Article Focus Magazine August 2013

Focus Magazine Cover August 2013

Interview in ‘Focus photography magazine’

I’ve been interviewed for the August edition of “Focus Magazine”. The article includes a small portfolio and two seperate pages containing “the making of”. I explain how I create my images using, photography,  3D computer imagery and photoshop.
Now available in every newsstand or bookstore in Holland.

The front cover of this edition is by Ruud van Empel and there’s also a nice article about his work.

Check it out:

http://focusmedia.nl/magazine/edities/huidige

 

Regards,

Edgar Verhoeven

Biography

A website that is going to publish an article about me, asked me for a biography and I realised that I didn’t have one!

So I wrote one and here it is….

Early childhood

I was born in 1970, in the Netherlands in a town called Dordrecht.

When I was about 11 years old, I can remember that I ‘borrowed’ my fathers 8mm film camera. I tried to make a sort of special effects ‘movie’. The idea was that a friend of mine would act as if he was a magician casting a spell. He was waving his hands around an object in a mysterious way. I would stop filming and my friend would stay completely still. Like a frozen statue. Then I would remove the object and started filming again upon which my friend started waving his arms again. When you looked at the complete scene it would appear that the object vanished into thin air.

It was magical….. Well at least to me, because when my father found out that I had messed with his expensive film, he wasn’t too happy.

The lost days

Fast forward ten years into the future…..I was studying physics. To be honest, I wasn’t too happy back then. It took me a year to find out that physics wasn’t just for me. I was looking for the ‘secret’ of the universe, for the wonder of it, but somehow studying physics didn’t give me the answers I was looking for.

After quitting physics, I really didn’t have a clue what I should be doing next?

So, I took a psychological test that evaluates who you are and what you would like to do as a profession. It turned out that I should be a photographer or a painter. I couldn’t believe it! That was something I never rationally considered. Sure I fooled around with a camera as a kid, but that was just playing. I thought it was ridiculous. Not only me, but my father expected me to study something ‘significant’. Art wasn’t significant in his opinion. An artist has no money, has no future. His idea was that I should succeed in life. Be a businessman or somebody important. It was okay to do photography as a hobby. But I should get a serious job. A responsible job. Fun was something for on the side.

So I ignored the results from the psychology test. I ignored my intuition. And most crucial of all I ignored having fun and went on to study…… psychology.

At this point you might ask, why psychology? I’m not sure if I have an answer. Perhaps on a subconscious level I was seeking for a meaning in life. An existentialist undercurrent perhaps.

Once in a while my creative side took over. So I took another sharp turn and studied electric guitar at the Conservatory for a year. But finally I finished my psychology studies and went on to work as an……..ITC consultant.

Sounds logical right? Those were the lost days…..

Finding Meaning

Fast forward another fifteen years. I was having that career that is supposed to be the holy grail of modern times. I wasn’t still too happy though. I just couldn’t figure out why? I was successful in life after all? But that’s a matter of how you define ‘success’.

Luckily things started to come together when I met the love of my life. Not only did I fall in love with this wonderful woman, she also happened to be a hobby photographer with a real SLR camera!

Still attracted to the medium, I ‘borrowed’ her camera. First I borrowed it occasionally, later on this became indefinitely. I was feeling like a kid again. I was having such a good time that I frequently lost track of time. After a photography course, I decided to follow my intuition for once and follow up on that advice that was given to me so many years ago. So I went to the Photo Academy in Rotterdam.

It was here that I ‘rediscovered’ my true ‘meaning’ in life. The lost days were over. I realized that it has to do with following your heart. Do the things that you love to do. It also has to do with being a child again. You see, when I was young I wasn’t dreaming of a career, a mortgage or a judicious paycheck. I don’t think any kid dreams of these sort of things. But fore some reason or another that’s what you’ll end up doing. Chasing money.

But……although I was studying photography, it was still not completely what I wanted to do. You see, as a photographer you are more or less expected to take photographs of the ‘real’ world. But I soon found out that I wasn’t interested in reality. I was interested in the exact opposite. I wanted to catch that feeling of childhood wonder again.

Photography alone could not satisfy my needs. I mean, how do you take photographs of something that doesn’t exist?

