Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sculpting Test in Houdini

This week I'm testing sculpting in SideFX Houdini. (By the way, there is a free version of Houdini you can download from At this time, there is also a full version, called Houdini Indie, for $200 USD. If you are not a student, this makes it the cheapest professional level DCC package besides Blender.)

So what you see on this post are a series of screen captures of Houdini's UI as I followed a tutorial by Ari Danesh. In each picture, the relevant node is highlighted, some of its parameters are displayed above, and the result is in the viewport. Basically, you start with a polygonal plane and sculpt on it using a brush as you would in Blender / Sculptris / ZBrush etc. Subdivision levels are added as needed, and the geometry can be decimated to triangles using a "PolyReduce" node.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Surreal Scene One

Surreal Scene One is something I thought of when I was falling asleep. I wanted to do a relaxing modeling exercise, with no real restrictions.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Making of 'Modular Set One'

As of April 2015, the project entitled "Modular Set One" is my most popular portfolio piece. Like all my portfolio pieces so far, it is an exercise, not a finished illustration. Its purpose was to practice modular set design and construction of the type that will be important to illustrate my speculative fiction. As such, it rather looks like a spaceship corridor, or the hallway of a futuristic building. There is a metal grate on the floor, with flood lights below that can shine up through it to cast interesting shadows. The windows, too, were designed with a thought for how shadows would be cast onto a smooth, curving surface below them. Computer terminals form-fit the wall curvature, and can be pulled out when in use.

This is my third time using Autodesk 3ds Max, I believe. I got the Student Version around the same time as Maya (March 2015). The set is based on a relatively small strip of polygons from which most of the other geometry in the scene is generated using modifiers and arrays. It was rendered with NVIDIA iray.

"Modular Set Two" was made in much the same way, but in Maya. Constructing that set was a simpler task and very fast. However, that piece quickly became a long exercise in learning to use Pixar's RenderMan.

Monday, April 20, 2015

You will not enjoy reading my stories if ...

I have always disliked the blurbs on book covers. I'm not sure who writes them, but it appears to be people at publishing houses who think they are experts in marketing, rather than the authors themselves. These blurbs often take good books and make them sound ridiculous, trivializing the subject matter and giving it the tone of an overly enthusiastic used car advertisement. So I began to avoid reading blurbs, lest they prejudice me against a potential read, and instead choosing my fiction reading material from lists of Nebula or Hugo Award winners (which I admit may not be the best strategy). Then when I tried to write blurbs for my own work, I realized it is difficult to give the potential reader enough information, but not too much, and convey the right tone. Often, if not always, it is impossible to convey the overall tone of a story with a blurb. The purpose of the blurb is not try to get everyone to read the book; it is to let a potential reader know if he might be interested or not. But perhaps I can more easily express under what circumstances you would not like my stories; my purpose here is not to exclude people, but to cater to an audience who share my weariness with the current state of the entertainment industry. So I made a list of what I call:

"You will not enjoy reading my stories if ... "

1. You want to read about vampires, werewolves, zombies, or other forms of juvenalia based on old superstitions.

2. You enjoy gore for the sake of gore, like The Walking Dead.

3. You are entertained by people being cruel to one another, as in Game of Thrones, because you think it gives you some insight into human nature.

4. You are titillated by stories of serial killers and other forms of crime or horror.

5. You believe there is no hope for humanity (e.g., an apocalypse is coming, or civilization is in an irreversible decline).

6. You believe science has already discovered everything there is to know.

7. You believe possibilities are not constrained by facts, but by what your parents told you.

8. You just want someone to reinforce your current world-view; you do not want to consider alternative ways of thinking.

9. You believe that in science-fiction, the humans should be good because you are human, and aliens must be bad because they are alien.

10. You believe the aliens in Hollywood movies are realistic.

11. You have difficulty distinguishing amongst these categories: reality, fantasy, and possibility.

On the other hand, you will probably enjoy reading my stories if ...

1. None of the above points apply to you, or if some do, you would consider changing them.

2. You want to be entertained with an adventure story.

That's it for the time being. Now that you have a taste for what things I like or don't like in fiction, you might have a better idea of what to expect in mine.

Question: "Are you still writing?"

It's the question my fans ask most often these days.

Answer: Yes. I am working on a novel in my spare time. It requires a lot of research. I don't want to create an artificial deadline and rush out a piece of substandard work. If I could devote all my time to it, I would probably finish in six months or less.  But unfortunately, writing the book will be dragged out over a long period of time.

My thanks goes to out to everyone for their patience, understanding, and support.