Robert

Overkill - Robert Hawkins
Robert Hawkins

The ‘official’ introduction of Robert along with a tune to fit his character….in part.

This ended up being a fun image. As mentioned in an earlier post about Robert’s skin, I had to fix the embedded highlights first. It was initially a challenge until I figured out that both layers generated using frequency separation had to be cleaned up.  It wasn’t simply a matter of fixing the color on the low freq layer but there was also texture in the high frequency layer that was affecting the visible color in it’s own way.

Additionally, I hadn’t noticed when the shot was taken that the recent SL phenomena of a very visible horizontal line crossed his face with everything below his upper lip being many shades darker.  This two demanded cleanup on both layers.

The glass was the ‘new’ lesson for this image.  I have done reflections prior to this (El Sombrero) but this time I wanted realistic rain outside. In addition to painting in rain, I duplicated the method used in the following video – including the wet glass texture.

I played with several techniques trying to get the light and shadow I wanted but finally settled on using the lighting effects filter to place a spotlight on the lamp and then adjust the spotlight size, shape and color along tweaking the ambient light a bit. In the end it is very close to what I had done with duplicating and multiplying the final layer and then shaping the light with a mask. The spotlight looked much more natural to me so why reinvent light?

Finally, to summarize the feeling that the act of creating Robert’s character for the story I’m writing and what I saw in the final image, I listened to many pieces trying to find one that suited.  I settled on Overkill by Colin Hay (Men at Work)

I can’t get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know we’ll be alright
Perhaps it’s just imagination

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away

Alone between the sheets
Only brings exasperation
It’s time to walk the streets
Smell the desperation

At least there’s pretty lights
And though there’s little variation
It nullifies the night from overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Come back another day

I can’t get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

I worry over situations that
I know will be alright
It’s just overkill
Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away

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One in a Billion

Kyashi gets caught up in the up flow of One in a Billion
Kyashi gets caught up in the up flow of One in a Billion, a display by Fiona Fei at Shi Mo Gallery.

Being a fan of so many things Eastern for the last several years a post on the Secondlife Blog about a display taking Chinese Ink Drawings to the virtual world immediately caught my eye.  It seemed like a perfect place for Kyashi to visit so I sent her on her way with no time to change her clothes.

What she saw was truly beautiful and she brought back several images of which I’m certain  one or two will be used as a background in the future.  We tried to find a place to get a photo of her in the man room but the alpha transparencies of her hair made that difficult.  I wasn’t looking for a weekend project but something easy yet memorable.  When she stepped into the room housing the One in a Billion display and couldn’t resist flying with the those already there, I noticed that the transparency didn’t show up when she was against a white background.  We had a picture.

Probably the most difficult part of this image was finding a pleasing composition.  Everything was moving except the giant hand.  Putting that hand at the two third’s line in the image was easy.  Putting Kyashi at the 1/3 line was not.

The problem was that the hand is REALLY big. Looking at the white figure just below the thumb might give an idea of the size. Those ‘souls’ are very close to human (virtual human, that is) size. Getting Kyashi to be in the right place AND fill the frame was the challenge.  After some time, we finally found the sweet spot, way, way in front of the hand.

This was a straight shot.  No composites – only several layers to enhance the highlights and shadows using the technique I had only learned the day before from this video.

This project was quite simple but reinforced what I had learned here. I’ve since learned another way to do highlights and shadows by duplicating the image twice then setting one to multiply to burn, using a layer mask and one to screen to lighten similarly.  There are benefits and drawbacks from each method though I feel this one gives more control if you’re careful to not over do it.

I used this method to add highlights and shadow to her face and clothes in addition to bringing out some detail (highlights) in her hair.

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I Chose You

Max moves in
Max moves in

Meet Max. Max is my first attempt to grant my RL Maine Coon a tenth life, be it in SecondLife.  This image was actually the logical conclusion to several areas of Photoshop that I’ve been concentrating on lately:  hair and skin. You might ask “skin?”  and no, it’s not obvious. In addition to that was the feeling that I needed to create something that I could also post to flickr since it’s been a few weeks.

The obvious first.  Max is a hairball. Truly he is though the light in this picture doesn’t illustrate that well. I blame that on the weather but there will be more of him in the future.  I’ll also be recreating the other two cats that I share a house with though neither of them has as much hair.

