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    5. Putting It All Together

    Now we’re ready to start actually putting our cover together. Below is a very basic video on how I work; I’ve tried to keep all of the techniques as basic as possible. There are so many complicated techniques that designers use in Photoshop, but for the purpose trying to put together your own book cover they’re overkill and needlessly confusing. This won’t make you a professional designer, but it will hopefully allow you to put together a better cover image for your book.

    Short disclaimer here: I think I was too close to my gaming headset and the sound is very sibilant. Sorry about that! If I do more of these I’ll try to get it to sound less irritating. I also um and ah a great deal when I’m concentrating. :D

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    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Three

    Previously: Part One, Part Two, Copyright and Daz Studio

    In this last section we’re going to talk a bit about how to do some basic customisation on both figures and clothing. This just touches the surface of this software, of course – if you were creating a main character model for a series, for example, you could completely create body/face morphs and bespoke skin textures including custom tattoos, scars and so on. This is too complex to handle in a basic post like this one, however.

    Reese Gets A Makeover

    We’re going to take our model Reese from the previous two installments and change her into someone new. Select your model as usual, and then from the Content Library find a different model. Use the dropdown to find her Iray materials and double-click to apply them to the existing model. You’ll have less trouble if you use skin, eye and makeup textures from the same model, rather than trying to mix and match here.

    Reese model with Meifen textures added

    Now in the Shaping menus on the right hand of the screen you can (hopefully) see that I’ve gone to Head and dialed down the Reese head, then dialed up Pepper for a mix between the two. You can do that with bodies as well. On individual body parts Shaping allows you to change various features, adding elf ears or tilted eyes, a more lush mouth, older faces or younger ones, just as the Posing menus allow you to move parts of the body and clothing. Here she is a mix of two models and I’ve changed the body to be a bit more curvy, and added some bodybuilder muscle definition.

    In this section I’ve added some new hair, as well as clothing from several different sets: a fantasy corset armor top, along with more modern studded pants and boots. We’re going to do some quick surgery to make it match a bit better (you would have to do a lot more to anything that you actually planned on using).

    I’ve selected the top, and then in the Surfaces tab on the bottom right of the screen I’ve selected bits of the fantasy armor that I’m going to hide: bottom skirt and the armor cap sleeves. Go to Geometry, and turn the Cutout Opacity to zero. (Some clothing will have an actual Opacity setting, but it works the same way.) I’ve also selected the top level of the shirt in the Surfaces tab and darkened the base colour, which will darken the entire thing. If I wanted to change colour on just one section, I would do that in the sublevel.

    Again, there are a lot of really cool and complex things that you can do including applying shaders to various things (turn a cloth item to glass, or metal, for instance), but for the sake of this basic tutorial I won’t go into that.

    Parameters Tweaks

    One last thing before we’re done – the tweaks that you can make in the Parameters tab. As in the screenshot below, click on the Parameters tab for the item that you want to change. In this case, since she’s wearing formfitting clothing, I’ve chosen the hair.

    If you can move it around, there will be an Actors submenu with all of the parameters that you can change. Here I’ve made the hair longer, and windblown it to the side.

    And we’re done. :) Here’s a quick side-by-side with our original model and a more finished render of our customised one. Have fun!

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    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Two

    Note: Part One of this series is located here.

    This is going to be a long post, as I’m doing it with images and text. Yes, it would be easier for me to just record a video, but I really hate using video for tutorials just because Wurdz R Hard. Sometimes written instructions are easier to follows when completing step-by-step actions, rather than trying to pause a video every few minutes. Plus, I’m really old.

    Step One: Materials

    Your Daz workspace may be set up differently, but you should be able to follow along. From the Content Library tab, go to People/Genesis 8 Female (or whatever) and in Characters double-click the model that you want to use. I have chosen Reese, as per the previous post.

    Make sure that you have that model selected (as you can see in the Scene viewport on the far right). Now open up the Characters menu on the left, find your model, and apply the textures. Hopefully Iray, as you’ll get a more realistic end result. Skin, eye, makeup textures are applied to that model, but you may need to open up her dropdowns in Scene to apply things like eyelash materials, etc.

    Once you’ve added her skin textures, eye colour, makeup and so on she should start to look a lot more finished – but you won’t be able to see the final product until you render.

    Step Two: Adding Hair and Clothing

    No one wants to go out in public naked and bald (presumably sans homework as well), so we’re going to clothe our girl. Make sure you have the model selected in the Scene viewport on the right, and then find the hair and clothing that you want to apply from your Content Library on the left.

    As per the image above, you see that everything you add works the same way: double-click to attach it to the main figure, then on the right find that item in the dropdown and click on it to add materials, as I’ve added the black texture to the tshirt.

