The Art of Serendipity

As a CGI artist, new and strange techniques are the sort of things always worth examining. One never knows what could result out of some obscure idea, such as UV sculpting (see the lightsabre to the right).

lightsabre endge rendered high detail

The interesting result of the confluence of two distinct techniques: edge-rendering and UV sculpting.

I happened across this fascinating article regarding “dual meshes”, I simply had to have a go. And it set my mind rolling. Just what else can this sort of thing do?

Having worked with some interesting looking meshes before, I decided to give this technique a quick whirl and then things took their own route, really.

Some vertex moving minutes later, the thought struck me that extruding the faces of my interesting looking mesh would make for a fascinating result. And it did.

The result is some funky-looking glass bricks, that one could incorporate into a nice house, garden wall or secret evil hideout in the depths of the Transylvanian forests. Or similar.

What I particularly like about this technique is that it generate non-repeating complexity with very little work, which is very nice providing, of course, you have the hardware to render it.

A glass brick, modelled using a technique developed by Alessandro Zomparelli.

A glass brick, modelled using a technique developed by Alessandro Zomparelli.

Product magic

When Liz from wanted to preview the new models of their range their were working on, she new this was going to be a tricky one.

Created for

Created for

Created for

Created for

All of their products are made of perspex, which is a nightmare to photograph, and even harder to render. Numerous designers had a go, and not one of them managed to deliver anything near what she wanted to see.



Once Liz saw my glasses, however, she knew that her worries stopped right there. Clearly, when it comes to materials and lighting, I really know my stuff.

The only problem was that she was in a hurry. Big time. Three hours later, though, I had finished waving my wand, and there was another happy client.

Created for

Created for


When your mind roams free…

…then everything is possible. So what do I think of when meditating in the bath? Usually, my art. That can range from the ekranoplan that is one of my current WIPs, my jetpunk stuff or – incredibly enough – bathrooms.

Hence the bathroom photo below. Well, I say photo; I really mean render, because that’s what it is. You don’t think it looks real? Please do tell me why.




Interior perspextives

south west north west north

Scratches on rocks, daubs of paint, lines, chicken feet and one day glowing diodes, non-verbal communication that did not involve gestures was something that lies at the heart of civilisation. Whether it was the locations of fine hunting grounds recorded in ochre on a cave wall or hieroglyphics depicting the ten best tourist locations in ancient Egypt, technology has not freed us from this necessity. Far from it; digital cameras inside mobile phones we use as pocket computers have meant that being able to express ideas faster and more accurately becomes ever more urgent.

When Andrea Hall of UK TV Home Channel fame needed to explain her interior layout to her client, she was in a major hurry. Her drawings were simply not getting the message across, and the budget was tighter than the deadline.

This is when she turned to me for some kind of solution that would bring her ideas to life, and still leave her with some change for biscuits.

I happen to like the weird and wonderful, and this particular puzzle was definitely unusual. Fortunately, the fact that this was going to be a simple floor plan instead of a marketing brochure meant that photo-realism, or any other kind of realism, would not matter.

glass partitions south west BEV glass partitions north BEV glass partitions east BEV

It struck me that a CGI architectural model using coloured “perspex” sheets would suit this kind of project quite nicely.

Three perspective later, things were moving on swimmingly.

A charming email arrived with nothing more than a few scratchings here and there, and some hastily scrawled instructions. This is in fact exactly what I get from clients most of the time, since this is a speciality of mine: converting scratches to eye-candy.

Invariably there will be changes and this project was no different. When the client makes encouraging noises, I get the job done faster. Andrea pressed all the right buttons, and so when she charmed me into making last minute changes in roughly the same time it takes light to cross a wicket, I adjusted my sails and hoped my timbers wouldn’t shiver.

north 16 Jan 2003 west 16 Jan 2003 overhead 15 Jan 2003

I’m under the impression that the change was wisely spent on digestives.


A jetpunk lunchbreak

It is remarkable how serendipity sits so squarely in the middle of my artistic meanderings. A shape might catch my eye, a shadow perhaps look sufficiently intriguing to warrant a second glance, a cloud passing overhead like some majestic and fantastical creature sculpted out of candy floss.

