Category Archives: 3D

Commentary on 3D design, illustration and CG.

Powerful infant.

In previous blogs (such as this one), I have discussed the subject of virtual reality. Yesterday, I tried it. The motivation for my visit to The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD), Ohio State’s cutting-edge technology and arts center, was a field trip for my junior Collaborative Studio design students. Their project this semester is to design a future system that uses emerging technologies. It is hard to imagine that in the near-future VR will be commonplace. We stepped inside the a large, empty performance stage rigged with a dozen motion capture cameras that could track your movements throughout virtual space. We looked at an experimental animation in which we could stand amidst the characters and another work-in-progress that allowed us to step inside a painting. It wasn’t my first time in a Google cardboard device where I could look around at a 360-degree world (sensed by my phone’s gyroscope), but on an empty stage where you could walk amongst virtual characters, the experience took on a new dimension—literally. I found myself concerned about bumping into things that weren’t there and even getting a bit dizzy. (I did not let on in front of my students).

I immediately saw an application for The Lightstream Chronicles and realized that I could load up one of my scenes from the graphic novel, bring it over to ACCAD’s mocap studio and step into this virtual world that I have created. I build all of my scenes (including architecture) to scale, furnish the rooms and interiors and provide for full 360º viewing. Building sets this way allows me to revisit them at any time, follow my characters around or move the camera to get a better angle without having to add walls that I might not have anticipated using. After the demo, I was pretty excited. It became apparent that this technology will enable me to see what my characters see, and stand beside them. It’s a bit mind-blowing. Now the question becomes which scene to use. Any ideas?

Clearly VR is in its infancy, but it is a very powerful infant. The future seems exciting, and I can see why people can get caught up in what the promises could be. Of course, I have to be the one to wonder at what this powerful infant will grow up to be.

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How we made the future in the past.

 

 

Decisions. Decisions. Today’s blog was a toss up between another drone update (probably next week) and some optimistic technology news (for a change). Instead, I decided to go another route entirely. This week FastCo blurbed a piece on the “new” limited edition book collection, “The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It’s no so new, the 4 volume set that sold for $1000 sold out in no time, but the story is a compelling one. The $70, second printing is on my Christmas list. There are a dozen fascinating angles to the 2001 production story. FastCo’s article, “The Amazingly Accurate Futurism of 2001: A Space Odyssey“, focuses on the film’s “attention to the technical and design details that made the film such an enduring paragon almost 50 years after its release.” I could not agree more. This latest book’s author, Piers Bizony wrote a predecessor back in 1994 entitled “2001: filming the future.” This book is currently out of print, but I managed to snag a copy for my library. It’s a captivating story, but like FastCo, I am in awe of Kubrick’s brilliance in the team he brought together to build the sets and design the props.

“He assembled a skunkworks team of astronomical artists, aeronautics specialists, and production designers. Aerospace engineers—not prop makers—designed switch panels, display systems, and communications devices for the spacecraft interiors.”

The objective was realism and total believability. It worked. I remember seeing it in the theater on the BIG screen (I was five years old). There was nothing else like it — ever— a testimony to the fact that we still marvel at its accuracy nearly fifty years later.

Clearly Kubrick was a visionary, but what might be more impressive is how they made it look so real. Today, we watch tidal waves take out New York City, and 20 story robots transform into sports cars. It has almost become ho-hum. To capture the effects that Kubrick did it required an inspiring level of ingenuity. Much of this goes to his production designers and the genius of Douglas Trumbull. These special effects, people walking on walls, floating in weightlessness, or believable spacecraft gliding through the cosmos were analog creations. Take for example the gracefully revolving centrifuge: they built it. Or the spacewalking scenes that I believe are every bit as good as 2013’s Gravity. The film was full of artifacts from the future and a tribute to design and engineering problem solving that was and is most rare.

Kubrick's-Centrifuge
They built it!

