Since this is the first installment in the Scenographic Model Workshop, perhaps a discussion of the problems involved with the sending of scenographic models electronically is appropriate. The following article touches on many of the problems that scenographers experience using present-day technologies.
Scenographers communicate their design intentions in a variety of ways. Until only recently--the past thirty years or so--scenic renderings were used to show others working on a production how settings would appear in performance. During this recent past, however, scale models have become the prevailing means by which scenographers transmit this necessary information. Now scenographers have still another way to show what they propose: the making of computer-generated 3-dimensional models which, in effect, combines both modeling and rendering into a single process.
A case could be made that these models, or their rendered images, will not entirely replace established forms of scenographic work. Still, this newer method of working has distinct advantages that makes it worth serious consideration by scenographers working today. One of these advantages is the subject of this article: the ability to send computer-generated model images by E-mail. A fair question is: why do scenographers need to send their work over telephone lines? The answer is obvious to many scenographers working today; it is because more and more they accept commissions in many different places, only visiting these production sites for brief periods. Having worked this way for many years, I can attest that designing productions at locations distant from the scenographer's home studio often creates problems of communication during non-resident periods. Getting visual information to and maintaining contact with directors, resident technical staff, and other designers--costume, lighting, properties, et al.--who also might be in still other locations, is a common problem for these virtual teams. In the past, scenographers had limited means by which information could be shared; repeated visits to the place of the production, sending information by postal services, or using the telephone were their only choices. Of these options, telephone conferences were the most unreliable means of communicating since oral exchanges of visual concepts rarely lead to common understandings. It is now possible--even preferable--to use the last of these options, telephone lines, as an effective way to share visual information. What turned an ineffective form of communication into a strong one was, of course, the advent of the Internet and the co-development of an adjunct technology, E-mail communication.
Although in the near future it will be not only possible, but economical as well, for directors, designers, and technical personnel to have electronic face-to-face conferences, for the present time most scenographers--myself included--must bear with the current technologies available: modems and ordinary telephone services. Still, this form of communication--limited as it is--has much to commend it. Even now, there is little impediment to the kinds of visual information that can be transmitted as attachments to E-mail messages. During the next few pages, two basic phases of the process will be discussed: the creation of computer-generated model images and the transmission of them to distant viewers.
To illustrate the process of sharing visual information using E-mail technology, selected files from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, have been used. Commissioned by Wake Forest University in the spring of 1996, this project was completed in the fall of the same year, largely by E-mail. At the beginning, discussions were held both as telephone conversations and as E-mail communications. These oral and text interchanges soon progressed to the need for visual extensions of verbal understandings. My usual practice--before adopting computer technology into my studio--was to create real-world models that were shipped to the director of a production via UPS or Federal Express. These models were only made, however, near the end of the design process; changes--it was then assumed--would be minimal. Now, being able to quickly generate and share computer-generated 3-D models images by E-mail, I can be very specific in my design recommendations while at the same time have the freedom to explore wider ranges of possibilities than previously allowed. Shipment of actual physical models is now made when director has had an opportunity to study the 3-D model variations sent. Creation of the basic models for this production were done in Virtus WalkThrough Pro, a program I find more intuitive than other 3-D applications. Once the basic models were done, they were exported as DXF files--a file format that allows 3-dimensional information to be exported from one application to another--to Strata's Studio Pro, a program that has more extensive lighting, texturing, and rendering capabilities than does WalkThrough Pro. Figure 1 below shows the basic DXF model exported from Virtus WalkThrough Pro.
Fig. 1 DXF File Created in Virtus WalkThrough Pro
[Note: Many DXF files are problematic on the Macintosh platform; some PowerMac applications do not handle them well and some simply do not handle them at all. The PowerMac version of WalkThrough Pro is among those that will not create DXF files even though the option appears in the Export menu. The work-around solution for those using PowerMac machines is to keep a 68k version of WalkThrough installed along with the version suited to the PowerMac. When DXF files are required, a model can be opened in the 68k version and a DXF file created. It can then be exported to Studio Pro for texturing and lighting. In the future, it is hoped that Virtus will enable the high-end versions of WalkThrough to export DXF files.]
After the models for this project were textured, lighted, and rendered as PICT images, they were imported into yet another program: Adobe Photoshop. Here the models were adjusted for color, tonality, sharpness, and contrast. Although at this point the image models could have been sent out as E-mail attachments, before leaving Photoshop I chose to place into the model image costumed figures.
