New Computer

Well, after a twelve year run only using Mac computers, I am finally back in the windows world.  My 2010 Mac Pro tower has been a great and amazing machine - I've made and learned so much using it.  In recent years, I've upgraded it as much as I could - new video card, SSD hard drive, loads of RAM, but at it's core, the guts and brains of it are just getting too outdated.  Though Apple has been talking lately about revitalizing the Mac Pro and they have just announced a new iMac Pro, I think those options will come too late, be too expensive, and still not have all the parts and components I need.  Half of my workflow now depends on GPU based rendering - specifically NVIDIA CUDA driven cards - a supplier that Apple just won't provide anymore.  Even though Corona (A CPU renderer) is my current favorite, Octane working on the GPU is an amazing experience on the right machine.  So I really needed both.  Switching to Windows is not something I took lightly - I'll admit, I'm not thrilled about it, but I also don't agree with people who get religious about computers or software.  I just want to make stuff.  I've had the machine for a few days not and the adjustment is harder then I thought, but the sheer raw power of this machine is unbelievable.  Once I get everything dialed in, it will be a major upgrade from the previous machine.  I decided to have a custom machine built.  I thought about doing it myself, but I wanted it properly overclocked and stress tested as well as wanting a warranty.  I went with AVA Direct who have been great and very helpful in picking the parts and specs.  Here is the machine:

  • Fractal Design Define Series XL R2 Black Pearl, No PSU, E-ATX, Full Tower Case
  • ASUS X99-E WS/USB 3.1, Intel X99 Chipset, LGA 2011-3, DDR4 128GB, M.2, USB 3.1, E-ATX Retail Motherboard
  • INTEL Core i7-6950X Ten-Core 3.0 - 3.5GHz Turbo, LGA 2011-3, 25MB L3 Cache, DDR4, 14nm, 140W, Retail Processor
  • Extreme Overclocking, 20% and Up Performance Increase
  • 2 x EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti FOUNDERS EDITION, 1480 - 1582MHz, 11GB GDDR5X 352-Bit, PCI Express 3.0 Graphics Card
  • G.SKILL 64GB Kit (4 x 16GB) Ripjaws V DDR4 2400MHz, PC4-19200, CL14 (14-14-14) 1.2V, Non-ECC, Black, DIMM Memory
  • EVGA SuperNOVA Series 1200 P2 1200W, 80 PLUS Platinum ECO Mode, Full Modular, ATX Power Supply
  • NOCTUA NH-U14S, Socket 2011-3/1151/AM3+/FM2+, 165mm Height, 220W TDP, Copper/Aluminum, Retail CPU Cooler
  • SAMSUNG 1024GB 960 PRO 2280, 3500 / 2100 MB/s, V-NAND, PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe, M.2 SSD
  • WESTERN DIGITAL 2TB WD Black WD2003FZEX, 7200 RPM, SATA 6Gb/s, 64MB cache, 3.5-Inch OEM HDD
  • ASUS PCE-AC68, Internal, IEEE 802.11ac/a/b/g/n, Dual-Band 2.4 / 5GHz, 600 / 1300 Mbps, PCI Express 2.0 x1, Retail Wireless Adapter
  • Standard Wiring with Precision Cable Routing and Tie-Down
  • MICROSOFT Windows 10 Pro 64-bit DVD OEM
  • 2 x ASUS PB277Q 27", WQHD 2560 x 1440 TN LED, 1ms, HDMI / DP / DVI-D / VGA, Speakers, VESA, Black LCD Monitor
  • LOGITECH K740 Illuminated, Ultra-Thin, Wired USB, Black, Retail Keyboard
  • LOGITECH B120, 3 Buttons, 800dpi, Wired USB or PS/2, Black, OEM Optical Mouse
  • Silver Warranty Package (3 Year Limited Parts, Life-Time Labor Warranty)

Two video cards for real GPU horsepower, and while it has 10 CPU cores (the Mac has 12) - those 10 cores are much more powerful and overclocked, so I still feel like I am gaining in the CPU department.  Scenes that would crash Octane or just not load seem to fly on the new machine.  So while I had written off Octane for serious large scale work, I think it might be back in the running.  Corona is still my favorite for it's look and ease of use, but now I have options. I've also upgraded to (2) 27" monitors - so now I can have a dedicated render window when I am lighting, without having to open and close windows all day long.

