Designing / Computing / Modelling

As can be seen from my images, my main interests in terms of 3D-modelling are Egyptian and Roman style buildings, based in a city I've described in one of my stories, as writing is my other major hobby. I'm also fascinated by Victorian ironwork (particularly bridges, piers, pavilions, & lamp-posts) and have wondered what might have happened if, say, Romano-Egyptian Alexandria (complete with Great Library and at the height of its trading and intellectual powers) had progressed to the end of the 20th century, though not having the Industrial Revolution as we did, so any metal-work has to be on a small scale (charcoal furnaces rather than coal), but street-lighting is easily accomplished as it was in our own world by using oil-lamps (though here focused and directed by mirrors and lenses). With a long history of astronomy, their advances in optics would be equivalent to our 18th century (Uranus has been discovered but not Neptune), and in marked contrast to the Egyptian temples and shrines which were dark places of mystery and ritual, lit only by torches and over-head clerestories, my temples are a celebration of life and light (one and the same to my people as they evolved from sun-worshippers - what would have happened had the Akhenaten / Nefertiti 'heresy' at Amarna been allowed to continue beyond his egotism?) and are open places full of colour.

I'd love to be asked to model and animate the kind of scenes as shown in some of the archæology programs in the Horizon, Chronicle, Timewatch, or Equinox series, but as I'm always going back and changing things I doubt I could meet a deadline. Please bear in mind when judging these images that I'm not a professional, and am primarily interested in the actual design / creation of the model, which is why some of them have simplistic texturing.

Having been interested in animation and design for many years, I began my computer-graphic odyssey in 1986 with an Amstrad PCW8256 which more than suited my needs at the time, as I had just begun to write stories and it came with its own word-processor software; although it used CP/M it could also run what was for those days a very good CAD program with which I learned all of the fundamentals that still apply today, regardless of the complexity or platform, and I later upgraded its memory and added the second floppy drive. From there I went onto the brick-like but extremely powerful Grundy Newbrain, which had up to five virtual screens, each of which could be either text or graphics, or a split of both; I also got the expansion pack that sat underneath. Next came the Amiga 500, heralding a shift into the glorious realm of colour and polygonal modelling with the Sculpt 3D program, which gave unprecedented modelling power to home-users. I later upgraded to a series 2000 machine (complete with what was then a blindingly fast combination of a 68030 processor and a 68882 co-processor running at 25MHz, which gave me a 20-fold increase in rendering speed, with 24Mb of RAM) running Sculpt-Animate 4D, but I was limited by that program's lack of texture control, as it only had about half a dozen pre-set textures, and the fact the display card was not 24-bit; in all other respects, however, the program was simply superb.

Amiga hardware upgrades were available at prices that could have purchased a new PC-compatible computer, so after much deliberation I took the plunge and settled on a DX50, but then I had to wait a few years for the software to catch up. A cheap'n'cheerful product called 3D-Design+ contained some excellent modelling features for its price despite its ray-tracer being seriously flawed, and then I tried Visual Reality, but even though its modeller was based on that used in 3DD+ it was not implemented as well and crashed regularly, and the renderer, whilst very fast as it used shadow-mapping rather than ray-tracing, had an horrendous interface. Raydream seemed promising, but its so-called shadows and image-handling facilities were so bad as to be unusable, not helped by the fact it couldn't even size or position things with accuracy as it relied upon floating 'hot-spots' that had to be dragged visually.

Soon after that, I changed to a PentiumPro 200 and over the course of the three years I had it, added in various memory and hard-drive improvements. In February 2000 I purchased a new P3 machine with a 32M nVidia graphics card, which although only running at 600MHz has a dual-processor board so I could add a second one when finances allowed; it had 128MB of RAM which managed to cope with my models (some with over half-a-million polygons), and two 13.6 GB drives running as main and back-up with various partitions for data and my thousands of images. Four months after having purchased this latest PC, due to the 600MHz processor becoming obsolete, I upgraded to a pair of 700MHz, and decided to add some more memory as well, so I had 512MB which meant the disk-thrashing had stopped. In July 2003 my new machine ran at 3GHz with an 800MHz FSB, 1Gb of RAM and a 128Mb Graphics card, and a very nice 18" TFT screen, all for £1560, which was good value. That lasted quite a few years until my previous system with a 3.3GHz i5 that automatically overclocked to 4Ghz when necessary, coupled with 8Gb of RAM which was all I needed, and a 1.5Gb NVidia GeForce graphics card with a wonderful mechanical keyboard by Corsair. My latest system is an i7-6700 with a GTX1060 6GB graphics card, a pair of QHD monitors, and storage is on a variety of 2Gb & 4Gb external drives.

Despite all this a computer is, ultimately, just another creative tool as far as I'm concerned. As I would use a drill and screwdriver to construct a vivarium for my snake, so I use a computer to design virtual buildings and mess-around with geometry, designing things for the fun of it.

I heard of LightWave being ported to the PC, having originated of course on the Amiga (the Toaster had been launched a few months before I left the Amiga platform, but was so expensive it was unobtainable for non-professionals), so everything seemed to come full circle, and though initially expensive for an amateur such as myself has repaid the cost in savings of time and effort, as the learning-curve was almost flat.

I find it extremely easy to look at buildings and work out how they might be formed either by addition or subtraction of simple shapes, and unlike many people who seem to wander through life looking at things as little more than two-dimensional façades, can think in 3D without any effort — I'm always thinking of what's inside buildings and where the walls and rooms are, or what is behind them. As for my choice of program, I've never regretted the initial expense of LightWave (I started using the program when it was at version 4), and though its somewhat clunky non-standard interface has been criticised I loathe the 'poke-n-hope' approach of, for example, Bryce, where someone has decreed it's 'fun' to waste time right- and left-clicking on icons and abstract buttons just to see what they do, and then even go so far as to hide some of the functions. I know what I want to do, and need a program to help, not hinder me.

Sometimes I draft things out on graph paper, sometimes they begin life as just a doodle, but mostly I now create directly within LightWave and everything is built in true scale so there are no problems with joining models or creating scenes. Bitmaps captured from screen-shots of the CAD program (CADvance v6, which is also responsible for the simple geometric floor tiles and other patterns) I also use as a design tool are dirtied down with noise to create the stonework (I use Paint Shop Pro or an old version of Photoshop for this and everything else when working on pictures), and images are then mapped to their respective surfaces in the usual manner. My other main graphics program is an obsolete vector-drawing package called Professional Draw, which though ancient does everything I need; its only lack is anti-aliasing.