BODIES OF EVIDENCE

I’ve talked a lot about DAZ on this site, and for good reason.  I’ve made my living as a hard surface (i.e. mechanical things and rigid structures) modeler.  I’m good at those things, and frankly enjoy that work. By contrast, character modeling is a whole different bag of puppy chow.  There are rules upon rules to obey, anatomy to master, and that darned uncanny valley to avoid.  Hard surface modeling comforted me, but character modeling was fear incarnate.

Despite this, I experimented with creating the characters for Discarded Lives within LightWave, my primary tool.  “I’m a pro,” I reasoned.  “Surely I can elbow-grease my way through this problem!”

Two weeks later, after hours of hard labor balancing a single mesh between LightWave, Mudbox, and Photoshop, I finished “Gina”:

At least I’m proud of her armor, corset, and belt…

 

"Gina" Test Expression

This was the facial morph test that convinced me to look elsewhere.

Of course, modeling “Gina” was only part of the challenge:  I had to rig her to move and act.  That was a not-insignificant accomplishment, even with some amazing tools at my disposal:

…but at least it was slow and cumbersome!

I’d done it.  I’d created a character for my comic.  One down…and only a few dozen more to go.

Crap.

Worse, as proud as I was of the work I’d performed, I also knew that “Gina” didn’t hit most of the marks I’d made for myself.  Her appearance wasn’t as appealing as it needed to be, her silhouette was uninspired, and her anatomy just felt off.

Nope.  If I ever wanted to make this work, I had to find another way.

This was a pretty black time for me.  I’d just uncovered a major weakness in both my skill set and my process.  With the speed at which I would need to work for the comic, I needed a tool that would allow me to “dial-in” characters as I needed using a pre-built mesh.

Thus DAZ — and more specifically the Genesis mesh — saved my sanity.

THE HARD STUFF

Of course, the comic isn’t all characters.  Trey, Anika, and the others live in a world filled with geography, buildings, and all manner of things.  When I check the assets I need for a panel (yes, I have an asset list built for every single panel in the comic) I then make the decision whether to build or buy what I need.

This is not always as easy a decision as you’d think.  Quite often, the DAZ site has assets that are almost perfect for my needs.  They are usually priced to move, so the decision becomes one of money versus time.  If I can purchase the asset cheaply, and thus free myself up to work on other parts of the production, so be it.  While I might have enjoyed modeling, say, another mountain pass,  the twelve dollars I spend on a beautifully modeled highland path (complete with bridge, multiple preset cameras, and terrific textures) is money well spent.

Other times, however — like in the case of this Inn — I realize I can do the job faster and cheaper than it would be to purchase the asset.  Thus, I dive in and make the set.

Despite its sometimes archaic interface choices, I love the LightWave modeler.  I’ve used it long enough that its toolset is burned into my fingertips.  While other modelers (3DS Max, Maya, Modo, and even Blender) all have fantastic features, LightWave is my tool, and I’ll defend it to any artist in the field.

RENDER ME THIS 

LightWave isn’t merely a modeling tool for Discarded Lives, though: It’s also used extensively in the rendering process.  Between its excellent assortment of lights, its powerful node surfacing system, and its Viewport Preview Rendered (VPR) view, I’m able to produce shots and background plates that would be either too time-consuming or too labor-intensive to mimic in DAZ Studio.

Take panels two, three, and five in today’s comic.  That diffuse sunlight coming through the window?  That’s all LightWave, achieved with a simple spotlight and some procedural fog.   Set the light, tweak its settings, turn on the fog, and smile at the result.  That’s a tool I can get behind.

Discarded Lives is filled with background plates and sets built with LightWave.  As the interchange between tools improves, expect to see much more dramatic shots in the future.

Enough chatting.  Off to work on Issue Four.