I could rave about this movie all day, but I can’t sign off until I rave a bit about the film itself. By this, I mean the story. First released in 1968, at the crux of this narrative is an Artificial Intelligence that becomes self-aware. It is so freaking convincing that I leave with this clip. You can also get a taste of how truly visual this film was.

Photo from 2001: Filming the future. Piers Bizony 1996
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Graphic novel or web comic, it’s still serious business. Plus a CGI rendering update.

p 55

This week we’re peering into the regen pod where Sean floats suspended in a amniotic soup. As they encounter the visual of Sean’s injuries, Kristin Broulliard and the team are a bit taken aback and the crime takes on a more visceral punch. Despite the fact that modern medical science has found a way to repair this kind of trauma, the memories, however repressed they might be, could still be stored up inside Sean’s head — or not. Under normal circumstances, portions of the brain that house memories can be accessed and much like tracking through a DVD, selectively erased. The procedure is more difficult than it sounds. Memories are stacked, like thin layers and they are not always sequential. If the procedure samples too deeply, or grabs a snippet that does’t belong, the subject can awaken missing key components of their personality or identity map. In extreme cases, illegal intrusions using cheap, makeshift headjacking devices, can disrupt the autonomic nervous system affecting heart rate and respiration and ultimately resulting in death. Sean’s fate remains to be seen.

Would you erase the memories?

Chief Science Officer Broulliard is a bit taken aback.
Chief Science Officer Broulliard is a bit taken aback.

Progress update

While The Lightstream Chronicles exists as a complete storyline in screenplay form, the graphic novel obviously evolves more slowly. This week I expect to put the finishing touches on Chapter 2 and begin the Chapter 3 Prologues. I have slated a number of new pages and scenes. There are 6 chapters in total. Chapter 2 is the longest and chapter 3 is the shortest. As soon as I get the entire project in the bag, I’ll start posting a spread each week, or possibly two postings per week. Believe me I’m as anxious as my readers to “see” how this ends. But of course, I can always change it up. Let me know your thoughts here. Thanks.

 

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Regenerating damaged human tissue. A design fiction chrysalis. The Lightstream Chronicles online graphic novel and web comic.

The regen room. Page 54.

As I mentioned in an earlier post,

“…many accident victims and their injuries can be repaired, their body parts replaced, or regrown and their virtually lifeless bodies, regenerated using advanced stem-cell-based biomedical treatments. Because of the gravity of Sean’s injuries he will most likely receive an immersive regen. Patients treated with immersive regen are often coherent and functioning in a day or less.”

Sean’s injuries, though most likely terminal or resulting in serious impairment or disability in the 21st century, can be repaired or “regenerated” in a matter of hours. The process is known as regen and consists of an induced coma and submersion into a muculent, stem-cell-enriched, liquid – something like amniotic fluid on steroids. The patient actually breathes the fluid and it is absorbed into the skin. Sean’s broken bones were set before submersion, but once broken bones are set, cells regain their original undamaged functionality, the regen goes about sealing wounds and restoring damaged tissues, according to their original genetic blueprint.

The brain and its subtle intricacies are not always as predictable. Brain science by 2159 has been relatively successful in recording, restoring and implanting memory, however, severe brain injuries may still result in permanent damage. In Sean’s case there is the added complication of headjacking which can, if botched, result in a brain death. SInce Sean is the only survivor of the recent series of rape/headjackings in DownTown, his ability to remember the attack could shed some much needed light on the perpetrators of the crime.

Notes on building the regen pod

Here I was looking for something rather organic, not plantlike, but possibly like an insect chrysalis, pupa, or a freeform amniotic sac. (I found the photo below, after designing the pod BTW). I also wanted to suggest that the fluid contained therein was thick enough that the body could literally float, suspended. Then, a bio-electrical charge is also present throughout the fluid and serves to accelerate absorption of the regen into the tissues. These electrical charges can be seen swirling about and illuminating the fluid. Hopefully, all of this comes across to some extent. The circular, ring-like devices generate an electromagnetic force that keeps the body upright and they can also be used to channel regen fluid directly into the body, such as the tubes that are inserted into Sean’s nose.