In this case, it was a vase, I believe, that triggered a subconscious yet cognitive process that eventually bubbled to the surface in the form of an abstract profile.

Motoro jet casing

“What on earth could this possibly be”, I wondered as I stared at the screen. “Some king of kitchen appliance for an obscure food preparation process? An electronic toe-nail trimmer?” It’s utility eluded me for a while. I flipped it over, and then it was obvious. It was a jet engine. Not one we would be familiar with, intimately or otherwise. One from a parallel universe; a sister universe to steampunk. And so Jetpunk was finally born.

I modelled a little more. Clearly a jet engine as sporty as this needs some kind of afterburner. With an air compressor or turbo. With sensors. And fiddly bits. That look complicated.

clay render 008

We 3D artists tend to work with “clay” renders a lot. Instead of using realistic or otherwise materials to visualise the progress of the mesh and the shadows, a simple matte white is applied which allows all the minutiae to reveal itself in a glorious interplay of shadow and light.

clay render 004

The detail bug bit me in no time. The project initially was conceived as a scene in which a mechanic has just left for his lunch break. When the thirst for even more detail became unquenchable, my mind seethed with the possibilities this funny little project presented itself with.

It has grown of its own volition; I am beginning to wonder who owns who now. I decided the engine was done in a moment of short-lived clarity; who knows. I might yet return to it before it is finally truly “done”.

I think we all need some motivation to get a job done well. I needed eye-candy to move on with this project. So when I started modelling one of the vehicles, I decided early on to drop the usual method of relying on clay renders, and decided to use rich chrome and cheap red car paint.

jetcar 009

Exactly what will come of all this, who knows? I have so many things I want to try out in this genre. The only real issue is: how much time can I spare? This stuff takes absolutely ages to do. Getting the details in, adjusting everything to fit; I have enormous respect for engineers who have to do this “for real”, and down to a budget as well.

jetcar 006

To shoehorn a particularly hackneyed phrase into the end of all this tedium: watch this space. Who know what will yet happen?

If you can’t wait, then follow this thread on Blenderartists.




Lightsabre UV sculpt

UV sculpted light sabre

UV sculpted light sabre

In this age of instant gratification, sculpting a David is really not something one would expect to do at the weekend in one’s garden shed. Despite this, classical sculpting is still a technique that has relevance in the digital age. There are several outstanding programs that are specifically designed for sculpting in 3D, and breathtaking cost aside, these have spawned a veritable army of sculptors whose creations span every imaginable genre, and then some.

Unlike the ancients, hours are not spent chipping away at lumps of virtual marble only to find a flaw in the middle of it, and I doubt that Michaelangelo or Donatello were able to press Ctrl-Z when they realised that they had forgotten to put some clothes on David. Sculptors now have tools no-one dreamed of even thirty years ago, and every material the human mind can conceive is at their finger-tips.

Despite all this almost sci-fi progress, there are still two key ingredients that have yet to be affected substantially: time and skill. The finest sculptures still require absolutely ages to sculpt, polish, texture, light and render (create a CGI “photograph”). The skill demanded is still quite daunting for the neophyte, and breathtaking for the art-lover.

This is why, when the occasional technique comes along to relieve the artist of the tedium that detailing an otherwise fun project is not simply welcomed, but greeted with open arms and almost infinite enthusiasm.

UV sculpting is one such technique. It essentially involves the use of very specialised images to displace geometry using image data as co-ordinate information. The geometry of this splendid lightsabre which is the subject of this post took all of 15 minutes to create. The material took approximately twenty minutes to fiddle with to get just so. The lighting and camera set-up took even longer. For greebling, this is truly a gift.

The lightsabre was created in Blender, a free and open source 3D program that is my tool of choice for all things 3D. It was rendered in Cycles, the splendid new engine from the Blender Foundation.

The Blenderartists thread that spawned all of this splendid effusion may be discovered here.

