Monday, June 01, 2020

Lockdown Update: What I have been up to during lockdown here in England.


Welsh landscape

It's been many weeks now since I went into my own personal lockdown. Due to some health issues I started my lockdown a couple of weeks before the official one here in England. Fortunately we have a decent sized garden with a south facing aspect so I haven't felt the need to go on walks locally.

Apart from watching too much TV (been enjoying Designated Survivor:60 days - the Korean version) and playing online games (World of Warships if you must know), I have taken some photos in the garden and been going through my library of images, trying to sort out the dross and do some re-organising. After years of saving to numerous hard drives, CDs and online (Dropbox and Google Drive mainly) I have realised that my library is in a total mess, with duplication and no systematic labelling of folders etc. I did once try to organise everything in Lightroom but even on a fast iMac it is too slow. Even Luminar 4 can't cope. So far I have barely scratched the surface. I guess I will have to wait until I can afford some 12TB hard drives to put into my NAS instead of the measly 1TB ones I have in there at the moment!

Speaking of Luminar 4, at the top is an image I took last autumn in Wales. Although it was a nice day the image is a bit flat, so I decided to see if I could fix that in Luminar 4. Here is the result:

Welsh landscape post-processed in Luminar 4

Hopefully you will agree that the end result is an improvement, although maybe the sky is a little over-saturated. My recollection is that the sky was closer to the second image than the first which had a fairly flat profile in camera (FujiFilm X-H1).

Here are my settings in Luminar:

AI Enhance settings in Luminar 4
AI Enhance settings in Luminar 4


Landscape Enhancer settings in Luminar 4


Luminar 4 makes it easy to do various edits to your image and you can even save the settings as a preset in the Luminar Looks toolbar for reuse with other images.

If you are interested in purchasing Luminar 4 check out the link below for some great deals.

Affiliate link: Luminar 4

Thursday, March 26, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic: How to stay positive and help the search for a vaccine!

Let's be honest - at this time of a global pandemic it's easy to feel a sense of panic or debilitating fear. That's a normal response to a dangerous and rapidly developing situation. So, how do we remain positive and what can we do that will help overcome our feelings of powerlessness?

Well, here are some of my personal tips on staying positive and I will follow these up with information on how you can help in the search for a vaccine.


If you someone who is self-isolating or shielding it is important to stay positive. You can do this by taking one day at a time and setting a goal for that day - such as read a book you have never read before (or even an old favourite you read years ago), watch some YouTube videos on a topic you have always been interested in but never had the time to explore. You can search on YouTube just like Google for any topic but here are some suggestions to start with:
    1.  Learn French 24/7 with FrenchPod101 TV
    2.  Learn Spanish with SpanishPod101.com
    3.  Learn Italian with ItalianPod101.com
    4.  How To Make Bread | Jamie Oliver 
    5.  How & Where to Start with Watercolor Painting for Beginners
    6.  3D Modelling - Noob to Pro - Basic Steps
    7.  Part 1: Learn to Draw | Getting Started
    8.  Roman History 01 - The Mythic Kings 753-509 BC
    9.  The History of Ottoman Empire : Every Year
    10.  Getting started with Creative Writing - tips and advice from writers and teachers

If you have access to a phone or a PC with a camera, why not keep in touch with loved ones, friends and carers via Skype, Facetime, Facebook Live etc. This can help reduce isolation, keep up to date with family news and also communicate your needs (if you need some shopping etc).

Try not to watch too much news, or read too much social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) as there are plenty of posts on social media that are either just negative in tone or have incorrect information in. 

Only trust reputable sources for information on COVID-19 (Corona Virus) such as:
  1. Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
  2. Symptoms and what to do - Coronavirus (COVID-19):https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/symptoms-and-what-to-do/
If you are self-isolating but are fit enough, why not do some de-cluttering and clear out your garage, spare room or loft? Only do this if you are physically up to it and would not be putting yourself at risk by doing so. This is not the time to fall down or put your back out by lifting a heavy object! You can always just deal with the small stuff - choose a few books to box up and take to the charity shop when everything is back to normal for example. Even a little bit of tidying up can have a positive impact on your mental health.

