Friday, December 14, 2018

Poser: A discussion to give me some ideas

I'm currently working on knocking out some comic pages for Days Gone, and I'm about to dive into my next project with some character designs for Princess of the Trees 2: Heart of the Forest. As such, I'm really struggling to get clothing to work with highly morphed/stylized figures.

Based on advice from the Daz3D forums, I'm checking out some discussions over at the Smith Micro Forums, and I'm finding some interesting discussions about the Fitting Room (a reasonably new feature in Poser) and doing some other rather extreme approaches like merging clothes and figure meshes.

The base discussion is here:

Here are some tips from the article (copied in case the link goes dead):

There are Fitting Room Helpers for Dawn and Pauline (I believe they allow those figures to use V4 clothing):


  • Mesh Combination Method (from sgbryan):

    • Definitely agree about the copy morphs from command. It is even more powerful after you use the Dials to Single Morph command.
    • That is how I put my characters together - Load base mesh (will ALL morphs); load character; fiddle about with dials; Dials to Single Morph; load clothing; Copy Morphs From; then either reduce the polys, or merge figure & clothing into 1 mesh; delete unused morphs; reload expressions.
    • End result - lightweight, clothed figure ready to go to work.
    • (someone else observed that sometimes this messes with hair, so perhaps it's best to add the hair after combining the clothes and base figure?)
    • (it looks like Dials to Single Morph is very important)

    Another possible tool (from morkonan)?

    • I suppose that would be nice. But, there are some third-party tools out there that are perfect for many things a vendor would want in regards to conversion capability. I like Autogroup Editor, helps immensely with grouping and preserves the UV (is somewhat difficult to fine tune individual polys in groups by hand,though), Quick Conform, for basic quick rigging transfers and editing out bones (tweaking necessary, though, using the Joint Editor), and Morcloth, for morph transfers. (Though, it takes a bit of fine-tuning, but it yields serviceable results that can be manually tweaked).
    • If SM could make the Fitting Room more powerful and could exceed the results already available using third-party apps, without significantly increasing their costs or ours, I'm all for adding super-powers to the Fitting Room! :)

    A note about copying morphs from figure to clothes (from viters):

    • My normal practice for "Copy Morphs from" is as follows:
    • Select the Morphs to copy to the clothing on the figure. We all know by now that this works but sometimes is pretty rough.
    • Then go to the clothing.
      • Click on the little arrow behind one of the morphs and select "Edit morph"=> This opens the morph brush.
      • Fine tune the morph to your liking.
      • Mostly that is some smoothing, or some "fitting" to get the correct "offset" between clothing and figure.
      • (Select by vertex group or by material zone, and you have even more control).
      • => Done.
    • Rarely this takes over a minute per morph, and I like the manual control to fine tune things.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2018

    I made the "Poser Staff Pick of the Week" list again!

    I got another virtual pat on the back yesterday!

    Once again one of my illustrations was selected as a "Poser Staff Pick of the Week" at the Renderosity online community. Considering there are thousands of Poser-based illustrations posted there each week, this is a pretty big honor (and the second time it's happened, the first being in June 2017 with a Ms. Marvel illustration).

    This time it happened for a simpler illustration that is a character design for the the up-coming comics project, "Princess of the Trees 2: Heart of the Forest." Read other posts for more about this project with writer Roger Keel.

    Here's this week's pick: Arton + Bow 3

    Arton + Bow 3
    © 2018 Mike Mitchell

    You can see the entire list of illustrations selected here:

    You'll probably need a Renderosity log-in to see the whole list, but trust me, I'm in some pretty amazing company (in fact, if I'm being completely honest, although I think this is an interesting illustration with a good expression and some decent lighting, this isn't the best thing I've done lately).

    And before anyone asks, no: there is not a prize or award. It's just an honor to be recognized by my peers.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018

    Poser Tip: Copy Body Morphs to Clothing

    I'm working on a new character design and I'm having the usual problems getting the clothes to fit my figure's body. I knew there was a way to do it, so a quick search yielded this cool video.

    Short Summary:

    1. Load figure and clothing in Poser.
    2. Conform the clothing item to the figure ( Menu: Figure > Conform To... ).
    3. Select the clothing.
    4. Select Menu: Figure > Copy Morphs From...
    5. From the pop-up window, select only the morphs you need copied (you can usually ignore body parts you don't use, like head, hands, feet).
    6. The morphs associated with the body parts will then be available when working with the clothing.

    Friday, October 12, 2018

    Days Gone 19: Poser Tip – Cloth Room Settings

    I'm doing some experimentation with a dynamic version of the hero's chest harness, and in doing so I came across these useful settings for the Poser Cloth Room:

    I found this online at a discussion group. You can find it here:

    My first attempt at using a dynamic harness.
    Not bad, but it looks too thin to be leather.
    Definitely needs some more work.

    For those of you unfamiliar with this feature, Poser has the ability to simulate dynamic cloth. That is, it creates an animation wherein the cloth folds and flows across the body in an attempt to create realistic folds and flow with the body. It's a neat feature (and there is now a plug-in for Daz Studio that does the same thing), but it's very tricky to get it looking just right.

    NEXT TIME: More about the dynamic harness experiments

    Friday, October 5, 2018

    Days Gone 18 - Panel Set-up, part 1 (Fitting the Frame)

    Now that I've got my first render complete, it's time to see how it fits into the panel shape I have already defined in Manga Studio (Clip Studio Paint). As you can see, the slight oversize render makes it fit darned near perfectly in the frame.