Click on the images below for in order to facilitate drooling over some splendid detail.

A Chanuka tale

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine cut out an article from that august publication, the Jewish Chronicle, in which one Jennifer Lipman whines about the fact that we still have two days of Yom Tov, and that it was about time that sort of thing was abolished. Her arguments were the usual half-researched ignorance one simply expects from the kind of opinionators who espouse their fathomless wisdom regarding Yiddishkeit in the JC, and reveals a great deal about the sad state of Judaism in certain enclaves.

My good friend had provided me with this gem in the hope that I would pen (keyboard?) a suitable response. Well, I sort of did, and whisked it off via the ethers of the interwebs to the aforementioned publication in the vague hope they might publish it. Since my wife quite rightly does not allow that sort of material to enter the house now that soft toilet paper is relatively affordable, I have no idea if this eventually saw the light of day.

Below is a copy of my exposition for your edification exposed in a timely manner during the season of Good Latkes.


Through the lines of her sage prose, one can but empathize with the pain that Jennifer Lipman experiences as a result of observing her religious devotions (One day good, two days bad, 12 October 2012). At the end of the very first day of Yom Tov, she “has had enough”. Her work schedule is disrupted every year by festivals “non-Jews have never heard of”. What a hassle it is to walk on Shabbos when she has a perfectly serviceable Oyster card in her pocket.

Ironically, in very little time indeed she will be participating, one would imagine, in a Chanukah party. After answering Amen to the blessings recited prior to the Menorah lighting and then following that brief ceremony with prudent quantities of doughnuts and latkes, she and her fellow revellers might entertain themselves by singing all the old favourites such as “Maoz Tzur” and “Rocking around the Chanukah bush”.

Imagine, if you will, that at this very moment a bright flash from the middle of the room temporarily blinds the merry revellers. As they peer through the hands that they instinctively threw up to protect their vision, the party-goers are astonished to see that none other than Matisyahu (the Chanukah rabbi, not the rapper) has suddenly apparated into the midst of their celebration.

It takes a moment for both the apparator and apparatees to gain some semblance of equilibrium, but once that brief interval passes, the ancient rabbi looks around him in a disorientation born not of his sudden reanimation, but of the vision before him.

He enquires as to the nature of the people there, and Jennifer steps forward to explain that they are Jews commemorating Chanukah. Matisyahu appears confused, because he assumes that she is dancing with a group of goyishe boys, but she assures him that they are all Jewish, and expresses surprise that he did not notice their kippot.

Matisyahu points out that wearing a piece of cloth on one’s head does not make you Jewish, and that they look like goyim since they don’t have beards and peyot. They dress like goyim too, he observes. And talk like them.

Realizing that the state of Judaism is sadly deteriorating yet again, he throws up his arms and cries out for a revolution. He pleads with everyone and recounts how in his times, the situation was no different. The Hellenists looked exactly like these party-going young lads; shaven faces, no peyot, and they also put shmattes on their heads if they were gardening or sunbathing. The girls favoured fashion over tzniut, hedonism over modesty.

The ancient rabbi continues to recount that the modern and progressive Jews of his time worshipped at the Greek alters “sadly out of necessity”, in order to secure all the top jobs in their law or accountancy firms. They, too, dumped innumerable Rabbinic laws in order to bring their lifestyle into line with modern practice. The job market was difficult then, they knew they needed the edge, and so they decided to work on Shabbat as well.

“We need a revolution,” he cries, throwing his arms into the air and tilting his head back, like a prophet of yore. “Mi laShem elai! Whoever is for Hashem, come unto me!”

His eyes travel around the room expectantly, but it is clear that the young people standing there are torn in twain by indecision, and they are looking at the floor in discomfort and shame.

“What, like now?” enquires a young chubby-cheeked lawyer. “I’m all for it, but I have to be in court in a few hours, and I still haven’t prepared my brief!”

An obvious geek sporting a t-shirt with a Magen David printed in binary mumbles something about the Imax showing all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy back-to-back and how had he had spent hours packing his favourite pyjamas and all the survival gear that recommends for 11-hour movie stints and that the tickets were going for hundreds on ebay and he’ll never get another chance like this again.

