Douglas Shuler has been a freelance artist for 25 years. Originally trained in classic art techniques such as pencils and oil paints, he was first exposed to computer art in the mid '90's. Over the next 15 years, what began as occasional dabbling and rare Photoshop fixes has become a full-time obsession with 3D art, rendering, compositing, photo-retouching, and digital over-paints. Embracing computer art, Doug has all but abandoned traditional methods and now makes extensive use of DAZ 3D figures for most of his creations.
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Douglas Shuler in action
How Douglas Shuler uses DAZ 3D Products
by Blaine Furner
"Whenever I start a new project, I begin with a stack of rough sketches. Although I can usually 'see' the image in my mind, I want to nail down the composition as tightly as possible so I can best evaluate what steps, models, and processes I might need. I consider this step to be a lot more in-depth than the usual set of rough sketches artists typically perform, because I'm not just working with line and space... I'm also working out what models to use, where to place lights, what textures I'll need to create, what hairstyles might be available, and other technical details."
With rare exceptions, Doug uses DAZ 3D's Victoria and Michael as his core figures, along with their respective bodysuits. The bodysuits conform perfectly and have an impressive array of morphs (wrinkles!) that really enhance an image's sense of reality. Doug says, "The available templates make them very easy to re-texture. I think I've created over 400 characters so far". After setting up the core character and bodysuit, Doug then starts to look over what other assets are needed by way of hairstyles, gloves, boots, belts, jackets, or armor. This is where he usually hits the DAZ 3D web site and browses through the available models. "I start mentally building the character and taking notes about what models I'll need to finish the scene.", Doug explains.
Once Doug has the core character built, he starts to create test poses to evaluate the validity of the idea. "What looks good on paper doesn't always translate well into a 3D model. The computer won't let you cheat. I move legs, reposition arms, and angle the head as needed to capture the same 'feel' as in the roughs.", explains Doug. "This part can be difficult and frustrating, because I'm very picky about getting the pose to be expressive without being unnatural. My desire is to ensure the character is expressed through body language."
Once the pose meets Doug's liking, he saves and renames the file to make sure it doesn't get overwritten. Doug will often use Vue xStream for his final render, which has great ray-trace lighting and atmospherics. Vue has a slower render engine, but the results are amazing. Doug will often move lights around and play with specific render settings.
The file is saved as a PNG to preserve the transparencies, and the next stage is to take everything into Photoshop and start compositing. Doug will spend time with extensive clean-up of the render and fix clothing poke-through, stray polygons that rendered oddly, moire patterns that might have appeared, and color-balance to begin bringing it all together. Doug is a strong believer in post-work and will often create a character in a 'bare-bones' setting, sometimes rendering the character completely bald. "DAZ 3D has a huge variety of hairstyles available that could do the job perfectly, but I actually enjoy painting the hair by hand and so I usually do it from scratch," said Doug.
The final piece is brought to a finish by adding in whatever elements remain through Photoshop post-work. Depending on the amount of rework needed, the renders often take on the appearance of a painting. Backdrops are composited from separate renders; clothing is enhanced with more wrinkles or details, plants composited in, and in the case of "Poison Ivy", photo-reference is used to recreate her face. Altogether, a piece can take between 10 and 30 hours of effort.
"I have never felt that a raw render, right out of the computer, was a finished piece. Renders invariably require a bit of cleanup to remove oddities the artist didn't want in the image or enhancements that can bring a render to life. This isn't a statement against the quality of the render/lighting, but more of an endorsement of the artist's ability to improve upon the computer. Hair can be made more flowing, fog could be added to create atmosphere, glowing runes or dramatic shadows; whatever it might take to push the render into the realm of art."
Doug mentions the strength of DAZ 3D's models is that very little work is needed to really make the render shine. The high-resolution textures and pre-modeled wrinkles in clothing greatly contribute to an artist's ability to create incredible renders with minimal work. Throughout his digital career, Doug has purchased models from various online brokers and the quality has varied greatly; from models that didn't conform properly and missing textures, to misleading promotional shots and incomplete geometry. When it comes to items he finds within the DAZ 3D catalog however, Doug says, "I've never had a quality issue with a DAZ 3D product".
The level of over-painting he performs depends greatly on what the client is looking for. Some art directors prefer a hard-edge digital render that looks like a computer character, while others prefer a more artistic painting approach. In every case, Doug tries to identify what look the client is seeking so he can alter the piece to fit their needs.
In Doug's "Poison Ivy" piece, he wanted to push the traditional comic-book look aside and create a character that could really exist. He wanted to get away from the traditional overblown pose of comics and push for a realistic treatment, while remaining sexy in nature. Using Victoria 4 as a base, Doug retextured the V4's Bodysuit and added some gloves. That was enough to call the body complete. A few hours repainting the hair and face, and this piece was finished - total work time, about 10 hours.
The real advantage to DAZ 3D figures is the incredible flexibility in shaping and morphing a figure to the desired look. Posing is easy and accurate. Editing textures of the figure and clothing are a fast way to customize a super hero into a new work of art. So if you are looking for tools to create beautiful illustrations, DAZ 3D offers a suite of affordable pre-built figures, from photo-real humans to bizarre trolls and monsters and even provides all the props, environments and accessories you could dream of.