Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hate Subscription Based Software? So Do I! Here Are Some Alternatives.

No Photoshop here! Created using Sketchbook Pro for Android

A friend recently suggested that I post a more detailed listing of good alternatives to subscription based software that I've installed on my systems. It's a touchy topic that has changed the landscape of software development across the board and rightfully so. Personally, I'm strictly against subscription based software because renting software just feels like a total rip off. I tried it once with Indesign and regretted it to the extent that I stopped using it canceled the subscription and bought Quark 2016 instead. It's forcing a userbase to constantly pay into a company's coffers without the option to ever own what you're paying for. If you opt out of the subscription, you can't even get support for an older, non-subscription version of the application so you can keep working. So, here is a list of alternative packages I use as opposed to the dreaded subscriptions that have plagued the digital landscape over the last few years.

*7-1-17 Note Some may wonder why I didn't focus on mobile solutions for Android, Windows 10 Mobile and iOS in this list. There is a good reason for that. Although there are some fantastic apps available for creative needs on those platforms such as ArtFlow, Sketchable and Procreate, at the end of the day they pale in comparison to full desktop solutions. This goes back to the Surface Pro vs. iPad Pro comparison which can be summed up quite easily. Focusing strictly on software library and capabilities, the best iPad or Android tablet in their current states will never be better than a Surface Pro or Wacom device running full Windows 10. The software on Windows is so much more mature and feature rich. There simply are no mobile apps currently that can match Quark, Rebelle or Blender as examples. Mobile versions of applications such as ArtRage and Power Director are but shadows of the desktop versions which Surface devices can run in their entirety with no compromises. Speaking with Escape Motions about a possible iPad Pro version of Rebelle, their answer was straight forward...not happening because the iPad Pro currently isn't powerful enough to handle the algorithms that power the application. That's not to say mobile devices and apps aren't capable of great results. They are, but there is a glass ceiling, a level that mobile apps simple can't go beyond due to the nature of what they are. This is why I stopped using Android tablets for creative work and upgraded to Surface Pro devices exclusively. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Camel Pose #2 - Rebelle/ArtRage 4 - New Surface Pen/Surface Pro 3

This is the first test of the new Surface Pen Microsoft just released with the Surface Laptop. It has 4,096 levels of sensitivity which is about 3,000 more levels than the previous pen and it has better tilt recognition. Generally I don't tilt my pen when drawing or sketching so the tilt is almost totally irrelevant for my needs. But the increased sensitivity was immediately noticeable. That's the determining factor that inspired a purchase of the new pen. Accuracy feels the same as the previous pen but the increased sensitivity is the key. The other bonus is the new Surface Pen works on the Surface Pro 3, Pro 4, SurfaceBook and Surface Studio. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pulse: Verse 1 - Amberlight 2/Power Director 15 - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

With the rendering complete, the animation is done. The original animation files were generated in 4K resolution and run in 4K resolution if you have the bandwidth to handle it. Amberlight 2 has the option to render files in video format but I decided to output in high resolution image format instead. This allows quick access to still frames that can be used as wallpapers, backdrops or screen savers and avoids any glitches that Amberlight video files will sometimes have. Generating videos from the Amberlight 2 still frames using Power Director 15 is also pretty straight forward and opens up a laundry list of options for processing and editing. For this particular project, advanced options weren't utilized but will be soon. 

Pulse: Verse 1 (Stills) - AmberLight 2 - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

These images are from a Amberlight animation that's been in progress for the last few days. The final version of verse 1 is rendering as I type this and will be posted sometime later today. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Workspace WIP Update - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

This is the latest version of the bedroom/workspace. A lot of time was spent on textures this past week as well as little things like the little Android toy on the left (in the bottom image), the redesigned chair and the surround sound setup that has textures you can't see due to the way the room is lit. I'll be taking a break from this to work on a couple of other projects that have come up. But I'd like to add clothes in the dresser, curtains, another chair and other details. This scene is the result of 3 weeks of learning Blender. I'd like to push it to see how far it can be taken. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tic Toc 2 Animation Test - Amberlight 2 - Surface Studio

Variant animation test using a dark shade of blue for the background which brings out more details in the abstract design pattern.

