As an artist, every now and then you realise that you need to pull your socks up and catch up not only with the competition, but also the tools you use each day. I had one of these mini-epiphanies late last year when I won a comission to prepare a set of images for a new development set in forested hills on the island of Grenada. Typically, on a project such as this I would prepare the buildings and terrain using 3D but then add the trees and planting in Photoshop using photomontage and digital paint…lots of it. On this project I wanted to achieve something new and so opted to gamble on an all CG landscape approach.

Although I had tried various CG solutions to landscaping, I found that either render times became prohibitive or the solution I was hoping for just wouldn’t work for me as advertised – Vue XStream comes to mind. As far back as 2003, I bought the Onyx Tree/Storm plugins for Max – I’d been amazed by a Tree Storm animation of some palms blowing  in the wind rendered using Electric Image at Londons DMW in 1997 and could never quite let go of that imagery – but the hardware and rendering limitations of that time meant that, as beautiful as its trees were, they just weren’t viable for a project with a deadline. Although the software came out of mothballs to create tree meshes on very rare occasions, it remained pretty much overlooked.

River View Detail

What changed? A few things. Apart from the availability of more powerful hardware and software, I would cite  Peter Guthrie’s work using Onyx Tree as a motivational spur. Around the same time, I had belatedly discovered the performance benefits of using Vray Proxy meshes. Finally, I was pointed in the direction of a fantastic Max plug-in from Itoo Software called Forest Pack Pro.

Forest Pack Pro allowed me to populate irregular terrain with Vray Proxy models of tree and plant meshes (or rocks in the case of the river bed) with relative ease and because it references these meshes rather duplicates them, it keeps memory usage incredibly low and render times fast and manageable. The whole scene (shown in the aerial shot above) amounted to just 1,650,843 polys.

Aerial View Detail

Whilst I could have painted all of those trees digitally in photoshop, I don’t feel I could have done it as well or as efficiently.


Fog and lights

In England, we aren’t blessed with too many beautiful sunlit days that end with a golden hour. We do however have good fogs in the right places at the right times of the year. Nottingham, is lucky to have the River Trent bring some spectacular fog into town when the conditions are right and this provides an ideal opportunity to get out and test the low light performance of a camera.

My D90 did okay, but there is quite a bit of grain creeping in. More troubling were the many lens flares but in fairness I was only using the 18-70mm kit lens that originally came with my D70.

I have posted a few more from the same nights photography over on Flickr –

Each year, as we get closer to the end of November, sales reps from the three main directories for film and television start making contact – Kays, The Knowledge and Kemps. Last year, I succumbed to their overtures and booked space on their websites and in their directories. I also opted to book their premium service, the online showreel. In total I spent £3064.75 across the three competing directories in the hope that I could drive more potential business to my website, raise my profile and ultimately pick up at least one new client.

Over the course of a year, I logged the following hits through my main category listings:

Kays 12
Kemps 6
The Knowledge 1

The total number of enquiries these led to either through their websites or through their printed directories is zero. By way of contrast, over the same 12 month period I received 66 hits through and 41 hits through

I did get enquiries this year, some of them really interesting and ongoing but they all found me through plain, old-fashioned Google.

Inevitabley I start to think what I could have spent that £3k on instead; adobe CS5, a new camera, a new workstation, I could even have paid myself a decent amount! I console myself with the knowledge that experience will leave me £3064.75 better off next year.

The colours used in the Co-operative bank re-brand aren’t the most anaglyph friendly so I also uploaded a black and white version as well.

As the middle of 2010 began shaping up to be as quiet as the two previous summers I looked at ways to expand on the services I already offered my clients. One client in particular asked me to come up with some proposals for an animation for a mirror maze and this in turn set me off exploring the theory and processes behind stereoscopic 3D. After wrestling with convergence and inter-ocular distances I came up with two main pieces; the first was a new sequence within a mirror maze, the second a re-working of an old architectural walk through.

None of the jobs I pitched for came off but I did at least get to learn something new and hopefully useful for the future. The anaglyph version of the walk-through re-render is here:

Best played in HD mode and red/blue anaglyph glasses are required to see it properly in 3D.