#59: SHADOWS & LIGHT (Vue)
(and other apps)


An explanation of how I made a scene, as a guide to help you :)

krowhunter swordmage small
I didn't just pull that pic out of my arse, lol, I had to work on it. Takes time, effort and a lot of pre-built items, pre-planning and pre-work, helps a ton! Otherwise my images would take months to make. The end result though is well worth the effort :)

At the moment I'm more into building scenes and learning how to do that better, than mesh making,

Anway, I use Vue with Poser imports. Trick though, is to get imports looking good, hence the tutorial I did on that subject.

When creating a scene, I import individual Poser figures first, and work on them until they are "sweet". I then save them out as Vue native format (.vob) then import them back in, so they work more efficiently in the final scene.

This character is an "eladrin swordmage", a grey elf, for 4th ed D&D, hence his eyes are silvery with no pupils.
I hate the oversized silly ears I see on many elves, sigh, more graceful ones are more pleasing.
I mixed various morphs to get a face I liked, still not angular enough, IMHO though, but I'm not very good with Poser, even after all these years, as I only use it for assembly/pose/expression. Guess I'll need to learn to use the "Face Room" in Poser to sculpt sharper cheek bones etc!
I do have Zbrush 3, but find it far too much of a pain to use to make morphs etc, that would be another way to make a good morph for better facial features.


final character

Working from a rough idea in my head of what I wanted the character to be like, I went through my Poser library, noting down on a pad of paper, what possible assets to use. See, the problem with 3D art, is that you may have a very wide library of items to use, so you have to go through it all and FIND what maybe useful, then test it all ;)

This is why it's very important to arrange libraries of textures, and Poser runtimes with info, very carefully, believe me! Alway save a picture of a 3D item into the folder you download/store it, this way, you can easily scan through your hard drive, by turning on "VIEW LARGE ICONS" which will give you a icon for an image, to give a rough idea of what the item in a folder is ;) Saves a ton of time!

Using Michael4, and "Dauntless" clothing, I added a sword from an elven themed pack (as the sword Dauntless comes with is far too small, more of a shortword).

The character will be meant to have used a spell to do a short "dimension door" to jump directly in front of an enemy, and gave him a furious expression as the enemy will be a drow (elves and eladrin hate drow). (I later decided to leave that effect out).

He's swining his sword in a very forceful arc, using his momentum, and the drow is trying to parry by nudging the eladrin's blade to one side. The drow is too lightly built to block such a brutal attack, the eladrin knows this hence that's why he's using it...so the drow's trying to make it slide just a bit away to safety while he dodges. This causes the eladrin's sword arm to be unbalanced, hence the pose. Please remember, in "realistic" fights, it is nothing like you see in a lot of Hollywood or in a dojo etc.

When I make a scene, I think about what it's about, and in this case, how the fight occurs.

Realistic fight sequences are very unequal, chaotic etc. Unlike in Olympic fencing, these two characters are neither the same in build nor in weapons, or style of combat!
A straight fight between them won't be a nice coreographed dance, as you'd see in fencing. A single blow form that burning broadsword will lop off a limb, the eladrin's idea is to either shatter the drow's arm, or, on the descend, shatter his knee, thus ending his mobility advantage.
The drow wants to gently parry attacks, as he's not got much armour or strnegth to block, and use sslices to weaken, cripple enemies, and use his poisoned dagger to parry and poison opponents.
The drow is not a front line melee combatant, but neither is he incapable. The eladrin is not a typical "fighter", as he uses spells to augment his fighitng abilities and ad things a more skilled swordman couldn't achieve, like make magical light ;).

  • The Eladrin is athletic and strong but not massively so, the drow light but incredibly agile. Both are intelligent and quick of wits.
  • The eladrin uses a heavy blade designed to hack enemies apart and too heavy to be used without full comitment, the drow uses an adamantine scimittar to slice enemies and let them bleed in an economical conservation of energy, and a poisoned dagger.
  • The eladrin uses spells, here he casts a sepll that regardless of any other effect, will dazzle the drow, who hate bright lights! The drow uses stealth and magic items to backstab foes.

Now, I decided to give him a flaming magic sword. To do this, I used a mixed material in Vue, one steel, one fiery.
I always tweak materials, so even the steel on the sword is custom, I used the bump from the original weapon texture, to give nice carving on the pommel, but with my own Vue procedural which I really like for shiny steel blades.

For the fiery material, I made a custom colour gradient, black with orange and yellow, using a Voronoi function to drive it, making it look like hot coals or some such, which is more interesting than pure orangey/yellows.
I added a very small amount of glow to improve it, and some luminosity to make it literally light up and believable.

To make the fiery material appear only on the sword tip/upper edges, I made a custom greyscale UV map to drive the mixed material. I loaded the sword .obj into UVMapper pro, exported the UVs as a bitmap, loaded into photoshop and tinkered away, finally exporting it as a jpg.

For those not familiar with Vue, "Mixed materials", are two materials combined on one object, and you can assign which appears where, based on many types of functions, such as, altittude (to drive beach and shore lines as an example), or in this case, an image map to assign fiery and steel materials.

