Someone asked what software I use for my art, and it's a great opportunity to make a list!! Here you go. :}}
-- 2d art --
Photoshop CS5 This is my favorite art program! (Mostly because I grew up with it.) I'm lucky enough to have the CS version as a perpetual license, since the Creative Cloud (CC) subscription can get expensive without a student discount. Photoshop works great for painting with stamp brushes, and pressure sensitivity if you have a drawing tablet. IMO it doesn't simulate real media well (like dripping and wet paints, smearing, watercolors), though it's still possible to get results with that visual aesthetic if you know how to cheese it. A good all around paint program. Nice for post processing since correction layers are nondestructive, so effects can be dialed up or down without changing the underlying art. Terrible for animation and pixel work. Tablet recommended, but I can actually draw with a mouse in this app.
Clip Studio Paint EX - https://www.clipstudio.net/en/ This is a very close second for favorite art program! This can do stamps, real media, inking, perspective rulers, and even basic 3d models import and posing. It's the best tool for frame-by-frame animation and the best tool for comics. A little janky, but worth buying and taking the time to learn for any kind of 2d art. Tablet recommended.
Aseprite - https://www.aseprite.org/ Hands down the best pixel art and pixel animation tool. Pretty janky interface but not a steep learning curve. I only use a mouse to draw in it, but a tablet works too.
Moho Pro 13 - https://moho.lostmarble.com/ I haven't used this in awhile, but it's a very powerful tool for bone-based 2d animation. (Rig vector or raster art with a custom skeleton, and then animate the skeleton.) The animation power comes from being able to create drivers, which are bones that animate other bones - so you can do stuff like make an expression dial that animates a bunch of other bones to reshape the whole face, and then just animate the expression on or off, or mix it halfway with another expression dial. This tool is janky and I recommend finding a course on Udemy or some free Youtube tutorials to learn it. I'd also recommend starting with Clip Studio or Aseprite first if you want to learn 2d animation.
Luminar 4 - https://skylum.com/luminar-4 I got this through Humble Bundle. The latest version is called Luminar AI now. It's basically an Adobe Lightroom clone. I loooove this tool for photo and artwork retouching. It presents a bunch of filters with sliders that you can dial up or down to work on lighting, color, and fx. It's a little janky but good enough for my workflow, and unlike Lightroom, Luminar is a perpetual license which is always preferable.
-- 3d art --
Blender - https://www.blender.org/ 100% free and the most flexible all around 3d modeling app I've ever used. It can do modeling, texturing, rigging, sculpting, animation, compositing, shaders, and tons more. Blender's been around so long and the community is so huge, there are plenty of free tutorials to make it no cost to learn as well. If you're interested in jumping into anything 3d, I recommend starting with Blender! You'll be using it in all your workflows for sure! :V
Blender can import a variety of 3d models, so you can use CG Trader, Smutbase, the Unity Asset Store, and pretty much anything you can think of as a source for free models. You can even get the extension "BlenderKit" (squeeeehehee >w>) which gives you a search box to download models for free and auto-import them into your scene.
Daz 3d - https://www.daz3d.com I discovered this while trying to find the best looking humans and an attachable clothing solution that'd work for Unity games. Daz 3d lets you drop virtual dolls into a scene, pose them, and dress them with interchangeable clothes, hair, skin and makeup. It's great for making still frames for comics or visual novels, and the best tool I've found for making photorealistic humans.
Daz 3d is quirky and crashes a lot, but it's versatile for character creation using premade bodies, posing, and set dressing (ie arranging props). It actually beats Blender for these niche cases, and is my tool of choice for kitbashing (ie rapidly experimenting with combinations of props, character shapes and clothing) and for making physically realistic renders. For animation and all other 3d workflows, I recommend Blender instead.
Fair warning: Daz 3d is a deeeeeeeeep and expensive rabbit hole. The base software is free and comes with a few human characters and some clothing, so I recommend playing with that first to see what you think. You'll want a strong budget and some focused buying strategies to navigate the insanity of their asset store. I'm happy to give recommendations if you poke me on Discord.
Zbrush - https://zbrushcore.com/ Industry standard and the best sculpting tool for Windows. Janky as heck and expensive as well, though you can snag the Zbrush Core perpetual version for a lower price or use it even cheaper on subscription. I've used this a little for posing some of their base models, but I ended up switching to Blender for most of my 3d sculpting since Blender's tools easily accomplish everything I've wanted to do so far. (I haven't done hyper detailed sculpting yet and Zbrush will be better than Blender for that.)
Substance Painter - https://www.adobe.com/products/substance3d-painter.html Unfortunately Adobe got their hands on this one, so now it's an expensive subscription. But it's one of the best tools for detailed hand-painting 3d models. I'll be tinkering with this more the second half of this year.