A young lady mutters about a salon date with her mother that she simply cannot postpone and surely that’s a mitzvah?

One by one, each reveller stumbles through a hastily contrived imperative that prevents them from participating in their sacred duty. Matisyahu is visibly frustrated.

“Why are you celebrating Chanuka then?” he demands furiously of them, livid at their flaccid response. “Surely not because I and my sons overcame the Greeks? The only purpose in fighting those battles was to save the Torah; was to stop our Jews from going to the movies, eating Mars bars, and to prevent mixed dancing. Since clearly you are doing all that, you must be celebrating Diwali! Why the Menorah?”

Matisyahu waves his fist in the air, shouts out his call yet again: “Mi laShem elai! Whoever is for Hashem, come unto me!” He spins around and stomps out of the room, not waiting for a response.

Now, will Jennifer Lipman follow?

What Global Warming?

A while back I noted the bitter disappointment of the green lobby with the progress made in the Copenhagen summit. Greenpeace, the doyen of the green lobby, had this to say on their website:

‘World leaders have failed us. They have walked away from the global summit in Copenhagen without a treaty to save the climate. They still have a chance to get it right and we will not let them fail. The future of 6.5 billion people is at stake… You are one of them.’

Now, we could argue that Greenpeace are motivated by the ‘bottom line’. After all, if the environment were to be in perfect health and everyone stopped killing whales and seals and stopped pumping oil, the organisation would be out of business. It is therefore in their interest to have some sort of environmental topic to harp on about, and this perhaps reduces their credibility.

In fact, Greenpeace have previously jumped on the strangest of bandwagons despite the lack of genuine scientific evidence to back up their claims, such as the banning of using DDT against Malaria which cost some 50,000,000 lives since the 1970s, and the campaign against GMO which was based on fear, uncertainty and doubt but not a shred of genuine scientific evidence, and has contributed directly to the decline in farming in poorer nations.

So, we can safely disregard Greenpeace’s hype as a less-than-completely-credible source of alarm, since it has been demonstrated that science and fact-finding is not their concern.

When, on the other hand, the Met office devotes a large portion of its efforts and website to climate change, one begins to wonder whether there really is something to all this doom and gloom. After all, the Met office is one of the most prestigious scientific organisations with regards to meteorology. Clearly, it cannot simply be dismissed on the same grounds as Greenpeace.

As laymen, we are frequently presented with problems that we are unqualified to make decisions on of our own accord. Should someone be ill chas vesholom, without the advice of a doctor they would be unable to make a rational decision regarding their treatment. Even with the advice of a medical professional, the decision they will be making will be based on the evidence presented by the practitioner, which the patient will have to assume is factual and correct, and hence this decision would not be made entirely by the patient, anyway. After all, the doctor has narrowed down the options available to the patient based on his – the doctor’s – opinion.

When it comes to the climate, we are in the same position. The science involved in weather prediction is terribly complicated. It is so complicated, in fact, that computer models for weather prediction have to be run on supercomputers; there are billions of calculations to be made for any given scenario, and hundreds of factors to be considered. The sheer complexity, therefore, is beyond the average layman’s capabilities of understanding.

How can we, therefore, make an informed choice regarding the whole climate issue? Or, more precisely, can we make an informed choice regarding the climate change issue? After all, there are eminent scientists fighting on either side of the fence; we have recently seen two important researchers being caught falsifying the data; just how are we supposed to know whether or not global warming or climate change is an issue we should be concerned with?

Fortunately, there is a very simple test we can apply to resolve the matter to some satisfaction. In order to explain how the test works, a brief example is in order.

Suppose we were to stroll down to our nearest racing grounds and discover two chaps who are avid fans of the sport. For the purposes of the exercise, we will call one Albert and the other Brian. Both Albert and Brian, as well as being scientists, bet on the horses, and each claim to have a scientific system they use to determine winners. In Albert’s case, he refuses to divulge his method. Brian, on the other hand, has not only revealed his method, but published it on his website and has had it peer-reviewed in a statistical journal.