On the SL marketplace I located a full perms mesh cat.  It came with the texture template so this was an immediate challenge that displaced everything else I was working on. Even as I examined max closely to map all of his markings for creating the new texture, I knew I would have to add more hair once that was uploaded and applied. In the end, the time I spent on the texture was complete overkill because none of it is visible, other than the ‘hairless’ image below. It does however, serve as a guide when painting on the additional hair after downloading the photo from SL.

On the subject of hair, Aedan received additional hair in PS, also.

Collage of SL and RL Max
Collage of SL and RL Max

How did skin play into this you might ask?  It did because I was needing a break from skin after exploring how I would fix Robert’s skin problems.  Oh!  and because I wanted rain puddles on the car but failed to find an easy way to easily add hundreds or thousands of realistic looking puddles. I found lots of tutorials describing basically two ways of creating puddles but none addressed how tedious that would be to cover the top of a car just as rain started to fall.

Giving up on that, I went down a different path. After spending at least an hour googling to find a decent image of puddles that I could use but finding only varying colors that I couldn’t get to work, it dawned on me that my recent introduction to frequency separation, which is how I ultimately addressed Rober’s skin, might be the answer.

My search began again but this time looking at only puddles and ignoring the color. In the end, the one I settled on was actually close enough to use without separation. Setting the layer blend mode to softlight was sufficient.  Still, I might be pounding my head on the desk if I had no hope that frequency separation would work.

In hind sight, I always see something that I wish I had spent more time on but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s sometimes best to say ‘good enough’ and move on. There will be another opportunity in the future.

Finally, as I mentioned in the original Flickr post, there are lots of cats, dogs, animals of all kinds that are abandoned for various reasons. If you want the companionship of another, non-human being, please save one from a shelter or rescue. Don’t contribute to the massive problem of unwanted pets by purchasing from a store or breeder.

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Robert

Edited Orion Skin by Nivaro
Edited Orion Skin by Nivaro

I am moving forward, if slowly, with continuing Aedan’s saga after his “spring break”. With a basic outline of how the story will go, I have been working on the character backgrounds to ensure all of the central characters are deep and don’t go off doing things willy-nilly.

I introduced Kyashi in the last post. This one is about Robert, or as most take the liberty to call him, Bob.  After writing the character description, I know Bob very well. It should be no surprise that I spent a lot of time searching for a skin to fit the character in my mind and came up empty.  In the end, I settled on “Orion” from Birth Skins.

The photo looks great. The skin is younger than I had hoped but most of my characters are not in their 20s so I knew finding skins in SL wouldn’t be easy. Unfortunately, part of what makes the Orion skin look so great in the ad are actually highlights painted onto the skin.  I didn’t realize this before making the purchase. Without going on about how much time I spent trying to get around this and the frustration it brought,  I’ll try to keep this short and simply show you what I ran into and how I’ll try to deal with it in upcoming photos.

Orion Skin by Nivaro
Embedded highlights in Orion Skin by Nivaro

It shouldn’t be too difficult to note the lighter spots in the skin on the forehead, around the eyes, the cheek bone and jaw. They are more pronounced on the left side.

I initially tried to use the clone stamp to get rid of them. This didn’t work well in the eye brow. I tried sampling the colors outside of these areas and painting but my inexperience with Photoshop screamed loudly as I lost skin texture. I wrote to the creator hoping for a skin with no highlights but as of January 1, I’ve heard nothing back at all.  My biggest concern is that even if I find an easy way to get rid of these spots, I will have to do it every single time I photograph him.

I solicited advice from a PS wizard who gave me two options to try. The first was to create a solid gray layer to burn and darken the tones while the second was to use frequency separation. This was something I had no experience at whatsoever so I was off to watch more tutorials.  There are many but one of the first and best I watched was “PHP Method” of Frequency Separation in Photoshop

This worked quite well. It is still somewhat tedious – especially on the area in the eye brows but it’s doable and I’m sure it will get easier with practice. This is how the first image was created.

I then tried her other suggestion of creating a new layer of neutral gray, setting the mode to overlay and gently burning the lighter areas beneath it. This was easier but never got as good of a result on the jaw and eyebrow area. I came to the conclusion that this must have been because the highlights may have been made by adding a lighter color to the skin rather than lightening the tone. Burning made the spots darker but they never would blend in.

Should I find an easier way to do this, I’ll try to update this entry.

