Sunday, 24 April 2011

Three years on

More than once in the three years I have been writing this blog I thought there were no more interesting speculative biology projects to be found on the internet, but each time I was wrong. Will the supply dry up? Perhaps not: there are more and more exquisitely detailed Z-Brush monsters, but mostly those are orcs, dragons and the like. In other words: they are not very interesting from a biological point of view. The reverse situation can also be found: well-thought out projects with artwork that does not do it justice. I guess I will simply have to wait and see how much content I can find to fill the 'allied matters' component of the blog. The number of page views slowly went up over time, which is rewarding.

So how about the 'Furahan biology' component? There is progress, if you account for the glacier-like advance of a very large project that you do not really have time for. Then again, in the last three years I got to grips with InDesign, Photoshop, Painter and XBrush (not that I am proficient in any). The most noteworthy skill I am trying to acquire is digital painting, which is the most needed one. I think I need to do some 10 additional illustrations of the "It's a fish" type, and then I will have some 15 two-page spreads to show to potential publishers. An example of those can be found in the New Hades book shop on the Furaha site: got to the brand new 'Living World Series' and you will find the 'Encyclopaedia of Furahan Wildlife' (also shown here). I aim to use that lay-out to present the book to publishers.

Rough tetropter animation; copyright Gert van Dijk

It is not difficult to think up many new animals or plants; many forms that I have now could do with some adaptive radiation. But my interest is mostly aroused by more complex puzzles. As an example I will explain the struggle to produce a good tetropter flight animation. The basic principles have been outlined before (start here to work back in time), but for good measure I have repeated an old animation above. As you can see the animal is shown from below, and the four wings move to and fro while rotating. They also move through one another, because the animation uses stiff planes for the wings: it is not good enough. I want a better one firstly, because I am curious: I wish to see what a spotted farfalloid looks like, when its beating wing reveal electric blue surfaces at one point in their cling and flap cycle, and bright orange ones the next! The second reason is that I would like to paint a variety of tetropters -talk about infinite variety-, and getting the perspective right of four warped surfaces in complex motion can be done by hand, but would be easier to manipulate by computer. I will break the problem into pieces:

Problem 1: defining movement
The wings can easily be modelled as surfaces in Matlab. These move through the wing cycle, meaning there are different requisitions for movement around the x- y and z-axes. To control them I wrote editing programs, now nearly done. The surfaces cannot remain simple planes throughout the movement cycle, but will have to be bent and warped. The animation above shows where I am now, meaning at the phase where all the 'warp factors' have to be tweaked to get it right. What you see here represents 'untweaked warping' though!

Problem 2: exporting the wings
The 3D program I am most familiar with is Vue Infinite. I had already written a program to convert Matlab patches to obj. files, which helps. But I then stumbled upon a new program, ad that was the imported wings for successive frames did not end up at the same spot in the scene. Apparently Vue calculates the mean of all x-, y- and z-coordinates to calculate the centre of an object, and if the object changes shape so does it centre. Well, I can counter that by shifting the object each frame to compensate. This needs work...

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

Problem 3: texturing the wings
Obviously, the wings will need interesting patterns on them as well as partial transparency. That, as well as bump maps, proved to be in the obj. definition and could be manipulated.
Here is a rough example of a warped wing with transparency and all in Vue.

So now you may understand why it has taken such a long time to put up a 'Flying with...' page, along the 'Walking with..' and 'Swimming with...' pages: the tetropter flight animation has to be ready first, and that is a big job.


Zerraspace said...

That is one thing I lament when surfing the web; the relative absence of good worldbuilding projects. I hope Zainter can at least add something to what is already there, but I'm afraid that with my current artistic skills it will probably fall into the category of "well-thought out with artwork that does not do it justice". I know progress on these projects is slow but at least to me that is understandable - we all have real lives to worry about, and coming up with original ideas and fleshing them out is more difficult than it looks (progress on Zainter is proceeding - I have maybe half the text I need, I'm going to have to start work on pictures soon).

To be honest I never wondered about a "Flying With" page, given that only three fliers are illustrated on Furaha's flier page, the zeppeloon's flight method is pretty intuitive and none appear to be radial fliers or tetropters. If one wants "flying with radial fliers", just check out the cliff whistler animation on Nereus!

I don't know about any publishers but the book's layout is worthy of a nature guide to me - I know I would want it even if I had never heard of Furaha. Just keep your fingers crossed! ;)

Anonymous said...

Regarding speculative biology projects, and the aforementioned "allied matters", have you seen Fentil, by Purple-Plasmid of deviantART? His gallery (specifically, the Fentil folder itself) can be found here;
I particularly like his chart of the four "vertebrate" types found on Fentil;

Also, I hope your encyclopaedia of Furaha will be published soon. I would dearly love to buy that book, along with a book on Nereoid life, were one available.


Luke said...

This is a very exciting post for me. I can't wait to see the animation in its finished form!

Evan Black said...

I don't think that the supply of good projects will dry up. Their prominence may wax and wane in tandem with their novelty, but a good project withstands the test of time. Even Dixon's earliest work is still credited by many as inspiration for an active interest in the field of speculative biology. Orcs and dragons will abound, but once in a while someone will come up with something that has had a little more scientific thought put into it.

If the rest of your efforts at digital painting turn out as well as "It's a fish" then I have no doubt that publishers will recognize the craftsmanship of your work. Whether or not they publish it will depend on many other factors as well, though, but don't despair! You could always prepare a pdf of the book in its entirety so that, on your deathbed, you can publish that and we can all benefit from your accomplishment! ;)

Ah, the tetropter animation. I never minded this video, personally; while improvements can always be made, I've always appreciated what this animation does illustrate. My own computer animation skills are woefully underdeveloped (and there's proof), so I know just how difficult it can be to emulate the minute and graceful motions of what I believe is the most complex form of locomotion we know about. Keep up the good work!

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Zerraspace: perhaps, seeing how much time it takes to produce such a work, we ought to be content that there are any at all.

As for 'flying with...', be patient. Tetropter flight 'existed' before I wrote about it in the third post of this blog in 2008. There aren't any descriptions of tetropters simply because I had not done any good paintings. I hope I manage to get the quality I am aiming for... Here is a sample video showing that extraneous objects can be animated with Vue (Vue + Matlab + Python):

Anonymous: thank you! Purple Plasmid's work was already on my list of future blog entries, but that list is not ordered in any way.

Luke: thank you.

Evan: I will consider publishing Furaha on my own if I cannot find a publisher, even before I keel over and go under...

Jan said...

Just found something, furahan animals nearer than we think...