Using a UV map I can assign exactly where I want things to appear, and also how much they blend softly together (or not).

sword material distribution

To improve the fire effect, I wanted to add flames..now, Vue doesn't have particles, and volumetric fire etc isn't that great. So I used an alpha plane with a photoshop of image of actual fire that I'd bought from Renderosity ;)
(Damned useful buy that was, IMHO, $5 for 20 or so psd fire images with transparencies).
I'd saved each of the images on seperate alpha planes in Vue and saved them as .vobs (having a good resource library really helps!)

So aligned that with sword, and voila' a Flameblade! :)

Notes: you can see a mistake, where I put the shoulder guard so high it is in his face, as a real person's flesh would bend, ah well doesn't matter as I intended him only to be seen from ONE side ;)
A also his hair isn't perfect, a limitation of what I was using which means some post work to hide the odd scalp line and bit where it actually pokes through his right cheeck..
His skin looks odd, but this is a "studio render" not one meant to be a final art render, and his skin I tweaked specifically for the final render and it's lighting!

CGI is artistic fakery, often you have to fake it, no worries!;)

fiery sword

I gave the skin of the character a lighter colour than what he came with, to keep with the elven look, and subsurface scattering, which I find a royal pain in the arse in Vue to get right at the moment, grr, but makes figures look much better
I had to "split" the mesh down into all it's component parts, sort out the various skin areas, and weld together all the parts with same flesh material, then weld the face and main body skin, to get the SSS to work right.

I could have imported form Poser as a completely welded mesh to save a lot of that hassle, but....I like them being seperate as it lets me fiddle when editing, altering body parts etc
In any event I generally find when using SSS, you have got to "split" the eyelashes off the head model, or it goes weird at render time.
Hope Vue version7 fixes the oddities of SSS!

I used Photoshop to alter the tabard colour, which was a deep, dark brown/wine red, which was too dark, and made it into blue and white striped design. Again, more in keeping with an elf and a nice contrast in the otherwise "dark" scene. A lot of work, but well worth it.

I altered the color of his belt from solid and boring black to a lighter brown using "Blend with colour" (chose suitable brown) and "Color mask" turned on, at about 50%.

In retrospect I should have added more bump to the chain mail, damn.

The hair isn't perfect, it sticks through some mesh parts, but I'll clean that up in postwork in Photoshop.
Note when doing hair or other such materials in Vue, to turn anisotropic highlights on.

Far too dark and not so interesting

Exported the figure as .vob (Vue format model), started a new Scene, and imported the optimized figure in.

Decided to make it a night scene, which will show off the flaming sword well, and be perfect for drow (who hate bright light).

Added cobblestone ground, with high speculairty to try and make it look wet, but...I fear I used wrong bump map, so not sure if it looks slick enough. Added a water plane so it loosk liek water has collected between the cobbles..again not sure if it shows on final render, lol. But it's important to the reality of the scene.

The drow and collapsed armoured cleric I had previously made for another scene, and merely had to import the .vob models in, saving time! So, always save stuff you make!! ;)
I tweaked the drow's sword and dagger blade materials, adding a glow and slight luminosity, to make it appear magical.

I wanted it to be a foggy night, helping the look and disgusing any lack of the background models' quality. I tried using some "metaclouds" to create nice looking fog, but found it grossly increased render times, probably 'cause it was so close and even around the camera! So I removed that and just added a lot of fog and mist in the Atmosphere settings.

The buildings are meant to be seen from a distance, not up close like that, so to I disguised them to an extent by putting plants in containers in front of the door, to hide the "polygnal" look of the low density mesh. I also added my "dirt map" material to the buildings so they wouldn't appear too pristine.

From my initial idea about the Teleport, I added a small quadratic light near the swordmage's hand, with a tweaked custom lens flare.

The scene was over all lit by 1 sun light and 4 quadratic point lights. All set to 4 or 5 degree softness which is needed for such a softly lit scene.
In the Atmosphere tab, I turned down the Light Intensity to -0.93, with the fog, this gives a soft moon-like look.

Light #1: in a torch on the wall near the doorway, to give background contrast and interest. Added a gell so it wasn't too regular, yellowish-tan colour, as torch light should be.
#2 = Swordmage hand light is set to a pale blue, for magical look and contrast.
#3 =A "scene" light, positioned in front and above head height, not visible (no lens flare) this help add extra light onto the characters, to "bring them out".
#4 = sword light, meant to be light coming from the burning fiery sword.


I rendered using my custom" uber high quality" settings, this also helps get rid of the "moire' patterns" that appear on the fine tabard details.

Then, afterwards in Photoshop, I added the special effect halo of stars around the swordmage, using a plugin (GIF-X 2), to make him seem to have a shield of magical energy around his body, as those kind of characters are meant to have.
After that I tweaked a lot in Photoshop, adjusting levels, curves etc,and used an "action" to improve it's looks.

I usually save various sequential copies of the Photoshop work (as I do all my work!), and copy/paste and tweak on many different layers, to see what looks good, naming the layer after the effect so I know what I did. I often combine layers, by adjusting opacity and/or blend mode, so you build up a complex look. All a matter of taste!

Voila', finished :)


I hope you find this of use! :)

All original art, writing on this site, copyright of Steven James, "Silverblade the Enchanter" ©2012