Sunday, 19 May 2019

Four Redux - Biolab Walls Redesign Progress

  Coming back to my old work and upgrading it has so far been an enjoyable exercise in design techniques. Transforms, textures, warpings and UVs, all sorts of tricks have been used to give a serious touch-up on what I have previously built.

  The most engaging stage so far has been trying to keep the look authentic while also making a distinct style. The laboratory run by Smithston-Wessex, the megacorp funding an expedition to a far-off planet, is clean, slick, but this hides the more insidious nature of their work. While it might be a little safe to design a sterile look for one of my major forays into environment modelling, the uncomplicated nature allows me to focus on clean design. Which, with that mastered, can be a springboard for more daring aesthetics.

  I have brought the environment forward in time a little. Looking back on my references, I was always inspired by the styles of the late 1960s and mid 1970s. Too contemporary for the original Star Trek, a lot more in line with Space 1999 and 2001: A Space Odyssey

  The new design however might have creeping elements of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which developed its style in part from the visual re-imagining given to the original Star Trek series for its films. What I mainly took from this series was maybe the cleaner, rounded styles (which was popular in the Sixties) but definitely the large bands of fluorescent lighting. Along the ceiling and stretching from bottom to top, this design choice is really good for giving an illuminated feel to a room. A little impractical if you're actually within the room as it basically has you staring into a fluorescent light wherever you look, but definitely a feature emblematic of the era's science fiction film and television.

  I did not want to go overboard with the creep towards the 80s. Although it is going to be interesting to combine this with the Ridley Scott-esque corridors of the base since I made a few subtle changes to the shape of the doorways and window openings. Not that I'm too worried, I considered redesigning the doors anyway.

  True to form, I'm not done yet with this style - apart from the obvious bits like the need for a ceiling and a floor, I want to remake the doors to the isolation chambers (as well as the isolation chambers themselves) in that tapered peak threshold but in a way that is far more in line with the aesthetic I am going for. What I have in mind is to adapt the panelling already used for the door and window to fit the door to the isolation unit, which might need more bulk as it is supposed to be more heavy-duty than your typical base door.

  Could be adapting what I have, could be I design new geometry for it. But it will be enjoyable.

  For now I have decided to focus on the biolab itself. In a sense, it is my "hero" environment, where most of the project takes place. The corridor, which in previous efforts was designed as if it were a focus, will come later as it can be attached to the windows looking out into the rest of the base.

Mock environments, locked doors and reflected, polarised or shuttered windows could be used to make the base appear much larger than it really is.

  And just as a demonstration of the difference, here is the biolab design in the first attempt, with a few props, a door and a window to give an idea just how much of an overhaul this has been. To say it has been significant however I believe is an enormous understatement.

Personally I can hardly tell these are intended to be for the same room.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Baths of Caracalla and the Long Overdue Progress Update

For the past month, much of my energy has been on the development of the Bathhouse of Caracalla. An elaborate bath spa complex completed in Rome under the emperor Caracalla by around 216 AD. This enormous complex served as a communal bath house for the City of Rome, but it was so much more; it had the typical setup of three bath rooms but also a gymnasium, libraries and was surrounded by avenues of shops that would have sold everything from fine linen to freshly cooked snack food.

  What got me most interested in this project was the opportunity to design fine architectural features. Decorated composite Ionic-Corinthian columns, veneered marble, columns both structural and decorative, expansive layouts and grand hallways covered in recessed stonework. It still feels like I have only started but the layout so far is already looking rather beautiful.

And that's not even getting into possible props for the location like water, incense burners, oil lamps, potted plants, tables, benches, seats, the list goes on!

  I found myself reintroduced to xNormal, a piece of software for converting 3D geometry into 2D maps for lower resolution models. While still possessing some shortcomings, I wouldn't have close to the level of detail I have managed to push out of this project without it.My PC, and any potential rendering engine, could have overloaded with the amount of detail required to make this project even remotely convincing.

If it wasn't evident already, one of my favourite parts has been the columns. The capitals were initially a by-eye estimation, but after doing research into the carious types of columns I realised there was much more to them than any old fancy decoration. There was an artistry to the classical column which I needed to replicate.

  Without xNormal, these columns couldn't have been as detailed as they are. The same can be said of the terracotta roof.A large building would require many terracotta tiles, but individual instances of these could have been a nightmare to visualise on even a high-end PC. With xNormal I have been able to simplify the geometry by a huge margin. Still rather detailed, but to a degree that is much more manageable.

One of the advantages to the symmetry of classical buildings is a lot of what is featured on one side of the building is present down to the last brick on the other side. I find this does cut down my workload, as I only need to worry about once side of the building. Bring that up to a high standard and I can then swap everything over on the other side.

