What to do When You Have Nothing to Do

Comfy Chimp
Photo by Chad Littlejohn from FreeImages

The previous post, which I posted on February 20th, was about the possible extinction of the human race as a result of global warming. Since then, the Covid-19 virus has become a huge threat, and we all have to self-isolate and stay home. It’s not an extinction threat, but it is a threat.

For those of us in paid employment, self-isolation means working from home, which of course brings problems, especially with regards to any children who are in the home. Even though in most cases there will be partners at home who can give the home worker a hand looking after the children, it may well be that both partners are working from home, and it then becomes a question of how child care is arranged between the partners.

That could be a problem of course. But for those of us whose children have left home, there is a different issue. Typically, a married couple or long term partners have different interests. That’s fine in a “normal” (scare quotes) situation, but in these unusual times, couples are forced more closely together.

That can be a mixed blessing. You may be able to recapture some of the attraction that brought you together in the first place, which, while not lost, has mutated into a more mature relationship. But you have matured, and you will have, usually, developed interests which you partner may not share.

Photo by carl dwyer from FreeImages

They may not share your interests, but they will support you in them. They will tolerate your culinary experimentation, while you will indulge them in their taste for art house cinema.

So, I am a writer and a geek. My wife tolerates these interests, just as I indulge her in her liking for quiz shows on the TV. I actually enjoy them too.

I’m a deep geek. I have written low level routines for several Operating Systems, and I’ve even written programs which run at a hardware level on some. Don’t worry about the terms I use. It just means that I have delved as low as it is possible to do so without actually designing computer chips and the circuits that they operate in.

So, what has this to do with my title? Well, in the absence of doing things like shopping, at the supermarket and other places, which I’m happy to do with my wife in normal times, of course, how do I fill the hours?

Photo by Renxx Gmdr from FreeImages

Well, I’m spending a little more time on my writing, but on the geek side of things, I’ve been looking at moving my web site from WordPress to Drupal. Not seriously. I’ve long been a fan of Drupal, but I’ve settled on WordPress as my platform of choice, and that is unlikely to change.

Drupal is much more flexible than WordPress. That means of course that it is more complex. WordPress has ‘posts’ and ‘pages’. Pages are static, intended to have a long lifetime. Posts are intended to be ephemeral, at least in terms of relevance. You might want to look at a post from three years ago, but you are more likely to want to read a recent one. Pages are the things that tell people about you (“about” pages) or allow people to contact you (“feedback” pages), and so on.

Drupal has ‘Article’ and ‘Basic page’ ‘content types’ which, roughly correspond to WordPress posts and pages, but you can easily add extra content types in Drupal. Drupal has a highly complex system which allows you to do this, often using one or more of an extensive list of modules which enhance the system.

WordPress also has a system, the plugin system, which allows you to extend the base system. In fact there are thousands of plugins, but if you can’t find one that you want, you may be able to cobble something together from existing plugins.

The Drupal icon
The Drupal Icon

So these are the things that I have come across so far in my geeky delving. I downloaded the Drupal 8 package onto my ‘server’ (otherwise known as the computer in the back room) and installed it.

Drupal works out of the box, after a fashion, but you would probably not use it like that. Some things can be fixed, like the site logo, but others need one or more modules.

I set about downloading and installing the modules necessary to make the site look better. One example of Drupal’s quirkiness out of the box is that Articles and Basic Pages have addresses like https://<site-name>/node/293. A module is necessary to change it to something user friendly like https://<site-name>/feedback for the feedback form.

Somewhere along the line I discovered that the correct way to install Drupal and its modules these days is to use a program called ‘composer’. This is basically a package management system. Yes, yet another package management system to learn. Oh well. So I blew everything away and started again from scratch.

Photo by Dimitris Kritsotakis from FreeImages

Next I downloaded the modules necessary to allow me to import my WordPress website into Drupal (using ‘composer’). I always knew that it wouldn’t be an exact fit, but at least I would be able to see what it looked like, and what I had to do to make it look reasonable. I wasn’t trying for an exact copy of my WordPress site.