Marmoset Toolbag - https://marmoset.co/toolbag/ This one is a specialty tool helping to make snazzy presentational renders and "bake" textures onto 3d models (ie merge lighting information into textures for better performance in video games). I'll be tinkering with this more the second half of this year.
Marvelous Designer - https://marvelousdesigner.com/ With this tool it's possible to craft 3d clothes, stitch the materials together and shrinkwrap them onto your 3d characters. The process is similar to making garments in real life. It's possible to make clothing for any creature, even ferals or aliens. I'm planning to use this later in the year.
-- Game design and misc --
Unity - https://unity.com/ This is a free, very robust and capable game design tool with a pretty huge learning curve. I use it because it can do 2d and 3d games, I already know C# (the programming language for it) and because it lets me write code just once to publish games to PC/Mac/Linux, web, mobile phones, game consoles and more.
If you've never worked in Unity and you're starting fresh, definitely take it steady and be patient since there's a LOT to learn. Despite how overwhelming it might feel at first, you can access top quality learning for free at https://learn.unity.com/ I recommend checking out Brackeys legendary Unity tutorials as well https://www.youtube.com/c/Brackeys If you use Telegram and want to use Unity to make video games, I also know of a large furry gamedev group.
Unlike the Unreal Marketplace, the Unity Asset Store is actually navigable. There's a zillion third party assets that help solve all kinds of problems or expand Unity's core functionality in useful ways. You can find a ton of free assets as well. There are efficient workflows to make game assets in Blender and bring them into Unity to quickly prototype a game. It's possible to build commercial games completely for free, publish them on Steam, and not have to pay Unity any royalties - so it's worth checking out if you're interested in gamedev.
Well known alternatives to Unity include GameMaker on Steam (best for 2d platformer or top down casual games), open source Godot (fully capable but community is still small), and Unreal Engine (state of the art but the biggest learning curve).
Obsidian - https://obsidian.md/ This free tool lets you do everything from editing basic text files to building a portable, offline Wiki with all the files linked together! Insanely useful for organizing stuff, in particular game design notes, world building lore, character descriptions, stories and anything else really.
Sublime - https://www.sublimetext.com/ A great basic text editor that works kind of like Obsidian, letting you have Projects with subfolders and text files. It doesn't do cross-file linking, it's purely to have a bunch of text documents open at the same time in tabs with autosave. The evaluation version nags occasionally but never actually expires, so you can use it for free.
Whew! This is a small subset of the creative software I use and recommend! There's also music composition, sound design, writing tools, productivity apps, video editing, web-based apps, and even more niche software within all categories. I have some promising new tools to try as well that might eventually make their way onto a future list. Boop me on Discord if you'd like any more info about any of these apps, or if YOU know some cool apps not listed here! ^w^
This week I've been studying how to light a scene and improve render times. This is important for animations since I want to do complex characters and environments, but just have my desktop PC video card to handle all the rendering.
In Blender or Daz 3d, one approach to lighting a scene is to carefully place lights of different sizes and shapes and set the brightness levels one by one. It takes a long time to set up a satisfactory scene since most environments have a bunch of small light sources that all need to be well located and meticulously balanced.
In fact, the more lights I add, the longer the scenes take to render, as well! :O This is particularly true in Blender, especially when using Cycles (the highest quality renderer) with a lot of lights.
In a real world environment, light bounces around a lot, and most materials don't absorb all the light. Surfaces that reflect light act just like dimmer colored lights all on their own! The bounced light then re-bounces off additional surfaces, rinse-repeat until the last of the light is absorbed.
3d software tries to model that phenomenon using "physically based rendering" (PBR), letting artists create materials that describe visual properties of a surface: like diffusion, glossiness, specular, and refraction. During rendering, the software simulates light bouncing around the scene by "raycasting" a bunch of light rays from each light source, doing the bounce math at each contacted surface so we can enjoy physically-realistic and believable renders.
To quickly set up lighting and get faster render times, artists can use something called High-Dynamic Range Images (HDRIs). An HDRI is a flat image - often a real world photograph taken in panorama by spinning a camera with a wide angle lens in 360 degrees - combined in layers at different exposures.
In 3d software, the HDRI is then projected onto the inside of a sphere, providing lighting information for all the objects in the scene. It's kind of like a "skybox" in video games - it's both a background image, and it also emits its own light.
Imagine visiting a location on Google Street View, placing 3d models there, and having them all lit with the lights and colors you see in the Street View photo. Pretty slick!
This scene rendered in 15 seconds in Daz 3d with NVidia Iray. The HDRI is from somewhere in Italy.
The results of using HDRIs aren't perfect, since light is approximated using exposure levels, and all lights are the same distance away from each object. You can't have a candle flame nearby and a sun far away, for example. It's also pretty hard to do background motion like animated water. But it's FAST to set up and render, and can produce some mostly-photoreal, stylized, or abstract results, especially during animation when things are moving around and distracting the audience from analyzing the lighting accuracy. >w>
OKAY enough technical background! I was curious what I could do with HDRIs, and whether I could make my own. I loaded up a stylized low poly Unity scene using 3rd party art assets and rendered out a wraparound image using a 3rd party screencap script. There's some glitching in a few places but parts of it are smooth enough to be useable. I've still gotta figure out how to make it perfectly blended.
