|3D Commune Interview|
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This is an interview that was conducted for 3D Commune's Poser Review of August 22nd, 2008, reproduced here with permission of those concerned. I've changed the formatting a little, and added links to things that I've talked about, but I resisted the considerable temptation to edit my replies. The words are essentially as they were published in 2008. For that reason, some of my comments here are now outdated, so I've included a footnote with updates. If you really care...
EB: Greetings, 3D Commune people! I suppose I should start off with a confession. Although I frequent the forum and free stuff here, I hadn't realized you did artist interviews until I was asked for this one. So I hope none of you have brought tomatoes...
3DC: Welcome, EnglishBob! It's so nice to have you here. Now, although that screen name seems self-explanatory, I happen to know from visits to your website that it was actually inspired by Clint Eastwood's 1992 film Unforgiven in which Richard Harris played a character named English Bob. Eastwood fans being naturally so full of charm and wit, I suppose what then seemed merely a good idea has since been worked to a proper fit?
EB: It isn't as self explanatory as some might think, no; as I keep saying to anyone who'll listen, I am English, but my name isn't Bob. I picked my forum ID in a hurry, never thinking that it would get the exposure that it has. I can't even claim that it seemed like a good idea at the time, since I expended no effort in thinking it up. The fact is, I had no intention of hanging around at all, and just used the first thing that popped into what for want of a better term I like to call my mind. I'd just been watching Unforgiven - a good film, but not a particular favourite, by the way - and there it was.
3DC: Let's get right to the good stuff. You have a marvelous website called Morphography, which is piled full of terrific Poser freebies. It's looking excellent these days BTW, and no, I won't spoil the etymology.
EB: Thank you! I enjoy running the place, and it's an extra boost when visitors express their appreciation. Etymology is the study of bugs, isn't it..? Oh all right then... Morphography means, roughly, 'describing forms' in Greek, which is exactly what 3D modelling is all about. Put a bunch of numbers in a file, do lots of complicated arithmetic on them, and you end up with something that can entertain, amuse, arouse, offend; even pass for reality, if you use the right numbers.
3DC: Creating 3D content for applications such as Poser has clearly become second nature for you. Getting to that point was surely a process. Can you tell us a bit about it all, and your beginnings with Poser and 3D?
EB: It doesn't feel like second nature to me, I have to say. Although I do have some parts of the process down, I like to learn something new when I do a project rather than churn out the same old thing every time. For example, I only recently used the setup room for the first time, when I wanted to add handles to oro_snake's Felicity Hair. I still haven't tried dynamic hair, or the face room, and those are only the things I can remember. There must be many more that I'm not even aware of.
My start in 3D was with POV-Ray, in the late '80s I think. Back in the last millennium, if you want to put it that way. A friend had been experimenting with it, and I wanted to design a cover for a CD that I was due to release, so I thought I'd give it a try. I downloaded the program from the You Can Call Me Ray BBS in Chicago - there was no World Wide Web in those days unless you were mates with Tim Berners-Lee. This was an international call on a slow dial-up modem; 2400 Baud, probably. Anyway, I played around with it and came up with a scene, which rendered overnight on my super-fast 486/66MHz PC; actually it was my work machine. I didn't have a PC at home until later. In the end, the record company refused to release the CD. They said it was too weird for them, but that's another story altogether... (Some of it is here, along with other stuff I've done over the years.)
I've been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember, although my school's curriculum wouldn't allow me to mix science and art at A level, and I decided to settle on science - I reckoned on having a better chance of getting a job with science qualifications, you know? I drew all sorts of things, but I was probably best at inanimate objects: heraldry, cars, diagrams of all sorts, that sort of stuff. I drew a cartoon strip for my company newsletter for a while, but when drawing 'real' humans, I had trouble with foreshortening and other things that go to make an interesting point of view.
When I heard about Poser, it seemed like a good way of getting human proportions right. I first got Poser 1 when it was given away - on a floppy disk - on the front of a magazine, and from there I progressed to Poser 3, which also came from a free magazine cover mount CD. This was Poser 3.0, and it was almost unusable - it would crash at regular intervals, and also at irregular ones. I did a bit of searching and found that there was a 3.01 updater that was supposed to fix this, but I couldn't find it on Curious Labs' web site; this would be about the time that they took over Poser from Metacreations, and maybe they hadn't got their site fully built yet.