Common_crow_pupa.1
Common_crow_pupa.1
The Regen Pod.
The Regen Pod.

All of this is somewhat easier said than done. The refractive qualities of the regen pod, reflections, lighting, and electrical charges proved to be incredibly costly rendering choices. Whenever the pod was featured I could expect many anxious hours of waiting for renderings to materialize. I’d love to get your thoughts from readers on the 22nd century sound effects that might go with these scenes.

 

 

1 Chrysalis photo courtesy of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupa#Chrysalis

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Rendering trickery is part of the process for the digital, online graphic novel — The Lightstream Chronicles

Page 43

This week, two of the stars of our web comic, graphic novel continue chatting it up in the public security command center at Police HQ. I will let the conversation speak for itself and focus today’s comments on the challenge of rendering these control room scenes.

As I have stated before, everything is “shot” on location. That means that Kristin and Toei are on in virtual space, in a control room location, atop the same police headquarters featured on page 41 with a view of the built city of Hong Kong 2 that has been featured on pages previously. (The latest being chapter 2 prologue pages ix2-x2). Hence, when the camera is framing our cast the view is exactly what is “outside” the windows, or with them “in the room”. One would logically think, then, after all this “building” that it would be a simple matter of lighting and “shooting”. Alas, it’s not so simple. And the problem is focus. Using a real camera, in a situation like this would most likely yield a background out of focus so that we could capture crisp focus on our characters. Unfortunately, in Autodesk Maya, incorporating the rendering algorithms to calculate depth-of-field into all of these renderings would have increased rendering time astronomically, and probably not yielded a realistic look when it was all finished — if it ever finished.

I wanted the reflections in the glass to be fairly crisp, but the buildings that were far off in the distance to be more out-of-focus. All this required separate renderings. One for our subjects, another for the glass, and a third for the cityscape. Then the appropriate amount of blur was applied to each layer in Photoshop and composited into one single image with a believable depth-of-field. All part of the process of making The Lightstream Chronicles as engaging and visually interesting as possible.

mask-demo
A few of the layers that made up the first panel of page 43. There were more.

 

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Goodbye privacy, in 2159 it’s a surveillance state. At least there’s no humans watching.

The latest in the digital, online, graphic novel/web comic: Page 42

Last week we moved location from the Mong Kok district to high atop TopCity and the landing zone for Police Headquarters in what was once the Causeway Bay area overlooking the harbor. On the 275th floor of Police Headquarters is the citywide, public security, command center. From here, almost every square inch of interior and exterior space in the 560 square miles that is Hong Kong 2. Everything is monitored by synthetics and illegal behavior can be detected even within someone’s living quarters. To learn more about the mesh see this link. Most people have come to accept this knowing that only synthetics with artificial intelligence are able to view the most intimate aspects of their lives. That is, of course, unless it is illegal behavior and then it becomes accessible to human authorities for evaluation and action. Nevertheless, the incredible light show that is the “big board” in the command center at Police HQ is quite a visual treat and there we find two key characters in The Lightstream Chronicles story, Chief Science Officer, Kristin Broulliard, her right-hand “synthetic” Toei-N, Commander of Synthetic Police. While human presence is not required in the command center the two seem to be perfectly content just “hanging out” and surveying the multitude of feeds and data displays from thousands of collection sites around the city.

command-close-up
The “big board” in the police headquarters, public security command center.