    Step Three: Poses

    Now we’re going to add some action. I’m going to use a pose from a set here, as that is the easiest way to start, and then we’ll tweak her from there. Again, select your model on the right, then go into the poses that you (hopefully!) have available. You can use a G8 character with a G3 pose, and vice versa, but it will need tweaking (I have a script that converts it for me).

    Let’s make her a caster – lord knows there aren’t enough girls in black leather and jeans with magic effects coming off of their hands on book covers, amiright? :D

    I’ve used a pose from a commercial set, and now we’re going to customise it. Note the menu on the bottom right: these are the pose controls that can easily bend, twist, or otherwise move body parts. We’re going to change the position of her head by moving her neck, have her look up, etc. There is a lot of tweaking to be done here for truly custom poses, but you’ll learn that as you experiment with it.

    Step Four: Basic Lighting

    I’m not going to go very in-depth into this (as I said in Part One, this is an extremely basic guide and lighting can be difficult because you can’t see what it really looks like until you render it. This is where some good portrait light packages come in, at least until you become more proficient. This is a good tutorial on Three-Point Lighting in Daz if you want to try doing some custom light setups.

    We’re also getting to the point where I’m starting to rethink my life choices, as a video would have been so much easier. :D I’ve chosen a light package on the left and doubleclicked to apply it. This package has a utility for turning the dome off, which will be important for the transparent background that we’ll want for adding it to a background in Photoshop. I’m skipping over tons of stuff, I know – but honestly, a lot of this just requires playing around with it.

    Step Five: Basic Render Settings

    This is the last step. As you can see on the left of my workspace, I’ve clicked on Render Settings. For this type of work I’ll set the dimensions of the image in the General tab, then open up Progressive Render to set change the settings to the ones shown here: I whack max samples up, and max time as well (so it will allow enough time to render properly). These aren’t exact settings, I just push it up high. Rendering quality I’ll set to 2 or 3, and Rendering Converged Ratio to 98% (you’ll never get 100%). I’m not going to go into what this all means, this will just give you a high quality image to work with. Also, make sure your Engine at the top is set to NVIDIA Iray. Hit the Render button, and you’re done…in a couple of hours. :D

    The result? Here is our girl in rough form, ready to be placed into your scene/background (she actually has a transparent background, no removal of background needed). Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to further customise your model, mix models together, and customise clothing.

    Onward to Part Three

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    Copyright and Daz Studio

    After writing the last post I found a discussion on a book cover designers’ group about the legality of using software programmes such as Daz, and thought it might be worth repeating my understanding (which no doubt has deeper legal issues than I am listing here, as I am not an attorney*).

    • Daz Studio models, meshes, textures are copyrighted and you may not pass them on or resell them. By this I mean the actual model that someone has created, or the original textures that they have created.
    • The promo artwork on the product store page for that product is a work of art created by another artist, and they retain all the normal rights to it just as any creator would for their artwork. In other words, even if you’ve purchased the model, you have no rights to the artwork used to promote that model.
    • Once you’ve legally purchased it, though, you can use those assets to create your own art, just as you would with any other tool that you use. You bring your unique vision to the final product, which is the render.
    • The only caveat to that would be the models on Daz that are actually on iffy ground in relation to copyright – by this I am referring to the celebrity lookalikes, the vehicles (I have a motorcycle that the vendor called a “Marley Davison,” for example) and in that case you wouldn’t risk it on a commercial project. That’s just common sense, and any sensible person knows that they can’t use Angelina Jolie’s face on their cover, no matter if it is a photograph, a 3D render, or an original illustration.

    So, I hope this clears up some of the misinformation and misunderstanding involved. Legal matters are tough for creatives, as plain information regarding complex legal issues is sometimes difficult to reseach and most of us aren’t legal professionals. And as the whole ridiculous “Cockygate” issue taught us, even with legal advice you can still get it wrong. :)

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models

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    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part One

    I’ve always been good with colour and shading in my art, but my actual freehand drawing skills? Good enough for my mom’s refrigerator, but nothing that would lead to a professional career. It was a revelation when I started using stock photography as a base for a finished image in Photoshop, working with layers and textures and overpainting with a Wacom tablet to finally be able to create the concept in my mind’s eye that was so let down by my stupid, untalented hand.

    Working as a book cover artist brought a new set of challenges (the limitations of existing commercial stock) and a brand-new solution: 3D programmes, specifically Daz Studio. Daz offers a world of models at your fingertips, to be dressed and posed exactly as you need them. Hallelujah!

    This will be a three-part series that will tie in with https://ravven.com/portfolio/designing-your-own-book-covers/ my (long-neglected!) series on designing your own book covers. This post will cover some basics, and then the next post will cover customising your models and getting the best renders possible.

    Basic Requirements

    I am going to make an assumption (as I will in the main series) that you have a certain level of kit. This will require a Windows PC with an Nvidia graphics card and a certain level of oomph. You can do renders without an Nvidia card, but Iray is vastly superior to 3Delight and the quality of the image will be better. Daz Studio is free and comes with base models and the ability to do your own lighting, but if you can afford a few packages you’ll get much better (and easier) results.