So I signed up at the old PFO, (Poser Forum Online, now departed), and asked if anyone knew of anywhere else I could get the updater from. Shortly after, it reappeared on CL's site - so maybe someone had been reading the forum posts... I know I was. I hung around. I started posting pictures, and answering questions as I learnt more about the program. Some of the more popular questions cropped up again and again, so to save having to type out the same answer each time I made a website on a free host, with some tutorials I could link to.
I started making simple things for myself - props to begin with, then I started hacking existing clothing about to see how it worked. I put these up on the web site for people to download, and my bandwidth started to run out every month, eventually prompting me to pay out for some industrial-strength hosting.
Meanwhile, I won a copy of Poser 4 in a competition. I never actually paid for a 3D application until I bought UVMapper Pro, I think it was...
3DC: What applications are you using to create all these Poser goodies?
EB: My current workflow includes Anim8or for modeling, UVMapper Pro and RoadKill for UV mapping, PhilC's OBJ2CR2 for grouping and starting off the rigging, and Dimension3D's Poser File Editor for general file hacking. Apart from those, I'll use Poser itself of course for joint tweaking and magnets, Compose, and even Excel - whatever the task requires, really. When it comes to texturing, I use Paint Shop Pro 7 - it's reliable and does the job for me.
3DC: Assuming you have one, what software is on the English Bob wish list?
EB: I keep thinking I could really do with a better modeller, but I'm having the greatest difficulty choosing one, because I've got so used to Anim8or over the years. I know where everything is, and when I think about modelling something, I think about it in terms of Anim8or's tools. I have Hexagon, and Pegasus, and I also downloaded the recent free offering of trueSpace 7.6. Currently I'm trying to get to grips with Cinema4D, which I've used a little in the past; but every time I need to do something in a hurry, out comes good old Anim8or again... 
3DC: Poser content, more than any other, can at times be guilty of attempting to package 'art in a box' solutions, however unintentional. As one who has been in the game since the beginning, do you have any thoughts on this?
EB: It's an interesting question, which prompts further questions, each more unanswerable than the last until your head spins and you fall down. Is a creative impulse without an accompanying technique worth sharing? Should technique be difficult to acquire? What is Art? Is some art intrinsically better than others, or is it all in the eye of the beholder? Why are we here? What's the bloomin' point of it all? And so on.
The beauty of Poser is that it offers different things to different people, as any worthwhile hobby should. There are people like me who enjoy delving into the innards and making things for others to use, while only rarely producing any renders ourselves. Others are interested in illustrating their own comic strip type stories, or pursuing the ultimate in photorealism.
I think the largest group, though, are those who have ideas they want to share, a creative impulse but no artistic technique; whether that's due to lack of training, lack of time, or lack of native ability doesn't really matter. They don't know much about art, but they know what they like. This is the group at whom all those ready-made solutions are aimed, rightly so from a commercial point of view because without the ability to make their own stuff they'll always be ready to buy more of the same.
Some of those people will become sufficiently motivated that they will learn to make their own content; they will find out, either by trial and error or by training, how to put this stuff together to make something fantastic. Maybe I shake my head and move on when I see yet another 'instant inspiration' product, but no way am I willing to criticize those who produce them, or those who buy them. Maybe one of them will be the next [insert name of favourite artist here].
3DC: There's quite a broad range of images in your gallery. Are there any subjects you favor above others or is inspiration more on an image-by-image basis?
EB: The biggest group are those that are inspired by song lyrics, which I find to be a great medium for putting visual ideas into my head. Other than that, I take it image by image. I don't do many renders any more, apart from promotional images for my downloads; but these things go in phases. When I do have an idea that needs to be made into a picture, it can stew for months or even years before it finally gets done. I usually leave it until the point where I absolutely *have* to do the thing or explode. I have no deadlines to worry about, and only myself to please. I never sit and worry that I don't have any ideas for a picture (or any other project, for that matter) - life's too short. There's never any shortage of things clamouring for my attention. I just go and do something else instead.
3DC: Besides Poser, what imaging applications are you using?