  There is still quite a lot to do. What I have been thinking for a while however is to bundle many of these elements into kits for sale on ArtStation so other aspiring artists and architects can use them for their own architectural projects. The common elements like pillars, walls and ceilings should be easy enough to bundle together. I am still deciding however if the roof tiles would be a kit on their own or if I combine them with the wall and column kits. If anyone is in need of the geometry for a Roman style non-reinforced concrete dome I would be happy to oblige!

  The more I finish though, the more I feel there is more to do. This has been an interesting project so far, but the itch to move on to something else is starting to set in. When I showed a friend a block-out for a mountain palace I had sketched out a couple of years ago to alleviate some fatigue, he thought it would be a great showcase for level design. I might do the same to keep things fresh and avoid the onset of single-project focus fatigue.

The real baths of Caracalla took some five or six years to build with hundreds of labourers working and stone from across the Empire (Egyptian marble was one prominent material) hopefully me all on my own doesn't take nearly that long to complete this rendition of a major Roman landmark.

65-Year-Old Japanese Businesswoman CEO Touts Her Youth with Shirtless Male Body Builders and Cut-Through Lyrics

Tokyo Beauty Guru and Self-Help Celebrity, EMIKO Shibamura, Releases Rap Video in the USA

Los Angeles, CA February 17, 2019 – EMIKO, Japanese fashion icon, best-selling author, and self- help guru breaks into the American music industry with a surprising rap video debut, de-stigmatizing the ageist gap in hip hop and empowering women over the age of sixty all over to do the impossible. 

EMIKO Shibamura, the 65-year-old Japanese visionary, self-help celebrity and acclaimed fashion icon, has released a surprising rap video this morning that has caught the attention of some of Los Angeles biggest music producers and label promoters in the industry. The businesswoman cited her inspiration arose after encountering a vision of a white dragon spirit that persuaded her to fly to Hollywood and pursue a career in hip hop.

EMIKO’s teachings have been made into bestselling books for many decades. She heads a multimillion-dollar beauty and health enterprise in Tokyo and works alongside the highest tax-paying individual in Japan, Hitori Saito. She is one of the few women on the planet to have a reserved ticket to space via World View, a private space-exploration company, and has a paid-for deed for a plot of land on the moon. Her new career as a rap mogul can be seen below.

Interviews available upon request.

“Akindo Fighter” by EMIKO -

Michael Laburt & Daniel Merlot (directing), Jen Rade (styling), Iggy Rosales (hair), Mynxii White (makeup), Daniel Merlot (creative director/producer)

From: EMIKO Shibamura

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Starting the Baths of Caracalla

  When I visited Rome a couple of years ago as part of a university trip, one of the places we visited was the Bathouse of Caracalla in the south end of the city. An enormous leisure complex commissioned by the Roman emperor Septimus Severus, finished by Caracalla and first opened in 216 AD, I became deeply inspired to maybe consider building this place in the digital space as a later project. I'm sort of kicking myself I didn't consider this as my choice of major project in my third year of university as it perfectly aligns with my interests: History, architecture, grand buildings and highly ornate architecture.

  Honestly spa complex is the best way of describing this site. As well as the various public bathrooms that these structures normally had where you'd move from a cold pool (frigidarium) to a medium-temperature pool (tepidarium) to a hot pool (caldarium), the bathhouse constructed by Caracalla had all kinds of leisure facilities. Gymnasia, libraries, gardens, saunae and even an amphitheatre are featured either within the building or on the surrounding grounds. The whole complex was walled off from the rest of the city in a great square dominated by decorated gardens, and while it looks like one would enter through the circular dome, the most likely entrance was closer to the gymnasia situated on the wings. I'd almost describe this building as the pinnacle of Roman pleasure-seeking. Like one of these resort hotels with the main difference being a lack of board for any attendants.

  It's not just massive by land area, it's also a structure that is enormously tall for the age. The columns I have made so far reach a height of some eight metres, but the baths themselves possessed columns (of Egyptian marble no less) could be as high as twelve! Add to this the columns would merely support a second floor or a high ceiling, so the building could be two or three times the height.

  The great dome of the caldarium, something of a downsized version of the dome of the Parthenon, would make the caldarium itself some four or five times the height of the columns that supported its  various entrances.

  For a classical building the scale was just staggering.

  As this is such a massive building it's already taken me a few days to build just the geometry for the caldarium. The positive of a construction project like this is I can likely use various elements for the building already elsewhere. Roman architecture was very fond of decorated columns and a uniform structure, as the Romans adopted the Greek idea that uniformity was an expression of divinity. So to get those done first feels like it should make the rest of the project a lot easier with a lot of possibility for recycling.