    Choosing A Model

    For book cover art you’ll quite often replace a CGI model’s head with a photo model, and you’ll usually always have to redo at least part of the hair. In the Daz shop, look at the models – you’ll be working with either Genesis 3 or Genesis 8, nothing below that. Look for not only the right look for your specific project, but also look for a realistic skin with texture and flaws. The eyes should look real as well, without the white. unshadowed look that older models have. There are many, many models with perfect skin but they look less realistic – and it is that “doll-like” look that people think of when they object to Daz models.

    This is Reese, one of the models that I purchased recently. I’ll be using her as an example.

    Good lighting is also essential, and can change the look of your render massively. I happen to absolutely suck at doing custom lighting setups in Daz, so I have a set of lights that I use a lot for portraits. These are some of the light packages that I use:

    Add a hair and clothing package, and you’re ready to go! Of course, all of this can be very expensive if you don’t shop smart. Much like the way I track books that I want on Amazon, I tend to add things to a wishlist and wait for sales. The Platinum Club membership can save you a fortune if you shop smart.

    Remember: clothing, hair and poses for a Genesis 3 model may not work on a Genesis 8, so be careful when buying assets – mistakes can be expensive.

    Working With Daz: Initial Steps

    I’m not going to go into the basics of actually using the software here, as there are tutorials which will do a much better job. For our purposes, Shannon Maer has some wonderful video tutorials about rendering a model in Daz and then overpainting in Photoshop for some truly unique looks.

    Next Post: Creating a Custom Look

    For the next post I’ll cover customising models and doing a render. After all, that is why we’re doing this – the idea is to create a truly custom look for your renders that you can’t get with commercial photo stock models. Have fun until then!

    Related information: Copyright and Daz Studio

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Two

    Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models, Part Three

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    4. Choosing Stock

    For this section we’re going to look at stock. If you haven’t done this before, it seems exciting at first but rapidly turns into a soul-destroying experience. :) So many white toothpaste smiles, so many fashion and advertising shots that are unsuitable for a book cover. Very little in the way of action shots or proper costuming unless you go with a more expensive genre-specific stock site. 

    How much of your cover do you need to purchase stock for? “All of it” is the simplest and most accurate answer. I know that seems expensive but it is nothing in comparison with the risks of using unlicensed images. There are, however, a few things that you can do to bring the cost down.

    1. Watch for sales. I normally use Depositphotos, as they run yearly specials where you can buy large amounts of stock for very little. I’ll usually buy two or three of these packages of 100 images at a time which brings my stock cost down to under £1 or so per image. I’ve learned from past experiences to try as much as possible to keep stock purchases to a single site so that you don’t have wasted blocks of credits on a lot of sites just sitting there. 
    2. Start a library of images that you can reuse bits of for composited images. I have a library of commercial stock images and my own photography that I can use for skies, birds, ground cover, the perfect braided hair or loose curls that can be applied to other models. 
    3. Fonts need to be purchased as well. I try to use fonts which are licensed free for commercial use (I’ll donate to them as well as a thank you for that), reasonably priced fonts from small designers, and a smaller set of expensive commercial fonts, mostly from places like Letterhead Fonts. These I’ll usually wait to purchase until they run a sale.
    4. Take your own images. Modern smartphones usually have a camera that is good enough for taking supplementary images: be aware of great sunsets, interesting woodland paths, clumps of wildflowers in the sun, stone walls, etc., that you can photograph. This won’t be adequate for model shots, but will be fine for background images. Photograph things around the house as well: old books, keys, feathers, etc. All of this is usable and will cut your stock costs down.

    So, stock images. Aside from having the right look, age, colouring, etc., I also look for good lighting. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll be adding a head to a different body, as you need to do that all the time on covers. Below is an example of how the lighting can make your job easier, or much more difficult.

    The first image is nicely lit with a good balance of shadow and light. The middle one is washed out, with flecks of light that would need to be painted out, and the third is lit much too harshly with dark shadow on the face (this is the one that I grab locks of hair from, though!).

    When you’re matching a head with a body the lighting will have to be relatively the same, with the main light source on the same side and in roughly the same range of tones (or be fixable to be in the same range of tones, more on that later). Look for a good expression on the face, with some life to it (as though the model was actually thinking something). Again, the first image is a good example of that.

    These are the images that I’m going to be using later on as my base stock:

    The body is an image that I’ve created in a 3D program and the head is a stock image that I’ve been dying to use as I love her expression, but unfortunately she doesn’t have many other images available which makes her a bad choice for anything that might turn into a series. We’ll be doing a (hopefully!) badass urban fantasy cover.

    In the next installment we’ll start putting this together…finally. I know, right?