Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rendering Meralda

I've written here before concerning my status as a talentless and therefore frustrated graphic artist.

Pens, pencils, brushes -- I wield them all with the same skill and artistic flair as would last October's Halloween pumpkin. In fact the jack-o-lantern, despite its lack of appendages, would probably produce better art than me about half the time simply by rolling its mushy decaying bulk over the blank pages.

I'm that bad.

But I do know my way around a mouse and a keyboard, and at long last, I've found software I can use to actually create images worth looking at.

The software, DAZ 3D Studio 4.9, is free. You can download it yourself, if you have a desire to try your hand at 3D graphic imaging. I did so last week, and after watching the tutorial videos, I set out to create Meralda Ovis, the heroine of All the Paths of Shadow and All The Turns of Light.

If you haven't read the books, Meralda is a bookish, shy genius who single-handedly revolutionizes flight on her world while saving it. The setting is vaguely Victorian, though Meralda's home isn't on the Earth we know. I've described her as having reddish-brown hair and brown eyes, but I always had a picture in my mind of what she looks like.

Now you can see that very same picture. So, without further adieu, I give you Meralda Ovis, Royal Thaumaturge to the Kingdom of Tirlin.

The image above may be my favorite one of the bunch. I love her expression; she's clearly up to something. I think I made her hair just the right amount of messy -- she's got better things to do than sit in front of a dressing mirror all day.

More of the coat in this image. Yes, I know her brooch vanished. Mainly because this is an earlier render, and I realized it was gone and replaced it in the first image.

But the detail is pretty amazing, considering my machine is hardly ideal for use as a graphics engine. I believe this picture took at least two hours to 'render,' which is a term describing the processing that takes place between the cartoonish first image and the final product.

Different placement, noonday lighting. I also changed her expression slightly. These are the clothes I tried to describe in the books -- long skirts, coat, sleeves, all that. Meralda as quite clear on several points, one being that if she was EVER dressed in a leather mini-skirt (as cover art fantasy females are often portrayed) I might find myself with the head of a duck. One does not meddle with Thaumaturges if one values one's human appearance.

Another version. I liked it, but the eye makeup was a bit overly dramatic when it rendered. I can't see her wearing that to the Laboratory, knowing she'd need to touch it up half a dozen times during the day.

If you're curious, setting up each of these images takes me a couple of hours. Posing is the hardest part, at least for me. Each model has a fully articulated internal skeleton, and you move the subject by selecting the bones and adjusting them. It's not a speedy process. There are stock poses, of course, but even those require tweaking so clothes fit correctly.

Meralda against a plain white background, with a different expression. Yes, she has long fingers. And the shoulder ruffles of her coat need work, but overall I was pleased.

A close-up. There is a flaw in this image; a stray reflection from her right earring splashed light on her cheek, and I don't have time to move my lights in the scene and render a new image for today's blog. The rendering process is insanely detailed -- every object reflects or absorbs light as a real physical object would, and individual rays are traced and wind up in the final scene. I've had to learn a lot of lighting and real-world studio photography to produce faces that aren't washed out on one side and hidden in shadow on the other.

So, tell me what you think in the comments! If you've read the books, does this image match yours? I'm curious to see how my image compares to yours.

One last note -- I'm still offering fantasy-based diplomas for sale, so if you'd like a degree in Applied Thaumaturgy to hang on your wall, click your way toward my fantasydiplomas site.


  1. Love her! She is perfect! You were right to tone the eye makeup down.


  2. WOW. That's really good! You're more skilled than you give yourself credit for, Frank! She's wonderful and OH yeah, I bet she does get Up to Things. (I unfortunately haven't read the book yet.) Ahem. Shown her to your wife yet? ;^)