Meet Renderosity Vendor, BeyondVR
December 23, 2007 9:37 am
For those of you who don’t know him, John Martzahn (BeyondVR), is a long-time member of the Renderosity community, and has been contributing to the Digital Graphics world for even longer. His store here, features some truly remarkable work. Try to visit his gallery at his website, too.
Here, then, are his own words.
From what you’ve told me, John, you’ve been at this for quite a while. How, exactly, did you get into creating digital content?
We were shopping at Best Buy, in the summer of 1997, and I wandered off to look at the computer section. Not sure why. I like to write, but I had a little Smith-Corona word processor that did everything I wanted and considered a computer an unnecessary luxury. I spotted Bryce 3D, and my eyes popped! The images on the box were beautiful. I had been a serious amateur photographer in the late 70s/early 80s until I had to sell my cameras and darkroom equipment at a low point. Here was a way to create images without having to wait for the lighting to be just right, and without the distractions of litter and the ubiquitous telephone poles. I was soon shopping for a computer.
I shared many things I created in Bryce, but serious content creation came much later. I learned many of the techniques to satisfy my own needs, and then began making things because I was dissatisfied with what was available. I tried to fill niches that were ignored, and that has brought a great deal of satisfaction. Most of my products sold okay, but were hardly dazzling. As the Centennial of Flight approached, I got up the nerve to attempt the Wright Flyer. That taught me more about modeling, and my own capabilities, than I thought possible. I am still very proud of it, and it graces the front page of my site. It is free in my freestuff now but, until I fix the flipped normals, it looks best in Poser 4. Someone please remind me if it does not get fixed soon.
And you started with Bryce?
Bryce seemed to be made just for me; I connected with it right away. I also picked up Poser 2 for a song. I think P3 had been released already, but not being online I had no idea. Poser 2 was a bit of a disappointment, but under the right circumstances a figure could be made believable at a distance or as a silhouette. Poser, of course, made huge strides in the next few years, but I still considered it a plugin for Bryce. The promise of Poser 5, which was finally realized in P6, changed my mind completely. Not only can it let my models perform things Bryce could only dream of, but the render quality is now remarkable. Bryce, though, was my first love, and is so malleable and powerful that it has never ceased to fascinate me.
Were you self-taught?
When I finally got online, after several months, I discovered that there was a huge community devoted to 3D art. Sharing between different artists was a passion, and I learned so much! I hate to say it, but much of that spirit has been lost. It continues at many forums, like here at Renderosity, but the mailing lists created by MetaCreations have devolved into places to garner comments for your latest images. They were once a treasure trove. In a way, I equate it to the way the wonder has been taken from childhood. There's still a wonderful world out there, but fast changing technologies make it too easy to overlook the reasons most people strive to create art in the first place. Maybe I am being too critical, and stuck in a past I fell in love with. Anyway, what was the question?
Yes, to a large degree I am self-taught. I have a love/hate relationship with software, and I get a real satisfaction from bending it to my will. I soon get frustrated what little the programs pretend to offer. Most of the time there is so much more than the writers of owner's manuals are aware of. I think this dissatisfaction has always been the driving force behind technique, and what makes art such a wonderful pain.
Do you have any advice for the “newbies” out there?
It can be the hardest part, but it is most important to learn the tools you use. The wish is there for instant gratification, but you must never lose sight of your goals. If you have a need to share a story, evoke an emotion, or realize what your muse is pushing you towards, as unnamed as that may be, being comfortable with the tools is the only way to get there with any satisfaction. I have helped hundreds of artists over the years for this very reason. The vision and talent may be there, but often goes unrewarded and dies on the vine. Do what you like, but always strive to find the way to make it your own. Learn by doing, and have fun with it. However, if you find yourself becoming satisfied with what you are doing, question it. Learn to take criticism humbly, and let praise find its true level. In the end, you have to satisfy yourself. Be your hardest critic, however, do not be the final judge.