Here is the first image that I'm sharing outside of beginning testing from the machine.  Not the greatest image I've ever made, but it is meant to be a real stress test for the renderer.  The outer walls are made of 2 inch thick frosted glass that are backlit, the inner walls are 1.5 inch thick clear glass (with some smudges), and the sphere is an ice material.  Also the floor has heavily blurred reflections - all these things are the hardest and slowest things to render usually.  Blurry reflections are the worst since the computer has to calculate the reflections clear, and then blur them based on the roughness of the material that is reflecting, so twice the work.  Glass can be notoriously hard to clean up and keep noiseless.  Octane chewed through all of this on this machine with the final 1920x1440 render taking about 7 minutes. For all that math, I think this is amazing.  Curious to see what Corona does with the same scene.  Ultimately, final render times are not my main concern - for me it is all about how fast I can work in real time when lighting.  The point of this machine is to get away from tweak, render, wait, sucks, tweak, render, wait, sucks... etc.  I can have a full size window open on the second monitor and see all the lighting and materials change in real time which is the best way to work and impossible to go back from.

The adjustment is pretty shocking.  I'm sorry to see how crappy the system fonts on windows are - such a minor change could make the whole experience much more pleasing.  I still have the Mac and am using it for post processing and email, music, etc.  It will take a while to get fully acclimated.  I've been surprised at how hard the transition has been mentally and emotionally.  More then windows vs. mac - it's more about having everything organized and in place on my machine where I can move around without thinking.  Right now, just navigating my files on the new machine takes concentration.  But I know this will get better.  Thanks to my wife Jane for the encouragement in buying this machine and the commitment it takes from our family for such a large inestment.  I'm looking forward to the next level of work.




Still working with photo scanned models here.  It's amazing the detail that can be captured by stitching together photos to actually create a 3D model (I'm guessing with a fair amount of clean up by hand, but not really sure what the process is).  Insects make great subjects for this.

Colacus Bicolor scan by Thomas Flynn. Click for larger image.

What I really wanted to learn was more about shaders (materials) in Corona and how to build more complex ones.  So I found a scan of a Rhinoceros Beetle that had no texture and built a whole scene having to build the shaders all from scratch.

Rhinoceros Beetle Photo Scan provided by University of Dundee Museum. Click for larger image.

 I had a clear idea going into this about what I wanted (for once) with an iridescent metallic greenish blue feel and am pleased that I was able to see it all the way through.  I learned a ton on this, though stayed up far too late creating it while my family slept.  These are create in Cinema 4D using the Corona Render engine.

Pass the Dutch....

Well, as usual, my work starts out with one intention and transforms into something else as it is made.  I wanted to play more with shaders and materials in Corona renderer - specifically, glass (turns out it renders like a champ without breaking a sweat), but along the way, it all became about composition.  Also usual to my work, I think, "Today I will make something bright and airy" and then I hate it and turn everything black with spooky lighting.  My friend Chris has called me out on this many times, ranging from "Prince of Darkness" to "It's beautiful..if you want to kill yourself...".

Click for larger image

What I realized along the way was that I was really working on Composition here.  Making images with so few objects is really hard.  You would think 25 years as a (minimalist) set designer would have taught me that, but it always sneaks up on me.  So with glass being pretty easy in Corona and having a handle on the lighting, I proceeded to move these 9 objets around a million times to get a pleasing layout.  I'd still be doing that if I didn't need to stop and get my kid from school.  Here is another one:

Click for larger image

After several unsuccessful attempts to make satin, I downloaded this one to reverse engineer it and see how it was made.  Turns out, there is still so much to learn, but that is the best part of the journey.


Well, my rendering posts are starting to feel a bit spammy on Facebook, especially amid all the posts of the end of the world, Government, and climate change (so much for social media).  Someone suggested I should get a blog and I thought holy hell, I have a blog...  So now I'll try to post here more often and maybe someone will look at it (yes you, nerd).

Here is todays Corona Render:

Click for larger view

This image is significant because I did most of the final compositing in After Effects instead of good ol' Photoshop.  It's an experiment, but I kind of like it, even if it doesn't flow naturally yet.  In using Video Copilots Optical Flares for the light beams and flares and Red Giant's Magic Bullet Looks for final composition - these can all be accessed directly from AE which is really nice.  I also rendered this out as 16 bit instead of my standard 8 bit images.  This offers a greater range of value and lets the transitions of gradients happen much smoother - for an image like this - dark and smokey, that can mean a lot.  Previously, I would get banding on the image around the halos.