I managed to import my Posts and Page from WordPress into Drupal as Articles and Basic Pages, and they looked, um, OK. So I went looking for ‘themes’. Both WordPress and Drupal have themes, which are essentially great bunches of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript. They can change the look and feel of a site in an instant. I downloaded it and installed it via the ‘composer’.

That was a lot better, but I wanted to tweak the styles a little, so I sub-themed it and created a small file with just my changes in it. This small file overrode the parts of the main theme, while the main theme supplied the rest. Or so the theory goes. In fact I had to add some parts of the theme configuration (the ‘regions’) to my sub-theme to make it work properly. I don’t know why sub-themes don’t inherit everything from the main theme automatically. It seems sort of broken.

I discovered that the images in my Drupal site still pointed to my WordPress site, which was a nuisance. One way to prevent that would be to edit the Import file and manually change the addresses. Definitely do-able, but I shelved that problem for now.

Photo by Luiz Fernando Pilz from FreeImages

Another thing that I spotted about images was that the images that I uploaded appeared under the ‘Images’ tab of ‘Content’ part of the Admin pages. But there was another tab, labelled ‘Media’ which was empty. After a bit of reading I discovered that there is move away from images towards Media Image objects, which are more like WordPress Media images.

Which sounded great until I found that there Media Image objects could not (currently) be embedded into content via the WYSIWYG editor. No button. But this is, fortunately, scheduled to appear in the next release of Drupal.

And that’s about when I gave up. Drupal is a great CMS, but it is not easy to learn, like WordPress. I could use it, but it would take a lot of work, and maybe I’ll delve into it again at some time, but for now I’m happy with WordPress.

Drupal is flexible, but the price of that flexibility is complexity. I was trying think of an analogy to contrast the two CMSes, but the only ones that I could think of denigrated one or the other in some way. There’s more than enough room for both.

Image from https://kinsta.com/blog/wordpress-vs-drupal/

Reading by Writing

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

Who am I writing for? What is my audience? That’s actually a hard question to answer.

Firstly, on a superficial level, I’d hope that the age group that I would hope that I’m writing for would be “Young Adult” and above. I looked up what that means and there is no real consensus on the definition, but it can refer to children from the age of 12 or 13 or up. That’s a little low, I think, for Young Adult,

However, that’s not an issue so far as my writing is concerned as my characters don’t go beyond a smooch and a hug or two. What they get up to in private is entirely up to them.

I’d hope that the absence of any salacious bits doesn’t restrict the upper age limit of those who read my books and stories. It’s the story that matters, of course, and the characters.

Speaking of characters, I’ve discovered that, so far at least, I haven’t created a decent villain. I’ve created characters who could have been villains, but have turned out to not be villainous as the story develops. A vampire. An assassin. The few villains that I have created have been unimpressive. An insane Khan who quickly gets killed off. A few inconsequential Kings.

Photo by emre keshavarz on Pexels.com

On the other hand, it seems that I find it easy to create heroines. When I look back at my stories, a big majority of them have a heroine. I wrote ‘feisty’ there but took it out. Nasty word. My heroines can be dominant, but they aren’t, as a rule, aggressively so. They are, in general, the equals of my heroes, but they have a larger role in the story. Maybe they are the prime characters.

My signature characters are the Mage and the Boffin, and they demonstrate this well. The Mage specialises in magic and the Boffin specialises in science (or physics, they would say), but there is a crossover. The Boffin is very much the mother figure, and the Mage is a father figure.

The Boffin quite often takes the lead in their adventures, but it is evident that she believes that the partnership is 50/50. The Mage doesn’t disagree. He follows where his wife leads, but without exception, they are always headed in the same direction. They very rarely differ, and each respects the other and the other’s view of the world.

The Mage does not feel dominated by his wife. In fact, he often finds her direct approach amusing. For example, the Boffin blasts a cell door when someone incarcerates them, and he merely inquires whether or not she is feeling tetchy, since they could have simply ‘stepped’ out of the cell.

So, what would I say my genre was? I’d say ‘fantasy’, but isn’t all fiction fantasy? Technology in my stories tends to be simpler than our technology, but some more modern stuff does creep in now and then.

