BTS – On The Beach

First, I will say that this image has  revealed a few issues and created a few frustrations. I will list them right off the top to get them over with.

  1. I am not happy with the pose I created. I created the pose with a specific image in mind but when trying to put that image together, I changed my mind but kept the pose. It wasn’t until late in the process when I really decided I didn’t like the pose but by then it was too late to go back.
  2. The current version of GIMP which I am using (2.10.10) has a ‘new’ option to enable using 32bit floating point precision when editing images. The default is 8 bit and I wouldn’t have considered changing it until watching a video pointing out that it was available and I should be using it….so I did.  When I thought I was all done and went to use Irfanview to resize my image for uploading, the image was much darker than I had created. When I resized using GIMP, they looked fine but upon uploading to this site, the uploaded image was also several shades darker. An hour after back tracking and undoing I finally determined that setting GIMP back to 8 bit before exporting the image resulted in the expected uploads.
  3. Finally (so far!) After sorting the above out, when I uploaded the images for this post I noticed that all of the files I have uploaded since installing the EWWW image optimizer have been converted from the original .png to .jpg format even though I specifically disabled that function. A google search took me to EWWW’s site where 9 months ago, a user complained about this very thing. The response was (paraphrased) “You obviously don’t know what you’re doing so we took care of it for you. If you REALLY  wanted to keep your .png images, justify it to us and we’ll think about it.”  Yeah, I’m looking for a new image optimizer or at the very least, a way to leave the original uploaded files untouched. This server is a backup repository for my original images.  Don’t touch!
  4. Finalcut!  Way back I was given a copy of Finalcut Pro…a $399 value. I decided to use it when creating the videos for this effort. What I am doing is super simple yet nearly every video has been a pain because Finalcut Pro is not intuitive and even when  you think you finally figured out how to do something simple…sometimes it just doesn’t work. It’s not just me. I’ve watched several videos of extremely frustrated users and learned from a coworker that uses it professionally that this is normal.The video created for this one was another frustration. I’m not trying to do anything fancy so rather than continue frustrating myself, I’ll most likely not use Finalcut in the future.  My 29.95 Movie Maker 6 will do the same thing much, much easier..

There!  I feel better now!

Now, onto the process.

This effort began with two pictures only because of the conflict with Aedan’s hat and hair.  I could have just drawn the hair in I suppose (and did later) but to start I wanted a ‘clean’ image with his hair in place and not pouring through the hat. So, after lots of tweaking to get the sun as I thought I wanted it and moving around to get a decent composition, I took the first image.

Hair was removed and the second image was grabbed. Close inspection will reveal that the bird and trees have moved between images so though they are otherwise identical, a choice had to be made about which to use.

Two layer maps were used in GIMP to introduce the gausian blur to items above the wall and gradually, behind the grass at the edge of the sand.

First shot for "On The Beach"
First shot for "On The Beach"

There were many hand-made edits to achieve the final image. The palm tree behind Aedan isn’t blurred as much as the other things that are further away so where they met had to be smoothed over.  Foot prints were needed in the sand so that he didn’t appear to have just dropped in from the sky…and sand added around his left foot that is bearing weight.

Shadows were added where I felt windlight had failed….under the brim of the hat, on his cheeks behind the glasses, along the left side of his torso behind the shirt and on his legs below the shorts (which in hindsight may have been a bit much but I was eager to add shadows 😀 )

 

Finally, concerning Aedan, I manually added hair to his beard and head since I’ve not been able to find what I’m looking for in SL. At this distance it’s unnoticeable unless you’re looking specifically for it. Future images will be closer so hopefully I will have perfected the technique by then!

The final touch was to add a flare and some dirt on the lens but the photographer took the shot with the sun in the wrong place so….he moved until there was solar reflection in the top floor window of the building across the street 😉

Aedan walking the beaches of Havana
Final Image

On The Beach

Aedan walking the beaches of Havana
Walking the beaches of Havana
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“May I take your dishes, senor?” 

Aedan looked up from the tourist guide he was reading to the friendly smile of the waitress.

“Yes….si!”  He corrected himself, leaned back and held the flyer against his chest as he endeavored to stay out of her way. She asked about refilling his glass of tea but he declined. He had finished his meal some time ago and then leisurely sipped his glass while looking for places to visit. The little ice she had scraped up to put in his glass had melted some time ago and he was now ready to start exploring again.

He gazed curiously at the woman in the booth adjacent to him.  She too had wrapped herself up reading while she ate and never looked at him again. A glance from here would have been enough for him to try to engage in small talk with her but it never came. Even as he gathered his tourist fliers and stood, she remained engrossed in what she was reading.

