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Monthly Archives: February 2008
Vintage “Star Pirate” Comic at Golden Age Comic Book Stories

Filed under Found on the Web

Star Pirate - vintage space pirate comicsHot off the web pages of Golden Age Comic Book Stories is this eight page story by Murphy Anderson, from Planet Comics in 1945.

I have to admit I’m not sure why our hero’s actually named Star Pirate, why he hangs out with an obese space pirate named Blackbeard, or whether he actually is a pirate. He seems like a pretty straight arrow to me.

But none of that’s very important when you discover that you’re in a world where towering robots buy all the slaves at a slave auction and almost no one is curious about why they want them; or when you find that there’s a mad scientist at work, which of course is reassuring – but most importantly, we learn here that dipping people in tallow will preserve them in a state of suspended animation. Hot? Yes. Disgusting? You bet. But oh, so useful.

The story spans two posts on this page.

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Continuing Progress on my Retro-Future Cityscape

Filed under Computer Graphics, Works in Progress

The City of Yesterday's Tomorrows, in progress

All may seem quiet around here, but in fact I’ve been working steadily on this image (which I posted about earlier, here and here). Although I’ve thought about posting some more updates, I haven’t. All of this new work has been on distant elements, and then the monorail terminal and the sixteen characters who are getting off (or on) the monorail, or working up on its track (see the inset at right). Because of the relative size of all those things they’re scarcely visible when the whole picture is scaled down from over Construction Workers of the Future That Never Was7000 pixels wide to this size, 501 pixels wide. So it’d have been almost pointless to try to keep you up to date. There’d have been very little obvious change.

As of this afternoon, though, I’ve got the far and middle distance more or less set; I’ve done the final (or semifinal) renderings of the three scenes that so far are composited together here, and I’ve added a sort of poor man’s depth of field effect on the distant cityscape.

Although there will be quite a bit of retouching to do in Photoshop, everything you see behind the foreground balcony is in a semifinal state. So I thought I ought to post an update now, before I start working on the foreground.

I had some difficulties with the way 3DS Max does its render effects and rendering passes. The first problem was that I was getting unpredictable results from the Z Depth pass. That’s an additional rendering that uses greyscale to show how far from the camera everything in the picture is – it can be very useful for creating masked effects, like depth of field, in post.

So to get around that, I’ve created a Z Depth pass in a sort of handmade way, using the free Bytegeist “ZTint” plugin for Max. I rendered out a Z Depth version of each scene and combined them together in Photoshop (see below). By using the exact same settings in each rendered layer I’ve built up my own Z Depth version of the background. It makes a geat mask for adding efects to the entire scene in Photoshop, based on their distance from my camera.

In order to get what you see below I applied a white, self-illuminated material to every visible object. The ZTint render effect added black to the object color depending on its distance.

Z Depth version of the retro future city scene

It turns out that it was a good idea to avoid Max’s render elements, because another problem I ran into was that when network rendering the scene in strips – which conserved memory while these very large images were rendering – the additional rendering passes were not rendered correctly.

The main image rendered out in ten strips which were then stitched together at the end. But additional render passes like Z Depth or a specularity pass were never completed in the same way: each strip just overwrote the previous one and they were never assembled together, since only one tenth of them existed at the end anyhow. Annoying.

I’m still using Max 8, so I don’t know if that bug’s been fixed in the more recent versions.

Anyway, it’s now time to turn my attention to all the work I have yet to do on that balcony in the foreground and the characters there. I don’t have any real idea of how long those bits – and the final compositing and post work – will take, but I figure it’ll easily be another couple of weeks before this is done. Luckily for me, I’m not working to a deadline!

“Laser Harp” by Photographer Stephen Hobley

Filed under Found on the Web

Now if we were to quibble, we might call this a Laser Lyre rather than a Laser Harp: it’s got a limited range, and the arrangement of the “strings” is more lyre-like than harp-like. But we don’t get to quibble because we aren’t clever enough to build one ourselves, are we?

union station, indianapolis, by Stephen HobleyThis is the brainchild of Stephen Hobley, a photographer from Indianapolis. The “Laser Harp” is one of his side projects – another was the conversion of a player piano into a computer case.

Hobley has posted a brief tour of the Laser Harp’s workings here, with more information at his blog. And while you’re there, don’t miss his photographs of Indianapolis’ decaying Union Stationreally nice stuff there!

Slumped Glass Night Lights and art glass by Paulette Martin

Filed under Found on the Web

Slumped glass night lights

One nice thing (well, sometimes) about rendering tests is that for a few minutes at a time, I’ve got nothing to do. Now in fact that’s often frustrating, but not always – for example, now.   Look what I found – here are some cool Piratical nightlight in slumped glassslumped glass night lights and other gewgaws from the workshop of my aunt, Paulette Martin. Love that Kokopelli!

Paulette’s off in the southwest, which has seeped into some of her work with its patterns and themes. Her Smugmug account has photos of these objects and loads more, including lamps , vases, and window pieces.

Still in progress: Retro-Future City Scene

Filed under Computer Graphics, Works in Progress

Retropolis - city scene in progress

I continue my struggle to show you things that aren’t ready for your eyeballs yet with the current state of my (still to be named) retro futuristic city scene. I’ve made one pass through the middle distance, and a long pass through the distant city, and today I’m back in the middle distance again.

This is the first practical use I’ve made of the city model I started ages ago and worked on again during the fall. It’s interesting to see how I’ve come to use it. Because the city itself is built out of large, complex sections, it was simple enough to drop a complete copy into my Close up of retro sci-fi citybackground here. The surprising things happened when I tried to make a picture out of it; like Raymond Loewy’s revision of the Lucky Strike cigarette pack, the real trick was in figuring out what to throw away. So while I did plenty of moving, scaling, and rotating of individual buildings, more than anything else I had to decide which ones to delete completely in order to open up the vista in a way that served the picture.

I added a lot of detail to the monorail pylons and created catwalks that run their length. There’ll be a few workers up there soon. But today I’m positioning some shadow-casting silhouettes that create the illusion that more buildings, out of the frame, are casting shadows across the ones we see close up. There’s a lot of trial and error involved in that. Like there is, um, in everything else.

I’m still handling the scene in three separate layers. Once I combined the far and middle distance into a single scene the rendering times increased pretty dramatically – and having them all together didn’t actually solve any problem I needed to solve – so I split them apart again. Go figure.

One little tool that was all sorts of help here is Martin Breidt’s Image Overlay script for 3DS Max. It’s really meant to superimpose frame numbers and other data on renderings, but it’ll also do a quick image overlay. I’m using it to drop in whole layers (like a Targa image of the foreground balcony) so that I can see how the layers stack up, while I’m just working on one. A back layer’s easy – it’s just an environment map –  but it’s been really helpful to composite that foreground in as I go, too.

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