At first glance, Albert comes across as a less-than-credible source for racing tips. After all, we have no idea how he calculates his predictions. For all we know, he has no system at all and simply makes random guesses. Brian, on the other hand, has made his method abundantly clear and has had the principles of his method validated by qualified statisticians, and therefore we should have considerably more faith in his predictions than those of Albert.

On the face of it, should we require some advice regarding potential winners, the choice is obvious. We choose Brian for our racing tips, since his method has been published and peer-reviewed. Consider this, though. Albert contends that Brian gets terrible results, and that he, on the other hand, does really well and that we should reply on him for betting tips.

We are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, it makes a great deal of sense to go with Brian, since we know that his method has been reviewed by fellow scientists. But with Albert contending that his method, however clever, is in fact complete rubbish, who do we believe?

There is a simple test, though, that we can apply, that will amply distinguish between the two, which works as follows: we ask Albert and Brian to make four bets on the winner of four races – essentially they are asked to predict which horse will win in four races of our choosing. We then examine their level of success in order to determine which of the two can actually deliver on their claims.

Now let us suppose that Albert wins all four bets and Brian loses all four. This completely changes our view of the situation. Despite Albert lacking the scientific credibility that Brian enjoys, he clearly has a statistically significant advantage over Brian, i.e. 100% success on all four bets against the total failure of Brian. Clearly now, Albert, despite his reticence to share his method, actually knows what he is talking about, and Brian, despite his scientific peer review, is completely useless when it comes to predicting winning horses.

Now this analogy is directly applicable to our dilemma with global warming. Grant me a few moments, however, in order to provide a small amount of background information.

Piers Corbyn is a dead ringer for the ‘mad scientist of the year’ award, purely based on appearances and an inability to conduct a polished press conference. The funny thing is that he simply does not care, because he is in fact a scientist although clearly far from mad. What he is particularly good at is predicting the weather.

He has proven himself to be so accurate in his forecast that in 2000 all the bookmakers in the UK banned him from making any more bets on the weather in their shops. He was making too much money by being right far too often in his predictions for the bookie’s fancy. Now, that’s a recommendation that you simply can’t beat – being banned for being right too often!

Despite having been asked repeatedly to publish his method of weather prediction, Piers Corbyn has maintained a steadfast silence on the secrets to his system. Why? Because he is making money out of it, and essentially argues that giving away his research would be no difference than Coca Cola revealing their recipe.

The Met office, on the other hand, has published their methods in scientific journals and has had their research peer-reviewed.

Are you ready for the clever bit? Here it comes: when predicting the long-term forecast for summer over four years, the Met office got it wrong, four times in a row. Piers Corbyn, though, got it right. Every time.

So, of the two, who would you believe when it comes to long-term forecasts? Piers Corbyn, or the Met office? Amazingly enough, there are some very eminent scientists who are unable to make this simple calculation. They are literally blinded by their own science.

If you were to ask Piers Corbyn what his opinion regarding climate change is, he would tell you that climate change is real – but not affected by man in any way. Piers Corbyn claims, furthermore, that the world has been cooling for the past few years and will continue to do so for the next thirty years. He also points out that the money being spent on researching climate change and technologies to combat it is a complete waste of money, and is diverting desperately needed resources from the very poor who need it to survive. In short, the whole Copenhagen thing is the tip of a really, really stupid iceberg.

Now, the climate change advocates (that is to say, those who are promoting the theory that man can affect the climate, and not people asking for climate change!) will argue that there is a huge scientific body who have irrefutably proven that man-made climate change actually does exist. Who cares if Piers Corbyn is any good at weather prediction and decries climate change policy, when there are hundred if not thousands of scientists who say he is wrong?

The truth is that for every scientist that advocates low-carbon emissions on environmental grounds there are at least two scientist that will inform you that this is quite simply rubbish. Many scientists are completely embarrassed by the poor science, distortion and outright lies that have been used in order to promote climate awareness.