    Render pasted into the frame in Manga Studio 5 EX
    (aka Clip Studio Paint Pro).

    I'm more or less happy with the size and shape, but his neck looks a little weird at this angle and I think I need to make him either bigger or smaller. Or, I might start small and then progressively make him bigger in each of the four panels.

    I'm going to have to play around with this a bit more to decide what I want it to do in terms of composition and emotional progression.

    Next Up: More about panels

    Wednesday, October 3, 2018

    Days Gone 18 - Fight or Flight

    I'm getting deeper into the page, particularly these four panels, and here I hit a problem that is one I frequently encounter with 3D-based artwork: one of the wardrobe pieces doesn't fit the way I want it to fit. In this case, it's the Epoch top (the leather chest harness he is wearing), and in this panel you can clearly see down at the bottom that the strap is folding over.

    Red background and blue frame added in
    Photoshop to make it easier to see the
    render's dimensions.

    Now, I don't care if this might be technically accurate in the way that leather straps hang (I don't think it is, but they do flow and fold based on the way your body is moving – and no, I will not tell you how I know that). In this case, it just looks weird.

    As I've said, this is a comic book not a movie. I am not striving toward 100% realism. So, I'm faced with a problem that I call Fight or Flight.

    Do I spend time in Poser fighting with it (I've already spent about half an hour with the built-in morphs and controls to get it as good as it looks now) with a magnet/deformer? I could easily set one up and try to twist it (I could also try some of the simpler adjustment tools).  Or do I just give up (flight) and fix it in Photoshop afterwards?

    Now, if this were his hair or some part of his britches or armor, I probably would spend the time to fix it in Poser. But, honestly? This is a simple strap across his belly/lower chest. I can do a quick edit and resolve the problem.

    A few quick lines are all it takes to fix this problem.
    That makes it not worth the effort to fix the geometry in Poser.
    (Potential edit shown in blue line)

    So, rather than get hung up on something that could take me a full day to fix, it's time to move on and worry about lights and his position in the frame. 

    Next Time: Panel Set-up, part 2 (Making it fit the frame)

    Sunday, September 30, 2018

    Days Gone 17 - Panel Set-up, part 1 (Poser Render Settings)

    As shown in the last post, I need to match my render size to the printed size. Since I'm working at 800 dpi, this means even slim panels have a lot of pixels. If you're familiar with my Noir Style Tutorial you will remember that having a lot of pixels is a very good thing because it gives Poser and Manga Studio (Clip Studio Paint) the pixels they need to show the detail that I want to work with.

    So, in Manga Studio I used some rulers to measure the panels. Across two pages, I have four panels with the identical size. In this case, the dimensions are very close to:
    • Horizontal: 2.65 in (2110 pixels)
    • Vertical: 5.27 in (4220 pixels)
    So I'm going to:
    1. Open the Poser file for pages 2-3.
    2. Use the hierarchy editor to hide all the items I don't want (in this case, everything but the hero).
    3. Set up a new camera (focused on the hero).
    4. Set the render dimensions to roughly match the numbers above.
    When I say "roughly," I mean that I'm going to make the panel a little bigger so I have some extra "bleed" room to move the figure around a little bit. I also might bring back the ceiling of the cave, if I feel it adds to the image more than an abstract sketched background.

    Click to expand image.
    Open the Hierarchy Editor under the Window Menu (gold highlight).
    Click on the eyeball icon for each item to make it invisible.
    In the screenshot above, I'm about halfway finished hiding the items I don't want for the next panel. This makes the scene load faster and there is less strain on the memory, so everything responds faster. Also, since the item is hidden, I can't accidentally click on it. 

    Keep in mind you will need to click on each piece and part. In this picture, you can see that I've successfully hidden the dragon but the cool back ridge scales are still visible. As I finished this, I have decided to keep only the hero, the rock he is sitting on, the ceiling visible. And as I get into working this scene, I may move those items around or hide them again. I won't know until I get deeper into it.

    Camera Lock
    The first step I'm going to describe is optional: you may not need to do this.

    With the Hierarchy Editor open, and the "Cameras" checkbox ticked, I select the Main Camera, then I go to Objects > Lock and turn off the checkmark next to the word Lock. 

    I always lock my main camera, so if you didn't do that in a previous step,
    you can skip these instructions/advice.

    In the past, I have lost work because I accidentally moved my camera between renders. Since this process is built around layering images, it is essential that the camera not move between renders. These days, once I have my camera where I want it, I always lock it. This simple step has saved me a lot of time and heartache.

    Camera Settings
    Now that I can manipulate the camera, I rotate it and frame my figure from an almost completely straight-on angle. Once I have the hero more or less framed in the window, it's time to set the render dimensions. The can be accessed under Render > Render Dimensions (or by pressing SHFT+CTRL+Y). That will open this window:

    Enter the new dimensions. Make sure the "Render to Exact Resolution" option is selected.
    Make sure the "Constrain aspect ratio" is NOT selected.

    Note the settings above, including the two items that need to be checked/unchecked. After completing this, your active window dimensions will change shape. As always with Poser, the area behind the gray bands to the sides will not render. They are there so you can see what's out of camera, and they help you determine where unexpected shadows might be coming from.

    I highlighted the active camera area in the image below.

    With the render dimensions set, I now have
    a tall, narrow camera view that is the same shape and size
    as my final panel dimensions.

