It’s not difficult to find fossils in Iwamura. The soil is mostly red clay. Under a metre or two of that there’s a chalky layer, and wherever it’s exposed you can find fossils. I know a river not far from here that has a fossil layer about 17 million years old. Maybe the layer in Iwamura is a similar age.

We’re at an altitude of about 550 metres. The land must have risen quickly, since it looks like the rock has had very little time to compact. You can easily break it open with your hands. Get it wet and it crumbles. Apparently it’s rich in minerals and in places is quarried as a fertiliser.

Continue reading Fossils

Firefly Head Model

No luck finding a dead firefly yet, so I’m having to rely on whatever resources I can scrape from the internet. Luckily I found this fantastic image of a head. There’s only the one angle, and it’s impossible to see what’s going on behind those tusk-like structures, but it’s enough for a decent model for close-ups. I’ll add more detail with displacement and other maps.

I didn’t know insect mouths were so complex. Click here for an excellent description and interactive guide.

Firefly Photography #1

I think I’m going to need some practice. I took the camera out this evening and made a first attempt at photographing fireflies.

You set the camera to manual focus at infinity and open the lens up. Then you shoot multiple exposures at a reasonable ISO for a good few seconds. I chose ISO400 for 15 seconds and took about 20 photos. Back home, you import the images into Photoshop and set all the layers to Screen. This allows the trails to be overlayed without the background becoming too bright. Here’s the best result of four attempts ….

Continue reading Firefly Photography #1

Unreal Engine 4

As an animator, I often look at games graphics and feel jealous. The core software – the game engine –  and GPU work together to produce marvellous realtime effects that once set mostly take care of themselves. Shadows, reflections, refractions, particles, gas effects. All kinds of CPU-intensive processes are optimised to look good and run smoothly.

This isn’t the case when you’re working with animation software such as 3ds Max. Almost everything has to be built from basics and endlessly tweaked to get good results. And you can forget about realtime rendering. I work with 4k dome renders for planetariums. One frame can take as much as thirty minutes, and that’s a limit imposed by my puny render farm. Games can pump out beautiful images at a ridiculously high rate. One frame every thirty minutes? In the world of games, thirty frames a second is routine.

That is why I was excited to hear about the release of Unreal Engine 4 as a free tool and the plans of an acquaintance to create a plugin for directly exporting fisheye image sequences. If this happens, it means I’ll at last have a second, and probably more efficient option for creating dome animations.

I’ve installed the software and started on the tutorials. I’ll use this blog to relate the results.

Luciola cruciata

The fireflies are out in force now.

I’ve been too busy to do anything these last two weeks, but this evening I took a walk out. This is “Luciola cruciata”, or ゲンジボタル (GenjiBotaru). I was illuminating it with a red light. That’s why the colours are off.

From tomorrow, I’ll be out most days trying to get a feel for how they move. I’ll also be trying to get some decent reference photos for modelling, although my camera is at its limits in the dark and up against tiny objects.

I’d like to get the firefly model finished by the end of the month.

The Month of Water

June starts today. I’d better get my arse in gear.

“水無月” is the olden name for June in Japan. The first letter is “water”, the second “no” and the third “month” (“moon”). But “水無月” doesn’t mean “month of no water”. The “no” letter is actually the possessive – “of”. So the real meaning is “month of water”, which makes sense since June is the month a stationary front sits over Japan and deposits rain regularly on much of the country.

I have no interest in the history of Japan, nor this kind of linguistic titbit. Not much interest in the weather either. But “水無月” is interesting as a theme.