Artwork created in 2001
All kids love to walk on the edge of the pavement, or on lines drawn on the ground, imagining that at the least misstep they will fall in the abyss wide open below their feet. Sometimes they run too fast and fall into the abyss with mock terror but resurrection is (usually) immediate. But a time comes when the kids - us - do realise that there is indeed a chasm and that we walk on the edge of it every day. Usually, we choose to ignore it. Other people despair and slide, or plunge, into it. Others make up their own reality about it. Very often, chasm-like situations have been integrated in the corpus of religious (or at least moral) representations of the world.
As a consequence, images and tales of the chasm have been used repeatedly by religious or moral authorities to warn people about what would happen to them if they didn't follow the straight line. The catch, however, is that when you want to retain people's attention, when you want to inspire awe, what you tell or show must be attractive. The only non-seductive proposal would be eternal boredom, but this is obviously hard to sell as the direst penalty. So, cautionary pieces are vivid, colourful, fun in their would-be horrible depictions, and ultimately tempting.
The Chasm picture is a sort of tribute, first to the kids we were (and still are), and second to those past artists who strove hard to make terror-inspiring images, but somehow failed in such magnificent proportions that their work have been admired for centuries as the epitome of imagination.
Making this image was a rather humbling task. It actually started as a small project. It was born on a long train ride, brought about by the dream-inducing "tatum-tatum" rhythm, along with two other pictures (the second one is The Taming of the K and the last remains to be done - it's another rather large project that goes under the work title as "The necks"). The sketches were quickly done. The first featured a child walking on a zigzagging yellow line over a mountainous landscape. This idea was dropped immediately because of a perspective problem: I couldn't see a way to have both planes in focus and still have them interrelated. The child would appear glued to, or floating over, the background. So I drew a second sketch, with the child running on the pavement's edge on the left, over some sort of rocky ravine. Two or three dragon-like creatures bared their teeth below. I planned to model them myself in Amapi.
Several weeks later, about May 15, 2001, having finished a few shorter projects, I started working on this one. However, it was less straightforward that it had first appeared during the train ride. First, I was not up to model complex objects with Amapi since I was just beginning to learn it. Second, using Jurassic Park escapees seemed unimaginative and parsimonious in retrospect and, after all, everybody knows that kids love, not fear, dinosaurs. So I went back to my art books, and had a good look at some of my favourite paintings, namely Hieronymous Bosch's "The garden of earthly delights" and "The temptation of Saint Anthony" and Peter Bruegel's "The Fall of the Rebel Angels".
Scans of the paintings below courtesy of Carol Gerten-Jackson, CGFA Virtual Art Museum.
|La tentation de Saint-Antoine, panneau gauche, Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua, Lisbonne.|
|Le jardin des délices, panneau central, Museo del Prado, Madrid|
|La chute des anges rebelles, Musée des Beaux-Arts at Brussels|
I went to see an exhibition at the Louvre Museum dedicated to fantasy in islamic art (the Western bestiary of horned and winged creatures was largely influenced by its Asian counterparts). I reread bits of Jurgis Baltrusaitis' "Fantasy in the art of the Middle-Ages".
What could I borrow there that would be compatible with my rather limited technical and artistic means? Every corner of a Bosch painting is teeming with creatures that are not only all different, but are also complex, multiple chimeras of objects, humans and animals. In the bottom of the inner left wing of the "Temptation of Saint Anthony", we can see a small hunchbacked creature, mounted on ice-skates. It has a bird head with mean eyes and white-dotted wiener-dog ears. It wears a red coat with a badge, and a hat made of a funnel, with a small branch coming out of the funnel's small end, and a cherry hangs from the branch. The beak of the creature carries a sealed letter: it's a postman on its route, and three other creatures are waiting for him under a bridge.
Of course, we know that these improbable creatures are not completely gratuitous. They carry numerous symbols, or at least references to past situations, events or characters that are partly lost to us but that were obvious to everyone when the painting was made.