    This is a tall, narrow space, and since I really to focus on his face (and possibly upper arm – I'm toying with the idea of adding some hand motions to the next four panels as a means of enhancing his emotions – we'll see how it goes). Even before I get into the finer details of posing him, I'm pretty sure his leg is too high from this angle, and it covers up too much of his chest and prevents me from using a lower camera angle. After I get the camera distance set (how close I am to the figure, and which focal length I plan to use for the camera) I will probably need to adjust both his arm and knee on his right side.

    A few small adjustments to the camera position helped, but not enough. I also adjusted the focal length to 90mm. This is a variation of a standard portrait setting (typically, portraits are shot at 70mm or 100mm) that is designed to help flatten the nose a little and not widen the face (if you'd like to see a great example of how the lens settings can change the shape of a human head, check this out).

    This is almost right, but his forearm and bracer are huge. There are also
    problems with the line thicknesses. This means I have different values
    for different body parts in the Materials Room.

    Time for more adjustments. The forearm and bracer are HUGE, and those thick outlines (which helped in the long shot of the previous page) look outrageous here. So, I went to the Materials Room and set his shoulders and the bracer to a smaller value (Geometric_Edge = 0.003). Then I scaled down the bracer by 3% and tweaked a few other scale settings.

    Click to see the scale adjustments I made for the bracer.
    Also note the thinner outlines on his shoulders.

    This is looking better. The arm isn't so exaggerated, the lines are tighter against his body. I do see the need to tweak his chest harness to his side, and possibly the angle of his neck. But all in all, this is getting close enough for me to do a test render and see if it fits in the comic panel the way I want it to.

    Next Time: Mock-ups and using the Sketch Render as a proofing tool

    Friday, September 28, 2018

    Days Gone 16 - Panel Set-up, part 1 (using the Ruler Tool)

    Recap: The script is written, I've sketched out the thumbnails and set up the "roughs" of the pages in Manga Studio 5 EX (also known as Clip Studio Paint – they are basically the same software). The roughs have the panels shaped and sized the way I want them and the lettering is roughly where I think it will go based on the thumbnails.

    So, now it's time to go back to Poser and render the images that will serve as the basis of my artwork.

    Now, the two previous "panels" I worked on were full-page illustrations (page 1 is a single page showing the mountain, pages 2-3 is a two-page spread showing the opening scene inside the cave). This made it very easy to work on them because I didn't have to worry much about frame borders or anything like that. And, because they were the first pages, whatever I did would look fine because it's the first thing you're going to see.

    But, moving forward I have to worry about keeping my inking line thicknesses consistent. I can't have a character with really thick outlines on panel one and then thin outlines in panel two, then back to thick for panel three. It needs to be roughly consistent between panel to panel to panel (and throughout the story, really).

    Even though they are called "roughs," these pages are 100%
    size and resolution with all the frames drawn out and where I want
    them. Text, balloons and that background shading is for placement
    purposes and will be tweaked prior to publication.

    Measuring the Panels
    This brings me back to why I created the page "roughs" in Manga Studio (aka Clip Studio Paint). I need to know the approximate panel size so I can set up a matching camera in Poser Pro 11. But there's sort of a problem... I did this so long ago I don't recall what the panel sizes are, and if there's a way to click on a panel and see its dimensions, I haven't yet figured out how to do it. I could just print it out and use a physical ruler, but I'm a little concerned that the printer might shrink or grow the page a little to fit on the paper (even though I told it not to – and in the end, it turns out it did print correctly, but I didn't know that until I made the in-software measurements to confirm it).

    So, I needed to use the Ruler Tool in Manga Studio.

    Here are the steps I used to measure the panel and get the measurements I need to set up the render window and cameras in Poser:

    I edited the rulers and provided the emphasis
    to make this easier to read online.
    Using the Ruler tool:

    1. Select the Ruler icon from the tools, then select the type of ruler you want (I chose the Linear ruler).
    2. Select the page, then select the frame (or whatever) you want to measure.
    3. Create a new layer (not shown in screenshot)
    4. Click and drag the ruler from where you want to start and stop. Release the button.
    5. A ruler will appear on the new layer (if you need to change the units (pixels or inches), you can do so on the tool details – see pic below).
    6. A ruler will appear and you can then zoom in and read the ruler.

    Before you start drawing the ruler, select the desired units.

    In my case, I wanted both pixels and inches, so I made two rulers for each direction: horizontal and vertical. Note, these rulers are very small and very light, so in the screenshot above, I edited them to make them easier to read. They are actually a very light turquoise/cyan.

    In this case, the dimensions are approximately:

    • Horizontal: 2.65 in (2110 pixels)
    • Vertical: 5.27 in (4220 pixels)
    I don't need these to be precise. I just need a good estimate (I'll explain why next time). Now that I have those numbers, I can go into Poser and use them to create the cameras for the next scene.

    NEXT UP: Panel Set-up, part 2 (render dimensions)

    Wednesday, September 26, 2018

    Days Gone - Project Contents

    Now that my work schedule has finally settled into something more of a routine, I'm finding time to actually get back to work on this "short" comic project that was supposed to be done about a year ago (as I write this). As I got back to work, I took a glance through my old blog posts (some of which may serve as supplemental material when I get around to publishing this as a comic), and I realized that I should finally collect the individual posts into a single list.

    For this, I think I'm actually going to sort the articles by topic, rather than just include a numeric/chronological list. I'll try to keep this updated, but you can always click on the "Days Gone" link under the Topics (keywords) list to the right. And, by the way, if you want to read a chronological listing of the articles, you can use the topic heading listed above.

