System modifier for the plane and the cylinder.


    The first consideration is the topology of the mesh used for the mail. My basic idea was to use the Cloth mesh as an emitter, with the double chain mail links unit being the emitted Object. For this to work, the mesh must be constructed in a way that places the emitted links in the proper relationship to their neighbors, so they also link up in a continuous pattern.

    Using the base unit of two links arranged as shown,
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    I determined from experimentation that the ideal relationship of the loops in the mesh is 2:1, meaning two loops in the vertical for every one in the horizontal, though "vertical and horizontal" are relative -- in a modeled chain mail garment, you have to maintain the ratio but choose which loops are which in order to fit the design. The attached .blend uses a cylindrical mesh and a plane mesh acting as Cloth to develop & test the concept. The Particle System & Cloth specs for the plane are those I also used in Neziņa: The Warrior for the full chain mail tunic the knight wears, with some small tweaks to fit the specific situation.

    The critical factors in setting up the basic chain mail model are the mesh-loop count ratio of 2:1, the scale of the 2-link chain mail unit, and the orientation (rotation) of the mail unit. Open up the example file and tweak these parameters to see how it affects the full chain mail structure. You can also scale the base emitter mesh to adjust the orientation & position of the links, a very important technique later on once the cloth aspect is introduced.

    In the particle system the particle count is critical, since you need enough links to cover the entire garment. This can mean many thousands of particles for a large chain mail tunic, and since the system uses an Object particle (the 2-link mail unit), this can lead to a massive poly count in short order. So make good use of the Vertex Group/Density option for your chain mail, to have the links emitted only where absolutely necessary. Tweak the particle count until it's just high enough that all gaps are filled -- too many particles leads to doubling up at the mesh vertex positions.

    The particles are set to be emitted only from vertices, and from all vertices, with no random emission. Velocity is zeroed to make the particles stay on the emitter surface, and the bake range is one frame, with a lifetime sufficient to keep the particles in play for the intended cloth bake range, or for an entire animated sequence.

    Once a mesh is covered in emitted chain mail links, it can be tweaked in scale (usually the Normal x & y axes) to get the exact fit on the link pattern. Once a mesh is deformed by the Cloth sim or animation, this will change somewhat, but this illustrates the basic premise: have the mesh emit chain mail links of a certain size according to a certain pattern (set in the mesh topology), then adjust the mesh in small amounts to get the fit of the links perfect.

    A garment model presents further considerations. First, the mesh loop ratio must be preserved as much as possible during modeling, so this becomes a much more mechanical process than most garment modeling. Where at all possible, model the garment by splicing together small mesh planes with the correct topology, building up the general shape from numerous such "patches." Do not deform the mesh at this time! All deformations, such as mesh editing, sculpting or an armature, introduce alterations to the base mesh structure that should be avoided until absolutely necessary. The resulting model will be all sharp angles, but that will be remedied later on. Sleeves and pant legs are problematic where they join the main mesh -- here it's necessary to plan as well as possible to get the vertices to line up properly for merging without moving much. Everything will look very boxy, but that's good, for now.

    Once your garment is "box-modeled" from mesh patches, it's time to use the Cloth sim to make it more natural-looking. Using the Cloth specs from the example, which are designed to preserve the 2:1 mesh loops ratio as much as possible through any deformations, bake the chain mail emitter as Cloth to drape itself on your collision object in its base static pose. Do not pose or animate at this time -- this bake is only to get the boxy shape to relax onto the contours of your collision object, and make it look more like an actual garment. The bake will not be perfect, some of the box shape will be retained, but it goes a long way toward the ideal while still maintaining the mesh ratio as much as possible.

    Obviously you don't want the particles visible during the Cloth bake (unless you have a few centuries to wait ), so turn off that system's visibility in the modifier stack. Also be prepared for a relatively lengthy bake, since the chain mail emitter mesh must be fairly high density to work properly. Something to experiment with is using Multi-resolution on the emitter -- not sure if render-time vertices will emit the link objects, but it's worth a test.

    After baking, the cloth modifier is applied to the mesh, either a full-out Apply, or as a Shape(key). The Shape option is very handy as you can "revert" to the Basis (boxy) if things go awry.

    The Sculpt tool is then used with great care to smooth out the remaining angularity in the chain mail garment mesh. Here's where patience in the initial mesh-building can pay off. Using more and smaller unit "patches" to create the garment will result in a less boxy starting model, and require less smoothing after the initial bake.

    During this reshaping, check the chain mail fit now & then by turning on the particle system visibility. You'll no doubt find some areas where the mesh loops are too widely separated, or too loosely spaced. Now's the time to adjust things to the best possible fit. While somewhat tedious, this whole procedure is designed to preserve the 2:1 topology ratio in the emitter mesh, as that determines how successfully the link "fabric" is generated by the particle links.

    Once the garment model is reshaped sufficiently, it's time to once again set it up as a Cloth object using the "Chain mail" specs. Then animate or bake as usual for your target pose (or animation). Once the pose has been baked, it will be necessary to once again tweak the mesh to get the links arranged properly again, but those are usually fairly small adjustments. This can be done using Sculpt with the particle system visible, though on lower-end system this can be very slow and should be done carefully and patiently to avoid "over-tweaking" the edits.

    For animation, I doubt this process will give a perfect result, there's just too much deformation between key poses. However, if some means could be found to insure that the 2:1 mesh loop ratio is preserved to very tight tolerances throughout the animation, then it will work well. I just haven't gotten that far. Yet.

    Hope y'all find this useful. Blender on!
    Last edited by chipmasque; 13-Nov-11 at 20:45.

  19. #159
    Member kram1032's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    near Vienna
    This seems like an awesome project.
    I only skimmed through the thread up to this point but the work in it is really top quality!
    The attention to detail is outstanding.
    I'm curious to see where it goes.

    Just one thing though:
    The couple of animations you linked before apparently are on a hosting site that ceased hosting.
    There's just a simple text message saying the guy stopped because of too little resources.

  20. #160
    Thanks, kram! Yeah, uploader went belly up a while back, but I've been really busy, too busy to find another site to park those vids. But you can see two of them on my FB page:

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