The main constraint would be the memory requirement of the scene. I had rarely used more that 4 or 5 large different meshes in a scene. Having hundreds of them as in a Bosch painting was out of the question, so I had to know how many creatures I would need in the current layout. Using a dummy Poser character that I moved around and multiplied in the scene, I came up with about 20 creatures or groups of creatures. Then I started drawing sketches of the various creatures that I could possibly make, and the process became pretty straightforward from then.
I had a line-up of creatures drawn and positioned on paper, and worked on them one after another. Some of them were already in my Poser libraries, some were downloaded from Renderosity, some were bought from DAZ especially for this purpose. Each creature was posed and mixed with other creatures or props to obtain chimeras (nowhere as complex and significant as Bosch's or Bruegel's ones). Below are two Poser screenshots:
|Smoking fish with frog legs||Biker with deforming magnets|
They were textured mostly with image maps, either original ones or ones that I painted or created out of material downloaded from the Internet. The whole process took 6 weeks (in fact 6 week-ends plus many late-night tweaking). A single creature could take several hours to pose, map and then place in the scene so that it would not collide with or hide other creatures. Regularly, I launched overnight renders of the latest version of the scene. The population was growing, as can be seen in version 7 and 8 below:
I watched with increasing uneasiness the memory requirements go over 100, 200 and then 400 Mb of RAM using small image size and low quality settings...
I wanted to use global illumination, a technique that gives incredible results when properly used. The final set up was a near-white top hemisphere with a black bottom hemisphere, a sky blue plane behind the camera and no regular lights. The light intensity was controlled by a diffuse value specific to each creature. All the tests were made using low-quality radiosity settings. I didn't worried too much about radiosity splotches, since the scene had very complex and "dirty" textures that would hide them (unlike The Classroom, which quite suffers from radiosity artefacts). The main downside of using high-quality radiosity was therefore the memory consumption. For that reason, I tried to avoid reflective and transparent surfaces as possible, and shunned absolutely all materials with refraction. It would decrease realism, particularly for the few metal textures, but this wasn't exactly a realistic image.
In the third week of June, I had all the creatures ready. A few of the original ones had been discarded for technical and artistic reasons (a thoughtful sitting cow didn't made it in the final picture because I wasn't able to pose it). Other creatures were created opportunistically because they were simple to make and looked good (thanks to their talented modelers, not to me), like this loving couple of leopard girls.
I launched a high-quality render and saw that I'd never make it with only 128 Mb of RAM, as the hard disc started thrashing immediately. The files used more than 500 Mb of hard disc, by the way.
So I bought 512 Mb RAM... You know you've been ray-tracing too long when etc.
At last I turned my efforts to the street. It should have been a masterly CSG construct, with several shop windows created from scratch... Something very realistic to create a strong contrast with the monstrous world of the chasm below. But, somehow, I was getting tired of the image and creating this would have taken a few more weeks. Anyway, I started making the yellow border, using the new rounded box function available in Povray 3.5, and was pleased with the result. I went to Jeremy Engleman's texture site and started hunting for wall and pavement textures. I mixed them using the pigment_pattern and crackle solid features. I created the windows by turning a window image into both a height field and an image map... I didn't go much further. Gone was the entire street, replaced by a single dirty wall and a couple of windows! I added some grass made with my old grass macro, a pipe from Begging for light (but re-textured) and a few minor characters, including a skating fire hydrant. After a few days more of minor tweaking, the picture was completed.
I started a standard-size render on July 4 that took a whole day. I modified a few items and launched the final 2400 x 3200 render on July 6, which was completed on July 18. Finally, I had to re-render the smileys on the Walkyries' buttocks, as I had mistakenly used a low-definition map for those...
The Chasm uses a large number of creatures and textures. Most of them were either bought from DAZ (Digital Art Zone) or downloaded from Renderosity. I've tried to track down all their respective authors but in a few cases all I have is a pseudonym.
Victoria (Vicky) and Michael (Mickey) are high-resolution characters from DAZ. Victoria 2 is an update on Victoria.