    Days Gone Posts

    Project Workflow & Creating a Comic
    These are primarily about organizing the project. Ideas and observations about character design and about actually making the comic. This includes everything from sketching thumbnails to buying the 3D elements used in the scenes (wardrobe and sets) and using the software to put it all together.

    Technical (Software Use: Poser, Manga Studio / Clip Studio Paint)
    Day-to-day use of the software is discussed above. These posts are detailed, technical issues or problems focusing directly on the use of the software itself, as well as links to resources and tutorials that may not be directly flagged as "days gone" in the keywords, but were discovered as part of my process.

    Art Samples / Works In Progress
    Art and character design, as well as illustrations used in other projects (and some work that I did before "officially" starting the Days Gone project).

    Sunday, September 23, 2018

    Noir and then 1: Moon Wolf

    Before getting back to my work on Days Gone, I did a "quickie" illustration to flex my artistic muscles a little; it's been a while since I've had time to work on my comics project, so I decided to whip up a little illustration just for the exercise.

    As with my b&w workflow, this is rendered in Poser Pro 11 and cleaned/finished in Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint (aka Manga Studio 5 EX). The figure is Predatron's really cool Lorez Masked Hero, which has a really nice, old-school build that is perfect for this type or art.

    Moon Wolf © 2018 Mike Mitchell
    Just a quickie illustration to get back into the swing of things
    before diving into the next two pages of Days Gone.

    Friday, September 14, 2018

    High-End Laptop for Graphics

    Over at Facebook, Brian Haberlin asked for a recommendation on a gaming laptop so he can do some 3D on the road. I wrote him a fairly long response based on my purchasing decisions back in 2018.

    Brian, the gaming laptop is only for travel, any good gaming laptop will do (for gaming/3D work, I would suggest thinking about a 17-inch display). If you ever plan to use it at home, though, you should seriously look into an Alienware laptop and then combine it with the Alienware Graphics Adapter. This combo lets you use external video cards with your laptop.

    I don't do any high-end gaming; my system is set up for graphics. Here is my setup (purchased in 2016), and I'm very happy with it: Alienware 17 laptop: Windows 10 Pro, 32GB RAM | 256GB SSD | 1TB HD | Intel Core i7-6700HQ (Quad-Core, 6MB Cache 3.5GHz) | Onboard Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5 1028 CUDA Cores | Alienware Graphics Amplifier: GeForce GTX 980 ti 6GB (006G-P4-4996-KR)  2816 CUDA Cores. This outputs to a pair of matched 27-inch ASUS gaming monitors.

    I use it to run DazStudio, Poser, Photoshop, Manga Studio and a graphics tablet (not listing brand since I'm about to upgrade to something cooler).

    Stock photo of the Alienware 17 Laptop.

    Stock photo of the rear of the Alienware Graphics Adapter.
    This is an external USB hub that houses a full-size desktop graphics card
    powered by a dedicated 450W power supply.

    The laptop is high-end, but the Alienware Graphics Adapter (AGA) takes it to another level. The AGA is an external box that costs about $180; it has its own power supply that is dedicated to running an external video card (which you provide – it can take almost any card you want to buy). There are four USB ports on the back where you can plug in your peripherals. The AGA connects to the laptop via a single proprietary cable, which means that in addition to giving you the graphics boost, it also acts as a USB hub. When the AGA is connected, the laptop’s internal video card is shut off and it uses the external card to drive everything (I have read rumors that some gamers have tricked it out to use both cards if they are the same type, but I seriously doubt that is stable). For 3D creation, I have found it to be a rock-solid investment.

    Friday, September 7, 2018

    CLIP STUDIO PAINT WEBINAR / Digital Inking Techniques with Brian Haberlin

    This afternoon I had the distinct pleasure of attending another Webinar by comic artist Brian Haberlin. The time, he provided a free one-hour session discussing digital inking with Clip Studio Paint (the program I use under its previous name (but same features) as Manga Studio 5 EX).

    This was an amazing demonstration. It moved very fast, but covered some fantastic tools and techniques that are already working their way into my practices (they are that simple and that good).

    The presenters (the software company that makes Clip Studio Paint) did a fantastic job of putting the recording up on YouTube about 12 hours after the Webinar ended. Amazing turnaround. You can view it here:

    On my second viewing, I made some time code notations so I (and you as well, dear readers) can quickly find what you're looking for:

    • Color Flatting
    • 6 min - Make transparency based on brightness
    • 8 min - Make Reference layer
    • 8:30 - Close and Fill (Bucket Tool / Close and fill
    • 11:30 - More pen properties (do not exceed line in reference layer)
    • 13:20 - More about gaps
    • 14:05 - Lasso Fill tool
    • 15:00 - Finding the Lasso fill (it's under Direct Draw)
    • Inking Example
    • 15:20 - Inking example (he said its Conan, but it's Tarzan)
    • 15:45 - Importance of resolution (400 - 800 dpi)
    • 19:55 - Importance of not doing too much detail
    • 20:45 - Use Lasso fill tool to fill in lots of blacks
    • Use ANY tool as an eraser
    • 23:20 - Use your pen as an eraser
    • 23:45 - Paint with "transparent" pixels (erase)
    • 24:20 - Use x key to swap between black and white colors
    • 24:45 - Inking Style: Puller vs Thrower
    • Adding Tones
    • 28:15 - Adding tones intro
    • 28:28 - Create new layer, select areas with lasso tool
    • 28:55 - Drag over the halftone
    • 29:10 - Change resolution (density) of a halftone
    • 31:00 - Ink with a halftone pattern
    • Creating a custom brush Part 1 (cloud effect)
    • 32:15 - Create a custom brush
    • 32:27 - You can make brushes you cannot make in Photoshop
    • 33:00 - Select region with marquee (rectangle)
    • 33:15 - Register Material (settings: Use Brush as tip shape)
    • 33:40 - Adding keywords for search
    • 34:10 - Pattern Brush example (note the curves)
    • 34:38 - Copy an existing brush and apply your new tip (art)
    • 35:30 - Cloud brush in action