Here’s where the computer comes in. It is this combination of photography and 3D computer imagery that makes it complete for me. It’s not only a matter of retouching a photograph or making a collage in Photoshop. It goes much further than that. It’s creating something that doesn’t exist in the first place and as real as possible.

Finding form

I have graduated from the Photo Academy in 2012. It’s here that I developed my own way of photography. My own way of looking at the world. But graduation is not the end of it. Quite the contrary, I have just begun my exploration. Thankfully it’s a vast universe to be explored.

What I have come to realize is that making a good image is staying true to yourself. It’s your own experience, imagination, fears, dreams and contemplations that make up an image.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure if what I’m doing can be considered photography. Not in the traditional meaning of the word anyway. Not only because I combine photography, image manipulation and 3D computer graphics. That’s just a technical thing. More importantly it’s because I place reality in a different perspective by creating a ‘hyperreality’ of sorts. A place where a sense of wonder is still allowed. I question reality, I question our usefulness and artificiality in our lives. It’s an existentialist journey perhaps. It’s about finding meaning.

So I have come full circle now. It took me some time to figure it out…. but finally I’m at that same ‘place’ when I was eleven years old. The only difference is that I have a few years of life experience that I can put into an image. My search for wonder continues, but now I have a medium to accompany me on my inner travels.

The making of a commercial still part 7

Well this is it! The experiment is over……at last  I’ve finished my bottle.

My goal was to make a photorealistic image of a perfume bottle (that I have at home) just using an open source and freely available 3D program called Blender.  Not only should it be photorealistic, it was supposed to look glossy, like the ads you see in magazines.

It was quite a journey…

– First I made the wireframe of the bottle. This means that you have to draw the shape of the bottle.  Next I placed the virtual lights and gave the model its material (glass and plastic).

So far so good, but I wanted to add that ‘something extra’. I decided to add a water splash. This is very common in commercial photography, but alas, the water simulation in Blender was nice, but not realistic enough for my taste. Being reluctant to drop the water theme, I had to think of something different. So I placed the bottle in the middle of the ocean. Although it looked nice (at least that was what I thought), I was getting further away of the glossy magazine look. Also a bottle cannot stand upright in the sea, unless it has divine properties so to speak.

It didn’t make any sense, really. To make it worse,  I have to take a real photograph of the bottle so that I can compare the two images. There was no way I could replicate the photograph in real life (well I could, but I have to a photograph at full sea, at dawn with studio lights and  a platform just below sea level where I can put the bottle on).  Therefore I decided to go back to basic and created a virtual studio environment. I used a reflective surface and let the lighting do the trick. That’s it! You can see the result below. What do you think? Is it photorealistic?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also tried two freely available external render: “yafaray and Luxrender”. On their websites you can see some amazing images. I really I think they are promising render engines that integrate with Blender really well. But it’s not for me (just yet). They are both much slower than the Blender render engine (Cycles) and more difficult to set up. Luxrender was the most problematic.  Sometimes it rendered an image but sometimes it didn’t. A bit hit and mis. Probably it is something I am not doing right, but I still have to figure out what that might be.  I also found Yafaray too ‘techical’ to set up. I just want to hit the ‘render’ button and see the image appear, instead of setting up Photon maps and AA passes and what not. This is terminology a photographer doesn’t understand. Not really user friendly in my opninion. But hey it’s free and the results (when you got your chops down at least) are really terriffic, so I’m not complaining.

So what’s next? Well nothing really, this is it. I’ll make a real photograph in the future to see how it compares to the fake one, but that’s for another blog.

If you want to give it a go yourself, you can download Blender, Luxrender and Yafaray here:

http://www.blender.org/

http://www.yafaray.org/

http://www.luxrender.net

 

See you next time…

The making of a commercial still part 6

Welcome to part 6 already of “How to make a commercial still”.

I’d like to think that I’m almost there, but I’m not sure.

Last week, my splash experiment was a bit of a dissapointment. It was impossible to make a realistic water splash with the build-in fluid simulator in Blender. Of course, I could sculpt the water splash so that it looked like the real deal. But to be honest I’m not that good in sculpting and I haven’t got the patience for it. So it was time to go another route completely.