Tic Toc Test - Amberlight - Surface Studio

Another in a series of tests using Amberlight. The application is outstanding for generating abstract pattern animations and stills. But it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes with the wealth of options it provides to make changes to the algorithms that control output and motion. While experimenting with the rendering times versus render quality mentioned in the previous post, I'm also using some of the provided options to learn better animation control. Animation is about the illusion of motion created over time. Any animator worth their salt knows the importance of a good animation cycle. For the uninitiated, this is an animated sequence that loops, preferably smoothly. But sometimes, a loop needs a slight break or an adjustment to make it non-uniform during part of the sequence. This can make a scene with a cycle appear to be more natural and organic. That's what the goal was here, to see if Amberlight allowed enough control to make such a change down to even a single frame. In short, it does. After creating the initial cycle, I changed the  movement over time slightly toward the end of the sequence to create a snap motion. A very minor change but has a not so minor impact on the final render. 

Blue - Amberlight - Surface Studio

These are some test frames for a vector animation project, each frame rendered in 4K resolution. Rendering these frames share similarities to rendering 3D scenes in that the user can determine the quality of the render, which affects the speed of the render. The default setting for rendering single frames in Amberlight is 5000 steps. The higher the number of steps, the better the quality, the longer it will take to render the frame. At 5000 steps, the Studio takes about a minute to render a single frame. Amberlight will often times add details to the vector when using higher step counts. But sometimes, there comes a point when the quality will cease to increase long before the render is complete. I've tried counts as high as 10,000 to see if there was any noticeable difference between it and a 500 step render of the same image. There was, but with that particular image, there wasn't enough of an improvement to justify the extra rendering time. Mileage varies depending on the scene and image. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Filled - AmberLight - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

This is a still from an animation that's going to be rendering for a long time before it's done.

UBiv Tnomal Art Book #2 - Google Photos - Surface Pro 3, SurfaceBook, Surface Studio

This is the second book I ordered from Google via Google Photos to give the book creation service a go. For those not in the know, during Google I/O last month, Google unveiled a new service that allows users of Google Photos to order books based on the photos they have stored within their Photos account. I ordered two volumes, a soft back volume for fantasy art and a hard back volume for portraits and still life creations. The soft back is awesome but I really love the hard back which is being shown here. The ordering process is very easy which is yet another testament to the hotness of Google services when they actually work. Those services are generally better than anyone else's in the marketplace. The books arrived in a week or so and the quality is fantastic, printed on quality paper. I decided to not go with actual photos although I've captured quite a few over the years, in an effort to do something different. Since I use Google Photos to store a percentage of finished artworks, using the service for art book creation was a total no brainer. Both books styles make great additions to a portfolio.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Workspace WIP test renders - Blender - Surface Studio

More objects were built for the room scene and I was able to add more textures and lighting. The work is coming along and it's a good feeling to be able to apply what was learned a couple of days ago. There is still some confusion over some of the more complicated Blender processes but there is plenty of information on the web to help learn it all. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Workspace WIP - Blender - Surface Studio

After learning some new ways to build models and create lighting effects, I decided to start this over from scratch. One key aspect I wanted to change is the light coming from the Surface Studio screen. Making the screen a light source is easy. But I wanted to make it a light source with a texture. This was a little more complicated to do but it was fun figuring it out. The light source was created using a plane converted to an emission to give off light and that was put underneath the textured plane which was made transparent. The images here aren't rendered so you can't see the lighting effect but it's really good. Much better than any other method I experimented with.

