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Harvest time
Harvest time

Artwork created in 1999

The "Harvest time" diary

This image won the IRTC competition of November-December 1999, "Gardens" topic. I kept a diary during the 40 days during which the image was created.

November 20, 1999

It's been some weeks since the Gardens topic has been annouced, but I've just decided to enter the competition for the first time. What happens is that I've been working on the Genesis series and the topic is right on for a possible Eden picture. I've got a tree macro, a grass macro, a library full of animals from Zygote, and the ability to do uv mapping on them. I could do a "nature" picture, Douanier Rousseau style. But I'm not ready yet and managing thousands of plants could be a problem (I'm working on relatively low-end portable). For some time now, I've been thinking about making a classical-painting-style picture. I even tried a Virgin Mary in 1993, to no avail. I have done several "Marys" since (see La Maestà, or The Giant), but in another frame of mind. Another picture comes to mind, the cover of one of Gilbert Shelton's Freak Brothers books, the one called Grassroots, with the Fabulous Furry living on the top of a building, in some sort of open-air penthouse, with a garden. One last thing : architecture. I've already done pictures such as Mouseless, so not only I have some training in the organisation of a high-detail urban picture and I have also lots of already made materials. And I want Piranese too. Nathan O'Brien did an impressive Piranese image for the IRTC round of January 1999.

So I'm ready to go: Garden of Eden will feature some sort of concrete island, a pillar on top of which the garden will stand, with a tree, a deer (perhaps), and the famous couple (perhaps). There may be some monkeys too, since I got have chimps from Zygote. The pillar will be surrounded by a dark mongrel architecture, a mixture of old and new. Note that this is not a new idea : La Maestà and In the Jungle share this similar pattern of a solitary something in a claustrophobic environment, with somebody standing on it.

Here is the first drafts of the picture, drawn with a ballpoint pen

November 21-22, 1999

Building starts. First I create a general layout, a red box and a cyan & green "well". Not very satisfying, the perspective is so different from the draft, but it'll do for the moment./p>

I have the windows macro and buildings from previous pictures but there's a lot to do. So I spend a lot of time creating macros for various decorative elements and use them to create two test layers of windows. Hmmm. The well is likely to pose some lighting problems. The colours look wrong. Sepia or orange yellow would be fine, but I've used it over and over. I'll have a look at "Brazil" and see what colours director Terry Gilliam used.

November 23-26, 1999

The stone balustrade is stolen from Mouseless and put on top of the first building. I'd like to add some flights of stairs too. A building with arches is stolen from the Streets of the Serengeti. I rewrite it as a macro, to be able to use it on other parts of the picture.

Then it's time for reorganisation. Now that the picture is heading forward in a precise way, there is a need for a proper #include structure, with the main file, the object files, the macro files and the test files neatly separated. All the textures are reduced to only three (a wall texture, a "trim" texture and a glass texture for the windows) for now, but it is obvious that a large amount of research will be dedicated to colours and texturing. I add the ground floor windows. A building from The Giant is incorporated and the "balustrade" macro is modified to accept an "angle" parameter so that stairs can be created.

November 27, 1999

One good, productive Saturday. First, the stairs are completed. A floor with an entrance is added. I want some sort of little tower but I save this for later. Two other buildings from Mouseless are inserted. The right wall is almost finished now. What's missing is another floor and, for the front wall, more detailed floors. Arches probably. And a little tower. Anyway, I now have something to work with. This almost finished work can be seen on the right.

What is really needed is proper lighting and texturing. I'm tired of programming objects anyway.

November 28, 1999

Part of the textures will come from Mouseless. For the colours, yellow is out, because there are already too much yellowish stuff in the Book of Beginnings. The general tone must be dark and cold, so it has to be some blue, grey, or even green, perhaps with some touches of warmer colours. But the real source of warmth will be the garden. First I fiddle with some greyish and bluish colours, but I quickly realise that the only way to achieve a good effect is the hard one : to have as many dim light sources as necessary instead of one or two big ones. Gilliam's Brazil gives me a very complex array of colours, from grey to blue, or from grey to yellow. On the right is one of these color tests.

November 30-December 2, 1999

The city is built, brick after brick. Another floor is added, on the right, with a new balustrade and cobblestones. Blue light fails again and is replaced by yellow. Then there are lots of small changes: the "trim" colour disappears, replaced by the wall textures. Cobblestones and sidewalks are added where they're needed. Two new floors with arches are put at the bottom.

The lamps are now visible, with media halo and support structures made with height-fields, like in O Sonhador de Alfama. Below are three of them:

December 9-10, 1999

City is over now. I'll change the bars on the balustrade only in the final render. BTW, the render time is multiplied by almost 2 (12 hours now) on my portable.Time to start working on the garden.

It is actually made up of two parts : the garden itself and a supporting tower. I work on the tower first. It was envisioned as a monolith of stone with lots of pipes and strange bulges all around. The pipes I got already, from previous pictures, so I start putting pipes on a box. To position them properly, I have the MadPipe macro, made earlier this year. I just can't remember how it works though, but after a few tests it's working again.