    • Creating a custom brush Part 2 (other shapes)
    • 37:56 - Intro to other shapes
    • 38:30 - Tricks to making new brushes
    • 38:48 - Use "Convert Layer" (right-click clayer panel) to gray
    • 38:58 - IMPORTANT tip about color vs gray layers
    • 39:28 - Walk through the brush creation phase again
    • 40:30 - Using the brush examples
    • File Objects (aka Instancing)
    • 41:05 - File Objects intro
    • 41:38 - Create shape on its own layer
    • 41:47 - Make selection, and convert to file object
    • 42:12 - Duplicate layer, move and scale, etc.
    • 42:55 - Refine and "propogate" (e.g. copy/replace)
    • 43:20 - Change shape into a tree
    • 44:12 - Back to original image, see all the trees
    • Q&A Session
    • 44:47 - Start the Q&A session
    • 45:19 - Canvas Sizes
    • 46:23 - My Question! Where to find Lasso Fill tool 
    • 46:58 - Show again how to switch from white paper to transparency
      (Edit > Brightness to transparency)
    • 47:44 - Advice on switching form traditional to digital inking
    • 48:20 - Show some distortion/transforming tools
    • 48:35 - Advice: Don't ink too much detail!
    • 49:55 - Recommends the G-Pen or Cel pen
    • 50:28 - Do you think of digital inks differently than traditional inks?
    • 51:22 - School vs practice vs Social Media? 
    • 52:55 - More difficult? Drawing or idea?
    • 54:05 - Equipment you use?
    • 54:57 - Wrap up
    • 55:28 - Links to resources
    BTW: I also provided these in the comments of the video, and they actually converted to links. So if you go to the video you can click on the time code and it will jump you to the appropriate topic.

      Friday, August 17, 2018

      Days Gone 15 - Large Scene Management and the Poser Hierarchy Editor

      This is one of the largest scenes I've created in a long while. There are LOTS of elements and lots of pieces to them. If you've ever used Poser with a large scene, you know that it can be difficult (and frustrating) to use the Hierarchy Editor to find a specific nested node (in lay speak, that means you have to look through a complicated list to find something, like the hair, that is buried deep in the list of an item's editable properties).

      A rare color view of my scene (note the pink light on the hero:
      This sort of trick makes it easy to spot which light is hitting which surface
      (and since I work in b&w output, the light color doesn't matter as
      far as the final render is concerned).

      You can also see a little of the complicated Hierarchy Editor, which shows
      a list of everything in the scene.

      The way I navigate this long, complicated list is to put really long names with dashes (or other characters) in the item name property. So, instead of looking for Nirona, Michael 4 (Hero) and the Dragon, I'm looking for:

      • V4 Nirona +++++++++++++++++ V4 Nirona
      • Michael 4 = = = = = = = = = = = = =  Hero M4
      • DAZ Dragon 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - DAZ Dragon 3
      A compressed look at the items in the scene, as shown in the Hierarchy Editor.
      Also notice that I mark one item with the words, HIDE, which is a very
      useful note for later. I also used numbers (2 ----- 2, or 1 ----- 2) to
      mark which items are near each other.

      These long names really stand out in the list and (so far) do not seem to have any negative effect on application performance. Here's a screenshot of the Hierarchy Editor window, and although it's not highlighted, you can see that I also mark specific items of interest that are nested inside a figure. In this case, I've added a bunch of dashes to the M4 figure's hair, making it easy to find in case I need to make a quick fit adjustment.

      Click to see it in more detail.

      I know a few people who find this to be VERY weird. They like short names and don't want to clutter things up. I, on the other hand, find that this is a very useful method of finding what I want very quickly.

      NEXT TIME: Moving on to the next steps

      Wednesday, August 15, 2018

      Days Gone 14 - Building a Better Cave

      Whew! Sorry for the looooong delay between posts. I've just been busy with other stuff and have really fallen behind on both the comic book work and on posting updates.

      As promised, here's a quick post about the "set design" for the interior scene. I put that phrase in quotes for a definite reason. You see (at least I hope you will), this is not a full set design as I would make for an animated film. I didn't worry about walls or even exact locations. I put stuff where I needed it so it would fall where I wanted it in the main camera (for those of you who are just now joining us, I'm working in Poser 11 Pro).

      Here's the final picture, which shows everything where it is.

      Here's a look at the basic scene that will take up pages 2 and 3.
      I marked two landmarks in the scene: 1. Hero Rock and 2. Treasure Chest.

      Here's a shot from another angle that gives you an idea of how I moved things around to fit them into the viewport.

      This is an oblique view, looking down at the scene. In some cases, I have
      scaled objects to increase their size so they would look better from a distance.
      The ceiling is hidden in this view.