Pavement border, pavement, wall, window: rounded box isosurfaces with some 3D noise, textured with mixtures of real life texture maps that used to be on Jeremy Engleman's website and a lot of procedural dirtying.
Arguing fish on legs: a mixture of the Poser bass for the body and frogs for the legs. The texture was made by "Man O' War" (Renderosity), apparently from a real fish. I modelled the smoke pipe with Amapi.
Ladder: fire escape ladder from DAZ, textured as above. Actually, I had to reassign the uv vectors using Steve Cox's UVMapper utility to get a proper effect. The platform of the fire escape is not visible but obscures the left and right parts of the pavement, making the central part brighter.
Snakes and pipe: CSG pipe textured with mixtures of bitmaps. The snake is from Poser and its texture was made by "the3Dwizard" (Renderosity).
Little running mannequin (near the pipe): standard character bundled with Poser. It was textured using a wood map also used for the violin (see below).
Running kid: standard ordinary kid from Poser 4, with DAZ's Michael Wedge hair and texture. Not the best character in the scene. The kid's body and clothes texture itself is mine, with extracts from Victoria 2 hi-res texture and shoes design from the Adidas' website. The picture on the back is Johnny Rotten's, originally created by Pariah (Renderosity).
Tricycle with skeletons: the tricycle is the work of "Abraham" (Renderosity). The rider and its clothes are Michael and his Clothing Pack. The bulb is from the 3Dcafe. It should have been transparent (see the tests in part 3 of this making of) but this had a deleterious effect on the render time. The skeletons are the standard Poser skeleton (like all other skeletons in the image)
Red devil hanging from the edge: Victoria 2 with the Morph Pack 2 for the bestial face. The texture is a reddish version of the regular Vicky texture, plus a chinese tattoo by "Fishheid" (Renderosity).
Big-head guy on a motorcycle: the biker is Michael with his Clothing Pack. The motorcycle was modelled by Kalat (Renderosity). It was deformed using the magnet feature in Poser 4. The tower was a free DAZ prop of the week.
Raptor on Zebra: standard Poser models with the standard textures. The raptor wields a machine gun from the Counterstrike pack by Joe Le Gecko (Renderosity).
Skeleton and penguins on a surfboard: standard Poser penguin with its standard texture. I modelled the surfboard with Amapi (hey, I'm a beginner!) and textured with someone's holiday images found on the Internet.
Fat nymph with fish: Victoria 2 with the overweight morph, her Walkyrie outfit (spear, helmet, breast cups and braided hair) and a slightly modified texture. Fish are Poser angel fish with the standard texture.
Cat on dog: Poser cat and dog, with the standard dog texture and a cat texture by Joe Le Gecko (Renderosity). The blades are from DAZ's Medieval Knight.
Fat nymph with gremlin: same nymph as before, with DAZ's gremlin and gremlin texture. The shackles and chain that bind the nymph and the gremlin were modelled by "JohnSta" (Renderosity).
Car with skeletons and bikini girl: the car is the usual Chevrolet 57 that can be found in many free model sites on the web. The girl is Victoria 2 wearing the bikini from Victoria's Clothing Pack and Victoria's flip hair and texture (the latter modified).
Angels and head in a basket: angels are standard Poser babies with wings by an unknown author (Renderosity). The babies' texture was made by Cindy Imhoff '"Byte Me OK" (Renderosity). The head in the basket is Michael's with its standard texture. The basket and its texture can be found at DAZ too.
Mosquito and knight: DAZ models with their original textures. The mosquito is the work of Anton Kisiel.
Violin with legs: a violin (fidula) with its textures by "Willjen" (Renderosity) mixed with Poser frog legs. Lesbian tiger and cheetah girls: DAZ's big cat morphs and textures for Victoria 2.
Rat on bird: DAZ rat and songbird, the latter being the work of Anton Kisiel. The rat texture is mine and the bird texture is a modified version of the original one (note the Jolly Rogers with pointed ears). The bridle and reins are by "Jackie" and "Bloodsong" (Renderosity).