Modern Work is So Boring

This piece is one of the first projects I attempted using a mobile tablet. A Motorola Xoom which released in 2011. The first official Android tablet that had some cool things in it like HDMI out, 16:9 ratio and fantastic build quality but also had some annoying shortcomings such as being exclusive to Verizon, released unfinished as the much hyped Verizon LTE functionality couldn't be activated on the Xoom unless the device was sent back to Motorola for a hardware upgrade and the lack of tablet specific apps for Android 3.x at launch. But despite the shortcomings, the Xoom showed me the potential of what is creatively possible on a mobile tablet. I spent many hours in front of it sketching, rendering and digitally painting. Ironically, this reminded me of a time long ago when the Commodore Amiga was THE computer to buy for graphics, sound and gaming. Macs couldn't compete with the Amiga in its heyday and certainly not WinPCs. But mismanagement by corporate Commodore and the ignorance of not listening to the engineers doomed the platform. The passion and excellence demonstrated by the engineers, artists, designers and developers from that era helped shape the digital creative world as we know it today. Many from that era truly loved what they did and it showed in the platform and it showed in the work created using the platform. This is why the Amiga as a computer platform has survived to this very day even though Commodore folded in the mid to late 90s.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The HoneyDo WIP - Blender - SurfaceBook/SurfaceStudio

I really like this little spaceship. I've got some really cool ideas behind it and the pilot. I'll post them once the modeling is done. This is becoming a challenge but in a good way due to what the building process is teaching. I had to correct sections of this mesh due to the sub division modifier not working correctly when I applied it. The model looked great in its original state but any attempt to add faces to the mesh for smoothness through the modifier or even through sub dividing in the edit mode resulted in tears and blemishes across the body of the ship. I realized when joining parts together, the vertices weren't aligned like I thought they were causing breaks. I had to merge the broken vertices together to correct this. That was fun because it felt like welding sections of an actual ship. In doing that I figured out why the mirror modifier didn't the work last time I worked on the Honeydo. I had to uncheck "merge" in the properties window of the modifier and simply separate the mirrored model from the original in edit mode once the building was done. I rebuilt other sections of the ship too when I came across better ways to construct parts and after considering ways to render the AG engines on the bottom and the hatch to enter the tiny ship. It's a blast! Sometimes, when creating characters, concepts, creatures or vehicles, the story ideas just write themselves 😆.

Cloth Animation Testing 2 - Blender - Surface Studio

Animation testing in Blender using physics. I set the cloth modifier to use silk as the simulated cloth instead of cotton.  Apologizes for the low quality gif but the better version of this gif animation is a 50MB file. Too large to post as a gif but the quality isn't good enough to render out as a .MP4 movie. I reduced the quality to render the frames faster in Blender, 350 total and reduced the quality further for the .gif. Rendering each frame with 100x the quality took each frame 9 minutes as opposed to 35 seconds for what you see here but the final looks stunning. In a few minutes, I'll set Blender to re-render the animation at the higher quality settings and let the Studio perform the task overnight. That file I'll post to YouTube some time later due to the file size.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

When the going gets tough, the tough get coffee - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

Personally, I don't drink the stuff but someone close to me does. Considering the amount of coffee she drinks, every morning is tough...every day is tough.

This may get re-rendered tomorrow because the handle didn't come out quite right. Sad panda 😞. That's it for the day. I'm beat.

The HoneyDo* WIP - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

This is far from finished, very much still a WIP as I'm applying a lot of things that was learned over the last couple of days to find better ways to build. Sections of this vehicle will be changed tomorrow to allow for a better, cleaner model. This is why there aren't any textures and the face count is a bit low. I wanted to use the mirror modifier to build this initially but I did something wrong and the results were inconsistent. initially it worked great but I had to undo a section and tried to reapply the modifier but it wouldn't work correctly. I'll give it another go tomorrow. 

I'm approaching learning Blender from two different work methods.

1 - follow key tutorials as these provide all the information a person needs to learn the basics. Seems like a no brainer but sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious for some people, like...climate change for example.