Instead of trying to create a ‘studio look’, I’m now taking it outdoors,  into nature, so to speak.  Not being able to let go of the ‘water theme’, I’ve placed the bottle on in the middle of the ocean, while you are staring into the sunset. And yes it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s not supposed to…;-)

The ocean is made with the so called ocean simulator. As for the sky, well I’ve cheated (again)…It’s actually a holiday photograph that I took, while I was standing in the Namib dessert in Africa. I don’t think there’s an easy way to create photorealistic skies in Blender (like I did with the ocean), so I took a photograph out of my own library and set this up to act as a gigantic lightsource in Blender. Doing so, the background gives these nice reflections on the water and  into the glass of the bottle. A nice purple orange kind of glow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think I like the image as it is. But I’m not sure what to make of the “Devine” floating property of the bottle? I tried to place the bottle on top of a rock, but that looked silly. Shall I leave the image as it is, or shall I try to make it look like the image obeys the laws of nature?

Apart from that, there are still some things to do, that can change the look of the image considerably. Change the color of the sky for example:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small changes, big differences. So

This is it for now, I’ll experiment a bit more and next blog l hope I will finish it.

 

 

 

The making of a commercial still part 5

Hello and welcome to part five of “the making of a commercial still”.

Last time I was really excited because I discovered a feature in Blender called “the fluid simulator”. I had seen a couple of demos and it looked really promising. I  envisioned the perfume bottle surrounded by all sorts of water splashes, giving it that really slick look.

So last week I fiddled with the settings and generated dozens of splashes. Big ones, small ones, a lot of drops, few drops etc. I’ve dropped all sorts of objects in virtual water, just to see what kind of effect it had. Actually what you do is, you make a small little animation (about one second) of an object hitting the water. The program calculates each frame, one by one. At the end you can select which frame you are going to use for the image still. This is a really time consuming process. To generate a high resolution splash, you have to let the computer render overnight.

And the results were…..to be really honest…..a little disappointing!

Although it generates all sorts of splashes, it doesn’t look realistic enough, to my taste.

I’ve included two photo’s so you can see for yourselves:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have set the fluid to act like water (oil is a possibility too), but it doesn’t look like water to me. It has a plastic, or glue-ish kinda feel to it. I don’t know what it is? Not only that, but it generates all sorts of weird artefacts. You can see in the upper picture that the small droplets have these black ‘things’ around them. Like there is some bug in the program.

Anyway, I don’t consider this to usable for realistic and commercial use.

So it’s back to the drawing board. First I have to think about how pimp this image in another way.

Next time you will see the results.

The making of a commercial still part 4

Welcome, this is part 4 in my so called experiment: “how to take a photograph without using a camera”.

I’m trying to find out if I am able to create a photorealistic commercial lifestyle still, only using an open source computer program called “Blender” that is freely available on the internet.

Last time I created the bottle and backdrop, placed the lights and did a test render. The results were so-so. I noticed that I had to recreate the model of the bottle, because it wasn’t accurate enough. I took a picture of the front and side of the bottle and loaded it into Blender as a backdrop. This way you can draw over the picture, almost like tracing paper, but in 3D, instead on a flat surface. So now I have the correct dimensions of the bottle, including the curvature and stuf. I know what you are thinking, “but you used a camera…”. Yeah but not take a picture. It was  more as an aid to help me ‘draw’ the bottle, almost like a modern Camera Obscura. Right? Okay okay, so I cheated a little. Don’t tell anyone;-)

You can see the results of the new model in the following wireframe:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s the low-res image:

 

As you can see, I’ve placed the bottle on a wavy reflective surface. It gives more of that ‘sheen’ you see a lot of in commercial photography. Furthermore, the backdrop consist of a blue-ish diffuse reflective material. I think this will give a nice contrast with the pink/ orange letters on the bottle (that I haven’t placed  there yet). But we’ll have to see if this works out, once I’ve put the fonts in place.

I‘ve also set up the lights so that it outlines the black ‘fluid’ inside of the bottle and it gives the whole a sort of a glow. I have to tweak the lights a bit so that the ‘glow’ is nice and uniform accros the image. The cap on the bottle is a bit of a challenge for me, though, because it’s just a black cube. There’s nothing in it. It’s got no depth. There are no  curves and it is pure black, so you get uninteresting…uh..well blackness. Even if you reflect a softbox in it, you’d still get a grey dull rectangular thing. I have to figure out how to make it somewhat more interesting. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

On the whole the image is getting where I want it to be. You can see where it is going, but still, there is something missing…… Perhaps the image needs a little bit more of a spectacle, but what? Oh by the way…did I tell you that Blender has got a fluid simulator? Yes a fluid simulator! Usually these things have to be purchased seperetaly for thousands of dollars, but not in Blender. You can create Tsunamis with these simulators, just like in Hollywood disaster movies

You see where I’m going with this? Next time, I’ll try give the fluid simulator a bit of a workout and see if I can use this in my image.