It is important, I believe, to include human figures in all representations of scenographic settings. This is as true for models as it is for renderings. The scale and proportion of a setting is better understood when these figures are present. In real-world models, a figure is just another object to create. In computer-generated 3-dimensional models, the human figure becomes a highly complex form composed of many thousands of polygons; they are usually represented as simplified objects like those seen in figure 1.
After the 3-D model has been rendered and saved as a picture image, it is possible to replace these crude basic forms with more realistic figures like those shown in figure 2.
Fig. 2 Act II-Scene 1: The Crucible: Arthur Miller
Although it is possible paint in figures using the tools of Photoshop, or to paste in figures from computer clip-art sources, it is also feasible, using a program called Fractal Poser, to create figures precisely tailored to specific designs. This application permits the creation of any human male or female figure; age, body type, and pose can be customized to suit the needs of particular scenes.
The left side of figure 3 shows two figures created in Poser for the specific model shown in figure 2.
Fig. 3 Fractal Poser Models for The Crucible
After the basic forms of the figures were modeled, they were exported to Adobe Photoshop and "costumed" using the computer painting features of that program (see right side of figure 3). By using Photoshop's layering options, costumes were created on a separate layer. Working on this layer does not affect the figure image under it. When the costume image was complete, it was permanently placed onto the figure by merging or flattening the separate layers. Once "dressed", each figure was individually selected and exported into the model image. While still in Photoshop, all completed models for this project were converted from the PICT file format into the JPEG file format; JPEG files requires less disk space and can, therefore, be sent more quickly over telephone lines. When the models for The Crucible were ready for shipping from my computer to that of the director, additional processing of the files became necessary. The steps taken were as follows:
1. A new folder was created and named for what it contained: in this instance, CRUCIBLE MODELS.
2. The models were then placed into the folder. Along with the models, this folder also contained an image viewer. The viewer I usually send is Metatool's KPT QuickShowLT 1.2.2, a small application included with all of their products: Kai PowerTools, KPT Bryce, Convolver, etc. When the folder is received as an E-mail file, the JPEG images contained can then be seen as a continuous slide show simply by double-clicking the KPT QuickShowLT 1.2.2 icon; it is not necessary for receivers to have installed on their computers any of the application software that created the images. In order for the images to be displayed in the order intended, however, they must be labeled in a precise manner. This is done by placing either a letter (a, b, c. . .) or a number (1, 2, 3,. . .) in front of the file name; i.e., a Act I- Sc. 1. This procedure sets the sequence of the images shown. Letters are preferable for this naming if the number of images exceeds 9. The amount of on-screen time allotted to each image before going on to the next can be altered by individual viewers. Sending PICT or JPEG images of floor plans to directors (or to those who do not need high-resolution drawings) is acceptable, certainly preferable to fax images. When sending working drawings to scenic shops, however, either the receiving facility must have identical software--such as MiniCad or AutoCAD--or have the capability to translate CAD files from the application used by the scenographer to a compatible program used by the scenic shop.
3. The folder was then closed and compressed into a single unit using the Aladdin Systems Inc. shareware application, DropStuff. This process, along with the JPEG compression scheme, makes it quicker to send digital information over telephone lines. With the image files, I generally include messages using SimpleText (a program almost all Macintosh users have) for specific notes about the images or drawings. After the folder is compressed, and the accompanying E-mail message composed, it is ready for sending. This is done by going to the Message Menu and selecting the option Attach Document (or Command H).
Digital Camera Images
An alternative way to share E-mail visual information is to create model images with a digital camera. For those scenographers who do not make computer 3-D models, an advantage of this kind of camera is that it permits the capturing of images of real-world models that can be directly downloaded from the camera into the computer. At the present time, these cameras are an expensive addition to the computer-based design process; still, they have unique features. The ability to make digital photographs of models without having to go through the steps needed to turn analog photographs into computer files (i.e., taking a picture, having it developed, scanning it into the computer, etc.), is a useful advantage. Time saved is probably the best reason to make it part of the design process. For instance, having such a tool allows the scenographer to make physical adjustments to real-world models, immediately take pictures of the change and--in a matter of minutes--have the new version on the computer desktop of a distant viewer. In addition, images captured with digital cameras have two main advantages over fax machines: transmitted images can be in color and higher resolutions of images are possible. The kind and make of a digital camera is crucial, however, to its usefulness. Low-end cameras do not produce acceptable images. Having experimented with several available, the only one I recommend is the Kodak DC 50 shown in figure 4.