I have developed a philosophy about art, and I think it is worth sharing. It goes like this: "You, the creator, never finish a work." No work of art is ever finished until it is seen, heard, read or felt by someone else. In that sense, it is never finished. I did my art, back when I had the time, for everyone, not just those of the community. That is the reason I created my site. I had a guestbook until the spammers got hold of it, and it really opened my eyes. Some took a piece the way I intended, but were touched more deeply than I could have imagined. Many times images were interpreted in ways I could not have anticipated. Some comments made me smile, some brought tears to my eyes. Create and share! Do not feel impelled to explain your meanings overly. You are not necessarily equipped to do so. It will take care of itself.
What other applications do you use, besides Bryce?
For actual art work, very few. I do little post-work, not out of snobbery, but because I love the challenge of getting the look I want from the render. Of course, sometimes that is exactly the way to get the feel you want, and there's nothing wrong with that. A tool is a tool, and you cheat yourself if you do not use what is at your disposal. I use Paint Shop Pro every day, for a multitude of things. Surprisingly, I often use it in conjunction with Bryce for texturing my models. I find Bryce's DTE especially useful for making monochrome textures that I can use as underlayments in PSP. The procedural textures are much friendlier than images, and with layer blend modes the sky's the limit.
For Poser, I use the most. However, as Poser has evolved the number has gone down quite a bit. There is UVMapper, without which I could not function. I learned it long before I ever considered modeling, to remap the creations of others for my images. Knowing how to use it to the best advantage helped me to approach modeling from the right perspective, as the choices of how to model a shape can be many. When I worked on original figures I added quite a few to my arsenal, most of which languish now. One that I can recommend highly is MorphMaster Pro. It works directly on the CR2, and does away with any messy exporting, scaling or converting. It has excellent selection and morphing options, and you can use the morphs of the model themselves to help you visualize your morphs, or use them in conjunction. It saves the finished MTs right to the CR2, and you can create FBMs instantly.
I have used Shade 8 for rendering, but the temptation to use all the bells and whistles makes for a long render. I also use it and Hexagon to model. I use Anim8or the most for modeling, but I can pass OBJs back and forth between these applications painlessly, and get the best of each. I have Carrara, and it shows much promise in both modeling and scene creation. Unfortunately, I have not had much time to devote to it.
I’ve noticed that you use Anim8or a lot… was that a “love at first sight”?
In a way. When toying with the thought of modeling I tried many of the free applications. Many showed promise, but at the time they were way over my head. This was mainly due to the fact that I could not force myself to devote the time needed to learn them. When I found Anim8or I knew somehow that I could get along with it. It was not easy because the early versions had some annoying bugs, and it was not really well documented for someone as clueless as me.
I slowly got into it, and found its secrets and limitations. What really helped was trying the free, obsolete versions of applications like Amapi and TrueSpace. Seeing how they worked, I found ways of simulating many of the advanced features in Anim8or. I could not afford the newer versions of those products, but Anim8or had become quite good at exporting to Wavefront OBJ, so I stuck with it. I could not have attempted something like the Wright Flyer without the insights I had gleaned.
Although I now love Hexagon and its tool sets, and the advantages of Shade's curved surface objects, I still use Anim8or the most. I find it very fast to use, and it easily handles my rather large projects. I use version 0.85 because it is rock solid, and free of any bugs I can find. I use Hexagon much more now. It has wonderful capabilities, and I found is relatively easy to learn. I used Shade more when I had a 2-monitor set-up, but the number of tool palettes needed get in the way and you have to open and close them a lot. It is much better at Boolean operations than Hexagon, and I use it for that and for the objects that lend themselves to Shade's unique tools.
I also love Anim8or's subdivision modeling. It's like sculpting with clay, without getting it under your nails. Using the various modelers is like anything else. A saw is good for one job, but a chisel is better for another. Many jobs take both.
Tell me something, I’ve noticed that you go into great detail on your models, and have done, all along. Is this a case of wanting to do it “right”?