      As you can see here, I'm being loosey-goosie with the location of objects; my goal was to fit them into the scene and frame the shot I wanted. As such, I had to play around with their scale. The gold coins in front are scaled down to 75%, but the coin piles in the rear are scaled up to 130%, and the treasure chest is a whopping 194%.

      View from the side. You can see that I also played around with the y-axis.
      By that, I mean there is no ground plane visible. I raised things up or lowered
      them down as needed to get the framing I wanted.
      The different scales were needed to get the sense of space that I was striving for in this scene. I fully expect that I will have to move things around again for other panels. If they were going to be walking around the set a lot, this approach would be problematic, but fortunately there are no other long shots that cover the rest of the cave. From this point on, I'll be working with medium and close-ups, so the fragmented construction of the set shouldn't be an issue.

      Top-down shot. That big black blob near the Hero Rock is actually the cave ceiling.
      I thought about having it cover the entire scene, but that just blocked all the lights
      and made things a lot harder to work with. Having a small prop in front of the camera
      worked out a lot better for multiple technical reasons (most having to do with lighting).
       I was inspired to try this approach from a variety of sources:

      • I read an interview about the creation of the first Incredibles movie, wherein the director said they only built the parts of sets that would actually appear on camera (much the way most movie sets are built).
      • A visit to the Houston Natural History museum several years ago: We saw an exhibit of the props from The Lord of the Rings movies, and there was a set recreation that showed how they used forced perspective to blend the actors together with the scenery so that the Hobbits could be farther away (and thus look smaller) and Gandalf would be closer to the camera to make him look bigger.
      • My old college film classes where we saw how they used matte paintings (a sheet of glass with a painting on it to put in something that wasn't really there (this is why I chose to do the ceiling/cave roof the way I did).

      Here's a few videos on Forced Perspective to give you an idea of what I saw at the museum.

      Not a perfect example, but very good advice.

      And here's another one, that shows how the masters did it in the LoTR movies.

      This special feature shows the same table set that I saw at the museum.
      It was a very cool display, as we could walk around and see it from multiple directions,
      then move to the camera position and see it from that POV.

      And, just one last thing. Yes, since I am working in 3D, I find just as much useful information from filmmakers and photographers as I do from comic book and traditional artists.

      NEXT TIME: More on developing my establishing shot

      Friday, August 10, 2018

      Days Gone 13 - The Hero Makes a Cameo

      Haven't had time to work on Days Gone for a while now, but the other day I needed an illustration for a mailing label for the Collectors' Club Newsletter, so I took an old illustration and colorized it.

      © 2018 Mike Mitchell

      Not a bad job for a quickie. To be honest, I had expected to make his trousers blue or brown, but I found that they looked nice when I matched them to the red arm bands. I don't think these are the definitive colors I'll use when I create cover art for the book, but it was still a fun exercise in digital coloring.

      Saturday, July 28, 2018

      Random Barbarian Image Post 3

      I created this as a mailing label for a fanzine.
      The figure was created by compositing multiple renders created in Poser Pro 11, and then doing clean up in combination of Photoshop and Manga Studio 5EX (aka Clip Studio Paint). For no reason in particular, I decided to work in color this time, rather than black & white. I don't think it's perfect, but I do think it looks okay.

      Conan the Barbarian © 2018 Marvel Comics
      Image © 2018 Mike Mitchell

      Saturday, June 23, 2018

      Comics Talk: The Time I Wandered Away from Comics

      I was discussing comics on Facebook earlier today and wound up writing the following response to someone who said that he quit reading comics a long time ago because he didn't like the "to be continued stories" that were popularized by Marvel Comics. He much preferred the stand-alone stories of the old DC Comics.

      The following is based what I wrote (I fleshed it out a bit):

      "Back in the day" I loved the continued stories at Marvel Comics. It allowed for more complex stories and really built the mythology that is modern comics storytelling in a shared universe. For me, the thing that killed my love of CURRENT comics is the MEGA EVENT. It all started with Secret Wars, which was okay. It was novel at the time and I liked it. 

      But... then along came SW2, Contest of Champions, Marvel Mutant Massacre, and tons of other series-changing events. And then DC got in on the act. I think it was the whole Batman Earthquake mega storyline that got me tired of the gimmicks (the entire arc, including Cataclysm, Aftershock, Road to No Man's Land, No Man's Land, had at least 80 issues!). 

      © 2018 DC Comics

      That wore me down financially and ate away my enthusiasm because it completely disrupted other ongoing series that I followed, including Nightwing, Robin and Anarchy. All of those had ongoing stories that were either disrupted or destroyed by the mega event. Then, no sooner had the dust settled than they disrupted everything again by the Bruce Wayne: Murderer storyline. 

      I'm not saying any of these were bad stories. In fact, a lot of good came out of them. I really liked parts of the No Man's Land (I thought Barbara Gordon's portrayal was some of the best ever). Ditto for some of what happened in the "Murderer" storyline. But, honestly... it was just too much.

      I didn't make a conscious decision to quit buying comics, but the local store where I shopped went out of business and at the time I never bothered to find another. 

      During this time, I still read comics (notably Archie and various Walt Disney titles, as well as a wide variety of indie comics and graphic novels (Blankets, Sin City,Dropsey Avenue), various gaming comics (Knights of the Dinner Table, Dork Tower, Nodwick and others). But I didn't follow anything by the big companies at all.