He observed the man sitting near the door looking his way a couple times. Each time Aedan caught him looking, the man looked away and turned back to the paper he held before him.

While paying his bill at a vintage cash register at the end of the bar, Aedan asked the waitress about things to see that might not be so popular for tourists. He was interested in getting off the beaten trail and seeing more of the authentic side of Havana, the less crowded beaches. She happily pointed out a few places and marked their location on the map that he was carrying. 

Closing the door behind him, Aedan quickly realized that though it wasn’t especially cool inside the diner, it was much more pleasant than the heat and humidity that pounced upon him now. He wasted no time in donning the straw hat he had purchased earlier that day, looked to his map then, with his goal in mind set out to find it. 

He planned to be in Havana for a week so there was no need to see everything today. What he really wanted today was to feel the sand between his toes, hear the crashing of waves on the beach and to feel the ocean breeze. The waitress had told him that the beach near where he was staying was indeed a popular place for tourists but it would also leave him but a few steps away from his room and the long day was catching up with him. 

Aedan stopped at a couple stores along his path. There were a few things that interested him but not enough to buy anything…nothing beyond a new shirt which seemed much more fitting for the weather.  The shirt also better matched the hat which he was quickly becoming fond of.

Thirty minutes later Aedan felt the caress of the warm carribean water on his feet. The breaking of waves drowned out the traffic noise on the street above the beach.  It mostly drowned out the yelling and laughing of children and teenagers. Aedan was again alone with his thoughts and it felt good.

He walked along the edge of the water for thirty minutes before turning around. The sun was well into its decline by now and the hottest part of the day was past making the return trip even more enjoyable.

Between watching the small birds staying ahead of him while simultaneously zig-zagging  and forth to stay at the edge of breaking waves and watching hermit crabs run for cover as he approached, Aedan found himself thinking about the events of the last couple days again.  He had now become quite comfortable in his younger body but he knew there would be explanations needed when he returned home.The notion that this was all a dream had faded away. It was much easier to not think about the return home for now and so he didn’t.  To take his mind off of that as he walked, he gave some time thinking about Louise and if he should follow up to learn more about her story and what he should do if he was right about his suspicions. Surely they were just coincidences but then he was certain about nothing anymore.

“Senor, senor!”  Aedan hadn’t even heard the voice until he felt someone tugging on his hand. Bringing himself back to the present, he looked down to see a young boy walking beside him.  The boy was holding in his other hand a photograph. Around his neck was an old polaroid instamatic camera. 

The boy held the photo up for Aedan to see. It was of him walking the beach, alone. From his cursory glance, Aedan saw nothing special about the photograph and he attempted to wave the boy off. In previous trips, Aedan had experienced the onslaught of merchants attempting to sell their wares to tourists. He had a distinct memory of being surrounded by half a dozen boys of similar age trying to sell him something.  When he refused to buy it, the boys moved in and began reaching for his pockets and tugging at his clothes. Bewildered and outnumbered, he tried to defend himself by pushing them away but there were too many. Fortunately for him, Aedan spotted a policeman on a corner and moved directly toward him. The officer did nothing but watch but as Aedan got closer the boys did break up and leave.

Aedan looked around and saw no other kids paying attention. He saw no police. Giving in to the unavoidable with the hope that the boy would go his own way, Aedan took the picture from him and reaching into his pocket, retrieved a couple pesos that he handed to the boy who seemed more than please. With a huge smile and intense brown eyes the boy thanked Aedan and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

Aedan continued walking as he looked at the picture, trying to determine from where it was taken. While studying the photo, he felt something attached to the back. He flipped it over to find a white post-it note stuck to it.  In english, the note simply said “Tomorrow at 9pm “ and went on to provide an address. Nothing else.

Immediately, Aedan stopped and looked back for the boy. He was gone. He scanned in all directions around him but found nobody that grabbed his attention. Nobody was staring back at him.

The sun had just set when Aedan knocked on the door of the house that he was staying at. He heard several voices inside including that of the woman that had led him to his room earlier that day. She opened the door with a friendly smile. “Mr. Charron, please come in. There is still some food left if you’re hungry..”

Aedan politely turned down the offer but did accept the invitation to join them for a drink before heading to his room.  

Though the conversation was entirely in spanish and Aedan struggled to follow along, he was able to keep up enough to join the others in laughter. On the occasion that he was totally lost somebody would do their best to explain it to him. There is much to be said for the closeness and comradery displayed in cultures that are lacking in monetary wealth.  Of course, there are similar situations in the US but there is something unique about experiencing that in cultures other than our own.

