We interview Larry Bolch, photo journalist, director and musician about how he uses Shade 3D for creative visualisation.
Q: Could you tell us about yourself and your background in creative design?
First a bit of a highlight chronology for your own reference. The questions force time to be a bit non-linear, so this may provide a map.
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago, directing major 1958-59
- Photographer to the Province of Saskatchewan 1961-62
- Anderson (SC) Independent, photojournalist 1963-64
- Daytona Beach (FL) News Journal, photojournalist 1964-1977
- Graduated in Musicology with a dissertation on "Late Medieval Monophonic Secular Song", Northeastern Illinois University 1975
- Dallas in business for myself, photography 1978-83
- Performing arts 1982-86 in Dallas
- Directed Renaissance Faire in Anchorage 1987-88
- Back to Canada in 1989, photography and publishing, growing into multimedia content creation
Currently only accepting projects that interest me, and doing all the stuff I put off until "the time is right"—photography, 3D, movie making, music—all together into multimedia for the gratification of myself and friends.
Note that for the period between 1972 and 1975, I was both a full time photojournalist in Daytona and a full-time merit-scholarship student in Chicago. It was all done with independent research, and the president of the university complimented my dissertation as being "on a PhD level". I made considerable use of analogue multimedia in my defense of the dissertation. A few weeks later, I got an unsolicited offer from Cornell University to do a PhD there, writing my own curriculum, and being paid to do so.
I always had a kinship with light. While majoring in directing at the Goodman Theatre, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I skipped the second and third semesters in stage lighting going into the fourth and final semester, and still made—by far—the highest mark in the school. Everything I learned in lighting, applied to photography and now 3D. I eventually came back to the performing arts, but only after decades as first a staff photojournalist, and then on my own, doing magazine assignments and commercial/PR photography. Much work for the music industry, primarily photography of performance and album covers. While booking talent from agents, began getting offers from them to get on the other side of the camera.
With the right agent representing me, segued into the performing arts, including directing the performing company of the great Scarborough Faire near Dallas and later the faire in Anchorage. Also worked acting and music jobs, including leading Wylde Thyme—a group specializing in rowdy, naughty music from the Renaissance.
Early on, I discovered that the creative process was the same, no matter the medium. I found I could learn new media with considerable ease, and was working toward the concept of multimedia long before the word existed.
I have always worked "right-brain" jobs, and did techie things for recreation. In 1977 I read of the coming of personal computers and they sounded like fun. My ex—then a staff writer for Reader's Digest—thought it might be a good story idea. A few phone calls were made, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak lent us one of the first Apple II machines for a year. I soon had patches of colour moving about the TV screen—no monitors back then—primitive, but animation in fact. Woz was fascinated, and we talked frequently. I would send him my programs to play with. One time he was musing that while lots of people with tech backgrounds played with graphics, to the best of his knowledge, I was the first actual artist to use a personal computer to create works of art. When the machine first arrived, all the software that existed was Integer BASIC in ROM.
In 1985 the Amiga came on the market, and multimedia was born as a practical reality. It eventually became my career. The Amiga was also so complex that it became clear that my programming days were done. There simply was not the time in life to be an artist and to write my own software. I focused upon being the ultimate user.
Presently, I am doing whatever fascinates me. Substantial following on Facebook, where I post my day-to-day stuff. Multimedia works are on YouTube, where I am constantly trying to push the edge—including a couple done in Shade. All highly experimental.
Q: Why do you use Shade? Why do you use it compared to other 3D software?
It supports a workflow that exactly matches my own—I found modeling curved surfaces hugely intuitive, while polygons never felt natural. I started with Imagine on the Amiga, which was once described—accurately—as having a six-foot-high brick-wall as a learning curve. It was easy enough to use, once one became fluent, but getting there took enormous effort.
I saw stunning rendered works coming out of Japan, and as soon as Shade came on the market in the West, I jumped upon it. I was familiar with Bézier curves from vector drawing programs, so the learning curve was very shallow. I have also used LightWave, with an interface which seemed to be constantly fighting with me—very counter-intuitive. Bryce is fun, but I use it rarely. Poser it is my major support program because it integrates so seamlessly with Shade. I am extremely comfortable with Shade's modeling tools, surfacing and lighting, so have no interest in alternate modeling or rendering applications.
There are two basic themes in my Shade work. I have long been a "decisive-moment" photographer, looking for story-telling moments that I capture, but don't in any way control. I try to generate the same candid feeling in my scenes with Poser objects. These are usually accompanied by captions that are somewhat snarky/ironic/funny. My goal is to put the viewer in the position of spying upon unaware CG folks, who are unwittingly revealing their "human side".
The other theme is rich colour and form as purely non-objective images. The Shade objects created are monochromatic, reflective surfaces and all the colour comes from coloured light. The hue of each light is equally distant from the next around the colour wheel, using HSL—not RGB. Thus, with five lights, the sequence of hues would be 0, 48, 96, 144 and 192.
A number of people urged me to try my hand at Science Fiction themes. I was never in the slightest a SF fan, so I did not know any of the cliches. To my great amusement, these people highly praised my "originality". In fact, I did not have a clue what I was doing. Some samples are included in the gallery.