      It took years before I wandered back into "mainstream" comics, and even then, today I only buy about two Marvel titles (Squirrel Girl and Moon Girl (Hellcat and Howard the Duck were recently canceled). I might pick up an occasional DC trade, or a mini-series (Deadman by Neal Adams was just weird, but the Batman '66 and Wonder Woman '77 were a lot of fun), but mostly I'm diving back into the b&w mags of the 1970s (Savage Sword of Conan, Marvel Premiere, Space: 1999, Planet of the Apes, Eerie, Creepy and so forth). 

      One of the many issues I've picked up over the past year.
      © 1979 Marvel Comics, cover by Bob Larkin

      Another old mag I picked up, Marvel Preview #9
      © 1976 Marvel Comics, cover by Earl Norem
      New comics just don't appeal to me much, any, and the constant barrage of "Mega Events" like Civil War, Rebirth, 52 and all that jazz are definitely a factor in keeping me away. I just don't have the patience for all these constant reboots, especially when coupled with the onslaught of gender, race and orientation changes (Ice Man is gay? Really? I don't give a crap that they have a gay hero, but forcing Bobby to become gay feels like a cheap stunt designed to appeal to Social Justice Warriors). 

      There are still good comics out there, but I've moved on from the mainstream and I seriously doubt I will ever move back.

      Friday, May 18, 2018

      Days Gone [Addendum]

      Hard to believe that I haven't posted an update on this project for almost six months. Wow. Time flies when your full-time career starts consuming almost all of your waking hours with commute and work. But I think the big hurdle in that particular project has been passed, so I'm trying to get a handle on time again so I can get back to work on Days Gone #3.

      As a side note to this project, I found myself needing a back cover illustration for the Collectors' Club Newsletter #122, so I quickly pulled out two separate illustrations from the Days Gone project and combined them into the illustration below.

      Dragon Spire
      © 2018 Mike Mitchell

      I made the color choices because I wanted to emulate the old three -color printing process that was frequently used in fanzines back in the 1970s and early 1980s. I also chose the framing effect (cropping the background smaller than the figure so we could see paper on the sides) based on a Conan or Kull portfolio piece I saw in an old Savage Sword of Conan magazine.

      Speaking of which, I've really been enjoying reading those old issues. I've been buying lots of them this year, and have about half of the series. I'll write more about this in a future blog.

      Thursday, May 10, 2018

      Excel - Get URLs from a range

      I'm storing this info here so I can find it later. I have a spreadsheet with a lot of URLs stored in a column (more than 150). The URLs are embedded in files stored on a remote server so when you click on the file it will take you to the file.

      Great, except I need the actual hyperlink info. I could get the URL by right clicking then cutting/pasting each file, but that would take hours. So I need a custom function or macro to extract them for me.

      The basic info is copied from this location:

      The cure for tedium—like them or not—is a macro. With a macro, getting at the underlying URL for a hyperlink is child's play. All the macro needs to do is pay attention to the Address property of the hyperlink. The following is an example of a macro that will find each hyperlink in a worksheet, extract each one's URL, and stick that URL in the cell directly to the right of the hyperlink.
      Sub ExtractHL()
          Dim HL As Hyperlink
          For Each HL In ActiveSheet.Hyperlinks
              HL.Range.Offset(0, 1).Value = HL.Address
      End Sub
      Instead of a "brute force" macro, you could also create a user-defined function that would extract and return the URL for any hyperlink at which it was pointed:
      Function GetURL(rng As Range) As String
          On Error Resume Next
          GetURL = rng.Hyperlinks(1).Address
      End Function
      In this case you can place it where you want. If you want, for example, the URL from a hyperlink in A1 to be listed in cell C25, then in cell C25 you would enter the following formula:
      ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3281) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Extracting URLs from 

      How to create a custom function
      That's all good and fun, but it doesn't tell me how to create a custom function. So, here's another source:

      BEFORE YOU PROCEED, you will need to go into your Excel settings and, in the File > Options you need to edit the Auto correct setting that automatically turns URLs into hyperlinks.
      1. Press Alt + F11.
        This gets you to the Visual Basic Editor, where VBA is written.
        You can also click the Visual Basic button on the Developer tab of the Ribbon. The Developer tab is visible only if the Developer checkbox is checked on the Customize Ribbon tab of the Excel Options dialog box.
      2. Choose Insert→Module in the editor.
        You have an empty code module sitting in front of you. Now it’s time to create your very own function!
      3. Type this programming code, shown in the following figure:
        Writing your own function.
        Writing your own function.
      4. Function GetURL(rng As Range) As String
            On Error Resume Next
            GetURL = rng.Hyperlinks(1).Address
        End Function
      5. Macros and VBA programming can be saved only in a macro-enabled workbook.
        After you type the first line and press Enter, the last one appears automatically. This example function adds two numbers, and the word Public lists the function in the Insert Function dialog box. You may have to find the Excel workbook on the Windows taskbar because the Visual Basic Editor runs as a separate program. Or press Alt+ F11 to toggle back to the Workbook. Save the file as a Macro-Enabled Excel file (necessary).
      6. Return to Excel.
      7. Click the Insert Function button on the Formulas tab to display the Insert Function dialog box.
        Finding the function in the User Defined category.
        Finding the function in the User Defined category.
      8. Click OK.
        The Function Arguments dialog box opens, ready to receive the arguments. Isn’t this incredible? It’s as though you are creating an extension to Excel, and in essence, you are.
        Using the custom Add function.
        Using the custom Add function.

      BTW: I am not copying this here to rip off anybody's content. I'm just storing it here in case the original links ever go away.

