Monday, April 24, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 1

The other day I mentioned that I was trying to fit some clothing to a heavy/stocky figure. In this case, it was a shirt and tie to a morphed Michael 4 figure. There are trousers, too, but they are below the desk so we can't see them.

Sketched Effects: Top effect created in Manga Studio 5,
Bottom effect created in Akvis Sketch
For this illustration, I used my standard technique of rendering the figures in Poser 11 with the Live Comic Book Preview and then played with the lights to get two views that I liked. I then layered them in Manga Studio, where I applied a variety of touch-ups and effects to get the look I wanted..

However, this time I also sent one of the images over to Akvis Sketch and created a pencil sketch look.

As with my previous attempts, the lines it produces are too thin and fine for the type of look I'm after, so I worked with that image at a smaller size than it would be printed, and then blew it up to match the dimensions of the ink lines. In this case, the final illustration was 2000 pixels wide, and the Akvis Sketch image was 500 pixels wide.

In both cases, I used a simple sketched effect from Akvis Sketch to make the background.

I think both versions of the image have something going for them, although I must say I think I personally prefer the hard ink lines of the first one. In both cases, you should probably look at a larger version of the image (click on it) to see the details more clearly.




Monday, April 17, 2017

How a 17-Year-Old CD saved me $20

I have many binders of old CDs and DVDs on my bookcase. Some of them include backups of personal files, but most are old software CDs that range from Windows 95 installations to 3D software that won't install on a modern system (like Deep Paint and Amorphium, both of which which I would really like to have a working version). More than one person has asked me why I keep them.

All those black binders hold many
a CD and DVD from years gone by!


The honest answer is two-fold:

  1. It's really not worth the effort to go through and clean them out
  2. And every now and then, they have something that comes in useful
The latter one definitely happened today.

Time to start editing video again

A client called me up and said he has some video he wants me to edit for him. He wants me to tighten up some training clips we created a few years ago (and, I think, update the titles and some text). Not a problem. I've done it before and I can do it again. 

But of course, when I did that for him, it was on my old i5 laptop, and it was a little slow processing the video and converting it from HD down to something that can stream on the Web. So, it's time to move this project over to my new laptop, which is an i7 powerhouse with 32 GB of RAM.

Over the years, I've used a few different video editors, and of course one of the very best is Adobe Premier. But... let's just be honest, it is expensive and has a lot of overhead in terms of space, requirements, and (mostly) cost. I definitely do not use it enough to justify subscribing it it. I mean, yeah, it's awesome, but it's a lot like paying for a Ferrari just so you can drive it to the store to pick up groceries. In other words, it's got more features than I need for the fairly straightforward video editing that I do. I mostly make talking head training videos and convert my father-in-law's VHS tapes to digital (they make FANTASTIC Christmas gifts!).

So, stepping down from the premier tool, I frequently choose Pinnacle Studio. It is a nifty little editor that does 99% of anything I want from it (in fact, there's really only one thing it doesn't do, and I'll cover that at another time with a workaround that can trick it into doing that, too). And it does one thing that Premier doesn't do out of the box (and again, I'll cover this another time).

The latest version is 20.5, and I've been using it since version 9. I recall selecting it because, at the time, it was the first (at least I'd ever heard of" to use a thumbnail/storyboard system for editing, as opposed to the standard timeline. I also recall that – waaaaaay back in the day – it won a technical Emmy award because it was the software of choice for editing America's Funniest Home Videos.

But I digress.

I compared the many versions of this software, and decided that I did want/need the full version with all the bells and whistles: Pinnacle Studio Ultimate 20.5.

I shopped around and found the slightly older version at amazon.com, but decided I'd rather deal directly with Pinnacle and be sure that I get the latest version, rather than something a half version old that requires an upgrade. So, this retails for $129. The sale price today was $99. And the upgrade from my ANCIENT copy of Pinnacle Studio DC 10 knocked off another $20 (yup, I had written the serial number on the product CD that I found in one of my binders -- I had dated it from June 2000).

A quick search online found me a coupon for 15% off that actually worked, making my instant download price only $68.97 (that includes tax, folks).

Not bad for a few minutes of shopping, searching for the old CD and finding the online coupon.

After I get into the project, I'll write talk about the workaround and the cool feature that hinted at today.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Poser: Fitting Clothes to a Heavily Morphed Figure

I did not write this, but it's important to remember, so I'm copying this from the Renderosity Forum so I can find it easily. This was originally written by 3dcheapskate.

Select the figure you're trying to conform to, do Figure > Spawn Full Body Morph..., and give the morph a name starting with an exclamation mark (e.g. "!MyFBM"). A new morph will be added to the figure's set to zero. Don't touch it.

Load the clothing item and conform it, then do Figure > Copy Morphs From..., and select ONLY the FBM you just spawned (starting the name with an ! means it appears at the top of the list - that just makes it easy to find)

Dial the newly added "!MyFBM" morph on the BODY actor of the clothing to 1.0, and it should fit much better. Note: If the clothing has already picked up some super-conforming morphs from the figure you may have to dial those back to zero.

More details on the "Tips/Tricks/Tools for getting the best fit of clothes to the body - Suggestions and help with general ways of getting the best fit of clothing items to the bodies" thread over in CGbytes Poser forum, post #20 onwards - here's a link to post #21 of that thread http://www.cgbytes.com/community/forums.aspx?g=posts&t=115158&p=2#post125269

Monday, March 20, 2017

First test with Akvis Sketch

As I said last week, I finally took the plunge and invested in Akvis Sketch as a post-processing tool to create images that look like they were hand drawn. I have a project coming up and I think this would be a good look for it.