I’m not too concerned about anachronisms. I’m not worried about inconsistencies, except within a story, and if the same character appears in more than one story, I don’t expect him or her to be exactly the same, to remember the same things, to do the same things.

Photo by James Frid on Pexels.com

I could explain this by pointing at the core mechanism that occurs in many of my stories – the idea of multiple worlds, and multiple versions of a character – but that’s not really the explanation. No, the real reason is that the stories are seemingly linked, but are actually independent.

I do like to keep my storyverse consistent though. It’s just that I don’t fret if it isn’t.

But to come back to my original question – who do I write for? Well, my stories are up on my website, and I know that people do stumble across it. I don’t know, because I haven’t looked, how many people have downloaded them.

Similarly, some of my stories, collected into books, are available as eBooks or even paperbacks. I have looked to see if anyone is buying them, but so far as I can tell, no one is.

So, I still keep writing them and polishing them and making them available, which means that I am, simply put, writing them for myself. I enjoy the process of writing, and when I start a story, I often don’t know where it is going to end. It’s a process that might be called ‘reading by writing’.

I’m happy to keep doing this, for as long as story ideas come to mind. Sometime someone may read on of my stories and enjoy it. That will be a bonus.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

A Can of Worms

The Writer at Work
The Writer at Work

This is yet another post about the writing process. OK, it fascinates me, as I consider what happens in my brain/mind as I write something, but I risk the possibility of it not being interesting to anyone else. It’s around 1500 words long, which is a bit longer than my usual posts.

So, the conventional view of the writing process is that it is a linear process. The writer sits down at his or her desk, starts furiously writing, casting off page after page, until with a final flourish he types or writes “The End” and the deed is done.

The real process is much more dynamic than that, at least for me. The following is a brief description of what happened when I wrote a story that I have written about in previous posts. I haven’t included any elements of the story because I want to concentrate on the process.

The End
The End

In a previous post, I wrote about a story that, as I wrote it, became too long for the competition in which I wanted to enter it. When I had completed it, I modified it and shortened it. However I wasn’t happy with the result, so I abandoned it, and started again from scratch, cutting and pasting bits from the original now and then.

This worked fine and I submitted the story into the competition. However, I now had three versions of the same story, and one of them, the original short one, was significantly different from the other two. A core topic in the story had changed, and the motivation of the main character was consequently different. There were other things about that version that I didn’t like so I considered consigning it to the bit bucket. However (fortunately) I didn’t do that right away.

I was happy with the version that I submitted for the competition, but I felt that the longer version could be improved. With no limit on the length, I could be more descriptive, go into the characters a bit more and draw out their motivations and fill in their back stories. I could also pull in bits from the short version which did work, and also ideas from the competition version that weren’t in the longer version.

Merging three stories into one
Merging three stories into one

I hope that I’ve given some idea of how complex this was. I was effectively merging three versions into one, and some bits didn’t fit together too well. I was constantly revising the longer one so that the timeline and the events fitted together properly with the bits I was getting from the other two versions. Normally things don’t get as complex as this for me!

After I got a consistent story, I developed it further. I’d add a paragraph or two to bring out the motivation of some character or other, and as a result one or two of the minor characters blossomed into being more than minor characters.

Initially the main character and his wife were a bit aloof, but I decided to make them more sociable, more friendly. The wife mostly dropped out of the main story, but returns for a major cameo. Another major character developed to become almost the equal of the protagonist, and a minor character emerged from the shadows to become a more rounded character.

The Protagonist
The Protagonist, but not of my story! It’s actually the goddess, Nike.

By this stage my story was complete in the longer version, and, because I had effectively gutted and abandoned the original shortened version I deleted it, as mentioned above. So now I had two versions, the shorter competition version and the longer version.

Now, when I’ve written a story, and although it is in a sense complete, I don’t leave it there. I read it through, again and again, constantly revising and modifying it. I don’t usually change the story that much, but I go after spelling errors, grammatical errors, continuity errors, and so on. In every run through I change something. Maybe just the way that I said something. The position of a word in a sentence. Maybe a name, a location, a motivation. I could keep editing probably for ever. I never write “The End”.

