How did you get started in 3D Graphics?
If you spend a significant amount of time around computers you cannot help but get sucked in to the CG world eventually - even if only to a small degree. It started for me in my late teens when I scanned in some of my pencil drawings and messed around with coloring them in an ancient version of Photoshop. Looking back at them (still have them on an old floppy disk) the results were horrid, but it was a start.
After that, the rest just fell in... I stumbled upon Renderosity, posted some of my pencil scans, and after deliberating between Poser or Bryce, gave Poser a try. For the longest time I lived off of freestuff, messing around with lighting and altering free textures - adding tattoos, warpaint, etc. Pretty much all of my early products were tools and textures that I had made for my own personal use -- people kept nagging me to put them in the store and I eventually did.
Nowadays, I try to divide my working time between creating new products and learning new techniques and skills. With 3D you can never stop learning, otherwise you are left behind. How long have you been working with 3D Graphics?
Around 6 years now. The earliest part of that was spent using other creator's freestuff contributions in my own hobby renders. That lead to creating my own textures and tools, to eventually remorphing entire figures and modeling clothing. My longer-term goal is to create an entirely unique figure mesh - since some of the EULAs of the ones we merchants depend upon are becoming pretty restrictive. It is requiring me to relearn modeling using a different technique, since NURBS is unsuitable for figure modeling. Do you have any formal training?
Not in 3D or CG - but in traditional art. Before I got into CG I painted in oils and alkyds, rendered in pencils and charcoal. Unfortunately, CG and technology is killing all of our traditional mediums.
I am ashamed to admit that I have hardly touched paint or pencil since I discovered Photoshop... and I haven't even explored programs such as Corel Painter yet. Look around you - our traditional media is dying. When I first learned photography I developed my own B&W film in a darkroom. It was a hassle, expensive, time-consuming, and many potentially great photos ended up as failures - yet my photos had more meaning to them, and to me. Nowadays even professional photographers have switched to digital - traditional darkroom skills are hardly taught in schools anymore (I know someone who is doing a photography course in college and has never been in a darkroom in her life). Even though high-end digital cameras can produce equal or better photos than conventional film cameras, and digital paint programs can emulate traditional media like oils and watercolors, I still highly respect those who make the effort to develop their own film or paint on an actual canvas despite the convenience of the new media. The number of people who do this, however, is dwindling fast: convenience spells the death of tradition, I suppose.
I am guilty of it myself: CG, as opposed to traditional art, appealed to me because of its forgiveness. There is no 'undo' in traditional mediums, and its amazing how much we have come to rely on it (usually when I'm painting, morphing, whatever I'll have my left hand resting on the CTRL+Z keys, heh). It is going to take an enormous effort on my part, but I am determined to take up some traditional media again. I have plans for some oil paintings, and I have also been researching casting techniques -- for a change from 3D I am going to sculpt a character and cast some resin kits.
As for 3D - I'm constantly learning on my own mainly from books, help files, online tutorials, and just messing with the programs. Unfortunately by the time a curriculum is developed and implemented in a school environment the program is moved on to at least another version and new technologies are developed. Right now I can't commit the insane amount of money on tuition, a license of maya unlimited, and the specific laptop that is required to enroll. Not to mention that the specific program training would be obsolete before I even finished paying off my tuition debt. What software do you use for product development?
Photoshop 7 for pretty much all texturing, promos, etc -- even for some complex curve files I import into Rhino. Rhino for modeling - its a NURBS modeler with a very fast and intuitive workflow. Its drawbacks are its sometimes frustratingly inconsistent tool results, and the fact that NURBS is less efficient for some types of modeling. UVMapper for UV mapping. I have an ancient version of MAX that I use when I need to edit meshes, optimize them, or do something I cant do in Poser/Rhino/UVMapper. And Poser, of course. I have four versions installed for testing: Poser4 unpatched, Poser 4.03, Poser w/ProPack, and Poser5. I havent picked up a Poser6 upgrade yet.
I just bought a copy of Silo - thanks to Jeff (ElorOnceDark) for pointing it out to me. How much time is required for product development?
That depends... When I get started working on something I work very fast, generally hunched over this infernal machine until it is done. The problem is that while I enjoy doing morphs, textures, and modeling outfits and props, I absolutely loathe dealing with the Poser file formats. So what usually happens is that I have everything morphed and modeled in a reasonably fast time, but then I get bogged down with the menial crap such as editing CR2s, doing JCMs, conforming, UVmapping, optimizing for Poser, packaging, doing MAT poses, etc. Thats the part I absolutely hate doing - and the reason my production time drags sometimes. I'm at the point where I'm considering hiring someone to 'Poserize' my products for a sizeable cut of my profits, just so I can focus on the creative aspect of the product development process.
I have no less than a dozen products that have been sitting on my hard drive for months, all of them complete or nearly complete. I just get totally sidetracked when it comes to Poserizing them -- many non-merchants do not realise the amount of effort that goes into creating a product for Poser. Can you give a brief overview of your development cycle for a new product?