  My current plan is to break up the construction into several components. Key locations in the structure will class ans modules in and of themselves and I've been thinking of releasing elements like the columns and the archways to marketplaces like what ArtStation has unveiled not too long ago. I've already had at least one sale already.

  I'm currently debating wither to include a translucent geometry for filled pools of water. It is definitely a distinct possibility so as to give the feeling this was a living building. I am admittedly taking a bit of artistic license with the project in that designs for what the building could have looked like seem to vary wildly between artists from the first inspirations drawn up in the 19th century (which would have been inclined to include neoclassical features) to modern-day historical recreations. I'm a sucker for the artistry that comes from Romanticism even if I have my reservations about the ideas of the movement, so I may take the Romantic angle of the building mostly as an experiment in creative design.

  I'm looking forward to pushing this project further. A good portion of the Caldarium's ground floor is finished, from there I plan to decorate the upper levels which would included the recessed grid pattern the Romans used for concrete domes.

  I can already see that architectural detail being a fun design prospect.

  For the Caldarium specifically, the current checklist for its details are so far: The ledge for the upepr floors, the windows, the exterior recesses for the windows, wall trims, wall decoration and the structures for the entrances into other parts of the bathhouse. Which might be easier to make than what I have designed so far largely on the basis the most lavishly decorated sections of such large buildings tended to be the ground floor and the ceiling. Further up on a multi-level room the decoration might be more spartan as a visitor's eyes might not focus so much on these areas.

  Although trust me to take on designing one of the iconic displays of extravagance by the Roman Emperors of the third century. Septimus Severus was the third emperor after emperor Commodus, A famously hedonistic man who saw cinema fame for his portrayal in the film Gladiator who cared more about filling his time with lavish games no matter how much it cost the city of Rome, whose death marked the beginning of Rome's slow decline as the master of the world and might have been the start of the empire turning its own interests inward and ignoring the rest of the world.

  That kind of behaviour usually precludes falling into obscurity and complaining of how you've fallen into irrelevance somehow, but it doesn't half create some beautiful buildings sometimes.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Ridgewell Castle Chapel

  One of the primary focal points of castle life is the humble chapel. A place of community for everyone without access to the lord's great hall. Where knight and peasant alike can revere the divine together (unless the knights have their own chapel). These buildings were expensive constructions due to the embellishments made both inside and outside, it was kind of neccessary given that even as structures inside fortifications, they were still places of worship. Glass windows, a wooden alter, tapestries and a lavishly decorated interior. So they weren't always large buildings, but were often well decorated.

  It was somewhat difficult to find a modest example of a castle chapel, those that weren't part of castles later abandoned or integrated into the keep were expanded and embellished as the importance of a castle as a defensive structure lessened towards the end of the Medieval era.

  For Ridgewell Castle I decided to not go too fancy, as this is a castle watching for threats from outside, with amassing wealth only being a priority in the rare times when threats of attack were less likely than remote. But on reflection this current design is hardly the best I could have done for the kind of atmosphere I was working toward. So I might revisit the design later as this is one of the more important buildings of castle life.

  For the chapel design I went for a whitewashed surface as this was a popular thing to do to decorate bare stone. It's a common trope for depicting the middle ages as a time full of bare stone buildings, but more commonly a building would have a whitewash. A lime and chalk paint that was easy to make and cheap to apply. Lime whitewash goes very well with masonry and can make the building much nicer and brighter than basic exposed stone. An important point to consider as this chapel is located far to the north where there would be long dark winters and only a mildly sunny summer. So it would work against the castle's habitability to be drab and gloomy with worn stone.

  The northern location is also the reason for the angle of the chapel's roof. Situated so far north, there's going to be lots of snow and lots of rain. Lots of rain requires good drainage, lots of snow means lots of weight will be put on the roof of the building during the winter as snow settles. A steep roof will make it more difficult for snow to cling to the tiles, taking pressure off the sides further near the apex. The extra 'lip' is useful for drainage. The beams that hold the roof up can rest flatly on the walls of the building while you have an extra section to project drainage off the side.

  Castle roofs in Ridgewell Castle follow this idea due to the location, especially the towers where there are actually two walls - the protruding battlements and then the main body wall. But I find it is also quite aesthetically attractive so it might be very useful on much taller buildings while smaller buildings like huts or shops have a more flush design, as this technique means more money is spent on timber.

  Before I go back to the chapel however I need to play out the rest of the castle as otherwise I'll be stuck on detailing and never make any progress. It wasn't a complete time-sink however as it gave me practice for modular components and elements that could be shared with other parts of the castle including the keep. For other services in Ridgewell I will need, besides reworking the keep:

  • stables
  • blacksmith
  • stonemason
  • apothecary
  • barracks
  • armoury
  • granary
  • kitchen
  Maybe a couple of other buildings that will come to mind.

