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The ups and downs of HDRI

The ups and downs of HDRI might as well be a roller coaster. Permit me to share a story.

For the longest time, I thought I couldn’t use the fancy new render engine DAZ rolled out with 4.8: Iray. I longed to play with the photo realistic render engine, but having an AMD video card instead of the NVidia the specs called for, I thought I couldn’t.

Fast forward to just before Christmas 2016 and DAZ 4.9. I made a curious discovery about the list of installed stuff in the install manager: a public beta build of DAZ 4.9. So, I tracked it down among my programs and opened it. Played with it some and got curious about the render settings. What should my curiosity behold, but that NVidia Iray was available to play with!

So, I explored, dabbled and started tracking down tutorials. Fast forward again to about mid March 2017. After multiple not-so-good attempts at making my own HDRIs with Carrara. I still have trouble with the lighting in that one. I was exploring a favorite group for 3D artists on Facebook and stumbled across an image that could be rotated 360 degrees. To go with it, a youtube tutorial video on how the trick was done!

Well, again, I dabbled and played. Made a neat city 360 followed by a scene from Techwarrior #5 and put them on Facebook to a very receptive reaction. I realized I could convert that city 360 to an HDRI and use it as a background for renders. Well, you won’t catch me using 3Delight anymore! Scenes with an HDRI background render very quickly even on my older computer and they look amazing!

HDRIs are wonderful as both light and background, but – and this is the downside – they take a long time to render! Smaller size and resolution just won’t work with these bad boys. The ratio suggested in that tutorial was 2 to 1 with a size of about 4000 by 2000 pixels. Be ready for a long wait unless you’re able to despeckle and sharpen effectively in Photoshop. Here’s what I mean:

Not the greatest picture I’ll admit, but this one’s been at it 14 hours and it’s still pretty grainy.

Personally, I set the render time to 24 hours so it would have plenty of time to render as cleanly as possible. Know how many seconds that is? 86,400 seconds! Now, as I’ve pointed out on Facebook, once this is rendered, it can be used time and again as a background and light source without bogging down the scene I’m trying to render. So, when it comes down to brass tacks, the occasional 24 hour render like this isn’t too horrible, right?

The trick is a simple one, but only available in Iray. Setup a scene with lights but without characters if you want it to be a background HDRI – the one in that picture is a dungeon lit only by fire – and add a camera in the center of it. Go into the camera’s parameters and pick on the lens type. Set it to spherical. Then go into render settings and set the size ratio to 2 to 1 and the pixels to 4000 by 2000. For my 4-year-old laptop, there’s no acceleration from the video card, so I setup the render time at 24 hours or the 86,400 seconds I mentioned before. From there, hit render and walk away for the duration of the render.

It’ll take its time rendering considering the size and and how complicated the scene is, but when it’s done finally, it can be converted to an HDRI and used as a background/light source without being so slow with characters. So, it balances out, wouldn’t you say?

The deception of Kageki

Kageki is a bit of a mixed-up story. Without revealing too much, you find out she’s an ally of Nyxus. From her appearance alone, you learn she isn’t one to mess with. She’s a direct opposite of Teikou no Senshi.

kageki

Kageki is the result of a brainwashing spell and bad luck. Although she’s a fierce fighter, Nyxus forgot to check the spell for the means to break it. Of course, that leaves us to wonder if there is a means to break it.

There isn’t much to tell about Kageki. She’s fierce, she’s the result of a spell and she’s the result of bad luck. From there, telling more would spoil the story.

The idea for Kageki actually came from the Sailor Moon Live Action series. Near the middle of the series, Sailor Mercury is brainwashed by Kunzite and changed into Dark Mercury. It puzzled me to some degree why he didn’t pick on Jupiter, who’s far stronger, but in the end, Mercury proved an excellent villain that the rest of the girls just couldn’t and wouldn’t fight. I really shouldn’t tell how they manage to change her back, as Kageki has similar circumstances and it would spoil the story.

Similarly, Double Dragon shares a hero-turned-villain-back-to-hero story, so I have to say it’s a good concept to start from. My hero-turned-villain is closer to Dark Mercury, though. Kageki does put a bit of a different spin on the idea, making her a fascinating character.

What do you think? Is she an interesting character? I’d love to hear from you! She makes her comic book debut in Dream Angel #8, which can be found in the shop. It’s recommended you get the books that came before it so the story makes sense! Also found in the shop is her plush action figure costume for Elizabeth Amphitrite.

Where do ideas come from?

Where do ideas come from? Well, there’s a broad subject. To help explain this, let me share a story with you.

