Cover Art and Computer Graphics

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Radthorne, Jan 14, 2005.

  1. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    There are certainly both pros and cons about being with a small press, but one of the distinct advantages is having input into the covers that go on your books. This is not something that many authors get to do with the larger New York houses.

    As Gary found, he had the opportunity to solicit Robert Sammelin to illustrate the covers for his Gemquest books; and similarly, I was given the opportunity by Windstorm to provide my own illustrations for both The Road to Kotaishi and The Sands of Sabakushi.

    While I am by no means an artist, I do enjoy messing around with computer graphics. By virtue of having a passing familiarity with a good 3-D modeling program (Bryce, available from DAZ Studios) and image editing programs like Photoshop, I was able to come up with some decent images to use for my books. Not only was it quite satisfying to have my own artwork on my own book, but I could eliminate the issue of trying to get someone else to interpret the vision that was in my head.

    Here are my four covers so far, somewhat larger than in the Books thread:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Over on my website is a brief outline of how I used Bryce to create the Kotaishi cover.

    I'd be interested to hear from anyone on the topic of book cover art, particulary the use of computer graphics to produce them; or just on computer graphic art in general.

    Update from May, 2006: This very loooong, and graphics-intensive thread, started out talking about covers but rapidly became a forum for displaying the various artwork projects that I've been working on. If you start at the beginning and work your way through, you will be able to watch my transformation from total neophyte with using the people-generation program to something hopefully a bit better. Along the way I periodically demonstrate some of the techniques in use. If you'd prefer to skip the preliminaries (some of which are really embarrassingly bad at this point!) and want to skip to the latest stuff, head for some of the most recent pages of the thread.

    Update from September, 2006: After straining the capacity of good ol' SFFWorld, it was recommended to me that I close this thread and start a new one, which I have done. The current thread is the one called Computer Art, and is where all of the new stuff and attendant commentary is located. However, do feel free to read through any of this one that you like, since it does still show an interesting progression as I worked with the tool.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2006
  2. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    The program I used for the covers for Kotaishi and Sabakushi (Bryce 5.0) does not have a built-in facility for modeling people;this was one of the main reasons why I used structures for the illustrations. I did have a program that could do people, but the results from the version of it I had (Poser 3) were not so great, nor was the program very easy to use. I also had a creative reason for not using people - as an author, I didn't want the pictures I put on the cover to pre-form readers' images of the characters, their clothes, etc; I wanted the reader's own imagination to build upon the descriptions from my words.

    However, having people on covers does tend to improve sales (at least that's what I recall reading somewhere...) And now I have a program that does a much better job of handling people. I've been experimenting with my new program (DAZ Studio), and below is a picture I put together in about an hour and half this evening (with figures created in DAZ and then exported to Bryce, where I built the walls, etc.) It's pretty rough, particularly my quickie backdrop, but it serves as a good example of what can be done. So I'm thinking that I'll probably end up putting some people on the cover of my third book.

    I'd be interested in your opinions on the topic of people on covers - pro, con?

    [​IMG]

    (Sorry 'bout the Bat'leth... it was what I had to hand!)
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2005
  3. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    Whose that girl in the black. Is that our little street urchin?
     
  4. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    Naw, that's not Nusumi. She'd be a little shorter...

    These were just some generic figures I came up with. They start in the program as plain-jane Anglo figures, with no clothes and no hair, standing with their arms out at their sides. Then you add facial features and skin textures (Asian in this case), clothes, props like swords, and then pose them. The woman is wearing a tunic top, but the pants that go with it didn't fit right. So I used some track suit pants and changed the color to black to match. The hood is actually a hajib prop with a veil, which I also changed to black, and thus made a Ninja hood out of it (or an Anasatsu hood, to use the name for a similar cult in my books).
     
  5. juzzza

    juzzza Loveable Rogue

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    If you knocked that up in five minutes I would say you are in the wrong business!!!

    I'm not sure about computer game style graphics for people though. I think your covers are fantastic for your published books. If you were going to use that style, I would say avoid full-face (or half face). So the cover in your example above, would be looking over the un-masked character's shoulder, straight at the ninja, as that would be fine.

    Hey, the company I work for take that approach with real photographs (I.E. no full face images) and the reason is similar to the one you express above. In our case, we don't want clients associating or worse, not associating with the faces we use in adverts/brochures. For you, yea, you don't want to impose your idea of how your character's look too heavily... God bless the ninja hood!!!
     
  6. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    Thanks, Juzza!

    That's a good idea, using a hooded character that way. When I was considering the earlier program, Poser 3, since the people didn't look so hot I was going to do something similar, by showing them from the back looking at something interesting in front of them.