It is the media that has been the strongest advocate of first global warming and then climate change doom-saying, since no self-respecting scientist would consider the evidence presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as anything other than a giant fraud.

The question begs itself, then, just who stands to benefit by perpetrating this huge scam, and how did they get away with it for so long?

The answer to this is self-evident. Everyone from the IPCC right through to Greenpeace and even the oil companies stand to benefit from everyone running around scared about the climate.

The IPCC wouldn’t exist without the climate scare. They were established to prove global warming existed, and when everyone noticed that the weather was making a farce about that theory, they switched to “climate change” instead.

Greepeace stands to make more money by joining the fray. They now have a campaign that has popular support from governments with seemingly bottomless pockets for the whole matter, from industry who want to be seen to be green, and from the general public who have been scared witless by the media. Not to put too fine a point on it, Greenpeace want to make as much money out of this as they can.

Scientists now get far more funding for climate research – and with far less effort as well – than for almost any other branch of science.

As any scientist will tell you, were someone to submit a request for funding in order to count the squirrel population in the Great Forest, they would be flatly turned down; were they to amend their request to include the effects of global warming and climate change, they would stand a far higher chance of succeeding. Basically, scientists have finally figured out a way to get onto the gravy train, big time.

How about the oil companies? They are perfectly well aware that oil is running out. Not this week or next, but in a decade or two, oil will become very much more expensive, resulting in petrol prices doubling at the very least. It won’t be long before the oil companies will have to turn to some other source of revenue, and at the moment, this new source of revenue will be hydrogen.

Oil companies are touting hydrogen as saviour of all mankind. Hydrogen is clean, they say, and green and has no harmful emissions. This is perfectly true, provided you ignore the sheer amount of energy it takes to produce hydrogen, which will result in far higher emissions than producing electricity, for example.

Were money to be spent on researching better batteries, oil companies will have nothing to turn to when oil becomes to expensive and consumers turn to electricity to power their vehicles. Petrol stations will close down and become a thing of the past. So will oil revenues.

It is therefore in the interest of all the above mentioned parties to keep on lobbying politicians and convincing the world that they need money to save the climate.

When will all this madness end?

Incredibly, it is unravelling in front of our eyes. Politicians at Copenhagen have been very cautious when it comes to making concrete agreements. Even Britain’s prime minister is touting his green credentials whilst simultaneously supporting a third runway at Heathrow. Scientists are less cautious about debunking the CO2 myth, and it won’t be long before the media will stop touting the IPCC as a scientific body, and start presenting it as the political entity it really is.

You might wonder as to how we managed to get into this mess in the first place. It all boils own to what the Torah warns us in Shoftim, that “bribery blinds the eyes of the wise”. The current world-wide expenditure on combating climate change has exceeded a hundred billion dollars. Now, is that isn’t a bribe to “blind the wise”, what is?

The gentleman’s choice for a Venusian hunt

If lashings of brass, copper and wood are your thing, chances are you would appreciate the steampunk genre.

There are two art periods that, despite thir utter contrast, fascinate me the most: Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Steampunk is simply Art Nouveau with sci-fi tacked on the end.

The Gargleblaster is a typical exemplar, with antiqueing to lend it some authenticity. Originally created for a WETA competition (didn’t quite make it due to the time zones yada) I really wanted to achieve a complex pipes-and-wires-everywhere thing.

It really is a work half completed, so given some spare time I will attempt to give this model its due.

The full glory of this fabulous weapon. Brass, copper and wood with cogs and complicated bits.

Observe the hair-pin trigger, the complicated-looking knob the most certainly makes this piece of kit do something impressive, the beautifully printed “Gargleblaster” logo and so much more.

The gunsight was especially developed for the Gargleblaster and has unique features. I think.

“Pull the cavitation lever, adjust the Trebinthium injection manifold pressure, and enjoy some Earl Grey until the green lamp has been illuminated,” advises the manual.

For those of a more curious nature, observe the Trebinthium injection manifold that is perched above the main quantization chamber.

Finally, the Trebinthium pressure chamber itself. Oh, what fabulous glory!