It has to do with getting it as "right" as you can, or need to, which boils down to achieving an acceptable level of realism. You have to keep the needs and expectations of the user in mind. Visual art, and 3D especially, is all about fooling the eye. You can mess with the ratio of size to scale in a scene, and make things appear real, when from another view they look as unreal as possible. "Floating" mountains come to mind. You can add random detail to a scene and make it really pop, but only as long as the details do not become distracting. The same goes for modeling. Size and scale do count here, but detail has a correlation. I like to think that my experience tells me what details add to the model, and where too much detail will look more like rendering artifacts at the most likely scale in the scene.
One thing that has helped a lot was the introduction of displacement to the rendering capabilities of Poser. I can now include detail that I would hesitate to if it added to the poly count. If done correctly, it adds a three-dimensionality that took actual geometry previously. Of course, at a distance bump will do as well, and I add MAT files to switch between the two approaches. I appreciate the inclusion of relevant detail, and I assume the end user is just as picky.
Ok… unfair question… when do you know when to stop… that the detail is “enough”?
I touched on that a bit, but there is more to it. Experience has given me a good feel for the file size that will result. I love to include as much detail as possible, but I realize that computers have a limit. Also, such things as warships cannot always be as well documented as you would like. Using displacement where it does the job, and being careful to strip unseen geometry, allows detail to be used where it makes the most sense. It is a balancing act, and one more of the challenges that keeps my mind in the game.
Now, some of my other objects, such as the tools and kitchen items do not have to push the limits to look believable. That being said, these objects can achieve a great deal of added realism via the material room. I am indebted to the insights from bagginsbill on how to achieve real world light interactions in Poser. I have material updates for the products that were not built that way in the first place, but it is now S.O.P. These materials make the "plastic" look a thing of the past. You also have the option to use simpler materials, but if you care to take the time to build a complete scene, or simply use a sky dome object, the results can be amazing. This is detail that the eye expects, and the major reason so many 3D objects shout "Fake!" Reflections that make proper use of the Fresnel effect can be subtle, but oh so real. It is my wish that more vendors visit the Node Cult forum at RuntimeDNA and check out these techniques. So much attention has been paid to the realism of figures that the rest of the Poser world needs to catch up.
As Far as I know, there have never been any complaints about your models. How did you manage that?
Planning is a big part of it, in that anything that is not implemented well is going to disappoint the user. Care in the execution goes without saying. Thorough testing is important because, even if the other criteria are met, people make mistakes. I know I have, but if caught in time they are my little secrets.
The final thing is that I try to do a good job of documentation. I always include an illustrated HTML readme that details proper use, and covers any pitfalls I can think of. It goes hand-in-hand with keeping the user in mind, and I think of it as preemptive support. The fact that I have never had a request for support, or a bad review, is very encouraging. People must actually be reading them!
I want to thank you, Lou, and the staff at Renderosity for giving me this opportunity to share my experiences! The 3D community is very important to me, and if I have said anything that has offered insight or encouragement to others, then it was certainly worth it. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
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My real name is Louis Meert... I'm archdruid here at Renderosity. I have been read to, and have read nearly everything I could find since the age of six. My particular passions tend to be Fantasy and Science Fiction. I love humor, especially in a Fantasy setting. I have travelled the world, mostly courtesy of the US Army, including Antarctica ("wintered over" there with the army). I love horses and hope to have another string again. I'm teaching my daughter bladework (full length Claymores, for now... lighter blades later). Currently, I have written one, and collaborated with my daughter on a second book, which "we" are working on animating. I have been in and around computer graphics, in one way or another, for the last thirty five years and am currently "independant" (I work for a slave driver... me).
December 24, 2007
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Bryce was my very first Art Program too, I am happy to say I also own a number of your items and I just love them. I really enjoy reading your interview Louis. It is nice to see the person behind the creations. You are a true Artist. Happy Renders to you.
John, this is a fascinating story and although I have known you online for years, I didn't know half of this! Anyhow, you have always been one of my favorite artists and I have always been amazed at the detail and jaw-dropping accuracy of your models and the beauty of your renders. Can I also say, "I am PROUD of you?" :-)