    The DAZ program actually does a pretty good job with faces. Here's an example of one of the "people" packages, that shows both normal humans and something a little different. The human characters can end up looking pretty realistic, I think.
     
  7. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    I think your covers are great, Kevin. But I would be very careful about using figures that are computer generated. In my opinion, they give the books a game-like appearance, almost like the cover of a pc game or a nintendo game. I think that might cast your writing in the wrong light to a reader who is browsing the shelves and doesn't know what you do.
     
  8. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    Ahem, don't say anything about Nintendo, Gary! But the characters do look stiff and barbie dollish.

    A good thing to do would be to get Tblue to make you a photo. She has access to men with big swords and costumes and fabulous NZ scenic backdrops. A bit of forest or a crystal clear lake or a mountain in the background would be good.
     
  9. juzzza

    juzzza Loveable Rogue

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    Nooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

    Do NOT go for photos, that's worse than anything... Look what happens when you make people dress in fantasy gear!!!

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    Did I say "use porn stars"?
     
  11. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    Wait, wait! I can make a fire backdrop like that! And I have a loincloth texture around here somewhere...

    Ok, the masses have spoken (well, a few of you have spoken anyway) and the cons seem to have it. However, before tossing in the towel on the idea, I think I want to experiment some more, as I have seen some pretty photo-realistic results using this software. Done properly, I think it can still compete on an even basis with "art" art and not look computer game like.

    Here are four examples from the DAZ website, all of which are done with the same program (along with composition in things like Photoshop, etc.); but these are all computer generated figures (done by people with lots more talent than me):
    Autumn Flirts with Winter
    by: Martin Murphy
    [​IMG]
    episode 14 scene 20: crush
    by: James Lee
    [​IMG]
    Skyscape Dance
    by: Laurie S
    [​IMG]
    The Time
    by: Mec4D Cath
    [​IMG]

    So if I keep working at this, and get half the talent this folks have at doing it, I might be able to come up with something usable.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2005
  12. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    And just for good measure...

    Here's my same two people, just a lot closer up, to show the textures that are actually there. I particularly like the detail on the guy's hands - the veins and whatnot. Other than posing them, I only added a couple of fill lights to the scene. So this picture took about 10 minutes, most of it just working on the poses. Given a lot of hours, one can really sink your teeth into this and come up with good stuff, I think.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2005
  13. lego

    lego New Member

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    Kevin,

    First of all, I like your Asian temple. Nice peaceful mood.

    Now, about the ninjas, hmm...

    I'm a 3D animator not a texture/lighting specialist, but I know enough about computer graphics to see why your current figures look strange. Not because of the stiff poses, those are fixable if you would photograph yourself in the same poses and use the pictures as references for tweaking. No, the main problem is the lighting of your figures. Human skin is one of the hardest materials to reproduce in 3d art since we are familiar with skin on an instinct level. If the mixture of base colors, highlights, and shadows appears just a nuance wrong, the rendered figures look like plastic dolls.

    I haven't used DAZ but if it's similar to Poser and Bryce, then the built-in lighting functions won't suffice to create a believable illusion of human skin--no matter how good the textures and no matter how experienced the artist. From the four DAZ promo-pictures, only the last one has an acceptable lighting, and I suspect that's because it's black-and-white. In b&w renderings there are only brightness changes to worry about, not color hue changes too.

    Sooo, either you delve deep into 3d graphics, then prepare yourself to learn programs like Maya or XSI (they are expensive for a reason), make yourself familiar with area lights, radiosity and translucency, and read "Lighting and Rendering" by Jeremy Birn. The book is a little dated but still the best introduction for this topic. Also, study Rembrandt and Rubens until you understand how the old masters managed to copy human skin in paint. Their tricks work for 3d renderings as well.

    Or, if you don't have the time to do all that and spend a few months practicing on top, then I would suggest you shy away from using any 3d humans on your book cover. They really look awful if not done right. I apologize for having such a harsh opinion about this, but for once I'm sure my opinion is true ;)
     
  14. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    He certainly sounds like he knows what he's talking about. Kind of what I was trying to say in my earlier post, but not quite as convincingly.

    What happened to painting and drawing anyway? Is everything computer generated today?
     
  15. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    Thanks, lego. And yes, you are absolutely correct in your comments about skin textures and lighting. I know that it takes many hours to fully develop a decent image (I spent lots of time on my current cover images, in contrast to these quick people tests, which really have nothing more than some basic lights tossed on 'em). Even harder than the skin is getting believeable looking hair (one reason my guy doesn't have any!) I suspect that if I were to end up using people, it would have to be in a more stylized manner, such Laurie S did with her Skyscape Dance image above (in which she is copying almost exactly the style of painter Michael Parkes).