This week we see some friendly banter between the two friends.  Kristin is lamenting the lack of excitement in her life, reducing her evenings to hanging out in the police command center and talking to a synth. Though the term “synth” can be used in a derogatory way, it can also be interpreted as affectionate slang. Synths make ups significant portion of society. Numbering in the millions throughout the world, they serve in civil service jobs, manufacturing, law enforcement, the military, domestic service,  and also for companionship. They are available in hundreds of different configurations and designs, from deliberately non-human to virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Some synthetics are so life-like that they are legally required to identify themselves and their “class” status upon before interacting with a human. A complex set of laws has been written and rewritten to accommodate these new designs providing rights and protections for both humans and synthetics.

Enjoy the conversation.

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It’s time to get the police involved. The latest episode from the digital online graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles

We begin a completely new scene and location this week as we shift up to TopCity.

This week I am moving back to single pages. In he past month, between chapter 1 and the official start of chapter 2, I posted 6 double page spreads with 17 renders. But, alas, I can’t keep that up forever. In today’s post, page 41, we move from the depths of DownTown to one of the highest spots in TopCity, namely Police Headquarters. The scene opens up with a view from the cockpit of a police shuttle on the approach path to the landing deck atop the police headquarters building. The rain has subsided but the remnants of clouds and mist still hover over the city.

approach

Inside, we begin a conversation, though the participants are not yet identified.

Render notes:

The presence of palm trees may mislead us to think that we are really not that high up in TopCity, but as you can see from the latest update to the Hong Kong 2 cityscape on chapter 2 prologue page pix2-x2, many of the rooftops are populated with small palm forests — some of the last places in the city where there is greenery.

There have also been some tweaks to the website to lessen the clutter on the pages. Feel free to comment.

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“What have we here?” The drone makes a discovery. A cyberpunk webcomic update.

pxi2-pxii2

What have we here?

Before the Chapter 2 Prologue, we ended up with Sean being accosted in a DownTown alley (pages 37 – 38).

This week I offer up another gratuitous double-page spread. I consider these two pages to be the real prelude to the Season 2 opener since they literally feed into the Chapter 2 title page (39) and (40). In the shadows of the TopCity Spanner, a robotic  emergency surveillance drone zips through the rain soaked underbelly of society; DownTown, Hong Kong 2. On any given night these drones may encounter the casualties of being left out after curfew. As discussed in a previous blog (p31):

The criminal element in Downtown is robust, but the after hours street criminals are in another league entirely. These consist of roving gangs of synths who were twisted by local gang lords to rape and/or torture their victims while recording everything from the victim’s perspective; a process called head-jacking. A small device is clamped to the back of the neck directly over the victim’s chipset and the memories of the incident—complete with all five senses—are recorded. The experience is then sold on the black market. Depending on the quality of the device and trauma the victim is subjected to, if the victim survives the crime, headjacking can result in partial or total memory erasure, and in some cases, death.

Headjacking is a capital offense.

The drone might also encounter other emergencies: a chem overdose victim, the remains from a gang hit squad or even someone who didn’t make it inside before curfew — and they’re still alive. If they’re uninjured the drone would call in a synth sentinel to escort the lost soul to a holding cell until morning. Surviving a curfew violation is only slightly better than being a victim. The penalty for being out after curfew, is a cur-too, a tattoo. Three curfew tattoos and you can be sent to one of the penal colonies for an indeterminate time.

For the injured, a quick chip scan will identify you as being from DownTown or TopCity, whether you have a criminal record or just ended up chem’d out. If you’re from DownTown you’ll most likely end up in a clinic, TopCity residents get treated above the spanner.

 

Hmmm. What have we here?
Hmmm. What have we here?

 

 Next week

In The Lightstream Chronicles Season Opener (aka Chapter 2) next week, we get to see what the drone is looking at, though there are zoom opportunities in this weeks post to get a little more information. Is Sean dead or alive? And exactly how bad is it? This warning: there will be blood.

