Apr 17

Website Redesign

Since ALL of our computers are taking part in a hard and long network rendering process, I got pretty bored here…. Can’t develop products, can’t launch a new project till the current one is finished, can’t create anything personal….so I decided to do something productive and to kill some time, I’m re-designing my website. :D

After many years of having the same look, this time I’m going for a more subtle, more sophisticated and elegant design. Something more simple, yet impressive.

It won’t be overloaded with renders, I’m going to showcase only what’s really worth showing. I’ll keep the blog, but I’ll dedicate a page for it, instead of having it on the home page. Some posts might be pinned to the front page, though. In short, it’s going to look more like a portfolio. I’m focusing on responsive layout, and a quick, easy way to view the images on al kinds of devices.

Re-designing the site will take at least as long as our current rendering process, so I’m building it offline. This way my old (current) site stays intact and accessible. I will let you guys know when it’s ready.

Until then, I’d show a WIP of the home page, as a teaser :) – some things might be changed later.

websiteWIP_ss

This is how the front page looks like, at a very early stage of the process.

Mar 23

QuickTip: Waterfall Alpha Planes and Photometric Lighting

Vue environment artists know that probably the easiest and most convenient way of making a waterfall in a still (not animated) environment is using alpha planes. When I was working on my scene titled Norge, it was the first time I used a waterfall alpha plane in Vue xStream 2014, in a scene with an atmosphere based on photometric lighting.

Norge_1920When I added the waterfall alpha plane and applied my usual material settings, I quickly realized that with this new, photometric lighting model, I could forget about the settings that worked for me just fine in the last 5 years, using the old spectral Global Radiosity. The waterfall was dark, and even boosting Luminosity to 100% didn’t help.

After some online activity, I noticed that I was not the only one who was dealing with the problem, and ever since I published Norge, I’ve also received some messages with the same question: how did you make that waterfall look like that in 2014? I’ve heard many kinds of information; some say luminous materials work differently with photometric lighting (which would make perfect sense), but I’ve also heard that the problem may involve a software bug regarding luminosity, and e-on is working on fixing it.

Until we hear some update regarding the fix, I’d share the settings that eventually worked for me in this scene.

colorAs you can see, I changed the color to white. This helped a little, but the results were still not exactly what I wanted to achieve. Although, this step was essential.

settingsIn the Effects tab, I left the Diffuse and Ambient lighting at 60% and 40%, boosted the luminosity to 100%, but what really made a difference was adding 100% Backlight. These settings above together made my waterfall bright enough, and I finally achieved the result I wanted.

So, if you’d like to create a similar environment with a waterfall alpha plane and photometric lighting, try these settings. They may seem easy and less technical, but they work. But since photometric lighting is just as new for me as for you, if you have any other methods that work in such cases, just feel free to share them. :)

Happy Rendering!

 

Feb 11

“Terms and Conditions May Apply” – A closer look at the Limited Warranty on Digital Products

A couple of days ago I was watching the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” on Netflix, and though we do NOT give out the personal information of our customers to any third party, it reminded me of the “less fun” part of my job – paperwork… contracts, Terms and Conditions, EULA; documents that may seem shocking and “evil” to some people, while their sole purpose is to protect each party involved. To provide transparency to customers, to provide guidance what to do in case any kind of problem occurs, and to protect us, the companies, product developers, service providers etc… from unrighteous accusations of issues caused by circumstances that are totally unrelated to us and we have no control over.

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If you are an aspiring artist who’s planning to turn your most loved hobby into a profession and launch your own business (freelance, GP or any other kind of small business), you have to be prepared to deal with this. As I say, you have to develop another personality, another way of thinking that is armed and prepared to protect you, your art, your intellectual property rights, your products etc… and as you grow in experience, you’ll have to learn when to switch off your artist side and activate the financial and legal departments in you. You’re no longer just an artist who makes stunning artwork for fun.

No, I don’t want to scare anyone away and yes, I love my job – even the paperwork, as I’m getting better and better at it, thanks to the advice of our legal advisors and more experienced, well-established artist-entrepreneurs. I have a lot of respect towards those people who choose to do what they love, try to make a living of it, and taking all the risks that come in the way. This is just one of those frequent moments when I feel the urge to share my opinion and to clarify things, although I’m not obligated to do so (plus since I’m rendering, I have some time to kill :D).