  The stable is already partially blocked out. Occupying a position at the far end from the gatehouse that can be seen on one of my earlier progress shots. Current progress however still leaves plenty of other buildings, some of which I suppose could be placed against or within present structures like the tower opposite the keep. As can be sen below.

  The YouTube channel "Shadiversity" has been an incredible resource for this project so far. Shad himself is a house builder by trade who has in recent years applied his knowledge into understanding how castles were constructed and how they function. He does his own research, both primary and secondary such as an authentically-approached wooden castle for his children in his back garden, and has a following as enthusiastic about castles as he is. A good deal of the inspiration I've had on roofing inspiration, and my own investigations, has come from how own research into why many castle roofs appeared to flare outward. It even gave me ideas on how Ridgewell Castle's towers would be roofed.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Return to Architecture with the Fundamentals of Castle Design

  When I hit a rut with character design recently I took a new approach after some refresher time with one of my favourite genres of video game: The city/nation builder. It gave me time to reflect on what I was interested in with 3D design. While I am still willing to happily dabble with character design, I've realised that I've been deeply fascinated in architecture.

  Going back to those roots I continued a fantasy theme by taking on the design of a castle. These are quite fascinating buildings that entertain a passion I've had for cities. A castle is not simply a structure in and of itself. It is a form of settlement, with the lord's keep as a centrepoint but can host several other separate buildings like kitchens, stables, doctors, places of worship, gathering centres, armouries, barracks, prisons and guest houses.

  They were designed as places of power. Centers of control for a local lord and a headquarters for a local garrison. From the first castles of the 11th century to the chateau-forts that followed the dominance of the cannon and the subsequent obsolescence of their ability to protect. Their design varies wildly from location-to-location. Climates and availability of materials can greatly influence their design. But they also have a particular fondness in role-play gaming like the tabletop or computer RPGs as somewhere for players to call home. Not just because of the prestige of the structure and somewhere to receive guests, but the aforementioned fact they contained many facilities from stable to kitchens, putting everything an adventurer (or adventuring group) would need in once place.

  In short, nothing seems to make a player feel safer than to be within two or three layers of curtain wall and all the resources they could ever need to keep themselves supplied and prepared.

  At present, the only part of the current fort I dub "Castle Ridgewell" near completion is the curtain wall. As I wanted to balance between fantasy and realism (in a Game of Thrones kind of way), I pored through just what kind of tricks were used in the construction of the typical castle, and what architectural features were common as these were primarily fortifications.

  I've had to bear in mind the thickness of the walls, the use of machicolations (an afternoon's work by themselves), where any potential enemy might reach the walls. Layers of defence, how to funnel various forces, defensive tricks and the strategic location of various assets. This is still a home, but one that needs to be well protected.

  This particular example is imagined as something that has been held by a family for something like four generations. Not obscenely wealthy as the owner is something like a baron or a count, but with a home in a key position on the borders of the kingdom. Not luxurious, but definitely heavily reinforced. So my plan is to not go crazy with curtain walls even though further walls can be made by recycling the assets I have already designed. The towers for instance, can be switched form being enclosed towers to open at the top (though how this is done I should have programmed in before duplicating).

I have considered roadmap for the castle's development giving me an idea of what to do next:

  • Redesign the keep's layout.
  • Block out outer defenses.
  • Block out resource buildings (chapel, blacksmith, granary, armoury).
  • Resculpt rock face in Zbrush.
  • Block out possible props.
I plan to stream the project's progress for anyone interested in watching this come together. I've got the software for it and it's good to get what I'm working on out there. Star Drake Projects will make a comeback after a long while of inactivity in the near future.

External sites

Monday, 11 March 2019

WIP: Concept art for Human Warrior

In recent weeks I've taken an interest back in drawing with Photoshop. It's been useful for generating ideas for character modelling practice which I have been keen to develop. To get a better idea of how to put my ideas across I've been studying sketch-style concept pieces, trying to work out just how to get a more convincing design and image, especially when it comes to the face.

The left-hand face below is when I started earlier today. Rather dissatisfied with how flat it looked. I looked online to get some inspiration, coming across a rather nice sketchy look. Using this painting as a basis I took a very different approach to create what would become the face on the right-hand side. It started with just the face, blocking out large patches of shadow and filling in the gaps with detail such as eyes, mouth and wrinkles. I thought it came out so well I tried the technique on the hair and headband, resulting in a very different hairstyle (and face) when you compare the two side by side.

It's been surprising to figure our the difference comes from one afternoon of analysis.

There is still plenty to work on with the image. His lower body has only been blocked out. His sword-hand and the attached hilt are somewhat completed and his cloak only has some basic blocking to it. After that comes colour.