After an overnight rendering, here's what I find . The object count hits the roof, though, in the range of 70000.

December 11-13, 1999

With the tower done, it's gardening time. The tree will be from the MakeTree macro. I try an already made tree from a previous run of the tree macro, but there is a problem : it's too short when seen from above, and the macro has trouble making trees with long trunks. I modify the macro. After a some fine tuning, I obtain a correct, if not perfect tree. I add a dummy grass patch and launch an overnight render.

The render shows a too dark tree, and there is something wrong with the colours. I work on the grass anyway, using the MakeGrass macros. In a few hours I have a garden. I also add a little stone border made with the MakeWall macro. Now comes the real problem, the colours. The green lights under the top arches are of a nice turquoise tint, but the grass is more yellow, and the two greens don't match, as you can see in the image on the right..

Every test is so slow... I spend the evenings experimenting with different intensities and hues. Having everything with the same green is OK, but it appears soon that the green lights on the buildings should be out, because they draw the attention of the viewer. It turn them a reddish hue instead (and I keep a green one in a corner). This is much better, as shown the next day. Finally, I end up with something much more yellow than I wanted, but the overall blue light keeps that in check..

December 14, 1999

The rendering take too much time now. The memory hit is 75 Mb and parsing is 15 minutes on the portable. From now on, I'll test the pictures on a desktop machine which renders twice faster. I fix the tree colour problem (I have to move a little the overhead light).

But there are very bad news, the pipe tower is wrong and seems out of place. On close-up the detail is nice, and the pipes appearing in the garden are cool. But thumbnails show that the picture is hard to decipher. The pipes don't match with the rest of the buildings, the structure is blurry and dark and massive. It has to go, definitely, which is a heartbreak after having spent so much work on it. I create a lighter structure in the evening, arch-based. It immediately looks better, and this is a little relief. Note that the render on the right was not anti-aliased.

December 16, 1999

Details need to be fixed but the picture seems on the right track. Now that the tower structure is lighter, it's also a see-through, which means that some of the buildings that were hidden by the previous one must be completed. A little stone pavement is still missing.

December 17, 1999

Still cleaning up some details. Big-size render shows that the tree now casts hard shadows on the walls. No shadow doesn't work properly (the tree becomes too bright). Area lights are necessary. Test with area light makes the render time twice long (in the 12 hours range) on a Pentium 200. Next step: who is going to populate the garden ?

December 18, 1999

The population of Eden is two. Adam & Eve, how original. It will look a lot like a previous picture, Last date before the end of the world, but after all I don't want animals out there. The doe and chimps are out. I load Poser and create my first Eve. Convert her to mesh and put her in the scene. Wow, that's much better than I thought it would be (you never know with Poser figures, sometimes they look plain ugly). I spend a few hours trying to figure out the best position, however...

December 20, 1999

What's still needed ? Apples. The foliage file from MakeTree is imported to Excel, and one leaf out of ten is kept, and replaced by an apple. How to make an apple ? I don't want another 1 Mb mesh file. A sphere is all right for tests, but I'll go for something more realistic. I first settle for a lathe object, that gives a nice apple shape, but too regular. Also lathes may add to the render time and 4000 of them are needed. Back to good old CSG : two thick torii are "quartered" them : each quarter is given a different scaling to obtain an asymetric shape when you glue them back together. Crude and obfuscated CSG below:

#declare QApple=difference{union{difference{torus{1,0.95} plane{y,0} scale <1,1.3,1>} difference{torus{1,0.95} plane{y,0 inverse} scale <1,3,1>}} plane{x,0 inverse} plane{z,0 inverse}}

I quickly got my apples in the tree, and, while I'm at it, I put a few ones on the ground for Eve & Adam to pick up.

December 21, 1999

Almost there. Paging Mr Adam. What should Adam do ? I contemplate for a few seconds having him reading the newspaper or watching TV. However, I don't want to spend few hours more building a paper or a TV to discover that it's barely visible. Adam will therefore do nothing, he'll just sit on the edge of the garden, while Eve will be picking apples. Another problem is the hairdo. Computer hairdos often look unrealistic. Since he's not going to be bald (got sick of bald Poser people), I have no better solution anyway. Back to Poser, I give him a ponytail and an apple (a ball actually). The tests are made at a bigger definition (1200 x 1600) so that I won't have any bad surprise the day I render this picture for a show. Now I need a better Eve, because I don't like the first, after all. She'll have an apple in hand too. Eve 2.0 seems OK immediately, demurely standing on her tiptoes. Some changes on the position of Eve. She's got a ultra-feminine behind that shines under the light, but very thick calves I don't like. No way she's going back to the drawing board though. Last minute changes : more apples, I fix the lights on the tower, and I had some normal perturbation to the tower's texture. Final render. Oops, I've forgotten to change the bars on the stairways and balustrades. And the signature...

Here is a close-up of our two friends. It reveals a lot of small mistakes but there's no time left to fix them.

December 26, 1999

Final render. It takes approximately 15 hours, because I have to stop and restart it to be able to use the computer for other works.