My main point here is that, using modern technology, I have been able to, basically, rewrite the story twice and extend and revise the original story dramatically.

Juliet's Balcony
A balcony in Verona which has nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet, but still gets visited and photographed by tourists who think it has.

I wonder how ancient writers did it. I can’t imagine Shakespeare turning out multiple drafts of his plays. For one thing, he did it by hand. To create a new draft, he would have to write out the whole thing again with the changes. The decision to change the name of a character from “Fred” to “Mercutio” wouldn’t be taken lightly. For another thing, paper was, relatively speaking, expensive in those days. Printing was expensive.

Once he had written the play, it would be printed, but only a few copies would be produced. The printed copies were not intended for general reading, but were intended as “prompt books” for use in a theatre. This means, of course, that each printing might be different.

Old Books
Old books. I imagine that Shakespeare’s plays would have been printed in books like this.

I’ve not heard of Shakespeare making notes or outlines of his plays, but maybe he did. Maybe somewhere there is Shakespeare’s hand a scrap of paper that says something like “R sees J on blcny. J doesn’t see R. R calls J, J calls guards. R thrown out.” But we know that the final version doesn’t run that way!

I conclude that Shakespeare probably had the whole play mapped out in his mind, or at least great parts of it, including the words that he invented, the sentence construction, the characters and the plot. It’s an awesome feat if he did do it that way. The idea of juggling all those characters and scenes in his head, developing the story, and finally getting it down on paper in an almost final version is amazing.

Well, I wrote that before actually wondering if there was anything on the Internet about how Shakespeare wrote his plays. The answer is fascinating, at least to me! It seems that Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights of the era cooperated extensively with each other, adding bits to each other’s plays. So Shakespeare’s plays were, in part, written by others! Interestingly, that’s very similar to the way that TV shows are written today, I understand.

An author at work
An author at work

We have the luxury, these days to dash off a story (or a play or whatever) and not worry too much about the details. We can fix those on the second go through! Electrons are as cheap as chips. I could have edited the bit about Shakespeare above, but I wanted to demonstrate how I was thinking, since this is post is about my thought processes when I write things.

So, I’d say the my writing style is like opening a can of worms. Who knows in what direction they are going to wriggle? Who knows where they are going to take us? I have a strong feeling that when I write a story, I’m only nominally in charge. The characters seem to have a life of their own, and they have their own needs and desires. They interact in way that I would not have predicted when I started writing their story and often the story changes as I write it. I’m often interested in how it is going to turn out.

That’s how I write. But others do it differently. Some, even in this electronic era write things out by hand. Others use mechanical typewriters and a few swear by old, really old, versions of software.

Mechanical typewriter
Mechanical typewriter

Things are different from Shakespeare’s day in many ways. It is more usual to write novels, rather than plays, and books are cheap and widely available. Writers do not, as a general rule, cooperate, as in Shakespeare’s day. A book will perused by an editor and checked by a proof reader many times before it is printed, and may be revised many times.

Even for those who write things by hand have the advantage of paper being cheap and readily available. They, and those who use mechanical typewriters, can easily rewrite a page and slot it into the manuscript fairly easily.

If you read the advice out there on how to write, you would sometimes think that the bare essentials are a well developed plot and well defined characters. I’ve read advice to that effect many times, but there are people who advocate the “just start writing” approach, and that is, as you can see above, my preference. I would not like to be straitjacketed by a rigid plot and static characters.

Inspiration?
Inspiration?

But some people prefer that approach and good luck to them! And there are those in the middle. Those who might have plot in mind or a set of characters, but aren’t about to spend time in developing the plot or the characters in detail. That’s maybe most writers.

Whatever approach you prefer, it is a good idea to research how to write. How to structure a story, how to develop characters and so on. It’s silly to think that all you need to do is pick up a pen and write, and you will produce a best seller. Even the best writers didn’t do that. They wrote at home and at school as kids, and they will have read voraciously, in all sorts of genres, and they may have actually formally studied literature. They will have practised extensively. And that’s what I am doing, and continue to do. Studying and practising. It’s one of the reasons for this blog!