In Blender, I set up the HDRI sky to light my scene and serve as the background. Then I grabbed a freebie aircraft from CGTrader and set up a very shiny, reflective material so we can see how the sky interacts with the material. Finally, I did a quick flyby animation with camera movement and touched up the frames in photoshop.
You can grab this in 1080p on Discord! (I can't attach mp4's here.)
It only took 1 minute 28 seconds to render a set of 250 animation frames in 1080p! Frames were actually rendering in .09 seconds each, so most of the time was saving out the PNGs to my slow hard drive. That's SUPER FAST.
The bonus is that this HDRI was created in Unity and looks just like the source scene. There are a zillion tools for prop scattering, level generating, terrain sculpting, art stylization, and more that make Unity a fast place to create interesting environments. I'll definitely be exploring this workflow further. ^.^
Heya floofs! Last week I practiced scene staging (setting up props and characters), lighting and rendering using Daz Studio and NVIDIA Iray. I wanted to make a cute and simple story scene of Grandma making cookies and sharing them with Scamp the fox!! :}}
It was also a great opportunity to practice post-processing to see how far I could push a rendered image in Photoshop and Luminar 4 (the latter is a lot like Adobe Lightroom. Both Luminar and Lightroom are typically used for photography touch up.)
First, I started with an empty kitchen scene in Daz 3d and chose the camera angle, lighting, props, characters, and placement. Did some test renders to help me refine things, then ran errands while the full render ran for a few hours.
The result wasn't terrible, but it definitely created some opportunities to better communicate the story. Rather than wrangle it further in 3d, I took this foundation into my post-processing software to see if I could improve on it faster. Here's some of my thinking!
I mainly used Luminar for improving colors and contrast, since it combines AI enhancements with manual touch-ups I can quickly eyeball. Once everything was feeling brighter and warmer, I hopped into Photoshop and used a combination of masks, blurs, adjustment layers and hand-painted details to work down my list of potential fixes and push more attention onto Scamp and Grandma. I even grabbed a real photo and overlayed skin texture onto Grandma's arm! The result is a clear improvement on the original render.
This stuff is good practice for 3d rendering in general, including for illustration paintovers, web comics or visual novels. I'm hoping it helps train my eye to watch for certain kinds of detail, which could then help me with hand-drawn art as well. The scene staging practice has application in everything from 2d art to games to eventual 3d short films. The more crossover, the better the learning time is spent. ^^
In the previous post I talked about feeling out the characters from my visual novel and discovering some of their clothing preferences. This was a perfect opportunity to test some ideas visually in Daz 3D, since that software is all about character design, posing and accessories.
Daz 3D uses a system of "morphs" which layer onto a standardized 3d base body and allow for quick reshaping. If you've used Blender, it's a lot like shape keys where you define a group of vertexes, move them around a little, and save their new positions so you can animate back and forth between the original shape and the shapekeyed shape.
Morphs and shape keys capture the movement of vertices from whatever their starting positions. Since you're really only saving the *offset positions* in a morph, ie the distance and direction moved but not the final positions, you can apply as many morphs as you want and they *each* contribute to the final location of the set of verts.
You might create a "fitness morph" and move every vertex in the stomach and hips inward to make the waist look trimmer, for example. You can use that morph to slim the waist, and create another to sculpt muscle tone. You can then apply the muscle tone morph independently to a default belly or a thin belly for a whole bunch of different combinations.
You can even use half a morph, or double the effects of one if you'd prefer subtlety or exaggeration.
I don't have an April or Cailey 3D model rigged and textured for Daz 3D, but I do have some morphs that take the default human and turn them into an anthro foxperson! These are close enough that I can start to see what works or doesn't for anthro hair and apparel.
I found that hats, many hairstyles, high heels, and various earrings work poorly on Reyna. This is partially due to which vertices the author of this particular character morph decided to move (to remain compatible they have to start with the Daz 3D base human), and also a natural effect of trying to stretch things like shoes to fit a more feral-like leg design. If I ever do my own custom anthro character morphs, I'll probably separate the ears as a wearable vs moving all the verts on the actual ears. Not sure a better way to handle the feet, since things like high heels might just not look good on digitigrade legs...back to the drawing board (literally! sketches are the fastest way to find solutions at this point)
Here we have textureless stand-ins for Cailey and April trying on some of the fashions and hairstyles I think they'd appreciate in their world. This rendering uses the NVIDIA Iray engine for stylized/photorealistic materials and took about 30 minutes to finish with all the lights and mirrors in the scene. It's got some heavy post processing in photoshop because the room lighting was kind of a mess. >w>