2 - apply what was learned completing tutorials to build models from imagination such as The Honeydo* here. Copying someone else's process doesn't mean anything in the long run if the person copying doesn't know the HOW or the WHY of a working process. If a person decides to use a sub division modifier as opposed to using extrude and smoothen in the editor window, it's a good idea to know why one method is preferred over the other. The only way to truly understand is to get in there and build your own stuff.

Learn. Practice. Do.

Glass Bowl and Cloth - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

I took a few minutes to redo the glass bowl/cloth tutorial but following a different source from Tutor4U on YouTube. He's fantastic as he goes step by step without using keyboard shortcuts. For anyone trying to learn key aspects of Blender, Tutor4U's channel is worth a look.

 I'm not going to animate this right now. But it was pretty straight forward. Only 30 minutes or so with 9 of those minutes dedicated to rendering time. The key is using the glass and cloth modifiers as well as subdivision, smooth and solidify. This will help with finishing my room scene. I passed on adding textures to the cloth and floor simply to save time but I'd like to try that soon. First, I need to learn how to create better texture maps. I'm aware of the process and why it's necessary but like many things in life, being aware of a task is very different from actually knowing how to complete a task oneself. Corporate offices across the nation are full of people that are aware but don't actually know how to perform key functions of their position. Sad truth. Don't be that person. Learn. Know. Do.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Silk Animation Test - Blender - Surface Pro 3

This is a quick render of a silk animation. In my haste in constructing this I forgot to add a light source. Other than that, this was fairly easy to set up using a cloth modifier/silk. Ironically, I was led to try to animate this because I was considering making curtains for the room I'm rendering haha! I also need to know how to render the sheets for the bed. 

I used the Surface Pro 3 for this test because the Studio was rendering another scene. Blender worked great on the Surface Pro 3 with one exception. Microsoft hasn't given us the option to assign the buttons or the eraser on the Surface Pen to function as the middle mouse button which is desperately needed in Blender. Other than that, the Surface Pro 3 proved yet again to be a great device even though it has been replaced 3 times over. 

My Workstation WIP - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

Day 3. I rebuilt the chair and gave it a really thick cushion. The arm rests uses a bezier curve which took a few attempts to get right. Although it's small, I built the mouse for the Surface Studio. It even has a scroll wheel! I added textures to the table and the walls. I finally figured out a better way to import art as a texture for 3D posters and I modified the texture on the floor. A very productive session. A friend saw an earlier version of this image and said she thought I sent her an image from Ikea 😆. That made me feel good. My father saw an earlier version and wanted to know where my main light source was. He said the piece looked too dark in the thumbnail but when he clicked on it, it looked great. Initially I had a ceiling light in the design but didn't like it. So I let the light from the electronics illuminate the room. The main light source is the TV off screen with the second strongest being the Surface Studio screen. My father was amazed at the technology especially since the texture on the table in this scene is from a wall in his apartment that I took with a Pixel XL haha!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Workstation WIP - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

Cycles Rendered image created in Blender.
"Whew!" Second day of learning Blender is over. Today was better than yesterday and I learned a lot (again). The communities behind Blender are awesome with a lot of great advice and tutorials to help rookies get through the steep learning curve. Today I focused my efforts on texture application and lighting. The image above was rendered using Cycles rendering. The image after the jump from yesterday's post was rendered using Blender's default rendering engine, Blender render. As far as setting an object as a light source, cycles rendering is far easier to set up than Blender render. But Blender render's version of this scene came out a bit cleaner even if a lot darker. I think I forgot to change a couple of settings somewhere because I couldn't eliminate the pixel noise in the above image. Both rendering engines are good though and I can see how each can be used in different scenes and situations. Great stuff. 

Cool Cup! - Blender - SurfaceBook/Surface Studio

More Blender stuffs! Learned a better way to apply texture maps.