 

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Breathtaking Hong Kong Aerial View – Web Comic Prologue Continues

pix2-px2

If you only take a quick glance, you may mistake this prologue to chapter 2 spread, pix2-px2, as a repeat of the splash page that preceded chapter 1. So, don’t do that. Take a closer look. The cityscape is busier, more congested and populated with several new buildings. It’s also a bit more noir. As we progress through this cyberpunk future, I’m feeling that it’s all a bit too bright and chipper so I think the city will continue to change as the book progresses. It’s also more than just mood.  From the very beginning, Hong Kong was constructed using GPS data, satellite photography and Google® Maps. Since i’m trying to be as authentic to size and scale as possible, I wanted the view from the hospital, a key location in chapter 2, to be accurate. In other words, if we’re standing on top of the hospital and looking around, I want us to see the surrounding architecture as it actually exists in the story. But I didn’t really have a firm location for the hospital when the story began. Thus, when I placed the hospital, as a structure, where I wanted it in the cityscape, it became noticeably absent (to me) from the aerial view featured in chapter 1.

This kind of accuracy may not be necessary in the long run but when you look out a character’s office, or apartment I want the views to be true to their actual locations in the city.

As for the architecture, almost all of the high-rise structures in TopCity, the newest and most modern part of the city, had no precedent so their models had to be created from scratch. These were designed as taller versions of cutting edge 21st century buildings, with some inspiration from Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. Some of these structures are 300 stories.

It should be noted that not all the buildings are 3D shells. Several, like the hospital, police headquarters, other places where characters work or live, were built to include detailed atriums, aircraft landing pads, restaurants, and bars, even though they may not actually have a part in the final story.

 

One of several changes to the Hong Kong skyline.
One of several changes to the Hong Kong skyline.

Other parts of the world were combinations of stock models, and customized 3D modifications. For scenes that take place in DownTown, a decaying version of the low-rise sprawl of 20th century Hong Kong, the distinctive look of Asian urban-architecture has a needed to be recreated. A few existing stock models were found that captured the basic essence of decaying Asian city dwellings.

The structure that spans the harbor is a bit of design fiction. The TopCity Spanner covers most of old Hong, and provides a clean break between TopCity and DownTown. The spanner is conceived to use high strength, lightweight, “programmable” materials that provide the ability to shift shape, organically to accommodate new growth. The Spanner became the new, affluent “street level,” towering 50 stories above the original streets of Hong Kong. The shadow of the spanner over old Hong Kong serves as a constant reminder to the inhabitants of DownTown of the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

There are a few more changes that I would like to make but you’ll have to wait until chapter 3 to see them.

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Page 36 – Approaching the webcomic exciting season finale.

Page 36

Sean is in a bit of a jam. There’s two minutes to the “no-excuses” curfew. He just made it to the Magshuttle in what he thought would be plenty of time, but only to find that it is out of order, the next nearest shuttle is a big block away and, of course, it’s raining like hell. Let’s not forget that he’s carrying a mysterious bit of contraband, as well. Downtown is now deserted. If anyone has found themselves too far from home they have already ducked inside one of the all night bureaus, to sleep, disappear into the V or some other diversion.

With only two minutes Sean makes a run for it as the ubiquitous surveillance provided by mesh imaging throughout HK2 monitors his activity. Security surveillance may be the least of Sean’s worries, as panel three reveals someone else is watching Sean. Eyes glued to the treacherous, slippery pavement ahead of him, Sean jogs through the torrential downpour. As he passes an alleyway, arms shoot out and make a violent capture.

Production notes:

The last few pages were quite a technical challenge as I detailed in a previous post. It’s difficult to create the feel of a torrential downpour in cg. Everything about the scene changes because — everything is wet. There are lots of zoom opportunities on the last two pages. The surveillance image is nicely realistic, and the water on Sean’s face was a real trick. Though not entirely satisfied, I think it gets the point across. You can also spot a zooming air taxi in panel three and the feet of someone waiting in the alley in panel 4.

Next week’s season finale, the final spread of Chapter 1 will answer some questions on what happens to Sean, but also leaves many unanswered.

Next week: The season finale!
Next week: The season finale!
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