These days its mainly outfits - so everything starts with a rough sketch so that I can keep track of what I'm doing. Rarely does clothing look good on the default bodies so I end up morphing them into something a little more to my liking. My characters are usually pretty idealized: I figure that since this is 3D, and most of what we do is pinup/fantasy, I can dispense with the 'average' body and morph something a bit more appealing. Most of the base models look shapeless to me: women are supposed to have *hips*, thighs, waists, calves -- and some muscle tone is required if theyre going to heft that 6' claymore that people pose them with. Then I just import the morphed, zeroed figure into Rhino and start modeling clothing for the body.
Once this is done, I UVmap it in UVMapper, and import it into poser to make sure it fits. Then grouping/conforming. At this point I'll shoot a copy over to Rio and she starts on texturing the clothing. We use whatever we have around the house - scanning or photographing it, or just handpainting it in Photoshop. For my latest pack, for example, the Adventuress clothing, I scanned in an old army web belt I had, a ribbed 'beater, and we took some photos of some cut-off jeans of Rio's as well as an old beat-up pair of motorcycle boots of mine. The rest of the textures are all painted by hand - such as the gun, knife, etc. The specularity, bump, displacement, transparency, etc maps are usually handpainted as well - or adjusted from the scans.
Any JCMs (joint controlled morphs) come next. Same goes for any props that need to be articulated (have moving parts), creating MATs, etc. All of this is done in notepad. I've seen and tried some apps that are supposed to automate many of these processes, but I've ended up with some serious problems and glitches with many of them - which I have to go and fix by hand in notepad afterwards - so I just do everything in notepad to begin with. Its time consuming, but so boring its relaxing :) I'll just crank up the stereo and get through the whole thing in an afternoon, including JCMs, hiding dials I dont want people turning, etc. Then I start organising everything into the Runtime folders, creating thumbnails, and once I have more or less a complete package I'll send it to someone to look over. I'm very paranoid over who I send my products to to test - since in the past I've actually had my products warezed before they were released in the store, as well as ideas ganked by people to whom I've shown work-in-progress renders. Terri (hisminky) is one of the people I absolutely trust with both my ideas and products and ramblings - shes been a great friend over the years. Where does your inspiration come from when developing new products?
Everywhere... Rio, life, TV (although I rarely watch that anymore except for movies and some HBO series like Deadwood & Six Feet Under), music, books, games, the list goes on. Even if we merchants are not directly inspired by something, we are all indirectly influenced by everything around us.
Some of it from my twisted imagination - as I build up my store again and have some more financial leeway I'll be branching off to do more and more 'experimental' wierd crap. Right now I'm limited to making what I know will sell, but I will be including some really freaky stuff in there soon, heh. Do you have any advice for aspiring Digital Content Developers?
Sure... Never stop learning. Try to stay different - there are 1800 merchants at RO competing with you. Right now, I think I would make more profit selling a purple polkadotted texture for the Poser dog than I would selling yet another caucasian Vicky texture pieced together out of various merchant resource packs.
Merchant resource packs are fine, if they do not account for the bulk of your product. If all you have done is piece together a product from 5 different 'resources' that 800 other merchants are all using, then your product isnt going to be very unique, nor are you going to stand out in the flood of new releases. Once you become a recogniseable merchant, protecting your work from copyright thieves becomes nearly a full-time job. I have CDs packed full of in-progress .OBJ & .PSD files, hi-res scans, photos, etc.. as well as saves - in time increments - of my work as I create a product. Someone who creates something from merchant resource packs has a bill of sale for a merchant resource pack that 500 other merchants have purchased.. not much of a leg to stand on if your clothing or figure texture looks like another merchants. I have seen merchants lose copyright battles VS thieves who used their material, even though it was a scanned handprint. In a virtual world without consequences for your actions, its an uphill battle protecting your work even with hard evidence, and its hopeless with something as flimsy as the bill of sale for a 'merchant resource pack'.
So, in a nutshell: find a niche. always give your customers more than what they expect. stay different (whether in terms of what you produce or how you produce it). How has Renderosity's on-line community played a role in regards to your products, friendships and learning?
Heh. Quite a bit, in fact. I met Rio at Renderosity - she messaged me to congratulate me the last time I won MOM, and we ended up IMing back and forth. I invited her to Dragon*Con, drove down from Windsor, Ontario to Richmond, VA to pick her up. We gave Will (Valandar) a ride from Memphis, TN to Atlanta where the convention was held, met some of the Rosity staff and members, and we've been together ever since (around 3 years now).
If it wasnt for me stumbling upon Renderosity, Id probably be working away in a day job right now going crazy. I used to do onsite computer technical support/network installations in downtown Toronto, mainly at law firms, and it was pretty stressful. Do you have any final words?
Yeah... just some thanks to people who have helped me along over the years - friends, aquaintances here at Renderosity. All of my customers, for putting their faith in me and my work, and supporting my products. I wouldnt be here without them: I'll be sitting here totally frustrated with something, or off on some crazy rant, and I'll get a really encouraging or sweet IM from someone out of the blue and it can change my entire outlook that day. *cough*
and many thanks to the Renderosity staff members who have put up with my last 5 years of ranting and selling here. Most notable Clint, Jeny, Deb, Jen & Spike.
Thanks also to my partner - in both senses of the word - Rio. Shes absolutely indispensible :)