Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mad Science

I didn't get the gig.  Dangit.  I was rather looking forward to mixing a show again, and in a new space.  I've worked with the director, the music director, the producer, and in that building as well (used to design lights over there, plus helped set up sound a time or two).

This leaves me without any real work this month.  Pity the bills don't go away so easily.

But it does mean I can finish this dratted Poser project and see if anyone will purchase it.  I'm getting faster -- more efficient -- at Poser content, but I have a long way to go before I can knock out the kinds of things that interest me at the kind of pace that lets me finish them before my interest flags.

Doing a little research on materials as I go.  And of course thinking about the science -- mostly optics -- involved.  And there's the old stage experience (also prop-building, and even model-railroading) of learning how to weather properly; how to look for the spots that get the paint rubbed off, the crevasses that grime collects in, the places where rust might streak or oil drip.

These are always good things to think about to get a realistic look to 3d, but even more, Steampunk is nothing if not about the materials.  Plus there's a tendency towards very heavy weathering on Steampunk that I have some aesthetic disagreement with.  Just because we find it today with all kinds of wear and rust doesn't mean that's how they kept it when it was new!

Wanted some pictures of Bakelite, it of course is slightly out of period but that led me to reading up on period substitutes and the history of plastics.  And I ended up with a Bakelite look anyhow, but on the next prop that research was there for me and I swapped out a material that wasn't working for a handle of gutta-percha instead.  And looking for how brass corrodes, I read up on the history of brass and bronze, of latten and Admiralty Bras...and realized along the way just how wide a variety of colors and looks brass comes in.

Optically, most of the materials I'm using are compound materials.  Brass with a high polish returns some light diffusely, but it also has distinct reflections -- which are colored by the base material.  The specular highlights (which are actually just the reflections of local light sources) are also colored, but in some brasses there is an additional protective lacquer or similar.  This separation is more obvious in varnished wood, where the wood is one optical layer, but above it is a transparent layer of extremely high gloss.  Of course there is French Finish, a favorite of the Victorians, that returns light from deeper in the wood and in a more complex way.

A great many of these effects are anisotropic.  Lacquer coatings are nearly transparent when looking straight down into them, but become more and more strongly reflective when seen off-axis.  Some materials are the obverse; velvet is the casebook of a material that looks different depending on the angle (when you look straight down, you are looking between the fibers to the base fabric.  When you look at it sideways, the color -- and shinyness -- of the fibers dominates.)

Our own Moon has some of these same optical properties; something I learned about while "debating" online the ludicrous idea that the Apollo Missions were faked in a studio.  The lunar soil shares some of the cats eye effect of crosswalk paint and the swooshes on Nike shoes in that it returns light preferentially towards its source.  The effect is striking in some photographs taken from the surface.  This is compounded by what is called shadow hiding; a rough surface, like the velvet example above, if viewed from the direction light is coming from will become significantly brighter as the shadows are hidden on the non-visible side.  Due to these effects, the full Moon is several times brighter than the increase in illuminated area alone would account for.

(There's a LOT more to be said on retroflection, including the tapeta lucidum and the unfortunate genetic change back about when we split off from the tapir, and moving forward a few million years, the corner-cube reflectors left by Apollo astronauts that allow measurement via laser of millimeter changes in the distance to the Moon.  But I've digressed enough!)

Of course, not all render engines are sophisticated enough to simulate these properly.  Fortunately Poser, as primitive as it is, has a few fresnel functions (Edge Blend the most useful) that can help an effect fall off on edges facing away from the viewer.  If you get clever with the nodes, you can simulate some pretty complex lighting (unfortunately, anisotropic maps are not one of these; there is no adequate way in Poser to re-create the look of brushed metal).

As in the gaming industry, as in -- oddly enough -- even the actual painting of scenery for the stage -- many effects are "baked in" to the texture maps.  We paint in edge darkening and even simulated specular reflections.  And that makes it a little more compatible with even more primitive render engines, such as the base engine included in the freebie version of DAZStudio (there is a better render plug-in available for purchase, but I can't count on the end-users having it).

I'm split, as always.  The materials simply do not look very good if I don't use a few of the more advanced functions.  But every one I include on my textures, is one more place things won't work correctly in DAZ.

Plus, I'm really hoping to have the texturing done before the weekend is out.

Oh, another bit of weird science.  It's probably not a new insight, but I was listening to a show tune today and had the thought that evolutionarily, the only time we hear long continuous vocal production is when someone is screaming or perhaps yelling.  So a nice long held "C" in a song grabs us with a "A human is either in pain or is trying to warn me about something or is really, really excited."

Of course, given the knock-back of so many human milestones (and discovering more and more things we thought were uniquely ours are in fact not), it is plausible that our ancestors have been doing something a lot like singing for tens of millions of years.

And, no, this isn't the space for my rant against (pop) evolutionary psychology.*  I'm going to save that for the novel.

*Oops.  I typed too fast when I first wrote this post.

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