An hour turned into two. When Aedan finally said goodnight and headed to his room, he was extremely relaxed. He hadn’t had a rum and coke for years…tonight he had two cubatas and he was feeling it.

BTS – The Diner

I will probably say this again and again but I am feeling more comfortable with Gimp with each of these ‘exercises’ that I do. Using layer masks was initially somewhat daunting but now that is becoming second nature and greatly simplifying the task at hand by minimizing the ‘glow’ that I was struggling with image. That ‘glow’ was a side effect of using a mask to cut out pieces and replacing them with bits that were cut from another image. That was not the case this time.

The first photo is the base that everything else was added to. Christi plays both the customer and the waitress but there is only one of her…

 

Part 1
Part 1
Part 2
Part 2

The second image is identical to the first except Christi is now playing the customer.

While examining photo 2 to determine where the customer would be snatched and added to the first photo I noticed that her long mesh skirt didn’t behave so nicely when she was sitting. I considered how to best address then and settled on taking another photo that was identical except she is wearing the short version of the skirt to which I copied bits from the previous photo and applied them where they should have actually been then manually touched up some areas to make it all fit.

Part 3
Part 3
Part 4
Part 4

To create a more realistic scene outside the diner where the light would be much brighter, everything inside the diner was de-rendered and windlight was tweaked to brighten it up.

After applying a gausing blur to the previous image, a layer mask was used to replace the areas that were being viewed through the windows. Another layer mask was used to create shadows were they were missing.  It is when I went to fix the shadows under the table that I realized the windlight settings I used washed out the marble texture in the floor so it took a bit of work to repair that.

Final Image

The Diner

Aedan finally finds a place to eat.
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Aedan stepped out of the store and into the bright sunshine. Of course he had been there less than a day so the newness of it all still embraced him. There seemed to be nothing exceptional about the hat he had just purchased though. It was the typical ‘Cuban fedora’ that he had seen on so many while walking the streets.  The brim was rolled down in the front to better block the sun. He wondered to himself if it would block rain as well.

Around the hat ran a band of leatherette – at least he hoped it was leatherette since he would not normally purchase anything using real leather.  He had little choice in this matter though. The instructions were passed to him without a chance to question anything. Presently, he was more concerned about wearing the hat because it was certainly meant to identify him. It was the only way to meet the contact that he had come to Havana to meet.

He flipped that hat over and examined the inside band. One side of the band was the same material but it was sewn to a plastic backing. This pleased him that is was probably leatherette.  He looked closely for any sign of tampering…for anything that looked out of place but he found nothing. After several moments of analyzing the hat he was satisfied that there was no electronic device attached to it.

As he slid his head into the hat he was pleasantly surprised to find that it fit perfectly without adjusting the strap. He wondered if this was a lucky guess or if the person he was meeting actually knew his hat size and if so, what else was known?

The relief from the sun provided by the hat was nearly instantaneous. It didn’t take long to figure out why they are so popular here though he guessed that he had paid a premium as a tourist. Though he noticed plenty of people staring at him, often children and younger people, he reasoned that to his being a foreigner which was not something he could hide.  It wasn’t just his blondish hair or inability to speak coherent Spanish but even his clothes seemed out of place. He mused to himself that the hat might have been overkill if anybody were looking for him.

For two hours he walked the streets of Havana. He wandered through stores of all types but was turned away when trying to purchase a souvenier to take home. The merchant would not accept his American currency but did draw him a map to a bank to exchange his dollars for pesos. After a second merchant also refused to accept his cash, he pondered that the old man with the hat must have been expecting him…of course he was!

Along the path to the bank, Aedan remembered he hadn’t really eaten yet today and began paying more attention to the restaurants. He didn’t have much hope of seeing ‘Vegana’ pasted to any windows but still he could hope.  He spotted one advertising fish and BBQ attached to a fresh produce market and noted the location in case he needed to return. If they had could prepare nothing he would eat, he would just eat it raw. It’s something he had been considering anyway. Perhaps this would be the push he needed.

The bank was a grand building that took an entire city block. Upon entering the front door, the high ceilings and inornate classical decorations were beautiful to gaze upon. Some seemed to be in pristine condition while others showed signs of actively being restored or badly needing restoration. Like so much he had seen today,  the Cuban people are doing wonders with what little they have to work with. Throughout his day, he found them to be extremely hospitable and friendly. He nearly forgot he was wearing a target on his head.