 

See you next time

The making of a commercial still part 3

This is the third part in my series “The making of a commercial still”.

Last week I created the model of the perfume bottle and this week I’m going to provide the model with materials and set up some basic lighting to see if it makes any sense.

In order to test the materials and lighting I have to render the scene. Now Blender uses two sort of rendering engines. The classic “Blender Internal” engine and the new and more sexy “Cycles”. The latter is supposed to give photo realistic results, because it emulates the way lights travels through different mediums, like glass, air, water etc. It also emulates how light reflects of off surfaces and does cool stuff like color bleeding. That’s something we photographers take for granted in real life ;-). So I choose the more sexy ‘Cycles’.

For testing purpose, I have set up a white curved backdrop and placed three virtual softboxes more or less randomly, just to provide the scene with some basic lighting.

For the materials, I used the standard Blender stuff. Nothing fancy.  So for the glass bottle I used “Glass BSDF”, for the plastic cap I used “Glossy BSDF”. And for the black ‘liquid’ I also used “Glossy BSDF”.  You can do all sorts of fancy stuff with these materials, but for now I use the “plain right out of the box” options, without tweaking any parameters.

And here is the first test result:

It’s sort of okay-ish. It looks like a photo, but to me it still isn’t realistic enough. It still has that ‘CGI sheen’. You don’t know what it is, but you can tell that something’s wrong.

I’ve also noticed that I didn’t properly modelled the bottle. The corners are too round and the glass is still to ‘perfect’, so I have to dirty it up a little. I have to start tweaking the parameters now and pay a lot more attention to lighting the bottle. And last but not least, I will try out some different rendering engines (outside of Blender) to see if they come up with different or better results.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of this experiment….

You’re a fake….part 2

Here are the results from last weeks’ Blog.

The question was if you could tell which images were photographed and which images were ‘ fake’ or computer generated images (CGI).

Well I’ve been cheating a little bit. Actually all images were generated by the computer and none of them were photographed! I’ve included some images that had an overtly processed look and included some that looked realistic (to me at least).

If you could tell that all the images were fake, you have to tell me how you did it….Some of those images are so convincing to me, that it opens op some philosophical discussions about the nature of reality.

There’s a saying: “the camera never lies”. The use of Photoshop has changed this perspective on how we look at photographs and the manipulation of photographs. But what if the photograph isn’t manipulated at all, but wasn’t taken in the first place? What does that say? I’ll save this discussion for another time.

But for now, I promised to tell you who made the computer generated images. And here’s the list:

 

Image 1:

Artist: “Abner”

Software: Blender/ Yafaray

Image 2:

Artist: Andrew Price

Software: Blender

 

Image 3:

artist: Hervé Steff

Software: Maxwell Render

Image 4:

Artist: “Sadaj72”

Software: Blender/ Luxrender

Image 5:

Artist: Dan Abrams

Software: Maxwell Render

 

Image 6:

 

Artist: Linus Schneider

Software: Maxwell Render

 

You’re a fake….

Lately I’ve been experimenting with 3D rendering and how to combine this with photography.

I use an open source program for my 3D experiments called  ‘Blender’. I have to say this is a really wonderful program. Although I cannot compare it to other professional 3D packages out there, because I haven’t used them, it’s a really powerful tool that can produce photo realistic images.

Photo realism you say? Well yes……if you are really good 3D rendering that is. This raises some philosophical questions, that I will discuss another other time, but for now I’d like to present you with a quiz. Can you determine which of these next five images are real photographs or are 3D renders? Which images are the fake photographs?  I will give you the answer next time, but for now:

 

Image 1:

 

Image 2:

 

Image 3:

 

Image 4:

 

Image 5:

 

Image 6:

 

If you know which images are real, post the answer in a comment below. Next week I’ll give you the answers and the people who made these images.