Editing the first draft
Editing the first draft. That’s not me. I would be doing it directly on the computer!

Tutorials and Hairy Balls

Cube with applied material.

There are hundreds of tutorials for Blender. Maybe thousands. As you might expect they vary in quality from not-so-good to very good. One of the characteristics that they all seem to share is that they are fast! Some are far too fast, some are not too fast and I can keep up with them. What I’ve decided to do is watch a tutorial without making note of the techniques used and then go through it again stopping and starting to get a better idea of what is going on.

Another issue is that Blender is complex, as it needs to be to produce realistic 3-D images. That often means that there are usually several ways of achieving something, and a tutorial author might prefer one over another for some reason. Rarely does an author go into why he did something a particular way, and if he does, it can be incredibly useful.

Anyway, I’ve been looking into ‘materials’ and ‘textures’ recently. ‘Materials’ are the stuff that things are made of, like ‘metal’ or ‘marble’. Textures are, as someone said in a tutorial, descriptive of the material. For example a metal object may be rusty, or a marble object might be dirty.

Fabric ball
Fabric covered ball

There are hundreds of free materials and textures available for anyone to download. I’ve downloaded a few from Chocofur who provide a several useful packs of free materials for download. You can also purchase some impressive models from them.

Another source of useful materials are the tutorials. Sometimes a tutorial author will include the materials that he has used in his tutorial, to help those who have taken his tutorial, so that they can repeat the steps he took in his tutorial and learn that way.

Of course, a simple image downloaded from the Internet or a camera image can be used as a source of material and/or textures, but that means that the artist will need to do more work, which brings me to another point. When a texture is downloaded from the Internet, it is usually in the form of a “blend” file which has to be ‘appended’ to the model being created. (A “blend” file is the format in which Blender saves a file, whether it’s one of  your own creations or one from the Internet) When I downloaded my first materials, I didn’t know this, so I just used the images from the downloaded files. This produces results which are, basically, rubbish.

A downloaded texture usually contains several images, used for different purposes – as a colour map, a displacement map, or one of several other types of map. I use the word “map” loosely here. These are used in the “shader” in various ways. I’m not going to define “shader”, but loosely, it’s how the material/texture is applied.

A Hairy Ball
A hairy ball

What I didn’t realise when I started to look into materials, and textures and shaders was that it is fun to play around with them. A shader is a bunch of nodes linked together. Each node is a box with adjustable sliders and values in it, and you can play with them to your hearts content.

Here’s one of Chocofur’s shaders below. Note all the options that you can change! You can also add other nodes to modify the provided shader, and that where the fun begins! Of course, it helps if you know what the nodes do, but that doesn’t prevent experimentation of course.

 

 

Node map of Chocfur’s Solid Marble shader

OK, to end with I’m going to show you two of my images, created in the last week or two. They are renders of a cliff face. The first is my first attempt. I created a plane mesh and subdivided it with the fractal parameter set to non-zero. This has the effect of “crumpling” the surface a little. Then I added a pretty bland texture and rotated the plane so that it looked like a cliff.

Cliff version one
Cliff version one

There’s obvious problems with of course. It’s pretty meh! And the bands across it are distracting. Here’s the second attempt.

Cliff version two
Cliff version two

This one is the opposite of the first! It has a bolder material, and is considerably more crumpled. Back to the drawing board. Oh, and I’ve got to work on the lighting.

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. Just search for my name, Cliff Pratt. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

A Long Long Way to Go

River valley (Blender)
My first attempt at a landscape with river valley in Blender 2.8.

I’m pressing on with Blender, using the 2.8 beta, rather than the current 2.79 version. I figure that if I’m going to learn Blender, I might as well use the version that will be the current version when I get up to speed.

I’ll get to Blender in a minute but I’d just like to mention that I have a few writing ideas floating around in my head. I’ve completed one story and I’m mulling one story line in my head, but the characters want to do something that I’m not completely happy with. Yes, that is how it seems to me. I have little control over the characters and what they do!