How about emailing people? We all have folk we have lost touch with but still have their emails. Why not send them a personal message expressing hope that they are well and wishing them all the best? You could remind them of some of the good times you have shared, maybe update them on what has been happening since you last met (stay positive though!). Maybe include some nice photos of family, holidays, pets etc. Share the love.



Volunteer - yes even if you are self-isolating you can still volunteer. Become a Check-in and Chat Volunteer - https://www.goodsamapp.org/nhs

Now, here is how you can help find a vaccine.

If you have access to a computer chances are you are not using it 24/7. So, how about donating it's computing capabilities to help find a vaccine for COVID-19? You may be wondering how this is possible - well it's through an initiative called Folding@home. Without confusing you with exactly what folding is let's just say that it's a way of using your pc (can be a Windows PC, a Mac or a Linux PC) to calculate possible solutions to protein folding, the diseases that result from protein misfolding and aggregation, and novel computational ways to develop new drugs in general.

It's easy to join up and all it requires is for you to install some software on your pc, have an internet connection and to leave your pc running 24/7 (ideally, though can turn it off at night if you prefer and the software will pick up where it left on when you switch it back on). You can still use your pc even whilst it's running the software and you can let it just run the software at 100% whilst you are not using the pc.

To find out more, sign up and get started check out https://foldingathome.org/

Here is a couple of screenshots of the software running on my Mac:
FAH Client up and running

Current Work Unit graphical display



Friday, February 14, 2020

Blender Tutorials

If you read my earlier post and are new to Blender you will want to find some great tutorials to help you learn how to get the most out of this amazing open-source software. I included some links in my earlier post and I encourage you to check them out.

However, i thought it worth sharing with you some more free resources I found today. This time they are on the official Blender site at https://cloud.blender.org/workshops


Here you will find not only tutorials but actual examples you can work through and learn by experience from! For example, Waking the Forest is the latest artwork by Andy Goralczyk. This inspiring image is available along with 5 hours of commented timelapse, high resolution images and all source files (textures and shaders are packed into the .blend)



It's amazing that these talented artists are willing to give back to the community and share their expertise with the rest of us, all free of charge. If you have learnt the basics of Blender then you will no doubt find these workshops an excellent resource for deepening your knowledge of Blender and flexing your creative muscles.

Let me know in the comments if you find this resource useful.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Blender 2.81a, AMD ProRender and sheep!


Introduction:

I tried to get to grips with Blender a few years ago but gave up for lots of reasons. One was that the interface was so complex for a beginner to get to grips with and the other that life was so very busy that I didn't have enough time to devote to learning how to use it.

In case you aren't aware, Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, video editing and 2D animation pipeline. You can download it at https://www.blender.org/ It's totally free and the latest version is 2.81a.


Blender has developed greatly in the past couple of years and is used not only by enthusiasts but by professional creatives around the world. It's even used in Hollywood! Blender is cross-platform and runs equally well on Linux, Windows, and Macintosh computers. Check out some great examples of what has been created with Blender at https://blenderartists.org/ as well find plenty of links to free tutorials and resources provided by the community of Blender artists around the world.

You should also check out the official tutorials and documentation at https://cloud.blender.org/p/blender-fundamentals/ and https://docs.blender.org/manual/en/dev/ respectively. Note that Blender Cloud also has tutorials that are not free but are available via a Blender Cloud subscription, currently €9.90 pcm ($11.50) or €109 pa ($119) or  €28.50 for 3 months ($32). A Cloud Blender subscription helps support the development of Blender as well as providing access to not only tutorials but also to a  textures and HDRI library, as well providing storage space for your Blender projects and much more!