As a 3D environment artist, small business owner and 3D content developer, I’ve met several people with several ways of thinking. Though most of them were positive about me and what I do, I have been called greedy, egoistic, proud, thoughtless; a little b*tch who sees $$$ signs in every corner and who doesn’t give a damn about little people (I’m not referring to height). Quick question: when did I become “big”? I haven’t really noticed that… Those who know me know that these are false accusations; I don’t make millions, I don’t want to get rich in no time, and if there’s anyone who provides customer support to someone at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, which falls really far from our operating hours, it’s me. But – despite the fact that I’m not obligated to stay up and help out a customer – sometimes I do it, because it may be urgent, or simply because it’s better to get things done ASAP and make the customer happy, instead of leaving problems for the next day. But I’ve been accused anyway…even after helping those out who treated me with disrespect.

At a point I had to acknowledge that there is a group of people who see everything in a negative way and form a negative opinion about you and your business, no matter what you do. I don’t blame them and I’m not mad at them, since I can’t expect anyone to judge those things correctly that they don’t have direct experience in. Below I would address some issues that have become “hot topics” among customers; issues that have been misjudged and misinterpreted. Starting with the well-known term “Limited Warranty”.

 

1. Why is the warranty on digital products limited?

It’s not just digital products. 99% of any kind of product has limited warranty, which means that – for a certain period of time – the warranty covers fixing, replacing or updating the product in case the problem is caused by something that is reasonably under the full control of the company/manufacturer. If you buy a 23-inch full HD monitor and it turns out that it has a broken pixel, you return it, and you either get a new one or get your money back. But, if you get a BSOD, get mad and break your monitor in pieces, you lose the warranty. The manufacturer is not liable for you getting mad and breaking their product. Warranty on software and digital, downloadable products are way harder to keep in control. Malfunctions can be caused by countless system-related issues on the user’s end as well; issues the companies or product developers have no control over. The best thing to do when a problem occurs is to get in contact with the product developer and work together in solving the problem before demanding your money back for something that falls out of the full control of the developer. Speaking of refunds….

2. Strongly restricted refund policies on digital products

Theory: Product developers want to make quick money without taking responsibility for their mistakes. (I’m not making this up; I’ve actually heard this from some people.)

Fact: Digital products are not something you can return to the store. Though more and more software can be remotely deactivated when a malfunction cannot be fixed or when the user breaks the EULA, developers of digital products like 3D content have no control over what stays on the user’s computer or what gets deleted, unless they can afford hiring a highly skilled programmer who makes them be able to deactivate their content. They also can’t see how their product actually performs. That’s why the warranty covers refund only if it can be proven that the malfunction is caused by insufficient product development, and has nothing to do with the end user’s specific conditions or any factor that is unrelated to the company and the development of the product. Imagine if you own an appliance store, and a customer calls for a refund because the monitor he bought is broken. But he would keep the monitor anyway. Would you issue a refund?

3. Why are we not responsible for the end user’s specific conditions (i.e. system specifications, software version or internet connection)?

Theory: Content developers refuse to acknowledge that some customers may not be able to afford high-end systems, and are too lazy to produce versions that are less resource-hungry. (Again, I did not make this up!)

Fact:  I have to admit something. Before becoming a vendor and launching the business (and upgrading my system), I also asked the same question. And since I haven’t forgotten myself asking the same question, again, I understand if someone thinks that content developers should take less powerful machines into consideration. But when I talked to one of my good friends (who was already a well-known artist, business owner, content developer and programmer) about it, he just said he could not be responsible for the fact that the customer may have different system specs than he does and his products may not perform the same way, and when I start my own business, I will understand. That time I considered his way of thinking a bit rude and unfriendly. Then I noticed that it’s not just him, but more, skilled and experienced content developers I looked up to, and all companies don’t take responsibility for the customer’s specific conditions. When I faced all possible issues that come with product development (compatibility issues, differences between software versions, software bugs etc…), I noticed that making a product takes a lot of time, testing, experimentation, and all extra effort that is necessary solely due to such issues. That’s the reason why some Vue-related products can NOT be produced for both professional and artist versions. Although, most of our products ARE compatible with all versions, if the customer purchases the extra elements (such as plants) that are not included in artist versions.

About system specifications: most of the time we do involve beta testers with different systems to test our products before release, and during production, we always monitor how much resource the product uses (while rendering). That’s all we can do to make sure the product performs as described. But since – as I mentioned earlier – the performance of a product depends on so many system-related factors (both hardware and software wise), that it is physically impossible to guarantee for ANY company that the thoroughly tested product will perform the same way on *your* system. If you run into an issue, contact the customer service to find a solution before assuming that the product is a waste of money, and you’ll get the help you need. Software-related, hardware-related or system-related issues do not fall under the category of product-related issues; the developers do not have any control over them. Years ago when I had my first Vue version, dual-core CPU, 2 GB RAM and I don’t even remember what kind of GPU I had, I did not blame e-on software for long render times and for not being able to use GR; I wouldn’t even have had the right to do so. I was aware of my system specs, and it was my own decision to purchase Vue. If you take time to read the EULA (which people tend to skip) of any digital store or software developer, including e-on software and our reseller partners, they all include the same fact: that the reseller and the product developer cannot be held liable for the end user’s specific conditions. And about the internet connection: do you think Netflix can be blamed if your internet connection does not allow you to stream videos flawlessly? Of course not. There are countless ISP’s with countless potential problems. Please consider this fact as well when you contact customer support.