The way that they want to act is within character, so I suppose I will put pen to paper, or rather, pound the keyboard, eventually. Sometime soon I’ll drop Blender for a while and switch over  to my word processor, but for now I’m still learning Blender.

https://www.freeimages.com/photo/television-studio-1-1171607
The image is from FREEIMAGES (https://www.freeimages.com/photo/television-studio-1-1171607), supplied to them by Joseph Hoban.

Blender is complex because real life 3-D objects which artists are trying to draw are complex. For instance, in real life there is rarely a single source of light. We may say that a an object in a scene is lit by the sun, but really it is lit by the sun, by the ambient light from the sky and the surroundings, and by reflections from other objects in the scene.

The image above shows a studio set up for television, and it shows multiple sources of light and the stage on which the scene, whatever it is, is to be set. The stage is illuminated by a lamp, but there is also a shadow on it. The shadowed part can be seen because it is illuminated by other lamps. Things in the unlit areas around the stage can be seen dimly because some light is reflected from the stage or it spills over from other lamps.

Lighting is complex and one of the things that Blender does is emulate some of this complexity. When someone builds something in Blender the object that is modelled is colourless and textureless. It’s like one of those dressmaker dummies that is merely a shape and a framework for the clothes to be are created on it.

No materials
Some of the lighting has been set up for this object, but not enough. No materials have been applied.

The object in the above image is illuminated by a light source (or rather the object is drawn as if it is illuminated by a light source). It stands on nothing, is surrounded by grey, and is visually it is not that impressive.

For a number of reasons I recreated the tower and this time I gave it some colour by adding colour to the background and another light source, and some ambient lighting.

Cartoon tower
Cartoonish tower, with background, something to stand on and some ambient lighting. There is some other lighting, but it is a bit dim and hard to see.

That still looks cartoonish! It’s still decidedly unimpressive, but I am, I hope, making progress. I’ve learned a lot and hope to put some of it into practise soon. I’ve watched dozens of videos, some of which helped and some of which didn’t. Some of the people making the videos are very good. Others click rapidly on the various windows and menus, leaving me confused.

Some videos seem to refer to earlier versions of the software, which means I have to figure out some of the steps that the video creator just quickly clicked over. Some show how to do specific tasks, like create a floating island, or realistic landscapes, and I have to extract from those the techniques that I need. But I believe that I’m making progress. Maybe by 2020 or early 2021…

I forgot to mention that once the model has been built and been decorated with materials and  textures, it is finished but only exists as a Blender file. To produce images, like those above, the object needs to be rendered. The 3-D object needs to be converted to a 2-D image file. Rendering of complex Blender files can take hours as it is a complex mathematical task. The above images, and the one below that I am going to leave you with, took only a minute or less.

The last image is an early version of the river valley that I started this post with. Since then I have dialled back the ambient lighting and added some “materials” to colourise it. It’s probable that I will rebuild the river valley completely.

River valley (early version)
An early version of the valley and river.

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. Just search for my name, Cliff Pratt. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

Progress with Blender

This is an update on how I’m getting on with Blender. I spent some time reading and viewing tutorials about the Blender interface, and it is unusual in many way. There are dozens and dozens of menus, panel, screens, and many of the buttons are small on my not-so-big screen (see above). That’s not so good for my ageing eyes.

I decided to try some of the tutorials on how to build a simple house, and eventually I ended up with above. A grey house on a grey background in Blender’s 3D view window. I then tried to recreate the above without looking at the tutorial, but before I get into that, I’m going to mention “rendering”.

Rendering is the name of the process for converting the 3D model, whatever it is, into a image that can be used on the web, or as input for further processing using a different program such as the GIMP. It is during this stage that colours and textures get applied. Below is the image resulting from the rendering of the model above. I didn’t do any colouring or apply any textures so it still looks very grey.

As I said I now attempted to draw the house from scratch, not using the tutorial. It took me some time, but eventually I managed to create the model below.

As you can see, I forgot to create the eaves, but apart from that I managed to recreate something like the tutorial model. I should have planned the house properly before I started it. I could correct it in Blender, but it is easier, with such a simple model, to start again.