I must confess I’m quite a bit like Dad. I read Shogun in high school and fell in love with Japanese culture and history (the stuff that’s not taught in school!). I have a good respect for Edgar Allen Poe (read Telltale Heart in high school and more recently tracked down The Pit and the Pendulum on DVD) and more importantly, I’ve found a firm appreciation for Ray Bradbury. I grew up watching The Halloween Tree each year and more recently found The Ray Bradbury Theater on DVD (We tend to frequent the local library’s movie section and find all kinds of interesting stuff). I was a bit surprised when I saw the opening sequence for that show, because it showed I’m a lot like Bradbury himself. The room he works in is full of stuff he gets ideas from, and my room is certainly no less crowded than his.

Where he gets ideas from the objects around him, I often find myself getting ideas from cartoons, movies and various TV shows we have around the house. That’s not to say I don’t also get ideas from objects around me. Ideas come from anything and everything more often than not. For me, a great many of my ideas come from stuff made in the 1980’s or older.

Let me share another story now. I was 4, we were moving from San Francisco to a small bedroom community and a bigger house, but just before leaving the preschool I was in, there was a little “graduation” ceremony and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was so tired from the moving that I didn’t answer, so my preschool teacher Girtha said “She’s going to be a comedian!” Well, she’s not too far from the truth. There’s plenty of comedy to be found in my work. Dream Angel is intentionally lighthearted and humorous and even Techwarrior, which is a bit darker has its moments. Know where I find inspiration for the jokes? Classic comedians. Red Skelton, The Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello and a long list of others that were mostly dead before I was even born.

So, where do ideas come from? Anywhere and everywhere. It’s about that simple. Of course, making the ideas work is an entirely different matter. It helps to keep a notebook and pen close at hand even when I have my tablet nearby. Often, it’s faster to simply write the idea down than wait for the tablet to turn on and get into the right app – by that time, the idea could dissipate like a cloud.

Chime in! Where do your ideas come from?

Villain or not? Stygere

Stygere has got the longest fuse of the Keres. His mother and sisters are quick to anger, he isn’t. Instead, he stays angry most particularly at them, for all the arguing. He’s a dangerous enemy, but doesn’t often show anger toward the heroes. In fact, they have a suspicion that he wants to join them against his mother and sisters. He’s left clues to their plans that have helped the heroes out of many deadly traps.

He’s an enigma to the heroes, but among the many things he won’t admit openly is that he does want to rebel against his mother and sisters. Unfortunately, the few times he’s tried, they nearly killed him for it. So, rather than risk life and limb against them, he secretly helps the heroes without their fully realizing it. He’s considered donning a masked identity to confuse both sides. Unfortunately, he figures they’d recognize his voice and he’d simply be in greater trouble.

A small mystery that might nag at the reader of Dream Angel #2 and #3, is how Kaida knew Larissa was in trouble with Ker and several Reprobates. The heroes figure he was simply flying overhead and saw something that looked out of place causing him to land and investigate. What the heroes wouldn’t know is Stygere planted a clue. One that would attract the Pegasus centaur without anyone knowing. He also left an anonymous clue with the local police. Which is connected to the heroes’ communications thanks to Larissa. This, Stygere knows, and put to good use. It’s common knowledge the heroes and police are working together to solve crimes within the city. So he figures anyone could have left the tip and he wouldn’t get blamed.

He doesn’t want to openly help the heroes, so he flies under the radar with subtle hints and clues to tip them off. His mother and sisters are left frustrated when the heroes escape, but he’s secretly pleased.

What do you think? Is Stygere an interesting character? Stygere makes his comic book debut in Dream Angel #1, which is available in the shop. Also available in the shop is his plush action figure.

Stubborn grandmother: Mrs. Arum

mrs. arumMrs. Arum is a stubborn sort. When I wrote her part in the comics, I decided she’d be Jake’s mother. I took my time designing her. I shopped around some for her look. Plainly seen from her hair, Arora gets her appearance from her grandmother. The difference is Mrs. Arum keeps her hair in a French braid instead of a ponytail.

The idea behind her character is to be a balance of feminine and masculine and *minor spoiler here* since she’s a retired construction worker, wear appropriate attire. Clearly, from her blouse, she chooses to show her profession, but the lace collar shows also that she’s still female. She picked her wardrobe carefully so she wouldn’t be a distraction in the workplace, but would still retain her femininity.

Retaining her femininity with such a commonly masculine profession presented a problem for me when it came to designing her outfit. I finally settled on a fitted blouse with lace on the collar to be the primary feature. From there, it was a matter of the color and print of the blouse. I thought of using a flowered print, but Dad found the flannel with construction equipment that might as well have screamed her name.