      Sunday, April 15, 2018

      Random Barbarian Image 2

      A bit of fun for a Sunday afternnon. I was in the mood to play around with inking, so rather than create something new, I took an earlier render of a Conan figure I was working on and experimented with some new pen settings in Manga Studio 5 EX (aka Clip Studio Paint). Not all my inking choices worked, but I don't think it's all that bad. Especially fro something I'm just playing around with.

      © 2018 Mike Mitchell

      As with most of my work, this was rendered in Poser 11 pro and cleaned up in Photoshop and Manga Studio 5 EX/ Clip Studio Paint.

      Saturday, March 31, 2018

      Random Barbarian Post 2

      I wanted to do something really GRAPHIC (not violence or sex, but in terms of design). So I tapped into the feel of 1960s posters and came up with this. Obviously, this is based on Conan the Barbarian, and I really need to thank takezo_3001 over at Daz for sharing his custom morph with me. The outfit is from the M4 Warrior, and I'm not sure which of my many swords I used.

      As usual, this was rendered in Poser Pro 11, then edited in Photoshop and Manga Studio 5EX (aka Clip Studio Paint).

      I'm calling this one, "Warrior of the Wastes."

      © 2018 Mike Mitchell

      And yes, this is a precursor to me getting back to work on my Days Gone comic book very soon.

      Monday, March 19, 2018

      Random Barbarian Post

      This year is just screaming by, and my new work schedule has really cut down on the time I have to allocate to art (let alone work on the Days Gone comic, which is progressing, but at a glacial pace).

      Since I've been reading a lot of Conan comics and stories (specifically the b&w series, Savage Sword of Conan and the original REH stories), I decided to pick up the M4 Barbarian Warrior bundle over at Daz3D and take a very quick stab at creating an illustration. Total time was only about 2 hours, and as you can clearly see, this needs more clean-up and a better pose.

      © 2018 Mike Mitchell

      His hand was supposed to be resting on a doorway in a cave, dungeon or something like that. Never got around to it last night, and probably never will, as I think this was a fun diversion, but I don't see it being worth spending any more time on.

      Hopefully next week I'll be able to get back to Days Gone and have something cool to share with you.

      Sunday, March 11, 2018

      Use Thinkpad x240 with two monitors

      I'm using a company-issued Thinkpad X240 (quad core, 8 GB RAM, 65W power supply (I think it is officially considered to be 70W) and I am doing a lot of work at home on the weekends. At work it connects via docking station to a single 32-inch monitor (nice one, too!). At home on the weekends, I want to use my dual 27-inch ASUS monitors and my KVM.

      This has been a rough couple of days because my KVM  (Keyboard Video Mouse switch) supports dual DVI ports, and the Thinkpad X240 only has a mini display port and a VGA output. I tried a Dual Monitor Docking Station by Plugable (UD-3900), but because this is company issued, I cannot install the drivers to use it (back to Amazon it goes).

      I got it working (finally) by mostly bypassing the KVM and wiring directly to the backs of my monitors, but then the thing gets buggy after it goes to sleep sometimes the dual monitors don't come back. After some trial and error (and some bourbon) I finally sorted out how to get it working consistently.

      Required Cables:

      • VGA cable
      • Mini displayport to (regular) display port cable
      • USB-A to USB-B (see graphic) cable
        (FYI: Type A is the "standard" USB cable)

      Even though I have to manually connect the monitors (the KVM doesn't do a great job of mixing a digital and an analog signal – I think if this were hooked up here every day I could figure a way to get it to work, but since I only bring the company laptop home on weekends, it's not worth the extra time it would take to sort out). However, I do want to use my keyboard and mouse, which is why I'm routing that signal through the KVM.

      Connecting the monitors and the KVM
      With both the laptop AND monitors powered down, make the following connections.

      Plug USB-B into back of KVM
      Plug USB-A into laptop
      Plug large end into Monitor 1
      Plug small end into laptop
      Plug into Monitor 2
      I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT PLUG THE VGA CABLE INTO THE LAPTOP!

      1. Turn on the laptop. Let it boot up completely (be patient). I wait until everything has stopped spinning about and launch Outlook. I let it check my mail. When I'm certain that it has completely booted up...
      2. Turn on both monitors. Monitor 1 should automatically start working (i.e. get the signal and you can use it).
      3. Plug the VGA cable into the laptop. It should also start working. If not, check out the "Alternate Method" I describe below.

      This is the method I've been using for awhile now. If this assignment continues with weekend work, I may look into another method of getting it to work (this one is annoying because sometimes I step away for a break and come back to find it has "lost" one or both monitors (usually powering off monitor 1 will bring that one back).
      BTW: You want to use the VGA on your second screen because the Displayport connection (which also sends sound) is digital and will be a bit crisper and cleaner than the VGA signal. 

      I can't swear this method will work for you, so good luck!

      I only use this if the monitors aren’t automatically detected (and you may have to do this the first time you try connecting to the external monitors).
      With the monitors connected to the laptop and powered on, type the WINDOWS KEY + P. (Yes, the button to launch your Start menu, plus the letter P.) In Win 7, 8 & 10 this will launch a menu where you can pick the following:
      • Disconnect Projector
      • Duplicate
      • Extend
      • Projector Only
      Select "extend" and then Monitor 1 will receive the signal and should work. If the laptop doesn’t see the monitor, then turn the monitor off and then power it on again. I think it has some kind of “handshake” signal when it powers up that the laptop needs to see.