Fig. 4 Kodak DC50 Digital Camera
It is, in my estimation, superior to any middle-range camera now available. At $1000 dollars street price for the camera, along with an optional memory card, the cost is approximately $1300. Even better cameras exist, but the cost rapidly escalates by several thousands of dollars after the Kodak DC50.
Figure 5 shows a real-world model of the 3-D model seen in figure 2 taken with a Kodak DC 50 and adjusted in Adobe Photoshop.
Fig. 5 Act II-Scene 1: The Crucible: Kodak DC50 Real-World Model Image
The Kodak DC50, unlike less expensive cameras, has more features; one in particular, is its ability to change focal lengths. This makes it possible to take closer shots not only of models but of other work such as costume sketches and scenographic renderings. Although many costume drawings fit the bed of most scanners, unless a scenographic drawing is relatively small, it is difficult to scan. The Kodak DC50, on the other hand, is able to take a reasonably sharp picture of large scenographic drawings like the sketch for Act 1 -Scene 1 of The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekov shown in figure 6.
Fig. 6 Act I - Scene 1: The Cherry Orchard
These images are not, it must be admitted, as sharp and clear as those produced by scanners, but they are fast and, more importantly, they provide the scenographer an acceptable way to get ideas to others quickly via E-mail.
Platforms, Programs, and Utilities
Although all the processes described above were implemented on a Macintosh PowerMac, computers with differing operating systems are almost identical; the programs used--Adobe Photoshop, Virtus WalkThrough Pro, and Strata's StudioPro--exist on both Macintosh and PC platforms. The application used to compress the files for quicker transmission was the Aladdin Systems Inc. shareware program, DropStuff, and its companion utility that decompresses the files at the receiver's end, StuffIt Expander. The E-mail application used was Eudora1.5.1Fat. These utilities are easily available on the Internet. Files created on one kind of computer can, in most cases, be exported and viewed on other platforms.
Fog Effects in Strata Studio Pro
Strata Studio Pro is one of the best programs that scenographers can use on desktop computers. Many of the effects that this program provides were only feasible a few short years ago on high-end work stations. All of my three-demensional scenographic models, such as those seen in The Gallery of Scenographic Models were constructed using Studio Pro. One of the most important features offered in this application is the ability to create fog-like effects in computer-generated three-dimensional models. Fog and smoke effects can, of course, be simulated in Adobe Photoshop using various techniques and filters. But they do not give as convincing a result as do the controls available in the Rendering Effects dialog box seen below.
Fig. 1 Dialog box in Strata Studio Pro Program
The images below show how various settings made in the Starts at: and Visibility: boxes affect the model when rendered. The first number shows where the fog begins and the second shows when visibility ends.
Image No. 1 shows the model with the fog option turned off. The following images (Fig. 3, 4, 5, & 6) show how different number settings affect the visibility of the model as obscured by different densities of fog.
Fig. 2 No fog (Box Unchecked)
Fig. 3 Fog set from 35 / 100
Fig. 4 Fog set from 20 / 75
Fig. 5 Fog set from 5 / 65
Fig. 6 Fog set from 2 / 55
In the actual theater, fog effects can be created in several ways: by use of chemical smoke or fog machines, or by a combination of scrim curtains and lighting. I have on several occasions created images like those above on the computer and then had them made into slides for rear-view projection. By cross-fading related images, again like those above, an effective illusion of fog getting thicker is possible. For designers working in film and animation, the possibilties for use of this Strata Vision 3d or Studio Pro feature are limitless.
The three-dimensional objects used in this model were imported from a CD-ROM collection offered by Strata called Secrets Clip 3d (Fig. 7). Below is a catalog from which objects like the pillars and rocks used in the models above were taken.
Fig. 7 Main Screen for 3-D Clip-Art Catalog
These forms and others were created for a CD-ROM adventure game called Secrets Of The Luxor Pyramid.
Strata, Inc. can be reached at this address: Strata, Inc., 2 West St. George Blvd., St. George, UT, 84770 (801) 628-5218 or at this Internet URL: http://www.strata3d.com/
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