EB: I have an on-off relationship with Vue, starting with a free copy of Vue 2 that came off a magazine cover CD. Later I bought Vue 4 because of its supposed integration with Poser. This was just before Poser 5 came out, and I was looking for something better than the Poser 4 renderer so I could do proper refracting glass and water, and get decent shadows among other things; you know, the sort of stuff that POV-Ray could do back in the late '80s... However I could never get the Poser import to work, and I put it aside. I'm now getting back into Vue 6 Esprit, which seems good; I'm using it to make a render for a friend who wants a reference for a sci-fi type painting. The Poser import *does* work, so I may well end up using it to render Poser scenes too, when I've got to grips with it.
3DC: Poser is certainly a large and immersive community. What aspects do you find most engaging?
EB: It's the aspect of helping each other that interests me, and not just at the basic level of asking questions and getting an answer. I may see something that's been made by someone else, and I think 'I could add something to that' - it may just be a cool freebie that has no hosting, or it may be full-blown involvement in a shared project. Rigging oro_snake's Felicity Hair was the most recent example. He doesn't have Poser, so although his modelling and texturing are first rate, it would have been a static prop without someone who was willing to rig it. On the other side of the coin, if I make a popular clothing item, there will be several people willing to give their time and expertise in making textures for it, and give them away free. It's projects like these that benefit everyone - the people who contribute to it, and those who get to download something marvellous absolutely free. And of course, I can make something and find it used in other people's renders or freebies, which is still a tremendous buzz.
By contrast, I'm also a member of a musician's forum, and nothing like that goes on there. The members are courteous enough, and knowledgeable, and talented; but there's no spark, no give and take, no spontaneous collaboration. Needless to say, I'm not a regular visitor.
3DC: Are there any particular goals you've yet to reach with Poser?
EB: I haven't set anything as restrictive as a timetable. When I need a particular feature in order to realize some idea I have, then I'll learn how to use it. There's plenty that I don't know, as I said earlier.
3DC: What's in the English Bob workshop now?
EB: The next thing to be released will probably be Becky, which is a sweater, blouse, belt and skirt outfit for Victoria 3 based on '70s inspiration. I'm making character morphs, and a couple of friends are making textures for it - but there's always room for more, if anyone is interested...
3DC: What does the future look like? What projects are lined up down the road?
EB: The future looks like this - or there again, it may not. As it says on that page, 'speed is not of the essence. Projects illustrated are subject to change on a whim.' :) I'm not sure I'll do any more Victoria 3 clothing, despite what's illustrated on the WIP page. However I do intend to reissue the QuickDress along with versions for other (female) figures - probably as a prelude to making clothes for them. I think I've got to the point now where I don't need to worry about discarding some half-finished project, since I can easily rebuild it for some other figure, and probably better than it was too.
3DC: Well, that about does it. Oops - not quite. I'd almost forgotten one of my favorite Poser questions. What about Poser Pro? The optimist in me won't let this one go by.
EB: Um, *shrug* what about Poser Pro? Will it finally get recognition for Poser among the professional CGI community? I doubt it, somehow. There are plenty of professionals using Poser already - Posette shows me how to use the self-service checkout in my local supermarket, for instance - and there are plenty who look down on it as a toy, maybe because of the pre-packaged content we were talking about. I don't suppose that mindset is going to be swayed - except possibly in the wrong direction - by slapping the word 'Pro' on the end of the name.
If you mean, will I be splashing out, then no. I'm not interested in having the latest thing just for the sake of it. I drive an old car: it gets me where I want to go, doesn't cost too much, and doesn't break too often. I still use Windows 2000 at home: it does the job an OS should do, reliably; XP and (especially) Vista don't offer anything to justify spending my own money on them.  I bought Poser 5 mainly because of the cloth room, and I upgraded to Poser 6 because it worked better; but Poser 7 and Poser Pro don't appear to offer anything that I really need. 
3DC: Thanks English Bob, it's been a pleasure!
EB: The pleasure was all mine, believe me. Thank you for inviting me! As I said, there's nothing I like better than waffling on about my favourite subject - namely, myself - and foisting my half-baked philosophies onto a captive, oops, I mean of course receptive, audience...
3DCommune's The Poser Review monthy owned by Aine Lynch, a subsection of The Bryce Nook monthly owned by Paul Pappathan.
1) I've now decided to try to learn Blender - without success so far.
2) I do now use XP Professional. My new laptop came with Vista, and a "downgrade" to XP; so far I've resisted the upgrade to Windows 7 for the same reasons I resisted XP.
3) ...And I did buy Poser 7 at a knockdown price recently. I didn't really need it, but it was irresistible...
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