If you want to learn for free then there is always YouTube! I recommend the following creators:

Blender Guru: 


Andrew Price lives in Australia, has over 1.1m subscribers to his channel and regularly posts great tutorials. I personally find him easy to follow and very clear with his tips and instructions. His videos are a great place start, and he has plenty of tips that can save you hours not only when it comes to learning to get the most out of Blender but also when it comes to rendering (a very time-consuming activity).

Blender (Official Channel):


The official YouTube channel for Blender, the Free and Open Source 3D Creation Suite. It has 527k subscribers and posts a new video roughly each week. Not all the videos on their channels are tutorials. Some are news items and conferences etc, so not as useful as Blender Guru in my view, but nevertheless you will find something of use there.

Grant Abbitt


Grant Abbitt is another of my recommended Blender artists who as some really good tutorials for the absolute beginner. I recommend you check out his video
blender 2.8 | Complete Beginners Guide | Make a Sheep (direct link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNQYhbvTJi8&t=14s )  if you are a complete beginner. In fact i followed it to create my Low Poly Sheep below:


I rendered it using AMD ProRender plugin. However, I recommend that most users use either Blender's Cycles or EEVEE render engines. More about ProRender below.
These are just three YouTube channels I would check out. To find others just type Blender into the search box on YouTube and you will find there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of videos on Blender! Why not dip into a few and see if you can find someone whose style you like and subscribe to their channel?

AMD Radeon ProRender:


Here what AMD say about ProRender:
AMD Radeon™ ProRender is a powerful physically-based rendering engine that enables creative professionals to produce stunningly photorealistic images. 
Built on AMD’s high-performance Radeon™ Rays technology, Radeon™ ProRender’s complete, scalable ray tracing engine uses open industry standards to harness GPU and CPU performance for swift, impressive results.
It's available for various 3D Graphic software platforms (Autodesk® 3ds Max®, SideFX® Houdini™, Autodesk® Maya®, PTC® Creo®, Unreal® Engine and Blender®) and on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems. Note: Not all the above mentioned software is available across all operating systems of course.

Blender users can download the plugin from here: https://www.amd.com/en/technologies/radeon-prorender-downloads as well as a Material library, all for free.

Now, here is a big caveat: The plugin is somewhat buggy and prone to crashing. For some users it seems to crash Blender every single time they run it - not good. Personally, I had this issue and it took me a while to get it setup so that it is more stable. Here are some tips that might work for you if you have similar issues:

1. Be sure use latest versions of both Blender and the plugin.
2. Don't run other programs at same time.
3. Be sure to only use the GPU render option (not both CPU and GPU - see screenshot below).


 4. Do not interrupt the rendering process as I find this tends to crash Blender every time.
5. Use only materials native to Blender or that come in the Materials pack available from the same page as the plugin.

So far, following these tips has resulted in far fewer crashes of Blender when using the plugin. Maybe it's because I use a Mac that I am having issues but in the support forum I have seen posts form those using it in Windows and Linux having the same issue so I am guessing it's more to do with the fact that it's new and there are still lots of bugs to sort out.

The plugin is fantastic when you consider that it's free and AMD are committed to developing it and ironing out the bugs. Definitely one to watch and if you have the time and happy to play around with settings etc then check it out. For the beginner or those with hardware that is somewhat non-professional, stick with Blender's Cycles and EEVEE for now.

So, I will finish with some images of work created in Blender together with links to the artists. Hopefully this will inspire you to get into Blender! 


Train by Vasilii Ziadik

Check him out at https://www.artstation.com/vasiliiziadik. He is a Pro artist and used Blender to model the train, 3D Coat to texture it and Blender Cycles to render it.




Blender 117 by Mitch Aseltine

Check him out at https://www.artstation.com/mitchaseltine.  He is a Freelance Concept Artist. 

Blender 117

Tyler Durden/Brad Pitt 3D Model by George Siskas


Featured Post

Lockdown Update: What I have been up to during lockdown here in England.

It's been many weeks now since I went into my own personal lockdown. Due to some health issues I started my lockdown a couple of weeks b...