I hope this (pretty long) post is not being taken in the wrong way; I’m not whining, I’m not complaining, I do think a good customer support is essential, and my purpose with product development is improving the quality of artworks, sharing tips and tricks with scenes you can dissect, and constructive feedback is always welcome, since it helps improving the quality of our products. I just wanted to clarify some things. Am I doing it for the money as well? Sure! Just like you when you get up every morning, go to work, and wait for payday at the end of the month. Why would this be different? Because it doesn’t involve a daily routine? Because it doesn’t guarantee a fix cash flow? I don’t think it makes the goal itself any different. Everybody has the right to make a living, and everybody has the right to choose how…as long as it’s legal. I’m happy with my choice, but I’m not after quick money, I’m not rich, and I didn’t launch my business to screw customers over. In fact, I have no respect for companies that do that. End of story.

Have a nice week, everyone, and don’t forget to read the Terms and Conditions before agreeing to anything :)

Jan 08

My review of Vue xStream 2014 in 3D Artist Issue 63

Last November I was honored to be assigned to write an official review of Vue xStream 2014 for the 63rd issue of 3D Artist magazine. The issue is out on sale today, so from now on you can read my article about the new features in the newest Vue version. As a little “teaser”, I’d insert the following quote:

Considering Vue xStream 2014’s new features, the main focus in this version is on two aspects: to make the natural environments even more natural and realistic, and to make Vue’s integration with other applications in a production more convenient. In this review I will highlight the most interesting new features for both aspects. 

So, my assignment was to write a two-page review about the software, illustrating the new features based on a scene with “at least” four screenshots. Since I’m a maximalist sometimes, I sent 10 screenshots along with the article. Since there was only a little room for the article in the magazine and several screenshots were not included, I asked permission to publish these screenshots and their captions, so the article would make a bit more sense to the reader (since most artists are visual types, just like me :) ). This is going to be interesting to those who don’t own a copy of this version yet, but are considering. So, let’s see them one by one.

The difference between the old standard spectral atmosphere model with Radiosity and the new photometric model. Same settings were used and the same postwork was done.

The difference between the old standard spectral atmosphere model with Radiosity and the new photometric model. Same settings were used and the same postwork was done.

 

In the Post Render Options you can choose from several tone mapping filters. Each filter has its own additional adjustment settings.

In the Post Render Options you can choose from several tone mapping filters. Each filter has its own additional adjustment settings.

 

(Included) - The newly added features in the Atmosphere Editor’s Sun tab. Besides real-world Sun position, you can also choose the old custom Azimuth/Pitch positioning as well.

(Included) – The newly added features in the Atmosphere Editor’s Sun tab. Besides real-world Sun position, you can also choose the old custom Azimuth/Pitch positioning as well.

In the Light Editor’s Photometric settings, you can choose the light temperature, depending on the light source and your scene.

In the Light Editor’s Photometric settings, you can choose the light temperature, depending on the light source and your scene.

(Included) - When ecosystem clumping is disabled, instances spread more evenly, which is pretty unnatural. Clumping is enabled on the 2nd render, resulting in more variety of distribution and more realism.

(Included) – When ecosystem clumping is disabled, instances spread more evenly, which is pretty unnatural. Clumping is enabled on the 2nd render, resulting in more variety of distribution and more realism.

For compositing or post-processing purposes, you can save multi-pass layers as a multi-layer image in ILM OpenEXR format.

For compositing or post-processing purposes, you can save multi-pass layers as a multi-layer image in ILM OpenEXR format.

(Included) - In Vue 2014, you can view all the render output layers you’ve selected in the render display window if you rendered your scene to screen.

(Included) – In Vue 2014, you can view all the render output layers you’ve selected in the render display window if you rendered your scene to screen.

After importing the EXR file to After Effects, you can further tweak the render using Extractor and render output channels.

After importing the EXR file to After Effects, you can further tweak the render using Extractor and render output channels.

The redesigned Function Editor may look familiar to those who own The Plant Factory, which has a similar Function Editor with horizontal view and streamlined parameter access.

