Sunday, 25 May 2008

Droodle


Still working on a good texture map. It takes quite a bit of time, so little time is left to post anything here. Still, the Droodle from the previous post may deserve to be seen.
Any takers for its name?

Monday, 19 May 2008

The 'Oh dear' sensation

Not much time to write a new entry in this blog. Let's just see what it takes to improve the quality in the fields needed to produce a nice and interesting book on Furaha:

1. Photoshop!
It is time to make the transition from painting in oils to purely digital art, I guess. Perhaps not so much to produce new main paintings, because doing those digitally would clash with the style of those already done. But each main painting could probably use a few nice instructional diagrams, close-up views, views of related species, etc. Those could be done digitally.

2. Blender!
Blender is a free 3D design programme. Expanding the human interest on Furaha means I need to do more work on people. Sofar they are hardly visible. I will also need some buildings, and chiefly some vehicles to show on expeditions. For that a good 3D-application will be needed, so I have started working with Blender.
It is clear, however, that designing a range of appropriate mass-repulsor floaters will take some time. 'Mass' what? 'Mass repulsors': a technology with which you need a reaction mass to lift slightly more than that mass itself. They are fairly cheap, and do not require much energy to keep them floating, but that is the best you can say about this tech. As the efficacy factor is only about 1.01, you need a mass of about 10,000 kg to lift a useful mass of 100 kg, or one human with some equipment. Think of a machine the size of a steam locomotive, but filled with concrete or metal scraps, but much slower, and with all the inertia...

3. Indesign!
Lay-out and design software. I think I would probably have to design a at least a few sample pages to show to potential publishers. I've opened a demo version of Indesign, but that's about it.

3. More species!
You can never have enough species. I really need to do a big image of a rusp. Clografts would also be good (that's clog-rafts, not clo-grafts) .

4. Cladograms!
I need cladograms. Those shouldn't take too long, at least not if I do not work out each and every group of species. Meaning I can make branches that won't be accompanied by many drawings.

5. Textures!
Well, I am working on a texture, and am beginning to force Photoshop to do what I want.

I do not really dare to put time estimates on all these tasks. Sometimes you just have to begin. But there is a slight sensation of 'Oh dear' involved, which by the way conforms to one of the limited number of emotional states of the Droodle (Lorica segmentata). The others are 'wet', 'dry', 'cold', 'warm' and 'Oh shit'.

Monday, 12 May 2008

'Textures'


The maps of Furaha are at present available in two forms: a line map showing coasts, and a pixel-based map showing elevation. Both were done in Matlab, allowing myriad different projections and many display options. The pixel-based one has 4320x2160 pixels, meaning it has a resolution of 5 minutes of arc. In the neighbourhood of the equator that's about 11 kilometres per pixel. Not bad, but not very detailed either.

Unfortunately, there's one thing such maps cannot do, and that is to show the planet as it looks from space. Height is one thing, but colour is another. NASA publishes great maps of what Earth looks like as seen with satellite imagery. What these show you is that seasons make a difference, which isn't too surprising, and also that deserts are yellowish and the rest of the land is green, varying from bright green to dark green and grayish green. Height is only important in that it is more likely than other regions to be either snow-white or desertlike in colour.

Others have found their ways to such data stores as well, to give their fictional worlds that realistic look. Some great examples can be found at Celestia, a program allowing you to zoom through space and have a look at realistic and real objects. At the Celestia Motherlode you will find objects made by users that are equally realistic but as unreal as the others are real.

How do they do it? You have to paint a 'texture', meaning a colour image of what the image of your planet would look like. The best way to do so is probably to 'borrow' bits of Earth texture from NASA, shift and rotate them, and paste them together to obtain a good result. That sounds easier than it is, and many hours of work go into a good texture. I have just started work on a Furaha texture. I decided that this was a good accasion to learn to use Photoshop anyway. My first experiences with it are frustrating: nothing works the way I want it do, and nothing is where I expect it to be. This is probably my punishment for not starting to use it many years and versions ago, when learning it was more or less manageable.

The good news is Celestia. At least that program, which is completely free (!), allows you to obtain a quick and rather good looking rendering of your texture. Generally you just hijack Earth's or Venus' texture and replace it with your own, and, voila, a realistic rendering. Earth is shown at the top of this post, and my first attempts at Furaha follow.



The golden sheen means that the 'texture' is just a monochromatic yellow rectangle. Still, you can see how Celestia makes land dull and oceans shiny, and uses the height map to good effects in that it helps form lighting and shading effects. The final image, below, shows an extremely rough Furaha image, with very coarse colours. The clouds make a big difference though, don't they ('borrowed' from Celestia's Earth map...). By the way, if you are surprised by the spelling, Celestia somehow figured out I am in the Netherlands, so it changed its language to Dutch, but with a distinctive Flemish spelling.