I’d read or watched a tutorial where materials were applied to a model to, among other things, apply colour to the scene. “Scene” in blender means a single model that can be worked on, such as the houses, backgrounds and lighting in the models above. I decided to render my house, and to colour it in the process, and ended up with the following image. The green area that the house stands on is an object in the scene that I created and coloured, a large flat “mesh”. In Blender your work sort of floats in space, although there is something called “Physics” that I haven’t investigated yet, that may change that.

I continued to familiarise myself with the Blender interface by playing around with house models, and then I decided to try to recreate my UFO from the GIMP in blender. Here it is, in Blender. Unfortunately, the image is quite small.

And here’s a rendered view. I coloured it black and white, so it doesn’t look too impressive and the light levels are a bit low.

I restarted building the UFO, and here’s a screenshot of the second version. This time it should be more visible. It’s view of the mesh that creates the shape of the UFO. Its skeleton, if you like.

And finally for this post, here’s a rendered image of the UFO. AS you can see, it’s a bit chunky, but I’ll be investigating how to smooth it out.

I’m deliberately not going into detail on how I built these images, since they only use the really basic tools, (the UFO is just a squashed sphere for example), and there are many good Blender tutorials on the Internet. If I find some process or facility that I find interesting, I might go into detail, and when I start building a full image, I may post the various steps that got me to the end result.

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

On Learning Blender

I’ve been using the GIMP recently to draw some things, and I’ve discovered that there are some things that it can’t do easily. Specifically, I want to draw a three dimensional scene, and that requires textures and other images to wrap around objects in the main image. Like, for example, the label on a can of beans. While this is possible in the GIMP, I’ve not been able to produce really convincing wrapped objects in the GIMP. This is almost certainly my fault and not the program’s fault, of course.

Anyway, I started looking at alternatives, of which there are many. Few of them are free, but one of the best, according to my research, is Blender.

The GIMP doesn’t pretend to be a painting program. It is as its name says, an Image Manipulation Program. (The G stands for “GNU”, which I will not explain. I will refer you to Wikipedia instead.) So, it’s main purpose is to take an image, perhaps a photograph, remove any blemishes, any unwanted photo-bombers, and apply effects and merge images to form composite images.

One task that can be achieved pretty easily in the GIMP is creating text strings and positioning them on top of images. That is great for creating book covers, for example, and I’ve created a few using the GIMP. It is great for two dimensional tasks, but is not designed for building things in three dimensions.

A book cover created using the GIMP
A book cover created using the GIMP.

Blender, on the other hand, is designed for creating three dimensional images. You can even fly or walk around them. A cube looks like a cube, a sphere appears spherical. You can see an example of the layout of the Blender screen at the head of this post. Unfortunately, reducing the Blender screen to this size makes it almost unreadable, but the cube can easily be seen.

So, Blender. I decided to try to learn Blender with the aim of creating images of three dimensional objects and “painting” them with two dimensional images to produce the effects that I wanted. I could then “render” them in Blender to produce images of the objects that I wanted, and then I could import them into the GIMP.

Blender is complex! Even the methods of navigating around the work area needed hard work to get my head around, and actually creating anything more than a simple primitive object such as a cone or a cube is hard.

If you go to YouTube and search for tutorials on Blender you will find literally dozens of them. I came across a series of basic tutorials which numbered forty one. If you perform an Internet search, there are thousands of Blender tutorials. It’s a very complex program.

It also has a quirky and very complex interface. For example, it doesn’t prompt you to save your work on exit, like many other programs, but if you forget to save, it has a way to recover your work from the previous session. This infuriates many people, and a search through the arguments for and against this feature can be entertaining.

Another quirk is that the “select” function is driven by a mouse right button click rather than the more usual left button click. This feature at least can be switched off if the user wishes.

Blender is most easily “driven” using hot keys, though the menus are there. There are so many hot keys and combinations of keys, that they are hard to remember. What does pressing Shift plus Ctrl plus the letter L do, for example? I don’t know, but it is probably something useful.

Anyway, I’m going to try to learn it, and I probably post some of my experiences with it here. So long, I’m off to read a 1900+ page PDF on Blender. It’s a beginner’s guide!

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