The redesigned Function Editor may look familiar to those who own The Plant Factory, which has a similar Function Editor with horizontal view and streamlined parameter access.

You can read the full review in 3D Artist Issue 63. You can purchase a physical copy at Imagine Publishing’s webshop, or a digital copy at GreatDigitalMags.com.

 

A low-res capture of my review. I think the editor knew somehow what my favorite color was! :)

A low-res capture of my review. I think the editor knew somehow what my favorite color was! :)

Speaking of Vue, another great article regarding Vue was included in this issue; L.A.-based professional matte painter Dark Hoffman shares some tips & tricks on using Vue in matte painting.

3D-Artist-65You can read more about the contents of this issue here.

If you’re already familiar with Vue 2014, what are your impressions?

Jan 07

A Trip Down Memory Lane

First of all – in my first post this year - I’d like to wish every visitor a happy, successful, creative, lovely, crazy, full-of-fun 2014! I’ve already done it on my social media pages, but here I go again…

After the Holidays I’m back to work at our little office. It’s almost 11 p.m., had a long but productive day at work, and I’m still sitting here. Thinking. Reminiscing. Most commonly it’s called insomnia :D

The New Year has started, and I’m proud to say that our multimedia company, D&D Creations, successfully closed its first year in business. This Friday we will come together with our most loyal Clients and Partners, experts, friends and family members who supported us, and raise our glasses to an even more successful future.

We’ve been through a lot. In our first year we’ve already experienced just about everything a company can face – positive things as well as some lessons to learn. Getting started is never easy, but here we are – starting the second year on full throttle, new projects are scheduled and already started, and we are expanding in many ways.

After finishing my work scheduled for today, I kind of started taking a trip down the memory lane. How did things happen after first disovering Vue 6 back in 2007? I found myself browsing my Vue renders from the beginning on DeviantART, the site I first started sharing my work at. Then I had this idea – I’ve selected my favorite renders from each Vue version I’ve had, plus some renders that had some significance. It’s sometimes funny, but it’s also interesting to see how my style has changed throughout the years.

But enough of the words; let the pictures talk!

One of my first renders with  Vue 6, from 2007. Back then I created many renders with aircrafts, since I love flying. I loved this render so much that I printed it and pinned it on my wall. (feel free to laugh now :D )

One of my first renders with Vue 6, from 2007. I haven’t found the very first one, which was – surprisingly – some palm trees on a shore. Back then I created many renders with aircrafts, since I love flying. I think I rendered this on a dual-core machine with 2 GB RAM. I loved this render so much that I printed it and pinned it on my wall. (feel free to laugh now :D )

"Paradiso 2" - my favorite render in Vue 6 Infinite, from 2008. 95% of my renders depicted strong red sunsets back then. (Yeah - the lighting on the planets is incorrect. I didn't pay attention.)

“Paradiso 2″ – my favorite render in Vue 6 Infinite, from 2008. 95% of my renders depicted strong red sunsets back then. (Yeah – the lighting on the planets is incorrect. I didn’t pay attention.)

"A New Awakening" from 2008, made in Vue 6. Situ Gunung in Indonesia has always been a big inspiration for me, and I really liked this render back then. *grins*

“A New Awakening” from 2008, made in Vue 6. Situ Gunung in Indonesia has always been a big inspiration for me, and I really liked this render back then. *grins*

"Morning at Situ Gunung" - ...but let's jump ahead in time a little bit, and see how the same place inspired me in 2011. Vue 9.5

“Morning at Situ Gunung” – …but let’s jump ahead in time a little bit, and see how the same place inspired me in 2011. Vue 9.5

"Late Autumn" - first render in Vue 7, first render using Radiosity, first submission to E-on's Picture of the Day contest and - first award:  Picture of the Day. Considering the fact that *this* could be awarded and some recent works were skipped, in the past 5 years I still couldn't figure out how E-on selects their showcase material. I stopped participating about a year ago.

“Late Autumn” – first render in Vue 7 from 2008, first render using Radiosity, first submission to E-on’s Picture of the Day contest and – first award: Picture of the Day. Considering the fact that *this* could be awarded and some recent works were skipped, in the past 5 years I still couldn’t figure out how E-on selects their showcase material. I stopped participating about a year ago.

TreasuresofAsia_vue7_2009

“Treasures of Asia” – Vue 7, from 2009. This was not just one of my favorite renders in Vue 7, but Michel – who is now my partner in business and in life as well – contacted me the first time asking how the “hero” rock was made. So technically, this render is the root of D&D Creations. Interesting to see!