Oh yes, to do it right, I still have to figure out where to place deserts, and to that properly I need knowledge of climatology. Which I haven't really got, so it will have a be a hopefully reasonable guess...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Glapum'tians


There are many interesting animal designs in fiction. A specific supply that may not be well-known in many parts of the world are SF and fantasy comic stripe in France, There, comic strips are found in large numbers in book stores, bought by young as well as adult readers. However, their flavour is different enough from what you will find in other parts of the world to not to call them comic strips or graphic novels, but simply 'bandes dessinées', or BDs for short. I thought I might start with an old favourite, an intelligent creature from the world Glapum't; hence he is called a Glampum'tien in French, which would probably translate to a Glampum'tian in English (I have no idea why the apostrophe is doing there, but presumably it is doing the same thing it always does in SF, and that is make names sound more alien).

Glampumt'ians can be found in the BD series 'Valérian et Laureline', running since the late 60's; it now numbers 20 albums. The scenarios are written by Christin, and the drawings are by Mezières. The protagonists are space/time agents from the future. In the course of the series they have been through many adventures, always with a human outlook on things, a degree of feminism (Laureline is usually the one who solves the problems) as well as mild social criticism. There was never much 'hard' SF in the sense that technology featured much. Instead, the series has always been about people more than anything else. The same goes for the designs of its aliens: great fun to look at, and no-one cares much about their believability. In the course of the series the world was destroyed in 1986 in an album written before that time. As that time approached in real life the story went through some intriguing twists to reconcile the real history of the Earth with the storyline. Even later the previously assumed future history of the Earth, which had become a galactic force to be reckoned with, was more or less erased, so Valérian and Laureline are now on their own.

For those who want to know more, Wikipedia has a section on 'Valérian and Laureline' that includes references to English translations. All albums can be obtained in French through amazon.fr or through fnac.fr (and probably through other outlets).

Time to discuss the Glapum'tians, or Ralph, as he is the only Glapum'tian we get to know. He first appears in the album 'Les spectres d'Inverloch' (the ghosts of Inverloch). Ralph is the individual with the large flat head in the left background. He caught my attention by looking quite different from most of the other intelligent races that inhabit the series, lmost of whom look roughly humanoid. Ralph doesn't look like that; if anything, he is like a cephalopod in having a head that merges with the body without any neck, and his tentacles are attached to the body directly. The painting at the top of the page and the one below provide a better view of Ralph. Both were scanned from the book 'Les habitants du ciel' ('The inhabitants of the heavens'), showing paintings and providing biological details of many species occurring in the series. This is in fact only half a painting; it was a two-page spread, and scannning the entite painting results in an ugly stripe in the middle where the pages come together.


The text in that book describes Glapum'tians as oviparous mammals living on their birthing nest (that's the round shape sticking out of the water); additional texts and drawings refer to this as an egg as well as a habitat, and show it to be a living form. Intriguing (is it an organism in its own right?), but no more details are given.

I rather like the Glapum'tian body shape, which looks rather elegant. As is typical of this series, there is no attempt to make alien species truly alien in the sense that their motivations are out of the ordinary. Quite the contrary, greed, power, influence and sex are common motivations for all intelligent lifeforms here. The same goes for their emotions, easy to read for us Earthlings. This is true for Ralph as well: his eyes betray his emotions exactly like a human's would. But think about the trouble the writer would have if he designed a completely different system: how do you explain it to your public?

The picture here shows Ralph, a natural amphibian, under water. If you start thinking about his shape, you start to wonder how he can be a good swimmer: there are no clear propulsive adaptations in the sense of flippers, a fluked tail, or any flat surface at all. Then again, octopuses don't have such visible means of propulsion either, but they have their own jet propulsion: the siphon. Perhaps Glapum'tians have one too, but it isn't visible...

As far as walking on land is concerned, Ralph's tentacles might work, but they would be very costly from an energy point of view. After all, bones are very useful in that they limit the number of points that have to be controlled by muscle strength, greatly reducing energy expenditure. Anyone who has ever seen an octopus on dry land will understand why a skeleton is beneficial on dry land: the poor octopus resembles a puddle rather than a graceful animal. Still, Glapum'tians aren't the only animals for whom a cephalopod design was adapted to live on dry land. In the television series 'The future is wild' there are land-dwelling cephalopods, including the 'megasquid', walking around on 8 tentacles. The website on The Future is Wild has this to say about their design: "an invertebrate, meaning it has no backbone or skeleton, it has strong muscles in its 8 thick legs. These need to be strong enough to support such a large body." Well, yes, but how and at what cost? Without a good explanation, the question becomes one of guesswork: wouldn't evolution kick in an adapt these 'legs' to become more efficient? Perhaps 'Walking on tentacles' is a good subject for this blog, but not now. Meanwhile, allow Ralph to swim with orcas. He does that, and enjoys talking with them, in the album 'Les foudres d'Hypsis' (the wrath of Hypsis').