The teller in the bank was no different. She began speaking english as soon as it was obvious that Aedan was struggling to speak spanish. She was also quite talkative so Aedan took advantage of this and asked about places to see….places to eat. She rattled off a few near by restaurants that she highly recommended.  Some he had seen during his walk today. Others he hadn’t but the names of most of them didn’t appeal to him. Finally, he asked about vegan or vegetarian places.

“Oh! “ she rolled her eyes “you and my daughter…”   She smirked then paused to think. “You won’t find much here.  There are a few downtown but you’ll need a taxi to get there. We don’t have all the opportunities you have where you come from.  We’re happy to eat whatever we can. My daughter doesn’t go out much for that reason but she has mentioned a place a few blocks away.  They’re not vegan but they have stuff you would eat on the menu and a great salad bar”.

Aedan got the directions from here and thanked her for being so helpful and friendly before departing. On his way out of the bank it occured to him that the architecture was very similar to that in the older section of the Court House in Seattle. He guessed they might have been built around the same time…a time when Cuba was flush in foreign investment. That single decisions can lead countries – people – to such different outcomes was never more obvious to him. He mused that he was finding the people he met on the street friendlier than a walk through Seattle for the most part. Perhaps it’s easier to be friendly to strangers when one has less to be taken from them.  Of course, this isn’t unique to Cuba, he had witnessed this many times in he traveled much more in what seems like a lifetime ago, now.

With the directions he was given, Aedan found the restaurant exactly where the bank teller said he would. When he opened the door he stepped back into time. It was a diner from the 1950s. Old Chevy and Ford bumpers hung on the back wall. There were a couple he couldn’t identify.

Even before the door had closed completely, a smiling young lady met and welcomed him. There were no other customers. An older man wearing an apron sat on one of the stools at the counter, eating. He merely glanced at Aedan then continued eating. It was the middle of the afternoon and likely between any rushes if they happened.

The young woman took Aedan to a booth along the sidewall and offered him a menu as he slid onto the bench seat. He removed his hat and set it on the seat beside him then managed to ask for a glass of iced tea with lemon and ice all in Spanish. She replied negatively so quickly that he wasn’t able to decipher. The puzzled look on his face was obvious but before he could say any more she explained in english that they had run out of ice at lunch but assured him that the tea is kept in the refrigerator. They established that he needed a few moments to look through the menu and she left him to his own.

As Aedan read through the menu, occasionally translating words on his phone, another man walked in. He was a large and rather serious looking man but seemed to know the hostess as they had a few lines of friendly chatter. She pointed to a booth near Aedan but he nodded to the one nearest the door and sat down with his back to the door.

Aedan watched the interaction from the corner of his eye while trying to translate spanish to english.  He was carrying a briefcase and newspaper. The briefcase went on the seat beside him. He asked only for coffee then opened the newspaper he had brought with him.  A few more friendly words were exchanged when she poured his coffee then she returned to Aedan.

There was nothing marked ‘vegan’ on the menu but most of the dishes could be easily made so. She seemed unphased by his questions. With minimal effort he placed his order. It had been so tempting to just go for the salad but not knowing where he would eat next, he went for broke..and got a salad too  He had put on a lot of miles and the day was young. As he waited for his order, he pulled out his map to identify his location and plan the rest of his day. Before he could finish, his salad sat before him.

He was quite engrossed in the map sill before him while he ate when the door opened again. He didn’t even bother to look up until he heard a woman’s voice struggling with her spanish as he had. He looked up to see the woman dressed casually with her platinum blonde hair pulled up on her head. She and the waitress quickly broke into english as she asked for a set next to the window. The waitress advised her that it might be a bit warmer there with the sun still pouring in but she was undeterred.

Aedan tried to not stare as he listened. She was quite attractive and he could detect no accent in her voice.  Certainly she was American too. She wasn’t the only blonde he had seen all day but of the small handful he had seen, she was the first he heard speaking english.

Returning to his map plotting, Aedan continued listening to the two speak. He really had no choice made all the more difficult because it wasn’t in spanish as most of his day had been. She was indeed from the US but what got Aedan’s attention was that she was asking about meatless dinners. With her order placed, the waitress turned to Aedan and let him know in english that she was coming with his dinner next. At that, the blonde customer turned her head just enough to look at him, half smiled and then turned back straight and pulled her phone from her purse.

The man near the door was also paying attention. His eyes met Aedan’s for an instant before he looked back down to the newspaper he was reading.

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