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Touching The Face

Though not nearly as technically challenging as the previous image, this one was very enjoyable to create in both the planning and the finish.

Part of the motivation for this image was a sentence I heard in a youtube video. I had to find out where it came from and found this poem:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

–John Gillespie Magee, Jr

The other factors behind this image are more personal.

The background image is obviously not something from SL but it was what I wanted to be the center of attention. I searched for the right cliff to be standing on and looking up for quite a while. Once I located it, I created the poses for Noel and I and then returned to get the foreground image dialed in using windlight.  It had snowed!

I hadn’t planned on snow and the clothes we were wearing was inappropriate so this meant it was time to get some winter clothes.  Once I had clothes for both of us I realized that the barren cliff I had chosen was now too barren when covered in snow so the search for a new place was in order.

Thanks to a very good friend who has her own amazing Flickr page and whom I knew would have snow scenes that weren’t barren, I found what I thought was the perfect spot.  I just had to de-render a hundred or so prims that were a house and it’s contents behind the tree 😀

A huge white screen was rezzed to aid in the creation of a mask that would help isolate all of the bare tree branches and I had my base image. Noel and I were added after photographing in the studio under similar lighting and the sky was added. Finally, a lot of time was spent adding ambient light from the lamps on the left edge of the image. I don’t know that it is noticeable but like to think this is one of those things that would be noticed more if I hadn’t taken that extra time.

‘Ghosting’ Noel was the intention from the beginning.  She is ‘here’ but she’s not.  It’s a reflection of a personal note that is part of the theme of this image. Watching several youtube videos of different methods of attaining the effect I had wanted failed me. I had hoped for a more ‘wispy’ effect, similar to a cloud though the low light probably made that unlikely from the beginning.

In the end, I was quite happy with this – though I let Christi post the image without Noel ghosted on her page because I felt others might not appreciate the intention behind including a mostly transparent person in the image.

Once complete, I used the image for a new video featuring the music of Rameses B named “Night Sky”

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Wrong Turn

Aedan in the rain on a colorful street
If you must be stuck in the rain, make it a beautiful rain

This was probably the most enjoyable image I’ve created so far. I wanted to add some color to my work. Watching Natsumi painting with light in her work left me in awe so I found some additional tutorials on youtube and decided to give it a shot myself.  This called for not only bright, colorful lights but a wet surfaces to reflect it and a mist to spread it out.  This wasn’t something I was likely to find in SL and besides, had I found it, the fun would have been missed.

 

Several hours of wandering around SL revealed the street I thought would meet my list of demands. It is a gated city and from what I read at the gate, non-english speaking. There were people scattered about but none in the street so I stood outside the gate and cammed my way around looking for other possibilities before moving back to the street that first got my attention.

At the time of the photo, the only windlight adjustments made that I recall was to make it night time though I also grabbed an image using CalWL to use as a reference and filler if needed.  It wasn’t.

Kowloons Gate as it appeard
Kowloons Gate as it appeard

Back in the lab with the images, I followed closely the instructions in one of the tutorials I found (How to Give Your Photos the Cyberpunk Look in Photoshop) and adjusted the colors using the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop. Following suggestions from the same tutorial, I illuminated one of the signs (right, top corner) to balance the scene. All lights then received a bit of fuzziness to bring them to life in the planned rain. Additionally, ambient light from different colored signs was added to the atmosphere.

For the street reflection, a mirror image was made and transposed in an attempt to make the angle of reflection more realistic though I was never quite satisfied with how that ended up.

Next, Aedan was added with reflections added to the umbrella along with shading to mimic the ambient light.  The rain coat also received a few wet spots.

Finally rain and mist were added before making final levels adjustments to brighten the scene a bit.  When all was said and done, I used this image in combination with a beautiful tune entitled “Follow the Light” by Wayr.

This was definitely fun and I hope to do more like this in the future.

 

(update 1 Janu 2020 – Happy New Year!) The video tutorial I linked to above is a great tutorial and expect I will refer to it again but today I came across one that created many of the same effects in a manner that seemed much easier to me. ( How to Create Lighting Effects in Photoshop ) It may just be that I’m feeling more comfortable in PS with each passing day. However, one thing I’ve certainly learned is that there is almost always another way to do what you’re trying to do and what might be ideal in one situation may not suit the next time.

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