"Follow the Sun" - Vue 7, from 2009. First Cream of the Crop award at Cornucopia3D. This award meant something back then; that gallery was updated maybe once or twice a year, with a few works. Now it's updated almost every day, and sometimes it feels like they're flipping a coin. Lately I use Cornucopia3D for money-making only.

“Follow the Sun” – Vue 7, from 2009. First Cream of the Crop award at Cornucopia3D. This award meant something back then; that gallery was updated maybe once or twice a year, with a few works. Now it’s updated almost every day, and sometimes it feels like they’re flipping a coin. Lately I use Cornucopia3D for money-making only.

"Elven Lake" - Vue 8, from 2009. My first article ever published (3D Artist Issue 14) was based on this scene.

“Elven Lake” – Vue 8, from 2009. My first article ever published (3D Artist Issue 14) was based on this scene.

 

"Sanctuary" - My favorite Vue 8 render from 2009. It got the first Picture of the Day award in 2010 (1st of January). I wanted to render it in a higher resolution, but unfortunately the scene file got corrupted.

“Sanctuary” – My favorite Vue 8 render from 2009. It got the first Picture of the Day award in 2010 (1st of January). I wanted to render it in a higher resolution, but unfortunately the scene file got corrupted.

"Land of Legends" - favorite Vue 8.5 render from 2010.

“Land of Legends” – favorite Vue 8.5 render from 2010.

"The Escapist" - favorite Vue 9 render from 2011.

“The Escapist” – favorite Vue 9 render from 2011.

"Another Hidden Civilization" - favorite Vue 9.5 render from 2012. Cover of 3D Art Direct Issue 22. To this day I still think Vue 9.5 was the best and most stable Vue version. Although, 2014 also looks very promising! So far so good...

“Another Hidden Civilization” – favorite Vue 9.5 render from 2012. Cover of 3D Art Direct Issue 22. To this day I still think Vue 9.5 was the best and most stable Vue version. Although, 2014 also looks very promising! So far so good…

"A Little Place of my Own" - favorite Vue 10 render.

“A Little Place of my Own” – favorite Vue 10 render.

A WIP version of the image I created for the cover of 3D World Issue 156 - one of the projects I'm the most proud of! Created in Vue 10, in 2012

A WIP version of the image I created for the cover of 3D World Issue 156 – one of the projects I’m the most proud of! Created in Vue 10, in 2012

"Kingdom of Gold" - this is not just my favorite artwork created in Vue 10.5, but probably my favorite of all. Published in 2012.

“Kingdom of Gold” – this is not just my favorite artwork created in Vue 10.5, but probably my favorite of all. Published in 2012.

"Cave Exploration" - Vue 10.5, from 2012. Finalist of the 3D Environment Contest, organized by E-on Software and sponsored by several major VFX studios. ...I wonder why it was skipped last year...

“Cave Exploration” – Vue 10.5, from 2012. Finalist of the 3D Environment Contest, organized by E-on Software and sponsored by several major VFX studios. …I wonder why it was skipped last year…

"Peaceful Japansese Garden" - favorite render in Vue 11. I think this is the first render I used static plants only.

“Peaceful Japansese Garden” – favorite render in Vue 11. I think this is the first render I used static plants only.

 

"Little Tropical Pond" - favorite Vue 11.5 render. Our second MasterClass was based on the creation of this scene.

“Little Tropical Pond” – favorite Vue 11.5 render. Our second MasterClass was based on the creation of this scene.

...and last but not least, my favorite render in the newest Vue 2014....so far. Since I spend most of my time working on commercial projects, I hardly can squeeze in something personal. This scene itself is also not entirely personal; it's a part of our logo animation which is currently in production.

…and last but not least, my favorite render in the newest Vue 2014….so far. Since I spend most of my time working on commercial projects, I hardly can squeeze in something personal. This scene itself is also not entirely personal; it’s a part of our logo animation which is currently in production.

Michel always tells me not to get too technical. If you focus on technical aspects while creating a scene, it may affect your creativity. At work, we can not neglect technical issues, since there is always someone on the other side who expects us to deliver the best quality for the least amount of money (no complaints, I’m aware of the current economy). As I was “walking down memory lane”, I had the feeling that though the quality of my work (along with my computer specs and Vue’s features) has improved, I tend to focus too much on perfectionism than just being creative. As I was browsing my old, poor-quality renders, it was kind of shocking to see how creative I was. The details, the vivid colors, the stories of my renders…. I love my job very-very much, but I’m asking: is there a line between an Artist and a 3D Designer/Illustrator/Animator etc…?

Well, time to prepare for the next day at the Studio. This was a long post, and though it’s not as personal for you guys as for me, I hope you found it interesting. Hope to see a lot of nice artwork from you guys this year as well! :)

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