I paid for the commercial license, which runs $154 -- but I was able to get %15 off by posting links to the software on my blog and then requesting a coupon code. The software publisher responded overnight, and i got the software for $130.90. BTW: The non-commercial license is less expensive, so you can buy it and then upgrade later. It won't save you any money (the upgrade will cost the same as the full commercial license, but you do get the benefit of trying the software out before you pay for the commercial license). And, of course, there is a 10-day trial so you can test drive it before you buy (and make sure it runs on your hardware).

Copyright 2017 Mike Mitchell
Render from Daz Studio, converted to line art with Akvis Sketch


These are my first "serious" tests with the software. As usual, it's a composite of multiple passes. I created multiple layers of the image in Photoshop and then masked out the different parts I wanted to work on. You see, I wanted a darker pass on the dress, lighter on the face (I also turned off cross-hatching on the face) and a different pass on the hands and gun. The background is also on a separate layer -- I just splashed some colors around and then ran Akvis Sketch on it. I wanted bigger strokes, so I actually scaled up the background about 200% so I could get nice, big strokes on it. I also added some touch-ups along the edges and some extra lines (her elbow bend and chin, for example) to give it more definition. All in all, not bad for something I'm just playing with at this moment. I think this could be a useful tool in my production artwork and I'm looking forward to working with it more.

Copyright 2017 Mike Mitchell
Render from Daz Studio, converted to line art with Akvis Sketch
then converted to b&w.

I worked in color and then converted to gray scale so we could see what it would look like in both formats. What do you guys think? Which is your favorite? (NOTE: these are worth clicking on to see at a larger size – you'll get a better look at the line work).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Delving into Akvis Sketch

I'm finishing up my behind-the-scenes tests with the trial version of Akvis Sketch, and will soon have some art to share with you. In the meantime, I thought this video might be of interest to anyone thinking about adding sketch tools to their repertoire.



This is a cool video, but I think it barely scratches the surface of what you can do with this product. I hope to demonstrate that to you all shortly.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Akvis Sketch to my Digital Toolbox

To be blunt, there are so many programs that "convert photos to sketches" that I consider them to be a dime a dozen (although most hardly charge that little). Photoshop has plenty of tools that all do a decent job of outlining the figure and adding sketchy lines. The problem is, none of them produce production-level work. By that, I mean they all come out looking like a photo that has been run through a filter.

While that's fine for hobbyists, it doesn't fly when you're trying to create something for print that actually looks like a sketch instead of a photo that's been run through a filter.

Anyone who follows my art at all knows that I'm a big fan of the India Ink Photoshop Plug-In by Flaming Pear (I use it to create the woodcut/engraved art used in my Western illustrations), which does a fantastic job once you get a handle on how to use it.

I've spent a long time looking for something that will give me control similar to what is available in the Sketch Render Designer in Poser, where I get a lot of control of edges, angle, density, and all of the little tweaks that make it look more organic and less procedural (in other words, more hand-drawn and less computerized).

With a few tweaks, Poser can turn the crisp line art render
of the Live Comic Book Preview into something
that looks hand sketched... almost.

I'm not bashing the other tools like Filter Forge or any FotoSketch or any of those items. They do a good job – just not the job I need done. 

Anyone who knows me is fully aware of the fact that I do not just jump in and buy new software. I test it... and test it again... and test it again to see if it's going to get the job done. That's why I'm a big fan of free trial software. I need to shake something down before I will spend money on it. One of the tools I've downloaded multiple times (one of the bonuses of having multiple computers) is Akvis Sketch.

This is a commercial tool that includes settings for edges, angles, midtones and things like that. In other words, it offers a degree of control that I need to attempt getting professional results. 

I have used the demo version for a few samples, and have decided that it is worth the $154 business license (I did consider buying the Home License while testing it and then upgrading later, but I think I've seen enough to know that this could wind up in my professional work very soon). 

I will post new artwork, using Akvis Sketch, as soon as I've got something worth looking at.

BY THE WAY: Sketch is just one of the many cool filter packages available. If you're at all interested in taking your digital art to the next level, you really should check out the other fine tools available from www.Akvis.com.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Something Sketchy

I'm actually not a fan of artwork that looks overly sketchy. By that, I don't mean dodgy or shady, but just having lots of uneven lines and a rough finish.

Harry Kirchner, 1935
www.pulpartists.com/Kirchner.html 
I know several artists who love the look, saying that it contains a dynamic energy. And I agree – when done correctly it can look great. But, most of the time it isn't done correctly (at least not to my eye). In those cases, it looks sloppy to me.

Now, I'm a huge fan of many of the interior illustrators from the old Pulp Magazines (like this Harry Kirchner illustration below). But illustrators like him maintained control of their work that I find missing in many modern "sketchy" artists (and I'm not going to name any because I'm not slamming them for being bad artists, I just don't find it attractive to my sensibilities).

I'm not being wishy-washy or trying to protect anyone's feelings, it's just that I recognize the difference between not liking something and claiming that thing is not good. It's a matter of taste, and in this case, it's very subjective.

That being said, however, there are times when I need to achieve that look in my own digital work. Sometimes the source material calls for me to recreate a work-in-progress or something rough, rather than the more-crisp noir style I've been experimenting with.

To that end, I've been playing around with some new tools, which I'll debut later this month. In the meantime, though, I thought you guys might be interested in taking a look at how I expanded the noir style by using the Sketch Designer in Poser 11. BTW:, the Sketch Designer is available in both the base version and the pro version of the software, and even goes back  several years. I think it's even included with the Poser Debut software, but I won't swear to that.

Officer looking at a notebook.
Illustration for the Collectors' Club Newsletter #120

This is okay, as far as it goes, but the edges are still far too crisp for this type of work. This is a nice stepping stone toward the look I'm going for, but it's just that: a step on the path to creating a look that is closer to hand sketching.

I'll cover more about this (and the Sketch Designer) next week.