Building a Virtual Set for Cable TV
I also did a virtual set for the pilot of a cable TV series on science for young people. I took over the job on a tight deadline. A LightWave modeler had been hired, but hadn't delivered anything in his first three weeks. I had a working set posted within a day and a half. The producers really had no idea what they wanted, so the set was constantly changing. I made great use of Links and Master Surfaces, so could make massive changes with great efficiency. Initially, they would have rather had me using LightWave—one of the principles was a NewTek distributor—but they were up against time. They were astounded at how quickly I could respond to every suggestion with top quality renders, and ended up as true believers in Shade. Even the NewTek guy admitted that "for this project" Shade was the best choice, even though he offered me the latest LightWave version for free. We started with a science classroom and ended up with the workshop of a slightly mad scientist!
Q: How did you start learning 3D? What problems did it solve in your creative work?
For a photographer, 3D is a slam-dunk. Everything I had learned in photography was immediately applicable. Interestingly, the opposite was true as well—I could explore photographic techniques without having to invest in loads of new equipment. For example, this is a portrait lighting tutorial, entirely done in Shade. I have had many e-mails from people exploring the studio environment for the first time, finding it clear and compelling. No one ever questioned that it was done in a 3D program with the model being from Poser.
With the Amiga came Amiga user-groups. Upon returning to Edmonton, I found a very high-energy bunch here. There was a highly active multimedia/animation SIG and I was immediately recruited. Great peer pressure to learn Imagine, which I eventually did. Once fluent, I saw that it was virtual photography, except now I could photograph whatever was in my imagination.
It allowed me to do photography in any sort of weather, under any conditions, day or night. Virtual light works like real light, the Shade camera is a combination of all the cameras I own. It has view-camera movements, uses 35mm lenses, has a fisheye lens, does panoramas, stereo and video—all of which I have in my cameras in non-virtual form.
Q: My understanding is that you are part of the Shade X beta team. What feature do you find the most interesting among the new features?
Displacement mapping is the killer feature in recent versions. This was my Facebook cover a day or so back, done with displacement mapping.
Stereo photography has never been part of my commercial work, but always part of my personal work. The new stereo feature is a vast improvement over the previous plug-in.
Q: When you start a new composition, what are the first steps you take before you start modeling?
No set approach. Sometimes I am testing a feature in a new way and it grows into a new composition. If I am doing a "Slice of Virual Life", I first import a Poser object for scale, then build the set around it. In a way, this goes back to my performing arts background. I have the most patient of actors from Poser, and the best set-building shop ever with Shade. Shade provides me with stage lighting without limit.
Q: What kind of hardware rig do you use for 3D modeling work?
i7 CPU @ 3.2 GHz (12 cores!), running Windows 7 Business Edition 64 bit; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 with two displays at 1280 x 1024 and 2560 x 1024. I also have a quad-core machine which primarily serves as network storage with 8.5TB. I have been using it for a ShadeGrid server.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting with Shade and 3D?
Work through tutorials in the manuals, and practice a whole lot. Spend lots of times on single features such as surfaces. Just use a simple object like a sphere and learn to visualize what each of the sliders offers and how they work together. There is vast power in Mapping—one could spend a lifetime and still find new effects with this. Join the Shader's Cafe and ask questions. It is quiet there now, but should wake up with the release of Shade13E.
Q: What elements of Shade do you typically do yourself, or rely in premade content (for example, do you ever use premade models, premade shaders, etc, or do you do everything from scratch)? Can you tell us about your use of image maps vs native shaders?
Other than Poser objects, almost everything is made from scratch. I truly love modeling in Shade! I have both Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, but almost exclusively use PSP for creating mapping textures. I do use downloaded image maps I have found, for things like wood. I use Spotted a lot for random grunge, uneven walls and floors, specially if they are somewhat reflective. I bought a couple of the packages of objects, which were well worth the price for revealing how they were modeled. I did use a couple of distant houses in the work "Tragedy in Beige" since they are distant and out of focus.
Q: What is your favorite feature in Shade?
Impossible question to answer. I regard the program as a whole. At the heart of the program of course, is modeling with curved surfaces—and this is the way I see the world. It is the primary reason I use Shade.
Q: If you could pick one feature to add to the next version, what would it be?
OpenCL. There is enormous power via GPUs available for little cost, and it would benefit almost every aspect of 3D. Since most serious graphics people have powerful cards anyway, it is next to "free".
Taiyo Fujii pointed out in one of the seminars I managed to wake up for, that many of the users of the basic version don't have machines with graphics cards. I would suggest that it be included in the Standard and Pro versions, much as ShadeGrid is, or if it can be programmed to check for a GPU and activate. Even on my monster machine, radiosity is just too costly in time and would greatly benefit from GPU number crunching. In refining my lighting and textures I do untold test renders, and cutting render times means that I live longer! Time spent waiting for an area render to complete, is time that can not ever be reclaimed.
One other thing I would love to see is every Save button to be able to remember the last folder it saved to. As it is now, it goes to the last folder the application opened or saved to, meaning that one is constantly having to navigate through the big Shade directory, looking for the appropriate folder.