According to the story, she doesn’t trust Dream Angel or her friends in the slightest and doesn’t want her “Jakie” to have anything to do with them either. Naturally, she doesn’t know who Dream Angel is: her granddaughter. This tends to cause unwanted friction when the heroes are struggling to keep her safe.
Even Jake has to take a more stern approach to getting his mother out of harm’s way, much to her displeasure. Luckily, when she realizes what’s going on, she does finally get out of harm’s way.

What do you think? Is she an interesting character? She makes her comic book debut in Dream Angel #7, which is available in the shop. Getting the books that came before it is highly recommended so the story makes sense! Also available in the shop is her plush action figure.

Leopard with a mission: Kumo Hanahadashii

Kumo Hanahadashii is a very, very stubborn leopard. To match, he’s very clumsy. So clumsy, in fact, he makes Kaida seem a great deal less clumsy than he is.

kumoTo compound his problems, he’s madly in love with Cristiane Jewel. On top of everything, he’s fiercely jealous. This mixture makes him big time trouble.

He’s a skilled archer and the first time he meets Dream Angel, he very nearly shoots her down. After she convinces him she doesn’t know where Cristiane is, he decides to help her look and promptly runs face first into a tree.

Unfortunately for him, Cristiane loves Virgo, who loves Athalia. Of course, this creates tension among the cats. Cristiane and Kumo are both leopards, Virgo and Athalia are both tigers. All Virgo and Athalia want is for Cristiane and Kumo to go away, but the two create nothing but trouble for them. Kumo’s jealousy of Cristiane’s affections for Virgo causes him to attempt to fight Virgo for her and Athalia’s caught in the middle.

Virgo’s affection for Athalia isn’t out in the open, it’s subtle and quietly understood between the two. For Kumo, that means he’s interested in Cristiane.

For Dream Angel, Torakatai and everyone else, the entanglement among the four is problematic until they’re directed at Nyxus, the Keres and the assorted creatures they bring along. When that happens, it’s better to stand back and let the cats have their fun as they send them flying the hard way.

Luckily in a fight, Kumo lives up to the translation of his name: Blur Extreme, or more appropriately, extreme blur. Fast with a bow, just as fast with a sword and quite rough on opponents with claws and teeth if he’s disarmed.

Kumo makes his comic book debut in Dream Angel #19, which can be found in the shop. It’s a good idea to consider getting the books that came before it, so the story makes sense! Also soon to be found in the shop is his plush action figure.

Police Lieutenant Larissa Arum

Larissa Arum is a tough one by nature, but still a loving mother. They say opposites attract and that is the case with Larissa and her husband Jake. She’s always straight and doesn’t crack jokes. If she does, it’s rare. Jake tells jokes all the time to lighten the mood and get people laughing. Most of all, he loves making Larissa laugh.

larissaHer daughter is more precious to her than even her own life at times. When she found out her daughter’s secret, she vowed to keep it and help her any way she could. She’s kept that vow in many ways. She started by getting Arora some small, lightweight communication equipment. So when she’s out flying around she can even help the police force by reporting problems.

Larissa often makes sure she’s first on the scene to help with crowd control. Also preventing fellow officers from shooting at the wrong target. She has a get-it-done attitude and there aren’t many who’d argue with her.

In practice fights, Jake and Larissa are an even match. Both are masters of self-defense and hand-to-hand fighting in various forms. Between the two, Arora is well trained in the defensive arts. Larissa stepped up her daughter’s training when she learned her secret. She explained to Jake that it was time she learned the more advanced techniques. Having mastered the ones Arora had been learning from Larissa all along. Jake accepted that and also stepped up his daughter’s training.

If there’s one thing Larissa hates, it’s repeat offenders. She’s stern with the first timers, but if she catches a repeat offender, they get a much tougher attitude. Nothing that could be “police brutality,” just enough to discourage another repeat offense. A good amount of the time, the repeat offender doesn’t repeat again after meeting her.

What do you think? Is she an interesting character? She makes her debut comic book appearance in Dream Angel #1, which is available in the shop. Also available in the shop is her plush action figure.

Tragic victim: vampire cockroach

cockroach vampireVampire cockroaches are unfortunate creatures. I know, the first thought for a cockroach is usually “EWWWW!!” Here’s some food for thought, though: roaches’re excellent survivors. Which would make them more difficult than ever to kill if they were undead vampires.