Optical Flares seems to be a great way to get the right kind of light cones.  I've tried all sorts of methods - mostly trying to get volumetric renders out of 3D and they all just take too long and don't quite look right (and are hard to edit without re-rendering). I usually just make them in Photoshop, but I wanted something more advanced.  My hope would be to transition lights from VW through Cinema and all the way into AE where the flares and cones can be attached, but that is a ways off and I don't know if it can handle the sheer number of lights I normally use on a concert sketch.  I might just create a ton of preset looks and render them out on black backgrounds to use as screened layers.

Corona is shaping up to be my go to render engine of choice.  I love Octane, but Corona just keeps speaking to me.  And yes, while I hate the idea of "Fan Art" usually, I was thinking of Chris Cornell, who just died yesterday, when I was making this.

05.12 More lighting studies.

Been busy testing out render engines and doing lots of lighting studies and trying to narrow down the best workflow.  A full blog update on the render engines and a new tower machine are coming soon.  In the meanwhile - here's some new shots from the last month or two.

Model of the Mac Viper

Model of the Mac Viper

Louis XIV model photo scanned by HoangHiepVu

Louis XIV model photo scanned by HoangHiepVu

Louis XIV model photo scanned by HoangHiepVu

Louis XIV model photo scanned by HoangHiepVu

Chateau-de-blois entry photo scanned by Archeomatic. I added the tentacle :)

Chateau-de-blois entry photo scanned by Archeomatic. I added the tentacle :)

France Reborn Photo Scanned by R0m1r

France Reborn Photo Scanned by R0m1r

Chris Stapleton 2017 Tour

Excited to be part of the concept development for Chris Stapleton's current 2017 tour.  Chris' team and Bruce Rodgers dreamed up this cool Sonic temple that some said couldn't be toured.  Glad they stuck to their guns and brought this thing to life.

Octane Rendering

I've been playing around with GPU rendering.  Still a lot to learn and not ready to put it into my daily workflow yet, but thought I would experiment a bit to get some practice in and just log some hours with the render engine.  I've upgraded my MacPro5,1 tower with a GTX Titan X card, and SSD hard drive and I've pushed a ton of data and old projects off the SATA hard drive and onto and external NAS RAID that is being backed up offsite as well.  Yes, I am a dork.  Here's todays Octane doodle.

DNC 2016 has it been over a year since I added anything to this blog...  Shame on me.

We just wrapped the 2016 Democratic National Convention!  What an amazing project to be part of - working once again with Bruce Rodgers of Tribe, Inc. as his Associate Production Designer.  Really thrilled to be part of this historic event, proud of the work, and totally with Her!

Photo From LA Times

Photo From LA Times

Photo From LA Times

Photo From LA Times

Photo From LA Times

Photo From LA Times

Pan Am Games 2015 Opening Ceremony

We worked on this design Bruce Rodgers of Tribe and Cirque du Soleil starting in September of 2014 and while it changed a lot, the original heart of it never lost momentum.  Renders are up in the gallery.  Congrats to everyone who worked on this huge show.

Forgot about this one.....

Here's some renders from The Concert For Valor that we did last year for HBO.  Bruce Rodgers of Tribe, Inc. was the Production Designer for this live broadcast concert on the National Mall in DC.  Here is the Metallica setup.  Click on the images for a larger view.

Super Bowl XLIX

Thrilled to once again work with Tribe, Inc. on the Katy Perry Superbowl Halftime show this year.  What a huge show and so nerve wracking to have months of work come down to 8 minutes of setup.  Selected Renderings are up in the gallery.  Huge thanks to Bruce Rodgers, RK Productions, and the guys at All Access and VER to just name a few.

 In addition to the Half Time Show, we designed the Team Introductions, America the Beautiful, The National Anthem, The Pregame Tail Gating Stage (Dierks Bentley), and a stage For Rihanna and Kanye West with DirecTV for the Saturday night before Super Sunday.


Monster Tour 2014

Spent the Summer working with our pals over at Tribe, inc. on the Eminem and Rihanna Summer Monster Tour.  Renders are up in the main gallery, but here is an early design exploration for Em's Entrance moment.  Ultimately, the whole design shifted direction, but I always liked this sketch.

Superbowl XLVIII

We were thrilled this year to support Bruce Rodgers and Tribe, Inc. with renderings for the Halftime show featuring Bruno Mars.  Thanks for the opportunity to help put together such a huge show.  Here's a few outtakes and early drafts.

Remember to draw...

All the work on here still starts out as a hand sketched idea before going into 3D - especially details and connections, so I know what the goal is.  I traditionally used pen and paper for this, but the last year or so I've done it all on my iPad - using the Paper app and a Wacom stylus.  It took a while to get comforatable, but now I don't even think about it.  My scanner is collecting serious dust.