    And yes, DAZ is pretty much just like Poser; it was developed by the folks who produce the Vicky and Mike figures that I've used in my scene, so that they would not be stuck producing products for another product that they had no control over. I believe there may have been some license fee issues involved as well (to have access to new features in recent versions of Poser, or some such thing). DAZ Studio is still in beta, but is pretty well developed even so.
     
  16. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    He's the KatG of graphics! And certainly he is quite right in his comments, as you were too.

    Traditional art is alive and well, never fear. There will always be a place (and a need) for both traditional art and artisans. I have no art training whatsoever, but the computer tools allow me to express myself a bit without the need to learn the mechanics of holding a paint brush. The main advantage of using 3D, for me the untrained one, is that it gets past the problem of translating a 3D idea onto a 2D surface. Real artists spend a great deal of time thinking about perspective and how to get things to look right as they draw out their images; with 3D, that is much less of an issue. These things are actual 3D objects that I can move, and move myself around, placing them in realistic proportion to one another (or not, when needing to make a forced perspective). It provides a great deal of freedom in experimentation of what looks good, what doesn't, etc.
     
  17. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    You can do fine with figures and I think the ones you've shown here are great, but the covers you chose are perfect and interesting. Windstorm may be making their rep from covers alone. Certainly, this kind of artwork and styling is going to appeal to booksellers.

    I don't think that an association with the gaming industry is necessarily problematic, and as Kevin showed, the style of art can vary considerably. Fantasy illustrators have long taken their work onto the computer and have made an industry out of creating screen savers, so it seems to me a natural marriage.

    So when I get published, even if it's a big house, I'm coming to you two for the covers. There's ways to sweettalk them into it. :)
     
  18. Radthorne

    Radthorne Keeper of the Hikari

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    :D

    I'd be more than happy to do cover art for you, KatG. And the good thing is, I'm probably real cheap! ;)

    I have to say that my current covers have garnered a lot of attention, so it does seem to be a reasonably successful style to follow. Certainly when it comes to using human figures I will be the first to admit it if what I eventually come up with is not successful enough to use on a cover (to me, it would have to really knock my socks off to risk going too far from the existing style that has worked). But seeing the potential of the program and the quality of what people can achieve with it, I think that with some work at it I might be able to make it all come together. Photo-realism is not the goal (although clearly some artists have managed to come close to that with this tool), but coming up with something striking that will capture people's interest is.

    But going back to my original question (and not just the issue of computer art, with people or otherwise), I would still be curious for everyone's thoughts on the use of people on cover art, in whatever form (photographs, painting, computer, or whatever). Do you find that the imagery of the people, their clothes, etc. influences you unduly in your perceptions of what the words say? Does it lessen the impact of the author's descriptions? Have there been situations where what you read didn't match what the cover figures looked like? Or where the images didn't do justice to what you read? (Or vice-versa!)
     
  19. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    People and art are traditional for sf/f stories, not for most other types of fiction. I enjoy pictures of people on the covers and sf/f art, but don't require it. The people on the cover may influence my image of the characters, but then I'm also used to finding that the description of the character doesn't mesh with the picture on the cover. That doesn't bother me, I just rethink my image of the character based on the author's words, not the cover. For instance, I just finished a 1987 mystery novel, "Bimbos of the Death Sun" which deals with a murder at a sf/f convention. The main character is a professor author who is described as very young looking, with darkish brown hair, and is often mistaken for a grad student. The image of the professor on the cover was of a middle-aged man with wrinkles on his forehead, holding a pipe, and with light brown hair. Not quite a match. :) Ironically, the professor in the story had written a hard sf novel, which the publisher had titled "Bimbos of the Death Sun" and given a lurid cover with half-clad women. Ah those art departments, they run amok.
     
  20. alison

    alison Books of Pellinor

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    Catching up here late, as usual. I am so impressed Kevin that you do your own covers. (I assumed you had an illustrator!) I looked up what you did on your website, and was even tempted myself... but you know, I not only have no talent, I have absolutely NO visual imagination.

    As there are three editions of The Gift, I've had the chance to see what three different designers make of the same text, and for me it's been probably the most interesting thing about the book. People come up with stuff that I just couldn't even think of. You couldn't get three more different looking covers. Two are graphic - the UK and US editions - and one is a photographic montage, which to my mind doesn't work so well (no porn stars tho, phew!). The US one (which I posted on the other thread) actually portrays a character, it's a painting done in almost a photorealist manner, so it still has that graphic quality - kind of like Renaissance art, I think. Anyway, I don't mean to yabber on about me, but am getting to the point - given I like all the covers, for various different reasons, I think I like the covers _without_ human figures best (all very British, that kind of very graphic, slightly abstract design). And the reason why is because it lets the reader's imagination run free. That's why I think your covers work. So my advice is, leave the figures out of it...