These roaches are roaches through unfortunate circumstances, too. They’re the victims of Jerigel SwampFang’s third bite. Unlike most vampires, it takes three bites for him to completely control his victims. As a result, they become cockroaches. The only thing these victims keep of their humanity is their height.
If anything, these unfortunate creatures should be pitied. There’s no known cure for their condition and killing them is far more difficult than if they were normal roaches.

The one thing these roaches fear above all is spiders. If they should see one, they become uncontrollable. The larger the spider, the harder they are to control.
One important ability besides turning their own victims into roaches for an hour, is being able to change form. They’re able to temporarily resume their human form during the day, but only if Jerigel allows it.

Over the years, these victims are those who tried to rebel against Nyxus. Some got in Jerigel’s way, and others Nyxus wanted to just make disappear. Since Nyxus controls Jerigel and he controls roaches, rebels are then made to do her bidding.

Once Jerigel controls a victim as a roach, they have no free will of their own. In fact, they cannot do anything without him knowing about it. The control is complete and permanent as far as anyone knows. Even Ryu doesn’t know of a cure to change these unfortunate victims human again.

These roaches are today’s daily deal. Aren’t they interesting characters? Won’t you take pity on them? They just want your love! they make their comic book debut in Dream Angel #7, which is available in the shop. It’s a good idea to get the books that came before it so the story makes sense! Also found in the shop is the plush action figure of these creatures.

Our lovely leading lady Dream Angel!

Dream Angel is today’s star. She’s a fascinating character with a fair variety of interesting undiscovered powers, but there are some really cool things you don’t know about her.

dream angel

Dream Angel’s original name was Destiny. She was based much more closely on Sailor Moon, too. Initially, when I first started drawing her I set the time period to right after she graduated high school – the day after.

If you’ve read the Sailor Moon manga, you know that in the first book Bunny goes racing around getting ready for school and quite clumsily. She does similar in the anime, but it was the manga I was going from. Destiny also goes racing around getting ready for school but as she darts past the calendar, she remembers she graduated.

Breezer, Katrilina and Hanaji have changed some too since then. Hanaji retained his name from this earlier story. There’s more to this early story line, but it won’t be discussed here. Actually, there have been several early stories and one even won second place at the county fair.

Her powers are largely unknown, even to Breezer and Ryu who’ve been her best advisers and mentors. So, any new abilities discovered tend to be a surprise for everyone, hero and villain alike. These moments of surprise have caused both sides to stop fighting long enough to try and understand what happened and one side or the other takes advantage of the moment of hesitation.

So, what do you think? Is she an interesting character? Dream Angel makes her comic book debut in (of course) Dream Angel #1, which can be found in the shop. Also found in the shop are 3 Dream Angel outfits for Arora Arum.

One-of-a-kind vampire: Jerigel SwampFang

jerigelJerigel SwampFang’s origin is a complete mystery. Not even Nyxus knows how he came to be. In reality, his origin is as simple as a ten-stripe June beetle.

At the time I came up with Jerigel SwampFang, I was enjoying the Sera Muun Musical Last Drakul Jyokoku. It’s part of a trilogy centered around the vampire Dracula – as Sailor Moon encounters him.

I will formally admit I found both the actor and the character fascinating. I developed an interest in vampires and found that the mythology does not include insects. This I found funny because nature is full of insect vampires, starting with the mosquito and flea.

When I found the June beetle, I thought it was a beetle whose nickname is “Hell insect.” Well, what better for a vampire? They’re considered creatures from Hell and on top of it all, they’re undead. So, I read up on vampires, scrounged up every vampire movie I could find and studied up a bit.

Sure, there’s a good many ways to kill a vampire, but how do you kill an insect vampire? A wooden stake wouldn’t necessarily penetrate the exoskeleton, holy water and a cross is mostly superstition (look it up, if you don’t believe me). Fire only works when the vampire becomes ash and that takes time – how long do you really think an insect vampire would be contained? Probably not long enough, I think.

Superhuman strength comes with being a vampire, so it’s like containing Superman. A sock in a river? Bugs don’t wear socks, so why would he care? Sunlight is another that’s superstition.

Admittedly, I haven’t figured out how to kill the insect vampire, but his power is most intriguing. Aside from speaking in mirror speech – meaning you need a mirror to understand what he says in the comics – his third bite is what finalizes his control over his victim. On top of the control his third bite gives, it also transforms the unfortunate person into a cockroach leaving nothing of their humanity except their height.

What do you think? Is Jerigel an interesting character? He makes his comic book debut in Dream Angle #4. Getting the books that came before it is highly recommended so the story makes sense. Also available in the shop is his plush action figure.